Album reviews: Ron Sexsmith | The Mavericks | Jim James

Ron Sexsmith 2012
Ron Sexsmith 2012
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Our critics review the latest CD releases, including new albums from Ron Sexsmith and The Mavericks


Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

Ron Sexsmith: Forever Endeavour

Cooking Vinyl, £11.99

Star rating: * * * *

The magnificent Ron Sexsmith makes melancholy sound so inviting. Eighteen months ago he had strong reason for soul-searching following a health scare, so Forever Endeavour has its fair share of sorrowful laments plus sojourns on If Only Avenue and Snake Road (which are presumably right at the end of Lonely Street). But Sexsmith’s voice always sounds like a sympathetic friend, embellished here by the comforting warmth of strings, brass and pedal steel. Also, the recovery comes quickly and Sexsmith celebrates with some mariachi horns on Nowhere Is, the playful but poignant Sneak Out The Back Door, an acoustic blues about the desire to keep a very low profile, the understated Dixieland ditty Me, Myself And Wine and the touching love song Deepens With Time.

Fiona Shepherd

The Mavericks: In Time

Mercury, £13.99

Star rating: * *

Miami’s Mavericks are back in the saddle after a hiatus of almost a decade and apparently feel the need to launch themselves hammer-and-tongs at this comeback album.

In Time typically oscillates between the strident and the borderline cheesy, and manages to combine these dubious qualities on the slick Vegas party rock’n’roll of Lies. Raul Malo’s lusty vocals are practically operatic on the blaring Tex Mex track Come Unto Me and his cathartic performance on the closing Call Me When You Get To Heaven is just too much in the end.

One can only imagine Chris Isaak making a more seductive job of Born To Be Blue, instead of this heavy-handed competition between instruments. In Another’s Arms is not the subtlest of slow dances but still comes as a welcome breather after all the Cubano clamour.


Jim James: Regions Of Light And Sound Of God

Bella Union, £13.99

Star rating: * * * *

Kentucky outfit My Morning Jacket have gradually progressed from snoozy, stoner country to the playful exultance of their most recent album, Circuital. Frontman Jim James continues his wide-eyed journey into sound with this blissful, psychedelic and soulful solo album which kicks off with the sultry funk-folk of State Of The Art, channels old school hippy spirit on the distended raga of All Is Forgiven and space folk of God’s Love To Deliver, and outswoons John Lennon’s Woman on Actress. An album for anyone who has ever wondered what The Flaming Lips might sound like if they covered Roy Ayers.



Wayne Shorter Quartet: Without A Net

blue note records, £12.99

Star rating: * * * * *

The saxophonist Wayne Shorter is approaching his 80th birthday later this year, but his desire to explore new musical territory remains undiminished. This collection marks his return to Blue Note, after a four decade gap, where he cut his classic 1960s recordings, and features his stellar, long-running quartet with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade.

The music was recorded on tour in Europe last autumn, other than the remarkable 23-minute Pegasus, recorded in LA with an additional wind quintet. New versions (and they are) of Orbits and Plaza Real from his time with Miles Davis and Weather Report, several new compositions and a take on Flying Down To Rio make up a creative, innovative and risk-taking set, although if your taste runs to straight-ahead jazz and swing, it may not be for you.
Kenny Mathieson


Carlos Nunez: Discover

Sony Masterworks, £13.99

Star rating: * * * *

With his virtuosic Galician pipes and liquid-toned whistles, Carlos Núñez has long been a flamboyant presence on the Celtic music scene. This compilation – with sleeve notes by the late, lamented Jan Fairley – covers generally large-scale arrangements and compositions and shows him as a man for the grand gesture: listen to his cascading pipes entrance in A Irmandade das Estrelas or the unstoppable advance of orchestra and pipe band in Marcha do Entrelazado de Allariz.

There are collaborations – sometimes overblown, sometimes magnifico! – with everyone from Jackson Browne to the Chieftains, and from Ry Cooder to Montserrat Cabbalé, Potent moments include his stirring Aires de Pontevedra, while A Lavandeira da Noite builds up an impassioned climax with Israeli singer Noa and flamenco guitarist Vicente Amigo.

Pared down but satisfying are The Three Pipers (namely Núñez with Liam O’Flynn and Patrick Molard), the flamenco-driven swirl of Jigs and Bulls and a gently shaded duet with viola da gamba player Jordi Savall.
Jim Gilchrist


I Was Glad: Sacred Music of Stanford and Parry

Vivat, £ 13.99

Star rating: * * * * *

For the launch CD of its new label Vivat, The King’s Consort have delivered an undisputed spectacular. Together with full symphony orchestra of 19th-century period instruments, and under the directorship of founder Robert King (this is also the vocal group’s 100th CD recording), they tackle canticles and anthems by Stanford and Parry in their original full and lustrous symphonic versions. Suddenly, Stanford’s numerous Evening Canticles are heard to their full effect – radiant, Brahmsian exultations of faith, with unmistakable hints of Wagner witnessed in the thrill of the orchestral language.

Parry’s music is no less exhilarating – from the large-scale Coronation Te Deum and famous Blest Pair of Sirens to I Was Glad and Elgar’s orchestration of Jerusalem. It’s a magnificent start for a potentially exciting new label.
Ken Walton


Stephan Micus: Panagia

ECM, £12.99

Star rating: * * * *

I FOUND it hard to stay awake while listening to this CD, which is another way of saying that it casts a very effective spell. The Bavarian multi-instrumentalist Stephan Micus is one of a kind, and spells are what he has been casting for the past 30 years. His CDs for ECM – this new one is the 20th – all suit that label’s tasteful aesthetic, with no surprises ever ruffling their slow and serene surface.

Each one speaks with a multiplicity of voices, and every voice – human or instrumental – is his own: he simply layers himself over himself, time and time again, which in the case of Panagia can mean up to 20 layers. But this is only part of his formula: he’s also a tireless experimenter with instruments he collects on his travels, putting them together in unusual combinations, and the more cross-cultural the better.

For On The Wing he drew on instruments he’d found along the old Silk Road, most notably the sattar which, with one metal string and ten resonators, comes from the Uyghurs, and the mudbedsh, which is a reed instrument from Iraq. For other CDs he’s used everything from Algerian bagpipes to the Japanese shakuhachi, from the Hungarian tarogat to the Indian shenai. A few years ago he became smitten with the Armenian duduk, and managed to persuade Djivan Gasparian, the world’s most famous dudukist, to give him a month’s intensive training.

Panagia is one of the names for the Virgin Mary, and this new CD is dedicated, he says, to “the female energy that is everywhere in the world”. On it can be heard the Indian dilruba, the Egyptian nay flute, a temple bell he persuaded his Sherpa to give him, and the Chitrali sitar he bought from an old man in Pakistan. But the music is essentially Greek Orthodox in tone, with a strong admixture of typically discordant Georgian male-voice harmony. Listen – and stay awake if you can.
Michael Church