The Scotsman writers review a selection of the this week’s album releases
The Fratellis: Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied
Star rating: ***
Glaswegian trio The Fratellis are celebrating ten years of togetherness – although that does include three years when they were on indefinite hiatus and frontman and songwriter Jon Lawler (aka Jon Fratelli) pulled away to try something different, briefly forming new band Codeine Velvet Club – which favoured a coquettish male/female dynamic and finessed brass arrangements over laddish indie knees-ups – and then following this up with a solo album Psycho Jukebox.
Ultimately, nothing appealed to the masses quite like those cheery, beery Fratellis songs, and so the band reconvened three years ago with the zeitgeist having moved on but the memory of their terrace indie anthems still very much cherished by the fans.
The world is no longer theirs on a plate; instead, the band have grasped the opportunity to tour more rigorously than ever before and then, fresh off the tour bus, to head straight into the studio with Tony Hoffer, the man who produced that instant hit debut album, Costello Music, and still professes to being their greatest fan.
The majority of Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied was written and recorded in LA in a four-week flurry after jettisoning a previous attempt to record on their own. They strike early with the repetitive hooklines on opening track Me and the Devil but it’s an otherwise moody mooch of a track with a slight air of menace as Lawler contends that: “I’m going to sell this soul of mine.” The following Imposters (Little by Little) is a breezily chugging country number, rudimentary but with some leavening twang.
These two rather tentative tracks were the only songs to survive from the band’s first run at recording the album. Hoffer takes over from here and Baby Don’t You Lie to Me! recaptures the momentum and swagger of their early lairy singalongs – fine if you like that sort of thing.
Thief is beefy, glammy indie rock with one of those wordless Kasabian choruses for maximum air punching potential, while Rosannaun comfortably straddles their tendency towards stodgy rock with their fondness for cabaret storytelling.
Desperate Guy is a much more characterful, country-influenced ballad with some shimmering pop touches which speak to Lawler’s love of classic MOR songwriting in the Neil Diamond/Glen Campbell mould.
Speaking of Mr Diamond, Slow is a creditable stab at a heartfelt pop ballad, the kind which prevails outside of musical fashions and could be interpreted by any number of artists. “If you’ve got to leave me, baby won’t you do it slow?” Lawler entreats, as over-produced strings swell up around him.
Too Much Wine is a rude awakening; a soused bar room boogie with distorted guitar and a sly reference to “creeping up the backstairs” which may go down well live but stands in entirely unsubtle contrast to the closing Moonshine, an altogether more beguiling, romanticised take on being wrecked and emotional.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Star rating: ****
Troubadour Nathaniel Rateliff follows Devendra Banhart in swapping folk for funk with his latest incarnation. He is a powerful, soulful singer anyway and his new band The Night Sweats lay on a grinding groove on the Stax-influenced stomps I Need Never Get Old and Look It Here. Rateliff’s sultry tone recalls Paolo Nutini on the slinky Shake but, like Nutini, he can overegg the testifying occasionally. But he injects just the right amount of wail to Howling At Nothing and delivers the country soul Wasting Time and summery insouciance of Thank You with tasty understatement.
Barrence Whitfield & the Savages: Under the Savage Sky
Star rating: ****
This second generation rhythm’n’blues outfit from Boston first made a cult splash in the 1980s but have returned as fired up as ever in the last couple of years. Frontman Whitfield is a soul shouter force, while The Savages weigh in with gritty rock credentials and a garagey abandon at points, especially when saxophonist Tom Quartulli gets primitive. But this is a consummate unit, whatever the pitch. The low-slung Adjunct Street is killer, with Whitfield’s thick vocals at their most effective and a hint of derangement in his delivery. And how could anyone resist a blues song called Incarceration Casserole?
Mahler: Symphonies Nos 7-9
Star rating: ****
At the heart of this epic symphonic trilogy – the second volume of Lorin Maazel’s complete Mahler cycle, taken from his full 2011 series with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and containing the 7th, 8th & 9th symphonies – is the glorious ‘Symphony of a Thousand’. The essence of Maazel’s Mahlerian magic is at its best here, combining a sense of the monumental with jewel-like aspects of detail. He creates a glorious sense of theatre in the piece, without cheapening its ecstatic spirituality and message of hope. Either side of the Eighth, the exotic colourings of the Seventh and the otherworldliness of the Ninth are equally well-served by the excellent playing of the Philharmonia.
THE OUTSIDE TRACK: LIGHT UP THE DARK
Star rating: ***
Drilling, the spirited opening track of The Outside Track’s latest album, combines Scots, Irish and Cape Breton tunes in a no-nonsense reflection of this nimble bunch’s transatlantic credentials.
The band’s Cork-born singer and flautist Theresa Horgan’s style leans more towards country-contemporary than traditional, her sensitive yet urgent rendition of Lennie Gallant’s Peter’s Dream delivered over a beat from guest drummer Brian Talbot, while she later gives delicate voice to Nancy Griffiths’s Trouble in the Fields and the heartfelt Get Me Through December, over Ailie Robertson’s delicate harp.
Cape Breton comes to the fore with fiddler Mairi Rankin’s skittering strathspey style in Hurry up and Wait, the band building up the tension on Horgan’s flute and Fiona Black’s accordion before breaking into a pipe reel (although the cymbal crashes are a bit superfluous).
Driven by guitarist Cillian O’Dalaigh, the band can work up quite a head of steam, as in the pacy Glorious, Eh?, so much so that, frankly, they hardly need percussion.
IIRO RANTALA: MY WORKING CLASS HERO
Star rating: ****
The Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala pays tribute to John Lennon, who would have been 75 this October.
Playing a beautifully resonant Alfred Brendel Steinway, he has his own engaging and highly individualistic take on each of Lennon’s songs, while still ultimately revealing the essence of the original.
The sombre staccato chords which introduce the opening Norwegian Wood give way to a more playful approach, while the title track is taken with a trudging piano bass that might herald an onset of mountain trolls and builds to a dramatic climax.
Woman is gently explored in playing of great clarity before taking up a jaunty rhythm, while Happy Xmas, War is Over is spare and wistful before rolling into gospel-hall jubilation.
How does he approach the anthemic Imagine? Well, obliquely and cleverly, with Lennon’s famous piano intro just emerging – tantalisingly and only to fade out – at the end.
Hard-line Lennonites might take umbrage, but this celebration of the man is heartfelt, musically ingenious and frequently delightful.