The Scotsman’s music critics give their verdict on this week’s music releases
Santigold: Master of My Make Believe
IN THE four years since Santigold released her self-titled debut album, suggesting a cool new future for dubby pop music, the mainstream has taken a turn for the depressingly generic. Caribbean divas Rihanna and Nicki Minaj occasionally toss us a reggae-flavoured bone but mainly pound the safe hit-generating treadmill. Santigold almost goes to the other extreme, making an experimental collage from bubblegum pop, cheerleader rap, lean punk funk, electro, Afrobeat and dub elements which, not unlike the work of her closest musical cousin MIA, can take a few listens to penetrate. The tunes and hooks are there, though – current single Disparate Youth, The Keepers and The Riot’s Gone being the pick of the pop crop.
Feeder: Generation Freakshow
Big Teeth Music, £12.99
YOU don’t go to Feeder for surprises. If you have heard anything of the Britrockers’ catalogue over the past 15 years, then you have already garnered the essence of Generation Freakshow, which offers more of their not-very-alternative journeyman melodic rock recipe with choruses which strain for but fall short of epic. The sub-Nirvana riffs of Idaho could be a hold-over from their slightly punkier Renegades alias but ultimately they chicken out of going for the jugular, preferring to draw on US new wave influences for lead single Borders. Elsewhere, frontman Grant Nicholas delivers a couple of nice vocal performances on otherwise unremarkable slower tracks.
Richard James: Pictures In The Morning
WHILE his former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci bandmate Euros Childs is off gallivanting as Jonny, the 1970s power pop superduo, with Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake, Richard James is still flying solo with his third album. Pictures In The Morning is a modest collection of mostly intimate folk pop songs, some of which are content to function as drab filler whimsy. Others, such as the lonesome keen of Rolling Down, hit the sad spot, while the Donovanesque finger-picked psych folk pastoral Sun Ease Pain with its Laurel Canyon backing harmonies is quite an epic, one you will have heard before (say, 40 years back) but which still casts a spell.
Gesualdo: Quinto Libro di Madrigali
ECM New Series, £13.99
DON Carlo Gesualdo is best known for two things: the fact that he, an Italian prince, had his wife and her lover murdered and got away with it; and as a composer of music so chromatically warped it belies its origins in the high Renaissance. The latter provides the allure to this fine new recording of the Fifth Book of Madrigals by the Hilliard Ensemble. Published in 1611, these works display all the extraordinary harmonic twists and turns that allowed Gesualdo to express extreme emotions in a way they had never been before, not even by his contemporary Monteverdi. There’s a boldness of delivery, coupled with deliciously turned phrases, that gives these performances an intoxicating beauty.
KIM EDGAR: THE ORNATE LIE
QUIETLY FANTASTIC MUSIC, £12.99
THE Leith-based singer-songwriter and pianist Kim Edgar has come up with a persuasive second album, with strong melodic hooks paired to bittersweet musings, shafts of optimism and some Angela Carter moments when the mirror cracks and the bitter stuff of fairytales seeps through. Well-chosen accompanists include producer Mattie Foulds on drums and Steven Polwart on guitar as well as strings and some effectively belling brass. A Poppy Blossoms opens proceedings with purposeful intent, exemplifying Edgar’s arranging skills, and the title song is another strong one. Elsewhere, there are occasional echoes of Karine Polwart, an influence and, in fact, a collaborator on the vengeful Blood, Ice and Ashes (with atmospheric harp from Corrina Hewat). Occasionally Edgar’s delicate vocals risk being swamped by strings and drums, but in general she is articulate and probing, yet not without wonder, as in Fragile, while 8, 9, 10 charms without slipping into schmaltz.
Fly: Year Of The Snake
ECM Records, £12.99
SAXOPHONIST Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard make up Fly, but the group should not be regarded as a standard issue saxophone-led trio. All three instruments have equal prominence and weight in the music, which draws on a thoughtful chamber-jazz feel much of the time. Their earlier ECM release created high expectations for this second disc, and the results do not disappoint. The intricate interplay between Turner’s deft tenor saxophone work (including some delicate and beautifully sustained playing in improbably high registers), Grenadier’s lustrous sound and imaginative responses and Ballard’s always interactive and unfailingly appropriate drumming demands close attention, but repays the effort in equal measure. All three musicians contribute compositions, either individually or in combination. Highlights on a notably well-integrated whole include Salt and Pepper (the most straight-ahead jazz episode), Ballard’s breezy Diorite, and the subtly constructed title track.
Genticorum: Nagez rameurs
Roues et Archets, £12.99
THIS three-man group from Quebec have come a long way since their formation ten years ago. Their name apparently has no meaning – it was just something that guitarist Pascal Gemme remembers his grandfather singing. In album after album they mine the same musical seam. The title of their last CD, La Bibournoise, referred to a prison cell which was entirely constructed from food, and one suspects the inspiration of its traditional melody was the all-too-real hunger which Quebecois unfortunates experienced when they fell foul of the law in previous centuries. Its basic tune was treated to a dark harmonisation suggestive of the male-voice singing of Corsica, and the voices combined raw energy with irresistible charm – as they do on this new CD, with its upbeat cheerfulness. Singing in French and accompanied by guitar, flute, feet, violin, and fiddle - there is a difference – they make music with unassumingly down-home charm.
World Village, £13.99
AMIRA Medunjanin hails from Sarajevo and sings “sevdah”, which is the urban folk music of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This was originally a fusion of Ottoman and European styles, including Magyar, Roma and Ladino, with traces of Greek rembetika It touches on sadness, but it’s mostly to do with making love by moonlight, and it’s one of the most charming folk musics in the world. Aptly dubbed “Bosnia’s Billie Holiday”, Amira has found new realms of expression in it. This new CD sees her teaming up with pianist Bojan Z, plus a small but powerfully expressive band, where the deeply resonant bass acts as ballast for Amira’s breathy flights above.