Album reviews: Bill Wells | White Town | Rebecca Ferguson | Classical | Folk | Jazz | World

Our critics review the latest musical releases...


Bill Wells: Lemondale

Double Six, £11.99

Rating: ***

FALKIRK-BASED jazz composer/arranger Bill Wells is a voracious collaborator, given to forging partnerships with musicians from other traditions. For his latest project, he could hardly have gone further, journeying to Tokyo for one day in the studio with 14 musicians from across the Japanese musical underground, including members of Tenniscoats, Kama Aina, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, classically trained pianist Satoko Fuji and a man playing modified electric fan. The results are charming and evocative in places, with some of the mournful soundtrack quality he brought to his recent collaboration with Aidan Moffat, but overall Lemondale is more whimsical, making use of naïve arrangements on xylophone and trumpet, breathy vocals and the unexpected influence of Latino lounge music to create its DIY sound collage.

White Town: Monopole

Bzangy Records, available from

Rating: **

ALTHOUGH the wider world has heard nothing from White Town since the Bing Crosby-sampling 1997 chart-topper Your Woman, the man behind the moniker, Jyoti Mishra, has continued to slog away independently, and his lo-fi roots cannot help but show on his latest album, which races through 11 songs in half an hour. Stylistically, Monopole ranges from retro synth pop to acoustic troubadour territory to twee indie pop jaunts, but only the stealthy Roy Budd-style instrumental Theme For Turku Central Station transcends the homespun (no off-key vocals for one thing) and feels in any way substantial.

Rebecca Ferguson: Heaven

RCA, £12.99

Rating: ***

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WITH Amy’s sad passing, Adele’s continuing throat problems and Duffy’s commercial flameout on her second album, it would seem the way is clear for a new retro Britsoul diva to emerge. When she does, hopefully she will have more personality than Rebecca Ferguson, the runner-up on X Factor 2010 who, ironically, has everything – looks, elegance and a decent soul voice – bar that X factor. As post-series performances go, her debut album Heaven is a good effort, comprising ten efficiently executed soul pop tracks which start to bleed into one after a while. But Beverley Knight already patrols this domain with a lot more gusto and she isn’t going down without a fight.

Fiona Shepherd


Madrigali: Fire and Roses

Divine Art, £13.99

Rating: ****

MADRIGALI: Fire and Roses is a golden blend of a cappella repertoire, both ancient and modern, sung by the fresh voices of Aberdeen’s Con Anima Chamber Choir under its director Paul Mealor. Mealor’s own music is featured in the juicy atmospherics of his short choral cycle, Now sleeps the crimson petal. So are two beautifully crafted works by the American composer Morten Lauridsen, including the disc’s title track Madrigali, vivid modern settings of Italian Renaissance poems that harness echoes of Monteverdi. Genuine Renaissance madrigals by the stylistically anarchic Gesualdo, John Wilbye and others, including Monteverdi himself, are complemented by more recent settings by Holst and James MacMillan.



Nat Birchall: Sacred Dimension

Gondwana Records, £10.99

Rating: ****

ENGLISH saxophonist Nat Birchall’s musical inspiration is firmly fixed on the spiritually charged mid-1960s music of John Coltrane and followers, such as McCoy Tyner and Pharaoh Sanders. While the Coltrane feel is both unmistakable and fully acknowledged, it is Birchall’s own take on it rather than a simple re-treading of the ground. This album continues a palpable progression evident through his earlier work, sounding more majestic and more assured in its execution, and increasingly focused in its aims. Birchall’s own resonant playing on both tenor and soprano is supported by Adam Fairhurst’s Tyner-inflected piano, and augmented by subtle colouration from Corey Mwamba’s vibes and Rachel Gladwin’s harp. The Moorish tinge of Ancient World, the slow burn of the title track, the modal groove of Dance of the Mystic and Radiant Will and the graceful flow of Peace in Nineveh all pay the best kind of tribute.

Kenny Mathieson


The Albion Christmas Band: A Sound in the Frosty Air

Rooksmere Records, £12.99

Rating: ***

THIS latest incarnation of a venerable English folk institution delivers a warm-hearted if sometimes stolid festive hamper. Led by the Albion’s founder-bassist Ashley Hutchings, it’s an acoustic offering rather than some of the outfit’s more folk-rock excursions, with guitar from another veteran, Simon Nicol, and cheerful melodeon from Simon Care. There’s a delicately poised and harmonised a cappella opener, Christ Was Born in Bethlehem, from Kellie While, who also shines in contemporary material such as Emily Smith’s lovely Winter Song and A Distant Bell, written by Hutchings, who takes to the lectern, as it were, with some seasonal readings, including the nature poet John Clare’s splendidly evocative Schoolboys in Winter. The males lead gruffer stuff, such as the Sans Day Carol and Chanticleer, while a strangely wistful secular interlude comes with While’s limpid rendition of Tears for Fears’ Mad World.

Jim Gilchrist


Sevara Nazarkhan


Rating: *****

THIS record is remarkable as much for its provenance as its quality. Over the past few years it had seemed that the young Uzbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan was systematically distancing herself from her native music, in order to join the great global pop merry-go-round by collaborating with Western musicians, and leaning ever more heavily on electronic technology.

Yet here she goes back to her roots in the most thorough-going way, delivering a series of traditional/classical Uzbek love songs in an authentic acoustic style, with backing from Central Asian instruments –the dutar, tanbur and gichak – as well as the kanun zither, which is used across much of the Middle East.

Her vocal style clearly owes much to the influence of her great compatriot Munajat Yulchieva, who was responsible for rescuing many Uzbek songs from extinction: slow and grave, building its momentum with infinite patience until each song reaches its climax before dying away again.

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Some of these songs were written centuries ago, but one was composed by a rebel against Russian imperialism in 1916, as he was trucked off to exile in Siberia. But since most of this music has Sufi origins, the love referred to in the lyrics is simultaneously human and divine. The title song Tortadur is an exception, in that there’s no question in it of any divine involvement: “As she darkens her eyebrows / Maybe she causes fights. / There are two hypnotising eyes under those brows / Two dark Hindu boys charging their bows”.

I can’t remember when a CD representing this remote sound-world last entered the Western mainstream – it’s usually confined to ethnomusicological circles – but Sevara’s fame should do wonders for it.

Michael Church