THE latest music reviews rated by our critics, inculding a new album from experimental trio Yorkston/Thorne/Khan
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan: Everything Sacred | Rating: **** | Domino
A chance meeting of cultures backstage in the not terribly rock’n’roll environment of a TED event has led to this latest collaboration for James Yorkston, noted troubadour from the East Neuk of Fife, who has made his name as a solo artist but is rarely seen without the company of kindred talented players, be it his sometime touring band The Athletes or fellow Fifers from the Fence Collective.
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan is a more experimental undertaking, pushing Yorkston a little further out of his comfort zone. If the group name sounds like a jazz trio, the musical reality is not far off it. The Khan in the partnership is Suhail Yusuf Khan, a classical Indian singer and virtuoso of the sarangi, a stringed instrument associated with Hindustani musical tradition which, it transpires, dovetails harmoniously with Yorkston’s meticulous, mesmeric guitar playing.
Following the pair’s initial meeting and impromptu duetting, Yorkston asked jazz bassist Jon Thorne, generally to be found playing with electro pop outfit Lamb, to soup up their sound and a couple of tours followed, during which the material for this debut album was amassed and finessed.
There are a number of strands to the trio’s sound but improvisation and experimentation is the conduit for this meditative and melancholy album. Yorkston’s hypnotic guitar picking casts a spell as it is but Khan’s soulful, almost conversational sarangi is the star of lengthy opening track Knochentanz, with Yorkston and Thorne providing the texture. Over the course of almost 14 minutes, it weaves through a sighing call-and-response section, then an urgent escalation in tone, pitch and speed to arrive, relatively late in the day, at Khan’s elastic voice, which also features prominently soaring above the rhythmic mantra Nania.
Vachaspati _ Kaavya is more of a dialogue between Thorne’s plangent bass and Khan’s keening sarangi, while the latter instrument functions almost like a lead vocal over gently undulating guitar on the closing Blues Jumped The Goose.
The other half of the album is given over to songs, including a couple of covers. Ivor Cutler’s Little Black Buzzer is rendered with characterful quirkiness, especially by guest warbler Lisa O’Neill who gets the tragicomic tone just right.
O’Neill also contributes to a lovely version of Lal Waterson’s Song for Thirza, a sad, cathartic tribute to the woman who raised Waterson when she and her siblings were orphaned, which repeatedly returns to the poignant nub of the matter: “where are you now my precious dog, who ran after me in my growing years?”
It’s not the only aching farewell on the album. Thorne’s raw, bare but beautiful title track is a highlight, along with Yorkston’s Broken Wave, his quietly heartbreaking requiem for late Athletes bassist Doogie Paul. Both tracks cut deep but rub in healing balm to soothe the wounds, putting emotional heft at the core of these spellbinding reveries. Fiona Shepherd
POP: The Temperance Movement: White Bear | Rating: *** | Earache
This revivalist strain of rootsy rock’n’roll was already old school back when The Black Crowes were paying homage more than 20 years ago but still appears to hold perennial appeal for fans as much as players, accounting for the sleeper success of The Temperance Movement’s debut album. There’s a don’t-fix-what-ain’t-broke approach to this follow-up, as exemplified by the hoary Battle Lines and the pugnacious boogie of Modern Massacre. The band’s Glaswegian singer Phil Campbell is an effortless rock growler, able to complement the punky hard rock edge of Three Bulleits or turn on the gruff tenderness on A Pleasant Peace I Feel. But a spark of originality wouldn’t go amiss. FS
POP: Hinds: Leave Me Alone | Rating: *** | Lucky Number
This Madrid-based DIY quartet, formerly known as Deers, have charmed all and sundry with their devil-may-care garagey approach, so much so that their thoroughly derivative sound – equal parts naïve buzzsaw C86 indie pop, riot grrrl grunge and low-slung Velvet Underground jamming – isn’t such an issue. Like chilled Iberian cousins of our own Honeyblood, they tackle “the 12 faces of love” with some gauche girl group sway on Solar, a familiar interplay between the vocalists which is cute but not cutesy, and the overriding belief that girls just wanna have fun, even when they are singing about heartbreak. FS
CLASSICAL: Prokofiev: Symphonies Nos 4 & 6 | Rating: ***** | ONYX
Ukrainian conductor Kiril Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra complete their Prokofiev symphonies series on the Onyx label with a trenchant pairing of the Fourth (its expansive reworking of the original by the composer) and Sixth. It is the latter symphony that appears first, and it is a crunching performance. Karabits digs deep into its violent anger and frustration, eliciting powerful swathes of darkness and deep-felt angst from an orchestra that seems to respond naturally and convincingly to the probing mind of its chief conductor. There’s a gaunt intensity in this version of the Fourth, too, but not without recognition of the radiance and virile energy that permeates Prokofiev’s forcibly argued music. Both works are separated by a curiosity, an early Symphonic fragment by the composer that is touchingly tuneful and derivative, but a world away from what he was to write as an adult. Ken Walton
FOLK: Cara: Yet We Sing | Rating: **** | Artes Records
One might approach a recording by German Celtophiles, albeit with a Scots singer, with a degree of trepidation, but this album reveals a musical force to be reckoned with. Cara comprise Hendrik Morgenbrodt on uilleann pipes and flute, Gudrun Walther on fiddle and accordion, guitarist Jürgen Treyz and percussionist Rolf Wagels, plus the Edinburgh singer-songwriter and pianist Kim Edgar, and they can really fly, pipes and fiddle tight and nimble over Edgar’s rolling piano.
Naked Man in the Whirlpool turns out to be an easeful melody, with dobro sighing through flute and accordion before sliding sweetly to the fore in A Wee Dobro Tune.
Edgar sings with poise and clarity in the traditional Elfin Knight and a fairly epic setting of the ballad Little Musgrave, while contemporary material includes her own, whimsical Leaf for a Sail. Cain’s War doesn’t work quite so well, her vocals sounding stretched by a wayward melody, but Anchor in the Sky is a beautiful song of thanksgiving. Jim Gilchrist
JAZZ: Mike Westbrook & Company: A Bigger Show Live | Rating: **** | ASC Records
What a splendid rumpus. Mike Westbrook’s 22-piece Uncommon Orchestra rolls into town like a rumbustious if faintly sinister carnival (think Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes) to perform a “jazz-rock oratorio” about the state of humankind in the age of the internet. Marking both Westbrook’s 80th birthday and half a century as bandleader and composer, this live double CD delivers a vast tapestry of reeds, brass and electric guitars and double drums, not to mention fairground barkers, over which Kate Westbrook gives characteristically authoritative voice.
The opening Gizzards All Glory sees her apparently channelling Roald Dahl’s Miss Trunchbull alongside Alan Wakeman’s baying tenor sax, while Juxtapositions warns of “disasters yet to be”, as soprano sax wheedles over a Greek chorus of brass. The cosmic meditations of Gas, Dust, Stone take the form of a sultry slow blues with howling guitars and eruptive brass, while Lovers Galore is dark and brassily funky. Shows don’t come much bigger. JC