Album reviews: Johnny Borrell | Gogol Bordello

Johnny Borrell. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Johnny Borrell. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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“THERE were some problems in your rock’n’ roll career,” sings Johnny Borrell with an alarming degree of self-awareness on the finger-snapping shuffle of Erotic Letter, “they took your jokes seriously / and laughed when you were sincere.”

Johnny Borrell: Borrell 1

Stiff Records/Virgin Emi, £14.99

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From chart-domineering success as the singer of Razorlight to years in the wilderness following reports of overbearing arrogance which apparently soured many in the industry towards him, Borrell’s first solo record sees him return with a lot of making up to do. Along with his band Zazou, he’s teamed up with someone whose recent speciality is adjusting the course of cruise ship sized egos.

Producer Trevor Horn may have bestrode the 1980s via his collaborations with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones and many others, but these days he’s known as the guy who set a post-Rudebox Robbie Williams back on the rails with Reality Killed the Video Star. The result is one of the more self-regarding pop records this year is likely to produce, but in its desire to sonically place Borrell alongside a litany of baroque English pop eccentrics it also provides a certain amount of intrigue upon listening.

The pseudo-Caribbean pop feminism of Power To The Woman apes later John Lennon and there are echoes of Bowie’s Drive-In Saturday about Pan-European Supermodel Song (Oh! Gina) and Mud’s take on Lonely This Christmas amidst We Cannot Overthrow. It seems that rather than mimic his own glory days, Borrell and Horn are attempting to mirror a singular kind of timeless classic rock maturity here. Perhaps because of rather than despite copious amounts of saxophone and pretentious titles like Cyrano Masochiste, it works (Ladder To Your Bed is a pleasant ballad with rich depth of production) as often as it pales before his influences.

Download this: Power To The Woman

Gogol Bordello: Pura Vida Conspiracy

Ato Records, £15.99

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THERE’S a song here called Gypsy Auto Pilot and it seems as sharp a description as any for what’s going on. Eugene Hutz and his Lower East Side gypsy-punk squad are a reliably fiery live band and festival favourite, but their recorded incarnation does little by way of recreating that. Almost everything from rabble-rousing opener We Rise Again is played with an unsubtle, overdriven, fiddle-hammering, accordion-manhandling pace and volume. There are points which stand out – the Balkan waltz I Just Realized or the more measured rocker John The Conqueror – but you might be best saving your money to see them live.

Download this: I Just Realized

Grant Hart: The Argument

Domino, £13.99

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INSPIRED by Milton’s Paradise Lost and the William Burroughs sci-fi analogue Lost Paradise, this fourth solo record by former Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart is a double album of singular vision if not always formal invention. It cycles through proggy atmospherics on Out Of Chaos and War In Heaven, a stagey psychedelic growl on Awake Arise and I Am Death, and an odd music hall tribute in Underneath The Apple Tree, yet raw and grungy beat group rockers like Glorious prove most musically satisfying.

Download this: Letting Me Out, Glorious

David Pollock


Chet Baker: Chet Sings! – The American Years, 1953-58,

Le Chant du Monde CDM 2742256, £14.99

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GET set for a deluge of Chet Baker tributes as this year is the 25th anniversary of his sudden death – and an appropriate time to remember that he was much more than a charismatic bad boy with movie star looks. Baker (above) was one of the finest trumpeters of his day and a pioneer on the singing front as this two CD, 44-track set demonstrates. Like his trumpet-playing, his singing was pared-back and unfussy, lyrical, intimate and shot through with melancholy even on such supposedly happy songs as They All Laughed and Look For The Silver Lining. This collection is a must.

Download this: How Long Has This Been Going On?, There’s A Lull in My Life

Alison Kerr


James Duncan MacKenzie

James MacKenzie Music JMMCD001, web only

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THE is the first solo CD (with six top acoustic musicians on piano, guitar, fiddle, button accordion and bass) from the Lewis piper/flute player, now settled at home and abroad, in the youthful but well-experienced traditional Scottish band Breabach. Though recorded in the Central Belt, the album is focused on the piping traditions of Lewis, the ground of many legendary composers and performers, among whom, by this album’s account, he can definitely hold his own. But it is his flute playing, on a few tracks, that is the most emotionally articulate.

Download this: Quickstep and 9/8 Marches

Norman Chalmers


Johannes Brahms/Robert Schumann: Strings Attached

Challenge CC72572, £18.99

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FOR winners of musical competitions, there is never a guarantee of career success. In the case of clarinettist Arno Piters, however, winning the 2009 Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s Prix de Salon has led to this recording – with the Concertgebouw, naturally – of music by Brahms and Schumann arranged for clarinet and strings.

Rimsky-Kosakov’s “improvements” of Mussorgsky’s music have rather given the idea of arranging another composer’s music a bad name. Here at least, all the music was either arranged by the composer or published with his approval.

Arrangements they may be, but neither Brahms’ Sonatas in F Minor and in E flat Major, nor Schumann’s Fantasiestücke are easy to perform, requiring strong technique, timing and intonation, which Arno Piters is well able to provide.

Download this: Fantasiestücke

Alexander Bryce