Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways (Columbia) ****
Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels (Jewels Runners/BMG) ****
Jack Garratt: Love, Death and Dancing (Island Records) ***
The Primevals: Second Nature (Triple Wid) ****
Bob Dylan’s first album of original songs since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature is an extended reflection on mortality and creativity delivered from the eye of an invigorating blizzard of cultural allusions – the mischievous title itself doffs a cap to the Jimmie Rodgers song of almost the same name, and fellow esteemed writers are namedropped or referenced throughout.
Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Frank and The Rolling Stones are woven into I Contain Multitudes, which packs more content into four-and-a-half minutes than many artists can manage over an entire album, yet without cluttering Dylan’s delicate rumination and melancholic crooning over the romantic sigh of slide guitar.
The spirit of the Stones is stirring in the low-slung blues strut of False Prophet, while My Own Version of You makes bedfellows of Shakespeare, Frankenstein, Liberace and the Bible in its dark, almost desperate desire to reanimate the past.
Dylan oscillates between ballads and the blues for the next hour. I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You is a Cohenesque romantic invocation – “I’m not what I was,” he concedes in a cracked voice of ragged glory – while he faces mortality with grim, gruff humour over glistening classical guitar chords on Black Rider.
Elsewhere, his sensitive musicians apply gentle Tex Mex accordion and cooing backing vocals to the comforting Key West and the subtlest of Latin inflections to Mother of Muses. Its appeal for liberation and oblivion is made even more explicitly on Crossing the Rubicon (“three miles north of purgatory, one step from the great beyond”).
But all roads lead to the Americana apocalypse of closing track Murder Most Foul, a 17-minute meditation on the Kennedy assassination which gets a CD all to itself. Like the album as a whole, the longest original song in Dylan’s catalogue offers much to comb through over repeat listens.
While Dylan wrangles with a murder which still haunts a nation 57 years on, the uncompromising rap duo Run the Jewels bring old school hip-hop fire to a much more recent incendiary slaying.
The grimly topical Walking in the Snow references the 2014 death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD, JUST questions the faces of “slavemasters” on banknotes and makes reference to “chokehold” cops and veteran civil rights campaigner Mavis Staples sounds truly pained on Pulling the Pin.
In addressing the topics which fuel cradle-to-grave race inequality with such eloquent rage, Run the Jewels have unwittingly produced the soundtrack to the latest Black Lives Matter protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd. As the duo say, “here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all.”
One-man-band Jack Garratt re-emerges four years after his Brits win with a second album of “dance music for people who don’t want to go out.” Love, Death and Dancing is less hectic and eager to impress than his debut Phase, and now that Garratt has stopped throwing the kitchen sink at his songs, his discovery that success is no cure for anxiety is all the more starkly outlined on Circles (“27 without any friends”), the quasi-gospel petition of Doctor Please (“when is it my turn to be okay?”) and jazzy piano ballad She Will Lay My Body on the Stone.
Veteran Glasgow garage rockers The Primevals are feeling their age without sounding it on their latest album, Second Nature, from the rambunctious likes of The Older I Get (“the less I know”) to the beseeching garage soul of Wanna Be Loved. There is simultaneously warmth and balefulness to We Die Young Here, its classic rock’n’roll theme retooled as a social comment on the sick man of Europe.
James MacMillan: Symphony No 4 & Viola Concerto (Hyperion) *****
The more I listen to James MacMillan’s Fourth Symphony, written in the year running up to its premiere at the 2015 BBC Proms, the more powerfully its restless energy and disparate ideas hit home. This protean recording by the BBC Philharmonic under Martyn Brabbins is both consummate and compelling, knitting the symphony’s intense complexities, reminiscences (haunting reflections on the music of Scots Renaissance composer Robert Carver), exotic allusions to steel band sonorities, and that inevitable MacMillan-esque religiosity into one profoundly unified creative organism. Its sense of purpose and direction is unrelenting, ultimately ecstatic. The cadence-like opening chords of the ensuing Viola Concerto create an uncanny segue from the symphony, but beyond that Lawrence Powers’ rich-toned solo performance asserts the individuality of a work that shows the tonal resource of the viola at its most radiant.
Marie Fielding: The Spectrum Project (Rumford Records) ****
Widely respected as a dance band player, soloist and teacher, Marie Fielding showcases here not only her finely honed art as a Scots fiddler and composer but also as a painter whose art glows from the album sleeve.Many of these tunes had hardly been played before she went into the studio with guitarist Luc D McNally and pianist Tom Orr (guitarist Donogh Hennessy guests on one track), as she wanted to concentrate “on mood and response, rather than aiming for perfection.” Whatever, as the album title suggests, it features a frequently beguiling range of moods, from the spirited Queensferry Crossing set to the delicate waltzing of Gracie’s Lullaby. Fielding’s Irish heritage shows through in the leisurely jig-time of Muriel’s Oatcakes and the limber swing of the Connemara Reel set. There’s the quietude of two Gow airs, and she switches to five-string fiddle for the sonorously haunting title air which opens and closes the album.
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