Album reviews: JLS | The Tolbooth Sessions | Julian Lloyd Webber | Kit Downes Trio | Fiddlers' Bid | Aicha Redoune


THESE double Mobo award winners look set to be a genuine X Factor success story with a host of screaming fans already poised to pounce. Their self-titled debut album is not particularly inferior to Cheryl Cole's effort but it is a whole lot more disappointing for the way it sacrifices any shred of soul in favour of regulation boy-band blandness – not blandness of the Westlife blazers-and-ballads school, but of the anonymous anaemic pop R&B realm. Even when they do muster a catchy chorus, for instance on Don't Go, the homogenous production stamps out any vestige of this likeable quartet's personality.




STIRLING'S Tolbooth venue and Forth Valley College have teamed up to produce this collection, which partners bands from the Stirling area with established musicians such as Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub and Stevie Fleming of Cosmic Rough Riders as their producers. The results often say as much about the producer as the artist. Mogwai's Barry Burns teases out the introspective undulations of the French Quarter, Davie Scott of the Pearlfishers makes subtle work of singer-songwriter Matt Johnston and there is no escaping the Idlewild influence on Lions.Chase.Tigers, produced by 'Wild bassist Gareth Russell.

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It's a diverse showcase, also encompassing the Leads' Jock-the-lad indie, the melodic grunge of Tegan and modish Afrobeat sounds from Jack Butler.




SONY, 7.84

JOAQUIN Rodrigo is perhaps best known for his popular Concerto de Aranjuez for guitar, but in the 1980s – when he was in his eighties – he wrote a concerto for cellist Julian Lloyd Webber that is every bit as exotic and tuneful. Accordingly, it fits well with the title of Lloyd Webber's latest disc, Romantic Cello Concertos, and sits easily with the lush and slithering chromaticism of Delius's concerto and the hot-blooded romanticism of Lalo's.

These are a repackaging of earlier separate releases by Lloyd Webber, and so feature different orchestras and conductors. With Vernon Handley and the Philharmonia, he digs deep into the passionate soul of the Delius. With Jesus Lopez-Cobos and the London Philharmonic, the Rodrigo is by far the more perfect and invigorating performance. The opening of the Lalo is marred by ragged orchestral interjections at the start.




THE trio featured on this debut album from pianist Kit Downes played at the Homegrown event in the Glasgow Jazz Festival this summer, though with Scottish bassist Calum Gourley as nominal leader.

Downes came to prominence as a member of Empirical (his former band will tour in Scotland later this month), and his distinctive stamp is clear on the music, most of which he has written – Gourley contributes one composition.

The excellent James Maddren on drums completes a trio that relies heavily on close listening to each other, a process that is manifest in a refined, finely textured group sound and responsive interaction.

Downes typically builds his musical ideas by developing a gradually expanding and intensifying examination of the melodic and harmonic material at hand, punctuating the subtle and understated twists and turns with occasional more virtuoso digressions.





THE conventional Shetland reel that opens the first set is a bit of a red herring – things are about to get rather more exotic as this incomparable Shetland outfit take off on a fabulous journey through music from Norway, Sweden, Estonia and Quebec, as well as their native island and Scotland.

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The long-established fiddle front line of Andrew Gifford, Chris Stout, Maurice Henderson and Kevin Henderson play together with the precision of a Swiss watch and enough energy to power a small town, supported by Catriona McKay's clarsach and piano, Jonathan Ritch on bass, and Fionan de Barra's driving guitar work. They gather 17 tunes in four long and brilliantly sustained sets, augmented by two single tunes, the elegant Astrid's Vals and Midnight. No-one puts a finger remotely wrong on a front-runner for album of the year.




OCORA, 11.74

THIS fascinating CD is a time-capsule within a time-capsule. When the liner notes talk about its recreation of the kind of art music performed in Egyptian soirees "at the end of the last century," they are referring to the 19th century: this recording was made in 1993, before the world music boom had begun, and it represents a heroic piece of musical archaeology.

Singer Aicha Redouane was born in a village in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains in 1962: the music she sang as a child star was Berber. She studied architecture in France, but became increasingly fascinated by the lost classical music of the Arab world, as evidenced by old 78s; she absorbed the musical forms and the poetry, and internalised the singing styles of the Egyptian performers of the 1890s, as well as their great successor, Umm Kulthumm; she went to Cairo to deepen her knowledge of classical Arabic and its poetry, and to imbibe the basics of Koranic recitation.

She then assembled a "takht" – a small chamber ensemble which traditionally accompanied singers – drawing in an Egyptian qanun-player, a Moroccan oud-player, an Egyptian violinist who had trained classically in France, and a percussionist steeped in the music of Yemen.

The suites here may initially strike European ears as alien – Redouane's voice has a timbre that at first sounds hard and forced – but once her spell begins to work it's as hypnotic as qawwali-singing from Pakistan (which in some respects – not least the Sufi emotions – it closely resembles). She is complemented by some wonderfully virtuosic solos on violin, oud, and qanun. "Love has broken me, my beloved is as sweet as the breeze" run the words of her final song, with that ambiguity typical of much Arabic poetry: at once human and divine.