KT Tunstall was almost done with pop, but thankfully she wasn’t able to walk away
KT Tunstall: KIN | Rating: *** | Virgin EMI
Jamie T: Trick | Rating: *** | Virgin EMI
Twin Atlantic: GLA | Rating: *** | Red Bull Records
Things have been fairly quiet in the KT Tunstall camp of late but only now is it emerging that she came close to retiring from pop music a couple of years ago, following the release of the introspective Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon, an acoustic requiem for her father, her marriage and her life in the UK, recorded with Giant Sand mainman Howe Gelb in the Arizona desert.
In the wake of all that emotional upheaval, Tunstall packed up and relocated to California, where she has always felt at home, and considered a career in film music composition. But the pop force is strong with this one and Tunstall instead chose to obey her instincts to get back on a stage and indulge her natural musical instincts.
Working with producer Tony Hoffer, she has already paid tribute to her new home on the Golden State EP. Its lead track Evil Eye crops up again on KIN, another catchy example of Tunstall’s way with an upfront pop tune and a breezy lyrical takedown, this time flavoured with rockabilly rhythm and a vaguely proggy middle eight.
Although KIN is resolutely mainstream rootsy pop fare, Tunstall cannot resist inserting some twists and inflections along the road – an electro breakdown and cheerleader encouragement on the otherwise straightforward Hard Girls, a thoughtful, half-spoken middle eight on the breathy confessional Turned A Light On, an unexpected burst of organ on new single Maybe It’s A Good Thing.
As before, she mixes her signature sassy pop with more reflective singer/songwriter fare such as the smooth Corrs-like reverie of It Took Me So Long To Get Here But Here I Am, with its over-dubbed vocal coos, or the sweet, Laurel Canyon folk of On My Star. James Bay even shows up to play Jackson Browne to her Emmylou on the easy country rock of Two Way.
Having gone through such personal turmoil, the title track is the sweet sound of contentment and there is further sonic rapture on the Abba-influenced Everything Has Its Shape, showcasing Tunstall’s diversity within her rediscovered pop parameters.
Jamie T is all grown up now, and so much more than the bolshy teen troubadour we met ten years ago, even if he does wear his influences blatantly on his sleeve. His latest album, Trick, was recorded almost entirely solo but he makes as much noise as any band on the howling Tinfoil Boy and Drone Strike. The dark, dramatic ballad Self-Esteem shows he’s not all crash-bang-wallop. Elsewhere, he comes over as a southern Alex Turner with the flirty swagger of Power Over Men, musters his best Lydon snarl on the dub punk dread of Police Tapes, and presents a Clash-like portrait of 17th century street preacher and album cover star Solomon Eagle with contemporary resonances.
Twin Atlantic are also developing apace on their fourth album, and no longer sound exclusively like a poor man’s Biffy Clyro (though they do revert to their angsty prototype on Whispers). GLA rocks more conventionally but often effectively. Taut opener Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator bristles with punk rage, singer Sam McTrusty turns in a convincingly crazed delivery on Ex El, while the four-piece do a good job of suggesting that they get up to no good on No Sleep and channel some Black Keys bluesy swagger on You Are The Devil. They even toy with foot-on-the-monitor boogie on The Chaser and veer close to soft rock territory on Mothertongue, so there’s something here for all the family to enjoy. Fiona Shepherd
CLASSICAL: Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique | Rating: ***** | Harmonia Mundi
What makes Rameau and Berlioz such a satisfying coupling? Despite the fact they lived virtually a century apart, therefore inhabiting different musical époques, they were both revolutionaries, radicals, utterly French and spectacular in their theatrical flavouring of the orchestra. Moreover, the mouthpiece of their respective originality in this vibrant new recording is Daniel Harding’s gilt-edged Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, every bit as riveting as their Edinburgh Festival appearance last month, and finding exceptional detail and expressiveness in these searing readings of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie suite. The Rameau is crisp and precise with venomous fire in its belly, driven by gutsy rhythmic attack, pungent tone and a remarkable “period feel” given this is a standard symphony orchestra. The Berlioz is ripe, explosive and furiously exciting, but not without the tenderness and swagger that characterise the music’s softer side. Utterly refreshing. Ken Walton
FOLK: Hannah James: Jigdoll | Rating: **** | RootBeat Records
Singer, musician and dancer Hannah James made an impact with her participation in the cross-Border Songs of Separation project. Here she comes into her own with an album of her solo show, Jigdoll. Hers is a beguiling sound, with her multi-tracked vocals and accordion playing and her own foot percussion – in the live show she uses loop pedals to achieve similar affects.
Ostensibly inspired by the lives of wandering musicians but embracing environmental husbandry, clogmaking and much else, it opens with that most elemental of music-making, a breathy humming, evolving into the near-incantatory First Lullaby. James sings with a soft-voiced clarity that can muster declamatory presence, as on her song about refugees, Treasures.
Some tunes she sings wordlessly over her playing, such as the delicate round of the Barefoot Waltz or the vocalising and breathy syncopation of a jubilant tribute to her accordion mentor Karen Tweed. Jim Gilchrist