Idlewild: Interview Music (Empty Words) ****
Marvin Gaye: You’re The Man (Motown/UMC) ****
Lee Fields & the Expressions: It Rains Love (Big Crown Records) ****
Roseanne Reid: Trails (Last Man Records) ****
Frustrating as it was for their fans, who actively petitioned the band to reform, Idlewild’s extended break at the start of this decade has reaped hugely refreshing benefits. Returning to action with two new members, Andrew Mitchell and Luciano Rossi, and a noticeably expanded musical palette, they sounded like a band reborn on 2014 comeback album Everything Ever Written.
That creative evolution continues with Interview Music, an album rooted in the familiar Idlewild territory of beguiling tunes, innate energy and Celtic soul but which confidently chooses the scenic route on many an extended sonic excursion, from the suitably trippy opener Dream Variations to the technicolour roots rocker Miracles.
The title track imbues blue-eyed soulful Scotpop with a prog rock twist, jazz piano and distorted guitar. The psychedelic, gospel-flavoured Mount Analogue is dispatched with a poised playfulness suggestive of an unfettered atmosphere in the studio. Even the relative punky familiarity of current single Same Things Twice is embellished with heroic guitar wrangling.
But none of these exploratory embellishments suck the momentum from the music; rather, Idlewild are now the model of a freewheeling experimental rock band.
You’re The Man, released to mark what would have been Marvin Gaye’s 80th birthday, is being touted as the intended follow-up to his classic What’s Going On, and comprises a season’s worth of recordings shelved at the time following the poor commercial reception of its title track, an explicitly political reaction to the 1972 US presidential campaign.
Almost 50 years on, its haunted anger is still a fit for the times, with Gaye musing on the legacy left for future generations on Where Are We Going. But the unfairly overlooked material gathered here also provides a bridge between his political conscience and the personal smooch of Let’s Get It On, courtesy of the soothing silky ballad My Last Chance, the devotional Symphony and the equally rhapsodic I’d Give My Life For You, with its featherlight orchestral soul backing. Elsewhere among its bumper 17 tracks, it is worth storing up acid soul instrumental Christmas in the City and the Vietnam soldier’s lament I Want to Come Home for Christmas for your festive mixtape.
Fast forward into the 21st century and Lee Fields is here to deliver the same evergreen and ever-needed message. With the recent passing of his peers Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, this old school soul man is one of the last of his kind, and his belief in the healing power of music runs right through the soulful salve of It Rains Love.
Fields’ gospel message of love is shot through with rhythm’n’blues grit on the title track’s ode to fidelity, the aching humility of You’re What’s Needed In My Life and straight-up testifying of God Is Real. But his band, The Expressions, are just as eloquent on the virtually instrumental Love is the Answer, while the light rare groove touch of Two Faces is beautifully wrought even before the mournful brass coda.
Roseanne Reid also has soul to spare, and her soft vocal delivery and southern soul sway on I Love Her So might suggest she hails from Memphis rather than much closer to home. Reid cut her teeth in Leith Folk Club and her father is Proclaimer Craig Reid, who appears to have passed on his love of country music as well as his songwriting talent to his eldest daughter. No less an artist than Steve Earle has recognised her undeniable potential, providing guest vocals on Sweet Annie, while producer Teddy Thompson, himself the offspring of successful musicians, arguably places her subtle, honeyed voice too low in the mix – or maybe it’s a shrewd ploy to reel the listener in even further. - Fiona Shepherd
Love is Come Again: Music for the Springhead Easter Play (Soli Peo Gloria) ****
At the heart of this Easter curiosity is the “creative vision of a Dorset mother and son.” The latter is Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who created in the 1960s, during his Cambridge undergraduate years, an Easter pageant in his home village with his mother, bringing his nascent Monteverdi Choir to weave a sequence of plainchant, motets and carols around mimed theatre created by Marabel Gardiner. This recreation of music for the Springhead Easter Play (named after the Gardiner house) contains moments of striking contrast, from the shock-horror harmonic eccentricities of Gesualdo (O vos omnes) and the extravagant fullness of John Taverner’s Dum transisset Sabbatum, to the simplicity of the French carol Love is come again and chattering exuberance of Schütz’s Verily the Lord is Risen. The performances by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists are beautiful and exhilarating. The whole concept is quaintly alluring. - Ken Walton
Kevin MacKenzie: The Ballad of Future Joe (Laundry Room Music) ****
Guitarist Kevin MacKenzie is joined by two other Scottish jazz luminaries, double-bassist Mario Caribé and drummer Alyn Cosker, and you’d be hard-pressed to assemble a better matched and more mutually empathetic trio. All written by Mackenzie, bar an dreamy cover of the Reinhardt classic Nuages, the album combines warmth of tone with crisp dexterity, as in the lithe guitar explorations of the opening Mouse Commute, borne along by steadily intensifying drum work. The title track is indeed gently balladic, the bass taking a leisurely meander of its own, while The Waiter is driven by a militaristic snare reminiscent of a Morricone score. Purposeful bass and drums also carry the catchy guitar narrative of If a Tree Falls, while Sisyphus develops from initially sedate mode into the album’s most intense track before MacKenzie’s solo and Cosker’s barrage finally subside over bowed bass. - Jim Gilchrist