Adele: 30 (Melted Stone/Columbia) ***
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Raise the Roof (Warner Music) ****
Taylor Swift: Red (Taylor’s Version) (Republic) ***
Callum Easter: System (Moshi Moshi) ****
Adele is in bits again, but this time it feels rawer than before. Following her divorce from Simon Konecki, her fourth album 30 is being punted as her most personal yet, and she lets it hang out at points, even baking samples of her conversations with her young son Angelo and her own tearful diarising into one track, My Little Love. The lyrical blows are softened by dreamy backing vocals and a slick trip-hop mood and the rest of the album follows suit, as she stretches herself vocally, taking on different styles and effects to produce her most diverse and sonically interesting work to date.
Her musical references are mostly retro. Opening track Strangers By Nature sounds like a blast from the classic Tin Pan Alley songwriting era, with elegant strings, twinkling arrangement and lush, dramatic vocal overdubs. Cry Your Heart Out is silky northern soul, the perfect vehicle for heartache, leavened by handclaps and perky pitch-shifted vocals. Oh My God layers testifying soul, jazz and gospel into a rhythmic whole, and All Night Parking is a sultry supper club jam built round samples of jazz pianist Erroll Garner.
These are interspersed with examples of her more conventional piano power ballad setting, from the creative comfort blanket of comeback single Easy On Me to the overwrought Whitneyesque diva blowout To Be Loved. Having practically coughed up a lung to assert “let it be known that I tried”, she then bows out with the lovely retro girl group heartbreak of Love Is A Game, beautifully produced by Michael Kiwanuka’s producer Inflo.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss pick up their relaxed partnership almost 15 years on from the expectation-exceeding Raising Sand, with Krauss her natural self and Plant continuing to rest his tonsils in his old age and explore the power in restraint.
Raise the Roof is another blues/Americana covers collection under the direction of producer T Bone Burnett, featuring a primo line-up of musicians, including a guitar supergroup of Los Lobos mainman David Hidalgo, Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell and Buddy Miller, who treat the songs of Allen Toussaint, Anne Briggs and Bert Jansch with the carefully calibrated emotion they deserve.
Highlights include the twang and shuffle of Lucinda Williams’ Can’t Let Go and the heartworn sorrow of Merle Haggard’s Going Where the Lonely Go, with ravishing pedal steel guitar. Plant and Burnett contribute an original moody blues High and Lonesome and there are deep cuts from the pre-war era by singer/guitarist Geeshie Wiley and the desolate bluegrass of You Led Me To The Wrong by Appalachian banjo player Ola Belle Reid.
Does the world need an entire re-recording of Taylor Swift’s Red? Swift certainly does if she wants to secure ownership of her songs in an ongoing dispute over her master tapes. The original release marked a transition period from country to pop and charted a painful break-up from all angles – sassy kiss-offs, bitter recriminations, everyday devotion, doe-eyed romanticism – which Swift can now approach as a slick control exercise. Taylor’s (very long) Version includes nine previously unheard songs, including duets with her mate Ed Sheeran, Chris Stapleton and Phoebe Bridgers, and a ten-minute version of All Too Well as originally conceived.
Leith-based one-man band Callum Easter is a restless musical seeker with a distinctive sound in perpetual flux. His latest album System is a pert, DIY rock’n’roll record fashioned from drum machine, distorted electronics and Easter’s yarn-spinning drawl, with the embellishing wheeze of accordion and impish interjections from Pauline and Jacqui Cuff, aka Leith Congregational Choir. The unfettered, declamatory Little Honey contrasts with the beseeching bluesy Be Somebody before singer Law Holt joins Easter on the lo-fi rattle and hum of Lose Sometime. Catch this quick before Easter moves on again.
Robert Fayrfax: Music for Tudor Kings and Queens (Delphian) ****
Ensemble Pro Victoria was established six years ago in Cambridge with a view to combining the performance of early vocal music with allied historical research. The subject of their new Delphian release is the Tudor composer Robert Fayrfax, who died 500 years ago, whose music was sung at the wedding of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, but much of whose life prior to becoming a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal at the age of 33 is something of a mystery. The facts, including an exact date of birth (1464), suggest his life was reasonably comfortable. His music, as illustrated in these religious works and partsongs, is both sophisticated and charming. It predates the easier eloquence of Tallis and Byrd, with a gutsiness – in some cases a rawness – that lights up such flavoursome examples as the substantial Magnificat Regale, a fascinating Credo reconstruction, and his fine partsong, Sumwhat musyng. Ken Walton
Eberhard Weber: Once Upon A Time – Live in Avignon (ECM) *****
This poignantly titled live recording captures a 1994 live solo concert by German bassist and ECM signature artist Eberhard Weber, whose unique playing has been curtailed since 2007 by a stroke. He draws largely on material from previous albums, though with a hitherto unrecorded, striking take on My Favourite Things. The opening Pendulum immediately establishes the almost vocal quality of tone Weber achieves on his five-string electro-acoustic instrument, while dexterously utilising pedal-controlled live sampling and looping. Numbers such as the 12-minute Trio for Bassoon and Bass, with its wistful opening melody, the energetic Ready Out there or the ethereal Silent for a While exemplify Weber’s extraordinary, layered soundworld, replete with atmospheric background thrums and pulses, sudden runs and spooky harmonic outbursts. At times sounding cosmically distant, or perhaps echoing from some Piranesi-esque vault, this is a singular talent playing a singular instrument. Jim Gilchrist
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