Album reviews: The Puppini Sisters | Jai McDowall | The Roots | Classical | Folk | Jazz | World

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Our team of critics review the latest offerings from the world of music


The Puppini Sisters: Hollywood

Decca, £13.99

Rating: ***

THE 21st-century Andrews Sisters make their fourth outing into swing, big band and boogie-woogie, this time with a silver-screen theme and added grooming from the Mad Men styling team. With the exception of a bluegrass take on Get Happy, the Sisters play it pretty straight with their spot-on swooning harmonic arrangements, lashings of brassy sass and Gene Krupa-style drumming, though there is mischief in their voices during I Feel Pretty and a playful musical saw solo in an otherwise faithful Moon River. It’s a thin line between tribute and pastiche and The Puppini Sisters walk it in their kitten heels.

Jai McDowall: Believe

Syco, £13.99

Rating: *

SUSAN Boyle’s output sounds avant-garde in comparison to this ultra-safe debut from the latest Britain’s Got Talent winner. As sure as Westlife like to stand up at a key change, MOR balladeer Jai McDowall is borne aloft at the climax of each track by swelling choral backing and deposited right into granny’s Christmas stocking. It was only a matter of time before the Simon Cowell machine got its mitts on Elbow’s One Day Like This and mistook its anthemic uplift for mawkish overstatement. Coldplay’s Fix You, already done to death by his reality TV peers is included, but no genre is safe from his emasculating touch – in addition to predictable Josh Groban and Faith Hill covers, he also knees Green Day and the redoubtable Randy Newman in the nuts.

The Roots: undun

Def Jam, £13.99

Rating: ****

RESPECTED Philadelphia crew The Roots buck the trend for excess in the production and sheer length of hip-hop albums with this 39-minute concept album which works backwards through the life of one Redford Stephens, named after the Sufjan Stevens song Redford and inspired by the character of Avon Barksdale in The Wire. Rather than come out all guns blazing, undun opens with the sparse, slightly discomfiting Sleep, representing the post-mortem voice of the protagonist, and develops into a downbeat soulful lamentation which poses some of the same questions about endemic crime in the Afro-American community as the Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration Watch the Throne, but without all the attendant self-aggrandisement.

Fiona Shepherd


Paul Lewis plays Schubert

Harmonia Mundi, £17.99

Rating: *****

THE inclusion on this double disc of Schubert’s Vier Impromptus D899 and the Drei Klaverstucke D946, while they are no less substantial than the central three sonatas (D850, D894 & D840), add an airborne dimension to this wholesome release by pianist Paul Lewis. The playing possesses the same eloquence and depth of Lewis’ earlier discs, including his complete Beethoven, where utter ease of execution and probing intellect walk hand-in-hand. Here, though, the Impromptus are a particular delight, projecting Schubert at his most lyrically flamboyant.

Kenneth Walton


Aamos: Caravan

Nordic Stomp, ONLINE ONLY

Rating: ****

Another Nordic alliance combining the ever industrious Kevin Henderson (Boys of the Lough, Fiddler’s Bid, Session A9, plus a fine recent solo album), fellow Shetland fiddler and mandolinist Mark Laurenson and the Norwegian guitarist Vidar Skrede. Calling themselves Aamos (a Shetland word for a gift promised in hope of a wish granted), the trio’s debut album is a hugely enjoyable reprise of traditional Shetland repertoire, including Wha’ll Dance Wi Wattie and Da Scallowa’ Lasses, delivered with great zest and freshness, while gentler material includes Debbie Scott’s fine David’s Waltz and the ever-exquisite Greenland Man’s Tune sounds fiddle harmonies over Skrede’s chiming guitar. And what a litany of rugged Shetland titles – not least Du’s Bun Lang Aw an Im Tocht Lang Tae See Dee, a magnificent reel but not one to say with your teeth out.

Jim Gilchrist


Mike Gibbs: Here’s A Song For You

Fuzzy Moon Records, £12.99

Rating: *****

THIS limited edition CD is a rare treat. Two of the most creative musicians on the British jazz scene, composer and arranger Mike Gibbs and singer Norma Winstone, are united with the NDR Bigband in a set of subtle and evocative arrangements. The material, beautifully delivered by the impeccable and expressive Winstone, ranges from standards like So In Love and You Go To My Head through Ellington to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Tom Waits’s Soldier’s Things, Nick Drake’s Riverman, and Gibbs’s own Some Shadows. The band, with Mark Mondesir on drums, revels in the arrangements and in the opportunities for soloing, adding further layers of fascination to a high-class project.

Kenny Mathieson


Anna Moura: Coliseu

World Village, £13.99

Rating: ****

Joana Amendoeira: Setimo Fado

Chant du Monde, £12.99

Rating: ****

Claudia Aurora: Silencio

World Village, £13.99

Rating: ****

NO TRIP to Lisbon is complete without a visit to the Clube de Fado, where night after night singers of all ages belt out their lovely version of the blues. And new fado recordings keep on coming. Anna Moura is a Portuguese television star with a large following, and her previous CD had a diluted feel, as though fame had sapped her artistic strength. But her new disc – a live recording from the Coliseu dos Recreios – is a welcome surprise. It begins with casual chatter in the hall, with Moura cutting through it unaccompanied, and you instantly hear what an interesting voice she has: her husky contralto possesses an unschooled expressiveness, exuding visceral power. When the concert gets into gear, things go with a swing. The instrumentation is what it should be – Portuguese guitar, Spanish guitar, and bass guitar, all acoustic – and one realises anew that in fado the big international stars are bidding adieu to the crude satisfactions of amplification, and waking to the beauty of pure acoustic sound.

Joana Amendoeira has just released a new album every bit as good her last. Setimo Fado reflects the subtle artistry she first honed at the Clube de Fado, here elaborated with piano, accordion and cello, but whereas Moura’s speciality is galvanising big auditoria, Amendoiera purveys an intimate and delicately-inflected art. Meanwhile the un-fadoish surprises of Claudia Aurora’s Silencio reflect the fact she lives outside Portugal, but she has a beguiling voice, and her instrumentalists are superb.

Michael Church