Album reviews: Sacred Paws | Fred Deakin | Sting | Susan Boyle

Sacred Paws PIC: Katherine Rose
Sacred Paws PIC: Katherine Rose
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Rachel Aggs and Eilidh Rodgers bring an effortless effervescence to their second album

Sacred Paws: Run Around the Sun (Rock Action) ****

Fred Deakin: The Lasters (self-released) ***

Sting: My Songs (A&M) **

Susan Boyle: TEN (SycoMusic) ***

If Sacred Paws felt any pressure in following up their widely acclaimed, Scottish Album of the Year Award-winning debut album, Strike A Match, they have done a fine camouflage job on its follow-up. From the get-go, the Glasgow-based duo of singer/guitarist Rachel Aggs and singer/drummer Eilidh Rodgers have charmed with their simple yet distinctive marriage of pithy post-punk expression and buoyant Ghanaian highlife-influenced guitar, capturing the joy of making music for music’s sake.

They don’t sweat this fleet-footed follow-up either, which barely touches the ground thanks to Rodgers’ nimble, propulsive drumming, leavened further by Aggs’ dexterous sunshine guitar and the easy interplay of their voices which criss-cross naturally on opening track The Conversation.

Run Around The Sun is an assured second salvo, preserving all that is appealing about their core sound, while stirring in a brief outbreak of distortion, complementary swirls of synthesizer and bright bursts of brass. The only suggestion of angst is in the lyrics, which ruminate on the day-to-day challenges of relationships.

There is a hint of yearning in the unison vocals, synth tremors and characterful horns of Life’s Too Short, while the fidgety, angular guitar and no-nonsense drumming on Shame On Me contrast with the thoughtful vocals.

How Far takes a pragmatic look at long-distance relationships, not to mention a well-earned musical breather on an album which otherwise hares along with Aggs’ intricate, melodic playing keeping up every step of the way with pacemaker Rodgers.

The duo keep it light and pithy so the dynamic never grows tired and they end on a high, with the satisfying Afro-folk/funk explosion Write This Down followed by the purest pop moment on the album, the gauche indie number Brush Your Hair.

There’s a similar lightness of touch on the new album by Lemon Jelly mainman Fred Deakin – surprisingly so for a personal labour of love which was three years in the making. The Lasters is a sci-fi concept album about the last surviving humans searching for a new home – essentially, a long-playing take on Neil Young’s After the Goldrush or a chillout electro soul homage to War of the Worlds.

Vocalists Abi Sinclair, Steffan Huw Davies and former Ash member Charlotte Hatherley make light work of the simple, almost naïve narrative against a resolutely non-bombastic backdrop of ambient electronica and breezy pop with even a light musical theatre touch to some songs which belies the bleakness of the apocalyptic theme.

Sting follows his bewildering collaboration with Shaggy by retreating to the safer territory of his back catalogue, “re-imagining” hit songs from across his career to reflect changes in his vocals and live arrangements. While there is arguably a greater thrust to his new renditions of So Lonely and Message in a Bottle, his imagination fails him on numerous occasions.

He heads down the disco with a plasticky new version of If You Love Somebody Set Them Free and ups the tempo of Fields of Gold to such a degree that all emotional resonance is lost. Meanwhile, Police classics such as Can’t Stand Losing You are subjected to hi-tech tinkering for no good reason.

Susan Boyle marks a decade in the business with this retrospective compilation which kicks off with four new recordings. She sounds more girlish than ever duetting with Michael Ball on A Million Dreams, Climb Every Mountain is the ideal showcase for her demure tones, while she brings a yearning to Stand By Me. However, her doe-eyed delivery doesn’t work for The Proclaimers’ lusty 500 Miles. The rest of the album gathers gothic easy listening highlights from her career to date – Wild Horses, Perfect Day, Mad World, Hallelujah – alongside the more strident belting of her breakthrough hit I Dreamed A Dream. - Fiona Shepherd


Mahler: Titan – a tone poem in the form of a symphony (Harmonia Mundi) ****

As first symphonies go, Mahler’s took a long time to reach the exact format we know today. The young conductor/composer introduced it to the 1889 Budapest premiere audience as a “symphonic poem in two parts.” By 1893 it had become a five-movement heroic tone poem, bearing the title Titan, after Jean Paul’s novel. By 1896 the saccharine Blumine movement had been removed to reveal the work in its final form.

This intriguing recording by Les Siècles adopts the middle Hamburg option, complete with reproduction instruments from fin-de-siècle Germany, thereby offering a glimpse of this mighty symphony in embryonic form.

It isn’t an opulent performance under François-Xavier Roth, focusing rather on delicacy and clarity of texture, and affectionate string playing that makes everything of those sweeping portamentos. Raw refinement brings a cool, fresh energy to the Scherzo and crystalline brilliance to the finale. - Ken Walton


Bonsai: Bonsai Club (Ubuntu Music) ****

Vividly textured, melodic and inventive, the prog-jazz quintet formerly known as Jam Experiment deliver a highly enjoyable debut under their new, less saccharine moniker. Two young award-winners, trombonist Rory Ingham (“Rising Star” in the 2027 British Jazz Awards) and Jonny Mansfield (2018 Kenny Wheeler Prize) on drums and vibes, are joined by violinist Dominic Ingham, Toby Comeau on piano and keyboards and Joe Lee on bass, with members also doubling on the synthesisers and on occasional, mellow vocals. Crescent, for instance, sees punchy drumming and riffing overlaid with echoing keyboards and the kind of wordless vocalising one might associate with a Scandinavian indie band such as Efterklang, while trombone gives truculent voice and Mansfield’s vibes ring out joyfully. BMJC, meanwhile, features soaring violin, while Quay has expansive trombone serenading over languid violin and vocals. Those looking for straight-ahead jazz may sniff, but this album is bursting with energy. - Jim Gilchrist