Album reviews: Rihanna | The Bryan Ferry Orchestra | Alicia Keys | Rachael MacFarlane | Show of Hands | Magdalena Kozena

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A round up of new releases.



Mercury/Def Jam, £12.99


Duetting with abusive ex-partner Chris Brown was always going to be the headline-grabber, and the subtext of the rest of Rihanna’s new album expands on the unpalatable theme. The music is cleverly produced to cover up the more bruising lyrics, with that theme being brutally and honestly explored in practically every song. That reworking of Nobody’s Business with Brown is unshirking if ill-advised, but Rihanna clearly couldn’t care less.

The slower songs are the more affecting – particularly Stay, featuring Mikky Ekko, and Love Without Tragedy, with its oblique reworking of the old Police guitar riff from Don’t Stand So Close To Me. Where she excels is on the contemporary R’n’B of the single Diamonds, which sustains interest in the most cliché-ridden of melodies. But the baffling Loveeeeeee Song tries too hard to be different when normal would do just fine.

Right Now is the sort of hands in the air fodder you would expect from David Guetta, while What Now demonstrates that the Barbadian does not do bog-standard power ballads. Nobody has the right to moralise on how Rihanna deals with the personal issues which have become so ruthlessly public, but here she demonstrates amply what it takes to be the market leader. Did Ike and Tina Turner do this with any more class 50 years ago?

Colin Somerville

Download this: Stay, Pour It Up, Numb


The Bryan Ferry Orchestra

The Jazz Age

BMG, £11.99


Ferry has a history of exploring other people’s back catalogues, but this exercise is a terrible indulgence which tells us nothing new about the man or the music.

Including covers of his own songs, such as Do The Strand and Virginia Plain, is grossly misleading, as the connection between the originals and these 1920s jazz instrumental interpretations is beyond tenuous. The album is immaculate when recreating the 1920s, but borderline insane when applying that treatment to 1980s stalwarts Avalon or Slave To Love. When art rock’s ultimate lounge lizard performed Northern soul classic The In Crowd, it was a revelation, but this has no voice and no heart. Pretty but pointless.


Download this: The Bogus Man

Alicia Keys

Girl On Fire

SmashBash Records, £12.99


Where there was once smoky soul-infused blues, there is now a ubiquitous dance groove. Scotland’s own Emeli Sandé co-wrote three songs on Keys’ new album, including the impressive Not Even The King, which says much about her rapid ascent into the stellar ranks of modern dance-pop exponents.

The title track is tainted by the tacky presence of Nicki Minaj, who does not have an iota of Keys’ class. The business is so competitive the temptation is to opt for the obvious, but Keys is most effective when subtle and seductive.


Download this: Girl On Fire, Not Even The King


Rachael MacFarlane

Hayley Sings

Concord 0888072333260, £13.99


Rachael MacFarlane – for those who, like me, had no idea – is the voice of Hayley in American Dad, the animated sitcom created by her brother (and fellow singer) Seth.

This lovely album comprises songs that her alter ego would apparently enjoy singing, and is an unusual mix of pop numbers and standards performed with big band, small jazz combo, strings and, in the case of a couple of the stand-outs, just guitar. MacFarlane has a beautiful, clear, pure voice which is best showcased on the slow, gentle and intimate versions of songs by Carole King, Paul Simon and Judy Collins.

Alison Kerr

Download this: Feelin’ Groovy, Up On The Roof


Show of Hands

Wake The Union

Hands On Music HMCD36, £12.99


The popular English trio took Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson and Andy Cutting, among a dozen guest musicians, into studios to build up this 15-track odyssey through Anglo-American pop acoustic songs – most written by Steve Knightley, but also including Bob Dylan’s bitter Seven Curses.

The rich instrumentation adds texture and tonal variety to a varied, well performed, if rather unexciting stream of songs that don’t carry much weight in a cheerful, contemporary nu-folk entertainment.

Norman Chalmers

Download this: Haunt You


Magdalena Kozena

Love And Longing

DG 479 0065, £12.99


Songs by three composers – Dvorak, Mahler and Ravel – feature on this CD by the Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. The song settings hark back in time: Dvorak to the Bible with his Biblical Songs, Maurice Ravel to the ancient Middle East with his Shéhérazade, while Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder draws on the poems of a noted Orientalist.

Kozena’s style cannot be faulted, nor the accompaniment by the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon, but collectively, and especially with Dvorak, the emphasis is somewhat downbeat. Worth hearing, but not in the middle of winter or if you’re feeling depressed.

Download this: Ne Regarde Pas Dans Mes Chansons!