The Scotsman’s music critics review the latest album releases, including Emma Pollock’s first full-length in six years, In Search of Harperfield
POP: Emma Pollock: In Search of Harperfield | Rating: **** | Chemikal Underground
Solo albums from former Delgados frontwoman Emma Pollock don’t come along every day but when they do, they always demonstrate time well spent. Not that Pollock is a grafter of a crafter, labouring at length over each release. There are other commitments to attend to, like her continuing involvement with Chemikal Underground, the Glasgow-based independent label founded by The Delgados more than 20 years ago, and her managing of the day-to-day running of the label’s Chem19 recording studio, not to mention the myriad responsibilities of everyday life which she broaches on her latest collection.
The title, In Search of Harperfield, refers to her parents’ first marital home, though this is not some misty remembrance of times past. When she does look back, it is with unsentimental clear-sightedness on the New Wave-flavoured In The Company of the Damned and melodic, grungey single Parks and Recreation, both of which recall the ruthlessness of playground politics.
Instead, Pollock is just as concerned with her present playground – the studio. In Search of Harperfield sounds, by turns, sumptuous and intriguing, covering varied territory, from the punchy indie rock of Vacant Stare to the moody 80s electronica of Alabaster, and sometimes switching in the course of one song. The ethereal, cooing opening of Cannot Keep A Secret gives no hint of the tumultuous place the song ends up in, but Pollock remains in emotional control throughout.
She is underrated as a singer, possessing a rich tone, which drips off the notes in Monster in the Pack like honey off a spoon, and keeps the listener locked in during less adorned singer/songwriter fare such as Clemency or Dark Skies.
The latter is souped up with swelling strings, expertly arranged by composer Malcolm Lindsay, who contributes some wonderful work throughout the album, including the massed staccato strings woven into the free-flowing Don’t Make Me Wait and the glorious waltzing violins and foreboding cello which provide the dynamic, filmic backdrop to Intermission. Pollock often feeds her words through the mouths of characters but here she wrestles openly with the personal drama of dealing with her parents’ illnesses: “I clutch to my chest the man I know best, with words only spoken when put to the test, hold close to my heart, will not be apart from this woman who made me”.
You could almost imagine Adele let loose on such heartfelt sentiments if she would only relax her grip on the commercial comfort blanket in which her music is swaddled. Pollock actually did briefly turn her hand to mainstream pop songwriting for other artists, though no hits came of it. Yet the mature piano ballad Old Ghosts, with its smooth delivery of an exasperated, at times severe lyric, makes for very satisfying easy listening. Like the rest of the album, it is sophisticated and melodic, drawing you in without need of fanfare. Fiona Shepherd
POP: Tricky presents: Skilled Mechanics | Rating: *** | False Idols/!K7
Following the release of Adrian Thaws, the album which bears his birth name, Tricky has formed a band of sorts, bringing DJ Milo and his drummer Luke Harris up front, while still featuring a number of female guest vocalists.
The results are diverse and not quite as dark and brooding as previous Tricky affairs.
How’s Your Life features a surprisingly smooth soul backing. Harris contributes vulnerable lead vocals to a trip-hop torch song cover of Bother by Slipknot singer Corey Taylor, while another heavy rock track, Porpoise Head by Porno for Pyros, is reinvented as the unsettling, chiming Driving Away. But Tricky remains front and centre, especially on the foreboding, autobiographical Boy. FS
POP: Sia: This Is Acting | Rating: ** | RCA
Australian singer Sia Furler is a pop veteran with a solo catalogue stretching back 15 years. But it is as a hitmaker for artists such as Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé and Rihanna that she has achieved notoriety, while preserving a degree of mystique by generally appearing in public wearing wigs which obscure her face.
She has playfully – but fatefully – described her seventh album as a collection of songs rejected by bigger artists.
The “I will survive” tantruming of Alive, co-written with Adele, and “I’d catch a grenade for you” grandstanding of One Million Bullets certainly adhere to current pop formulae, and the album lacks anything as batty and OTT as her earlier global hit Chandelier. FS
CLASSICAL: Brahms: Piano Quartet Op 60 & Piano Trio Op 8 | Rating: **** | Harmonia Mundi
Brahms’ intense self-criticism and consequent frequent burning of manuscripts may have left us with less clues about his true output, but what we’re left with is the music he felt was his best.
With the early Piano Trio No 1 Op 8, however, we have an interesting comparison between the original 1854 version and the revised one of 1889. It’s the original that the Trio Wanderer addresses in this rich Brahms chamber pairing of the Trio and, with violist Christophe Gaugué, the Piano Quartet No 3 Op 60. There’s an opulent freshness in the Trio performance, warmly packaged within its shapely intelligence and golden expansiveness. The Quartet is gutsy and profound, sensitive and spacious. Ken Walton
FOLK: Scotia Nova: Songs for the early days of a better nation | Rating: *** | Greentrax
This collection of aspirational songs for a new Scotland has been released by Greentrax as a companion to Luath Press’s poetry collection of the same title, paraphrasing Alasdair Gray’s famous enjoinder. A bit of a mixed bag musically (worthy sentiments don’t necessarily make for a memorable song), its mood ranges from post-Indyref blues such as Chris Finegan’s wry The 19th or the bruised indignity of Findlay Napier’s Taste of Liberty, to the no-holds-barred social outrage of Brian McNeill’s The War o’ the Crofter.
There’s unbowed optimism in David and Yvonne Lyon’s catchy We Were Not Made for the Shadows, the winsome exhortation of Gil Bowman’s A Bonny Star, while Fiona J Mackenzie rocks the cradle of a better nation with a Gaelic lullaby. Producer Ian McCalman delivers his jaunty but resolute Searching for a Scotland, while the incisive Scots of Mairi Campbell and Dave Francis’s O Man, Jock Tamson visits those for whom the future seems a lost cause. Jim Gilchrist
JAZZ: Erik Truffaz Quartet: Doni Doni | Rating: **** | Parlophone France/Warner
Long known as an enthusiastic and creative jazz fusioneer, Truffaz releases the velvet belling of his trumpet over insistent grooves and on four tracks recruits the beguilingly tremulous voice of Malian singer Rokia Traoré, while a somewhat extraneous-sounding “bonus” track features Malian-born hip-hop artist Oxmo Puccino.
Along with bassist Marcello Giuliani, drummer Arthur Hnatek and Benoit Corboz on keyboards, the French trumpeter creates a beaty but richly toned sound world, some of which, such as the languid Szerelem, drifts along easefully, while other tracks crank up the action. Listen to the big, wallowing bass line that propels Pacheco, Truffaz’s trumpet working up a head of steam over drums and keyboard chimes before the bass bears it off, parping expressively. Truffaz also lets rip in the wah-wah trickery and beefy riffing of Fat City, while the two-part title track (Doni Doni is Malian for “little by little”) glides from Traoré’s plaintive incantations into an engagingly loose-limbed work-out for trumpet and Corboz’s Fender Rhodes. Jim Gilchrist