Music reviews: Tracey Thorn | Rough Trade Counter Culture | Preservation Hall Jazz Band | Tapestry of Scotland |Richard Wagner

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Our critics review the week’s music releases.


Tracey Thorn

Tinsel And Lights

Strange Feeling, £11.99


The crystal clear tones of Thorn breathe new life into that old war horse the Christmas album. Reuniting her with old Everything But The Girl partner Ben Watt, Tinsel And Lights evokes the old traditions while not getting bogged down in sticky sentiment. There is a rockabilly twang to In The Cold, Cold Night to banish the chills, and several snow songs all calculated to draw the listener to the fire. She also turns in a beautifully judged version of Joni Mitchell’s The River to stand comparison with Fran Healy’s impassioned reading. Certainly something to soothe the seasonal pain.


Download this: Joy, Taking Down The Tree (featuring Green Gartside)

Various Artists

Rough Trade Counter Culture ’12

Rough Trade Shops/V2, £13.99


A welcome throwback to the label samplers of the 1970s, this album’s ultimate goals are both quality and quantity. With over 40 songs it is worth taking such a minimal risk for such a small investment. From the world beats of Francis Bebey to contemporary indie angst from Savages, Liars, or Toy, there should literally be something to suit all tastes. Even the unhinged dub of Sun Araw’s New Binghi or Neil Young’s Into The Black given the female slant by Chromatics.


Download this: all tracks


Preservation Hall Jazz Band

St Peter & 57th Street

Rounder 0011661912021, £29.99


The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a New Orleans institution that’s been going strong since the 1960s when local jazz enthusiasts organised performances by musicians from the dawn of jazz. This CD is a recording of a concert given by the 2012 incarnation of the band at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and features special guest turns by George Wein, Allen Toussaint and Steve Earle among others. The opening instrumental numbers stand out in this strange musical gumbo; the singing leaves something to be desired. A case of “you had to be there” maybe?

Alison Kerr

Download this: Burgundy Street Blues, Bourbon Street Parade


Various Artists

Music And Song Of The Great 
Tapestry Of Scotland

Greentrax Records CDTRAX372D, 


The double album of 20 tracks, from the breadth of the nation’s singers, is tied to the new big tapestry – the longest in the world – which depicts the History of Scotland in 40 panels, each celebrating an event or famous personality. It is an unexpected, if honest, clash of quality, spirit and emotional force that captures the recent spirit of the nation as it climbs towards the real possibility of home rule and independence. And it’s full of interest and beauty, from ancient Scots and Gaelic battles and history, to the new Scottish Parliament, stretching from Gordon Gunn’s opening slow air, The Ring of Brodgar, to the ultimate, solo voice of the late Ishbel MacAskill’s beautifully realised An Ataireachd Ard.

Norman Chalmers

Download this: Monks of Pluscarden Abbey, O Pater Patriae


Richard Wagner

Twilight Of The Gods

Deutsche Grammophon DG 479 0638, £12.99


This recording’s subtitle, The Ultimate Wagner Ring Collection, would better describe the whole of the Ring Cycle on CD, rather than a twin-disc recording of excerpts, whose 160-minute length would barely encompass a single Wagner opera. Yet the Metropolitan Opera’s Ring Cycle, here recorded live, is both magisterially staged by Robert Lepage, and strongly sung by a cast that includes Deborah Voigt, Bryn Terfel and Jonas Kaufmann. The Met’s orchestra is not less consistently fine, conducted by James Levine and Fabio Luisi. Forget the sleeve notes – fixated on correlations with Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings – and just enjoy the splendid sound.

Alexander Bryce

Download this: Gross Glückund Heil