Sting’s smooth style sits awkwardly with Shaggy’s Jamaican dancehall vibe in an unexpected collaboration
Sting & Shaggy: 44/876 (Polydor) **
Chas & Dave: A Little Bit Of Us (Rockney/Cooking Vinyl) ***
Alexis Taylor: Beautiful Thing (Domino) ***
Josh T Pearson: The Straight Hits! (Mute) ****
There is always the potential for brave new sounds when musical worlds collide – or cultural confusion and artistic alienation in the case of the thoroughly bizarre partnership of Sting, an artist who takes himself too seriously, and Jamaican dancehall superstar Shaggy, who arguably doesn’t take himself seriously enough.
Taster single Don’t Make Me Wait, their inoffensive steal from Bob Marley’s infinitely superior Waiting In Vain, lays a false sense of reassurance. But despite their individual backgrounds in pop reggae, Shaggy’s distinctive brash toasting is quite at odds with the smooth delivery of Sting, who occasionally makes the heinous error of imitating his patois.
Mercifully, in that case, much of 44/876, named after the respective dialling codes of their home countries, favours Sting’s comfort zone. Waiting For The Break Of Day is a polite cocktail lounge blues to which Shaggy is barely invited. 22nd Street is another of Sting’s casual strolling songs, while Crooked Tree is a would-be sage fable about rough justice with Shaggy as unwitting comic judge.
Shaggy does air his decent singing voice on Gotta Get Back My Baby but the album’s more tolerable interludes are shortlived, as when the pleasing roots reggae groove of Sad Trombone is interrupted by such squirmy sentiments as “I’d make the sweetest love to her with every semi-quaver”.
No such worries about the compatibility of veteran pub rockers Chas & Dave who, unsurprisingly, stick to what they know best on their first set of new tunes in 30 years, celebrating their usual cast of Cockney chancer characters on the likes of Modern Robin Hood and Come On Charlie while imparting barfly wisdom on A Little Bit Of Me, which ponders the yin and yang of relationships, and Sling Your Hook, Chas Hodges’ riposte to a cancer diagnosis.
There is musical variety within their established traditional parameters from the soused rhythm’n’blues of Nothing You Can Do to the brief bursts of western swing style on When You Wore A Tulip and Nagasaki, while Hodges’ daughter Kate provides some fragrant vocal relief on the otherwise cheeky, chirpy Why Not Me?
While Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor is entirely comfortable with out-and-out pop music, he tends to use his solo material to explore more intimate and esoteric territory with his distinctive plaintive tenor voice as the lead instrument.
Taylor has coaxed Unkle’s Tim Goldsworthy out of semi-retirement to produce Beautiful Thing, a mostly downtempo album of luscious, dreamy electronica such as Deep Cut and thoughtful ballads, including a meditation on home taping and the creative process, Roll On Blank Tapes.
This set of fair-to-middling songs is elevated by the use of mournful mute trumpet, sonorous house piano and the dusky twang of acoustic guitar, while Taylor’s voice is exquisitely plaintive throughout, and well suited to the conventional 1970s balladeering of I Feel You.
Josh T Pearson takes solo liberation to playful extremes with his latest solo album. He has shaved his beard, started wearing colours and thrown off the musical shackles of his oppressive, apocalyptic Texan trio Lift to Experience to embrace the simple pleasures of redneck country and low slung rock’n’roll with a Jonathan Richman-like glee on Give It To Me Straight.
The Straight Hits! abides by a number of self-imposed rules about songwriting – including that each track must contain the word “straight” in the title, hence hammy country ballad The Dire Straights of Love. Bereft LTE fans can wallow in the epic guitar wrangling which accompanies Loved Straight To Hell but, mostly, this is a straight-shooting treat of an album.
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh: Foxglove and Fuschia (Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh) ****
The former frontwoman with the Irish band Danú taps into her west Kerry roots in this elegant solo album which showcases finely poised singing in Irish and English as well as some nimble flute and whistle playing. She’s accompanied, though never intrusively, by a coterie of
fine musicians, not least guitarist Gerry O’Beirne, whose song Where Foxglove lends the album its title
and which Nic Amhlaoibh interprets with great warmth and a lovely dying fall.
Her songs shine through sheer, unadorned musicality, such as the opening Bríd Óg Ní Mháille and her duet with Séamus Begley in An Sciobairín, while she covers Archie Fisher’s elegiac The Final Trawl with melodic ease.
Also in Irish there’s the Muirisín Deas Is Nóra, a song from the Blasket Islands with a mellifluous, nursery rhyme-like simplicity, while a drift of multi-tracked fiddle carries her heartfelt delivery of the old air Bean Dubh an Ghleanna – another song from heart and homeland.
Lyell Cresswell: Music for String Quartet (Delphian) *****
The composer Lyell Cresswell, now in his 70s, has enjoyed simultaneous prominence in his native New Zealand and his adopted homeland of Scotland. Influences from each have fused to create a musical language that is quizzical and challenging, endlessly creative and whimsically unique. The hallmarks are omnipresent in the varied choice of repertoire featured by the excellent Red Note Ensemble on this tribute disc.
The most substantial work here is the String Quartet, condensed by the composer to three movements from its original four, and whose veiled opening recalls his early seminal work Salm, with its slithering references to Gaelic psalm-setting. The arched intensity of this performance is breathtaking, at its heart the sustained angst of the central movement, dissipating into the reflective wailings and ethereal positioning of the third. Red Note end on a brief frenzied note with the opening movement of the Maori-inspired Kotetetete.