Album reviews: Camera Obscura | Kelly Jones | Afterlands

Dry eyes are not an option while listening to Camera Obscura’s first album since the death of their bandmate Carey Lander, writes Fiona Shepherd

Camera Obscura: Look to the East, Look to the West (Merge Records) ****

Kelly Jones: Inevitable Incredible (Stylus Records) **

Afterlands: We Are the Animals in the Night (Lost Map) ****

Camera ObscuraCamera Obscura
Camera Obscura

Glasgow indie favourites Camera Obscura return after a decade-long hiatus following the death of their cherished bandmate Carey Lander with an album so soft, soothing yet nostalgic that you can almost feel the weight lifting from their shoulders as they work out grief, regret and confusion.

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Look to the East, Look to the West eschews their usual leavening string and brass arrangements to explore a different palette using the keyboards, organ, even syndrums brought by band members Kenny McKeeve, Gavin Dunbar, Lee Thomson, new recruit Donna Maciocia and singer/songwriter Tracyanne Campbell. Her comforting voice sounds light and lonesome over whispering syndrums on opening track Liberty Print as she looks back on old encounters with an easy poetry.

The gentle mantra We’re Going to Make It In a Man’s World hits the sweet spot between retro country, indie folk and girl group pop, while delicious organ licks add to the old school country vibes of Big Love. The band have a ball on the carefree Pop Goes Pop and even the title of The Light Nights is cheering and reassuring.

Inevitably though, the album is shot through with sadness, whether the tender piano line and sobbing slide guitar which open Only a Dream or the bittersweet lyrics of Denon, about struggling through. The self-help-style affirmation “don’t live with regret cos you only get one life” could ring hollow but Campbell has an integrity of expression which is at its most devastating on Sugar Almond. This is a straight-up song for Lander, with nothing to stand in the way of Campbell’s candid sentiments. “I have to say what comes to mind… you made me kind” she attests with utmost delicacy, bringing the tribute home with a final beat before she utters the name Carey. Dry eyes not an option.

Kelly Jones PIC: James D KellyKelly Jones PIC: James D Kelly
Kelly Jones PIC: James D Kelly

Stereophonics frontman Kelly Jones has been busy with the side-projects of late, following up the debut album by his Americana trio Far From Saints with a new solo album, written entirely on piano. Inevitable Incredible lives up to neither part of its title, ranging instead from the brooding title track via gentle protest prayer May I Come Home From My War to the country-tinged motivational idiom of The Beast Will Be What The Beast Will Be, while recent single Echowrecked is a pop devotional wreathed with guitar, strings and percussion, which settles into middle of the road territory.

Afterlands is a lockdown-birthed collaboration between Phantom Band frontman Rick Anthony (aka Rick Redbeard) and David McAulay from Strike the Colours, who initially came together to work on a film soundtrack, before working their ideas into atmospheric debut, We Are the Animals in the Night.

Anthony has always possessed a stately soul quality in his voice – on opening track Bones of the Earth, it is backed by a solemn drone to create a simple hymnal appeal. Arrangements are carefully calibrated throughout, with a number of guests providing texture. Rolling Waves is a bare bones ballad with Pete Harvey mesmeric on cello. Admiral Fallow’s Kev Brolly adds lithe clarinet to the limpid chords and resonant tones of Whale Song, one of two tracks with guest vocals from Jill Lorean, whose sweetest country tones also intertwine with Anthony on Ghosthouse.

Anthony’s storytelling abilities come to the fore on Geese Flying In Broken Patterns, embellished by intuitive drumming from Chvrches’ Johnny Scott. His rich baritone recalls the morose spirit of a Nick Cave piano ballad on I Woke to the Sound of Wind and despite the sideways John Martyn nod in the title, Hollow Air evokes the timeless fragility of a Tim Buckley tune. Like Camera Obscura, the mood is mellow but the sentiments cut through.



Elgar: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2 (Hallé) *****

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For those reared on Sir Alexander Gibson’s legendary Elgar symphonies performances (and recordings) with the Scottish National Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder’s newly released coupling of both completed symphonies with the Hallé Orchestra is like a nostalgic flashback. Like Gibson, he captures intuitively the right tempi, neither plodding nor impetuous, imbuing the detailed inner workings with ample latitude to express themselves. But Elder, who leaves the Hallé this summer after 24 years as music director, is very much his own man. The First Symphony’s “nobilmente” opening emerges with magisterial composure, timeless yet loaded with personal intent, from which a glut of riches ensues: the mercurial airiness of the Scherzo; the Adagio’s sublime composure; the inexorable resolve of the Finale. The Second Symphony, opening with an effusive explosion of ready-cooked optimism, evolves into something markedly more subtle, more reflective. Elder again inspires awesome, naturally-generated intensity. The ending is sheer bliss. Ken Walton


Tim Garland: Moment of Departure (Ubuntu Music) *****

The title of this immensely rewarding double album by saxophonist Tim Garland is informed not only by the nature of casting off as an improviser, but by vivid sleeve artwork by migrant artist Esra Kizir Gokcen. It also sees Garland cast aside saxophone to conduct the London Studio Orchestra in his beautiful suite The Forever Seed. He remains in fine fettle, however, in his Lighthouse Trio with pianist Gwilym Simcock and drummer Asaf Sirkis, plus strings from the Britten Sinfonia, opening exuberantly with Winds of Hope. Yazz Ahmed adds empathetic flugelhorn to the haunting Sub Vita, while the title track features eloquent soprano sax improvising over string surges. The Forever Seed has soloist Thomas Gould’s violin sing out, strings complemented by Rob Millett’s cimbalom and responsive piano from Simcock. An album highlight, however, is Approaching Winter’s beguiling take on Vivaldi, soprano sax and violin sparring deftly. Jim Gilchrist

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