The former Del Amitri frontman delivers another set of beautifully crafted, introverted songs, while Paul Weller’s lastest collection finds him in summer soul mode
Justin Currie: This Is My Kingdom Now Endless Shipwreck Records ***
Paul Weller: A Kind Revolution Parlophone ****
Pronto Mama: Any Joy Electric Honey ****
The Imagineers: Utopian Dreams Hit the Light Records ****
With no official headstone to mark Del Amitri’s resting place, hope springs eternal for those fans who hoovered up the group’s brief reunion in 2014. Meantime, frontman Justin Currie continues to release some of the most beautifully crafted music of his career to modest expectations – his own mostly, given that he titled his previous album The Lower Reaches, after the chart position he anticipated it might scrape to.
There are a couple of quintessentially breezy but bland, mid-paced Del Amitri moments on the more ambitiously monikered This Is My Kingdom Now which wouldn’t offend any radio programmer, but Currie’s fourth solo album is a generally introverted affair, chewing over disappointments, recriminations and oblique cultural commentary.
Currie has looked around and inside, and it’s not pretty, although the music often is. The songs are mostly served by minimal backing, foregrounding the vocal melodies and his careworn tone. Sydney Harbour Bridge is a Jimmy Webb-style catalogue of regret with strong MOR tendencies but Currie is just as comfortable delivering the droll country ballad Crybabies or the silky blue-eyed soul of Failing To See.
The breezy, rootsy pop ode Hey Polly (“get your claws round here today”) is altogether too cheery in this company, but it’s back to the beautiful wallowing on I Love The Sea, inexorably building to a melodramatic climax of pounding piano, distorted guitar and commanding vocals.
The album could have gone out on that cathartic crescendo, but there are still emotional scabs to be picked on the spooky harmonium drone of Two People, which stops just short of skin-crawling, before Currie lightens the mood with the more easily palatable pop fare of My Soul Is Stolen.
While Currie licks wounds and simmers morosely, the one time archetypal angry young man, Paul Weller, elects to swim against the tide of outraged pessimism on A Kind Revolution which, according to his ever-changing musical moods, finds him in laidback summer soul form. Joining him round the barbecue are veteran vocalists PP Arnold and Madeline Bell, young rhythm’n’blues guitar hero Josh McClorey of The Strypes, the wonderful, weathered tones of Boy George on melancholic house track One Tear and the redoubtable Robert Wyatt, who provides guest vocals and trumpet solo on She Moves with the Fayre, a pastoral soul highlight infused with undulating strings which bend in the breeze.
Electric Honey, the independent record label run by Glasgow Kelvin College’s music business students, celebrates its 25th birthday this year with a strong offering from Glasgow band Pronto Mama. Whether they can match the success of previous alumni Belle & Sebastian, Snow Patrol and Biffy Clyro remains to be seen, but Any Joy is an impressive stew of styles, taking in chiming New Agey guitars, slinky pop funk, indie barbershop harmony and, on lead single Arabesque, an audacious mix of jazzy time signatures and blue-eyed Caledonia soul.
Fellow Glaswegians The Imagineers are likewise eclectic souls and confident stylists, though their new album, Utopian Dreams, which comes after a four-year hiatus for the group, harks back to the urbane escapism of the city’s crop of 80s pop dreamers, recalling their fascination with American iconography on Californians Drive All Day (In The Sunshine). Singer Stevie Young emerges as something of an indie crooner in the smooth, swaggering style of Alex Turner, backed by twanging and tremelo guitar and brassy blasts from his band of space cowboys.
Decades; A Century of Song Vivat 114 ****
In the second volume of his series, Decades: A Century of Song, pianist Malcolm Martineau throws a spotlight on a cross-section of songs from the years 1820-30. It’s an intriguing look at a creative tradition that dominated the salon music of the 19th century, enriched by the wealth of poetry that was ripe for setting by composers as diverse as Schubert, Glinka, Mendelssohn and Bellini. They, and others, were on hot form in the 1820s, as eloquently illustrated by the singers on this disc, Christopher Maltman, Sarah Connolly, Luis Gomes, Anush Hovhannisyan, Robin Tritschler and John Mark Ainsley. Maltman and Connolly’s Schubert performances are beguiling and deliciously nuanced; Hovhannisyan is gorgeously dusky in her Glinka songs; Tritschler is endearing in Louis Niedermeyer’s Le Lac; passion oozes from Gomes’ Bellini arias; Ainsley is light and delicate in Schumann’s rippling Sehnsucht. Martineau’s empathetic pianism is the steadying omnipresence.
Bellevue Rendezvous: While Rome Burns Journeyman ****
Bellevue Rendezvous, the eclectically-minded trio of fiddler Gavin Marwick, nyckelharpa player Ruth Morris and Cameron Robson on cittern, continue their musical journeyman’s peregrinations around Europe, gleaning tunes and inspiration from Scandinavia to the Balkans and deploying them here with relish and finesse. Marwick’s sinuous fiddle, the dark, grainy-toned Swedish nyckelharpa and Robson’s ringing strings complement each other perfectly while melding into a tight unit, as exemplified by the shadowy, mid-European sinuosity of Marwick’s Smoke and Mirrors or the up-tempo Balkana of Robson’s Mozaik. In contrast, there’s the languid Scandinavian waltz, Vals etter Sigurd Aalmen, and a deservedly prolonged deliberation on the beautiful Norwegian air Hvit Marsj. In the middle of it all, a Scots strathspey and reel sound crisply, surrounded by exotica, perhaps, but knowing exactly where they’re at.