Kate Bush’s live album could only be improved by visuals, while Lomond Campbell dials up the atmosphere
Kate Bush and the K Fellowship: Before the Dawn ****
Lomond Campbell: Black River Promise ****
Roddy Hart & the Lonesome Fire: Swithering ***
Middle of Nowhere Recordings
Given that the peerless Kate Bush has only ever toured once in 40 years, she has managed a healthy couple of live releases – one box set and one EP culled from her 1979 Tour of Life and now a progtastic triple CD/quadruple vinyl recording of her high-concept 2014 Before the Dawn residency at Hammersmith Apollo which must, at least for now, serve in lieu of a mooted DVD release.
The concerts were filmed, documenting the sheer theatricality of the three-act event – and it was an event – so Bush only knows why she has elected to capture the extravaganza as a purely listening experience. What is clear is what a fine live album Before the Dawn makes. It is as precision produced as you would expect from a Kate Bush recording, but never to the detriment of the live atmosphere.
For the lucky attendees at the time and the ticketless acolytes now, there is trepidation around how Bush’s singular voice would hold up after so many years out of the live limelight. The answer, happily, is that she sounds exquisite, by turns mighty and vulnerable, ravishing and demented, mustering great, gravelly passion from the opening Lily, through Hounds of Love – with bonus barking backing singers – and the enigmatic tribal incantation of Running Up That Hill to the epic King of the Mountain. Act One also features a live rendition of Never Be Mine which was dropped from the residency at the time but is reinstated in its intended slot here.
Bush has likened her live rendering of The Ninth Wave to a radio play. For many fans, this audacious suite from side two of The Hounds of Love is the pinnacle of her craft. You can hear how she inhabits the central character on the gorgeous And Dream of Sheep, but can only imagine what is unfolding on stage during the proggy gothic weirdness of Waking the Witch.
Act Three is a soothing pastoral pop opera, comprising the Sky of Honey suite from Aerial, which traces the passing of a summer’s day from dawn to dawn. Her son Bertie gives a slightly nasal performance of Tawny Moon, a new song written to add to the narrative, while Bush bathes in the rapture of Somewhere In Between.
Heady as it sounds, this recording is only part of the story. But the straight solo piano rendition of Among Angels and the joyous, emotional and cathartic Cloudbusting which closes the show require no visual embellishment.
Lomond Campbell, aka Ziggy Campbell of Edinburgh art poppers FOUND, has long demonstrated a facility for producing atmospheric music, first using analogue synthesizers and now sumptuous, romantic strings, arranged by Pete Harvey, recorded by a ten-piece ensemble in a castle and threaded through Black River Promise like a noble, mournful chorus behind Campbell’s yearning voice.
The rest of this beguiling album was recorded in Campbell’s Highland hideaway and often recalls the graceful symphonic folk of Tims Hardin and Buckley.
Roddy Hart is not a sonic stylist on Campbell’s level but Swithering is still a handsome-sounding collection with commercial aspirations which
is carried off by the Lonesome Fire with greater grace and flair than many far better-known chart bands, betraying shades of U2 in their early pomp and The Killers in their attempts to emulate the masters of arena pop.
Hart has an ear for a nagging melodic hook, but the brooding indie Americana of I Thought I Could Change Your Mind is the best song here by some stretch.
EST Symphony ****
Hardly a symphony but inarguably a suitably glorious tribute to the bold music of the late Esbjörn Svensson, whose trio, EST, captivated cross-genre audiences. Defunct since pianist Svensson’s death in a diving accident, the trio’s music is splendidly celebrated as its bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström join other Scandinavian jazzers along with the Royal Stockholm Symphony Orchestra under conductor Hans Ek.
Berglund and Öström fly the EST flag with spirit, and guests pianist Iiro Rantala, saxophonist Marius Neset and trumpeter Verneri Pohjola are suitably empathetic, as in the alternating exuberance and meditation of the Wonderland Suite, joined by the melancholy whine of Johan Lindström’s steel guitar, plus a succinct but exhilarating drum break from Öström. Berglund’s bass is resplendently melancholy in Serenade for the Renegade, while Dodge the Dodo preserves the heady drive of the original.
Tchaikovsky: String Quartets No 1 & No 3 ****
Tolstoy apparently burst into tears – for the right reasons – when he first heard the Andante of Tchaikovsky’s First Quartet. Its material springs from a deliciously sultry Ukrainian melody, and the Heath Quartet address it with subdued affection in this endearing recording – the first in a new partnership with Harmonia Mundi – of the First and Third Tchaikovsky Quartets.
There are many other similarly heart-rending moments in these fresh, warm performances, such as the sombre yearning that opens the later work, and the imploring melody of its pensive Andante. But joyous moments also abound. The Scherzo of the First Quartet is buoyant, with rhythms as light as air. The Heaths unleash a healthy exuberance in its Finale, and again in the Third’s puckish Allegretto. They sign off the later quartet with a radiant topping of optimism underpinned by bristling rhythmic energy.