Album reviews: The Proclaimers | Jah Wobble | Giant Sand | Israel Nash

Craig and Charlie Reid PIC: Murdo MacLeod
Craig and Charlie Reid PIC: Murdo MacLeod
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The Proclaimers make their feelings clear on Angry Cyclist, where every track brims with confidence

The Proclaimers: Angry Cyclist (Cooking Vinyl) ****

Jah Wobble: Dream World (Jah Wobble Records) ****

Giant Sand: Returns to Valley of Rain (Fire Records) ****

Israel Nash: Lifted (Loose Music) ****

For more than 30 years now, The Proclaimers have soundtracked births, marriages, deaths and sporting endeavours. They are a cradle-to-grave service with songs for every occasion and it seems that the twinkling romanticism and sighing strings which open their latest album are setting the scene for one of the Reid twins’ great unfettered love songs. And then the singing starts…

“For me this era has been kissed by the aura of an angry cyclist, black loathing so sincere, red anger born of fear, there’s nothing half as queer as today” is an impressive opening salvo even by this band’s razor-sharp lyrical standards. They go pedal to the metal for the rest of the title track with pounding righteous rage and bemusement – “old prejudice hasn’t gone, new energy drives it on” – throwing open the door to one of their most cutting collections.

But while Angry Cyclist is an album which doesn’t suffer fools gladly, at a time when there are many fools to be suffered, it also contains some of their funniest, most celebratory work to date – and also, on the robust rhythm’n’blues of Stretch, their funkiest.

The entire collection brims with controlled confidence. From the pithy and pacey jangle of Sometimes It’s The Fools to the bruising, direct and driving Celtic soul stormer You Make Me Happy, there is no shilly-shallying in their intentions.

Looted is a swaggering, semi-yodelled takedown of colonialism; the bluegrass energy of The Battle of the Booze a fine addition to their catalogue of drinking songs. It is tempting to speculate on the silver-tongued subject of the twanging country rock’n’roller A Way With Words, but no doubting who they are talking about on the privilege-skewering Classy: “When your daddy lends you a million you can lead the land of the free.”

And there is definitely no need to second guess Streets of Edinburgh, an emotional tribute to the Scottish capital, powerful in its simplicity.

Gentleman bassist Jah Wobble favours his jazz and exotica predilections rather than the dub end of his range on Dream World, a solo, instrumental album which flits fluidly between styles. A Chunk of Funk is not especially chunky, more electro-infused with Wobble’s bouncy bassline bobbing in the background like a persuasive pulse.

Later, he takes the romantic road trip of L’Autoroute Sans Fin, its lyrical, rolling piano flourishes underlaid with synth chords and punctuated with solo trumpet and chorus pedal effects. This cinematic blend of instrumentation continues through NHS Ward Tune, a quirky, handstitched tribute with melodica; the bittersweet whimsy of On Steroids, which also alludes to an impromptu hospital visit, and the pizzicato Piquant with keyboards mimicking the reedy keen of woodwind.

Howe Gelb is another gentleman wit, known for his droll, dolorous helming of Tucson alt.country band Giant Sand over the last four decades. Returns to Valley of Rain is a re-recording of their 1985 debut album as they would have wanted it to sound at the time, using the same budget ($400), time frame (a day and a half), and drummers long since departed from the line-up, but with added vintage amp action. It is a kickass affair with a muddy, punk momentum running through the rootsy rock’n’roll of Death, Dying and Channel 5, epic riffing of Artists and the garage boogie of Man of Want.

Texan troubadour Israel Nash supplies a more blissful listen on the soothing, soaring and poignant Lifted. With shades of Neil Young in its psychedelic country palette and of Ryan Adams in his soulful vocals, this is just the ticket for a long, hot summer.

CLASSICAL

Poulenc: Piano Concerto, Organ Concerto & Stabat Mater (LPO) ****

There’s something comforting about Poulenc’s music. The sweet sentimentality of his free-flowing melodic invention; the luscious harmonic blanket that underpins it; and the masterly fusion of fairground jollity, gothic theatre and reverential reflection: all contribute to his ripe and infinitely listenable sound. These factors jostle for position in this trio of works: the unpretentiously carefree Piano Concerto in C sharp minor, featuring the neatly frivolous pianism of Alexandre Tharaud; the restive Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani, which plays brilliantly to the intoxicating mix of melodrama and quiet meditation, especially in organist James O’Donnell’s playing; and the delicious Stabat Mater, easy-going but religiously sincere, and crowned by the soaring soprano of Kate Royal. The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir provide impeccable support, conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin eliciting all that matters in Poulenc, transformative euphoria arising from simplistic originality.

Ken Walton

JAZZ

Emile Parisien Quintet: Sfumato Live in Marciac (ACT) ****

This fine CD/DVD package captures French soprano sax wizard Emile Parisien’s superb quintet, including electric guitarist Manu Codjia and pianist Joachim Kühn, in full flight at the Jazz in Marciac festival. With Wynton Marsalis, accordionist Vincent Peirani and bass-clarinettist Michel Portal as notable guests, they combine virtuosity, Gallic whimsy and an expansive tonal palette. The three-part suite Le clown tueur de la fête foraine epitomises the brilliance, progressing from a fairground waltz on accordion through elephantine clarinet voicings and biting guitar work, as the band surges around them, Parisien’s solo swirling over pulsing bass. Parisien provides a beautifully floating prelude, too, for Balladibiza, before guitar and clarinet sigh alongside, and the ensemble racks up the tension from ominous, advance to grandiose blues-rock before a mercurial solo excursion from Kühn. There’s the all-out bebop attack of Missing A Page, and Parisien, Marsalis and Peirani skip delightedly through Temptation Rag.

Jim Gilchrist