Thirty years on from Graceland, Paul Simon continues to stretch the boundaries of popular music
Respect to gazillionaire music veteran Paul Simon for endeavouring not to get too comfortable in his creativity, even if the inventive Afropop sound of the 30-year-old Graceland has become something of a signature for this rather earnest musician over the ensuing decades.
New album Stranger to Stranger (***) is his most experimental gambit in some time. Preferring to sculpt sound rather than craft songs, he has fashioned a novel percussive palette using African, Indian and South American instruments, in collaboration with Italian dance producer Clap! Clap! and 81-year-old co-producer Roy Halee, who has worked with Simon since the early 1960s. While it is easy to admire his commitment to innovation, the results are not always so easy to love. Taster single Wristband has the air of a careless improvisation, built around a sinewy double bass rhythm. Its arch tale of a musician refused entry to his own gig by a jobsworth steward (“the man was large… and he’s acting like St Peter”) might raise a smile, or an eyebrow, but it feels a little too pleased with its conceit.
The desert blues of The Riverbank, skittering Afrofunk of In A Parade and cut-up blues and word/rhyme association of Street Angel are all happier examples of how to play with tradition rather than fall into step behind it. The mellifluous, moody jazz title track provides a welcome injection of melody, while the cascading picking and devotional cooing of Proof Of Love makes for good medicine.
But there is something about a classic Paul Simon melancholic melody which cuts deeper than any sound sculpture, and he honours that on Insomniac’s Lullaby, accompanied by New Agey guitar, mournful brass, flamenco flourishes and breathy backing vocals to create an exotic but soothing combo more satisfying than anything else on show here.
A new album from the notoriously exacting Dexys is generally a cause for celebration, although Let The Record Show (***) treats the seemingly astute notion of a Celtic soul covers album with eccentricity bordering on perversity. Mainman Kevin Rowland makes a musical theatre meal of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, indulges in further scenery chewing on Curragh of Kildare over a swooning backdrop of strings and brass and attempts to mine melodrama from Leeann Rimes’ MOR power ballad How Do I Live? Thankfully, they hit their sweet spot with the breezy rhythm’n’blues of Grazing In The Grass and strike an appropriately emotional note with last orders singalong Carrickfergus.
Glasgow trio Fatherson are also partial to a spot of Celtic emoting, though they let their feelings hang out in the safer indie rock arena with a confident second album (***) of the kind of stirring, aspiring anthems which usually play well booming out across festival fields with the crowd joining in on the ubiquitous wordless hookline. Recent single Lost Little Boys sounds custom written for radio rotation; elsewhere, there are echoes of the slick 80s Scotpop of Deacon Blue, Danny Wilson, even Runrig in this polished production.
Minor Victories nod to a Nineties indie rocking tradition on their self-titled debut (***), which should satisfy anyone who has ever wondered what a Mogwai/Slowdive/Editors supergroup might sound like. Stuart Braithwaite, Rachel Goswell and brothers Justin and James Lockey have fashioned a dynamic blend of grunge, post-rock and shoegazing styles, occasionally souped up with cinematic strings, distorted guitars or more ambient textures, ranging from minimalist chimes to propulsive, fuzzed-up indie pop songs. Fiona Shepherd
CLASSICAL: O Sacrum Convivium: A Feast of Sacred Music | Rating: **** | Vox Regis
The choir of King’s College, Aberdeen is the latest university chapel choir to launch it’s own record label – Vox Regis – under director David J Smith. There are classic sacred gems, from the likes of Tallis, Victoria, Weelkes, Purcell, Stainer and Stanford. There’s something alluring in the non-pure timbre of the current choir mix that finds gravitational sublimity and warmth in Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium, yet never loses the cohesive simplicity of Purcell’s Thou Knowest, Lord, or the ripened thrill of Stanford’s Justorum Animae. At the other end of the spectrum is what Smith terms the Aberdeen School of Choral Composition, works by living composers associated with the university, from Paul Mealor’s beautiful Locus Iste and a mystical trilogy of motets by Phlilp Cooke, to the Taverner-esque Ukrainian Carol of John F Hudson. Smith throws some Bach organ music into the mix. An attractive start to the project. Ken Walton
FOLK: Gillian Frame: Pendulum | Rating **** | Cheery Grove
Gillian Frame, fiddler, singer and the inaugural Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician back in 2001, has gleaned a nicely chosen clutch of songs and tunes for this, her first “solo” album, as opposed to her recordings with the Back of the Moon Band. She’s effectively accompanied by multi-instrumentalist (and the album’s producer) Mike Vass, guitarist Anna Massie, bassist Euan Burton and Phil Hague on occasional percussion. Frame can tell a song with conviction and clarity, opening convincingly with Findlay Napier’s dramatic Rothes Colliery, and continuing with traditional material such as Lovely Molly and an engaging version of Lass o Glenshee. Accompaniments are crisp but non-intrusive and supporting vocals effective. Instrumentally, The Grinder, The Red Crow and The Sisters trio of tunes sit neatly together, while the title track, her own composition, Pendulum, has a poise and grace of its own. Jim Gilchrist