Ian Brown: Ripples (Polydor) ***
Nina Nesbitt: The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change (Cooking Vinyl) **
Rustin Man: Drift Code (Domino) ****
One artistic positive to come out of The Stone Roses’ rather tortuous demise in the mid-1990s was the fertile and refreshingly drama-free solo career of frontman Ian Brown. But it was no huge surprise that if the timing/price/runes were right he would reunite with his former bandmates and so much of the last decade has been taken up with reforming the band of a generation, playing to bigger, crazier crowds than ever before and inevitably failing to produce any meaningful new material.
With the future of the band in the ether, Brown has resumed solo recording. Ripples, his first album in a decade, has been self-produced and partially co-written with his sons and there is an air of homespun simplicity to the music. The clean, streamlined sound allows plenty of space for Brown’s voice and message on the likes of Breathe and Breathe Easy where his quietly confident vocals are accompanied only by the spartan strum of acoustic guitar.
Taster single First World Problems is a straightforward ditty, calling on the aggrieved twitterati to check their privilege, over an indie funk groove. He remains ever the urban mystic with his generalised words of wisdom (“the government is not your friend”) on The Dream and the Dreamer with its shades of 80s Britfunk.
From Chaos to Harmony is something of a survivor’s tale, dropping some Roses references and a pointed “too much poison to ramble on” while cheekily unleashing some John Squire-a-like wah-wah guitar. The plodding It’s Raining Diamonds suffers from a lack of vocal dynamics, but the album recovers from its half-baked tendencies with the more characterful title track featuring playful parps on a cheap synth and Brown in laidback but testifying flow. Blue Sky Day is even better, an increasingly bluesy declamation which packs soulful attitude over an understated organ backing.
Ripples is embellished with two reggae covers. Brown transforms Barrington Levy’s Black Roses into a precision-drilled rock number but retains the dub spirit of the original on his spacey take on Mikey Dread’s Break Down the Walls.
Nina Nesbitt has also taken her time crafting the follow-up to her 2014 debut, Peroxide, using the years between to write songs for artists such as The Shires and Jessie Ware, while pondering her own musical identity. With The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, she moves from girl next door rallying her mates to the mature, brooding pop siren of opening track Sacred.
She retains her storytelling streak on the diary-like, self-soothing title track and The Moments I’m Missing, rhyming “anxiety” with “sister’s ID” as she looks back in languor at adolescent landmarks and the pull of home. The slick, assured likes of Love Letter, the Taylor Swift-endorsed The Best You Ever Had and manicured attitude of Loyal to Me are tooled for radio play and chart success but the production is so identikit that it is hard now to pick Nesbitt out of a line-up of her fellow pop princesses.
Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb previously popped up in his solo guise as Rustin Man some 16 years ago, collaborating with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons on the Out of Season album but now writes for his own voice on this long-gestating follow-up. By no means elderly, Webb nevertheless sounds weathered and vulnerable on these meticulously layered songs of mortality. Judgement Train is a cauldron of gospel, folk and psychedelia, while the sumptuous orchestration of Our Tomorrows recalls the timeless trippiness of David Axelrod. The serene, jazzy reverie of The World’s In Town has echoes of the plaintiveness of Robert Wyatt and the heady maelstrom of Martian Garden and tender remembrance of All Summer evoke the spirit of Bowie’s Blackstar.- Fiona Shepherd
Handel: Acis and Galatea (Coro) *****
Youthful zeal and translucent intimacy inform every page of Handel’s pastoral entertainment, Acis and Galatea, as they do this airborne performance by the skeleton cast of The Sixteen under director Harry Christophers.
The plot is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, its colourful escapades adapted for Handel by John Gay of Beggar’s Opera fame, and the music is free, easy and gloriously quirky.
With only five singers and nine instrumentalists, and lightness of rhythmic step, Christophers gives the narrative a freedom that is fresh and teasing on the ear and uplifting in every sense.
There is complete symbiosis between the characterful soloists, the rich and seamless continuo, and those tantalisingly whimsical instrumental obligatos that give scintillating illumination to such famous arias as “O Ruddier than the Cherry.” - Ken Walton
Various Artists: Oran Bagraidh (Knockengorroch) ****
This engrossing recording emerged from a residency of Scots, Irish and Welsh poets and musicians deliberating on Oran Bagraidh, the only surviving example of Galloway Gaelic and revivified here, to a later tune, on waves of accordion and harp.
It is fascinating, haunting and occasionally ineffably weird – as in the unexplained eldritch cackle that erupts from the duo Bragod, who specialise in the early Welsh once spoken in Galloway. Other performers include Gwyneth Glyn (former Welsh poet laureate), Irish sean-nós singer Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhride and triple-pipe specialist Barnaby Brown. Mouth music skips blithely through Scots and Irish Gaelic and Welsh and there’s Scots-Irish colloquy, too, in Beannacht Uaim Siar, “a blessing westward,” while, representing the Scots tongue that usurped Gaelic from Galloway is a peerless rendition of Lord Gregory by Josie Duncan. - Jim Gilchrist