Chrissie Hynde: Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan (BMG) ****
Jam & Lewis: Jam & Lewis Volume One (Flyte Time Records/BMG) ****
Eliza Shaddad: The Woman You Want (Rosemundy Records/Wow and Flutter) ***
Adam Stafford: Trophic Asynchrony (Song, By Toad) ****
Longtime Dylan disciple Chrissie Hynde has been performing Bobby D’s songs live for decades. Hearing his epic new offering Murder Most Foul last year pulled her out of lockdown fug and led to a series of cover recordings with Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne which have been released digitally (with vinyl to come) to celebrate Dylan’s 80th birthday.
These are simple, immediate, acoustic, kitchen table recordings, capturing the duo’s innate feel for the music as well as every exhalation or murmur. In choosing her repertoire, Hynde mostly eschews the standards, and even embraces the unloveable, preferring Dylan’s lesser favoured early 80s period with a handful of tracks from Shot of Love and the Mark Knopfler-produced Infidels.
She subverts the sexist reputation of Sweetheart Like You, inhabiting the lyrics with her dexterous phrasing. Her unmistakeable sultry, aching voice is rightly to the fore, supported by acoustic guitar, tinny keyboards, multi-tracked backing vocals and by trilling mandolin on the Tex Mex-flavoured takes on Blind Willie McTell and Bringing It All Back Home’s Love Minus Zero/No Limit. She holds her own on the classic You’re A Big Girl Now and has just the right medicine for the title track, from Dylan’s comeback Time Out of Mind, which manages to be both intimate and epic, with Walbourne’s burnished guitar as a comfort blanket. Yet another unexpected gift to emerge from a discombobulating year.
R&B production duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis reined supreme throughout the Eighties and Nineties with multiple Grammy Awards to show for their services to Janet Jackson and an enviable contacts list (Usher, Sounds of Blackness) to mine for stellar guest vocalists on their debut Jam & Lewis album.
Volume One stays firmly in their slick, satisfying soul, R&B and gospel lane, motoring effortlessly from the sheer smooth class of Mary J Blige’s performance on Spinnin’ to the prime schmaltzing of Boyz II Men on The Next Best Day. Mariah Carey breaks out some of her trademark stratospheric notes on Somewhat Loved, Toni Braxton tunes into the ambivalence of Happily Unhappy and Trinidadian singer Heather Headley helms masterful slow jam Maybe I Changed among other immaculate cuts.
Sudanese-Scottish artist Eliza Shaddad is jazz trained with folk and blues leanings and demonstrates her vocal pliability across her latest album, The Woman You Want, recorded at home in Cornwall with her husband BJ Jackson on production duties.
She opens with the light touch country pop of The Man I Admire before dovetailing into the stronger rootsy rhythms of Heaven and Fine & Peachy, her playful tribute to the plain-speaking pushback of Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette and Martha Wainwright.
The attitude is swapped for self-questioning on the yearning title track, as she does what she can to get her head straight. The widescreen scope of Now You’re Alone and the inherent drama of Waiting Game contrast with the breathy, undulating Tired of Trying and the delicate lilt of Blossom, with Shaddad demonstrating a natural affinity across the mood board.
Falkirk-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Adam Stafford presents his latest textured instrumental work, Trophic Asynchrony, titled after a term for atypical seasonal activity in nature, and rich in evocative soundscapes.
Carnivore of Lawns uses minimalist concentric patterns, bells, chimes and cosmic whooshes to denote birds in flight, the multi-tracked panting on Nested Octohedra equates to running scared and Thrapples Crag, meaning “lump in the throat”, is composed in tribute to the late poet Janet Paisley. With its layered blend of glitchy bleepology, soothing loops, distorted vocals, delicate melodies and glistening piano, Trophic Asynchrony is meticulous minimalism with the kitchen sink on top.
Haydn 2032: Les Heures Du Jour (Alpha) *****
It may still be 11 years before the musical world celebrates the 300th anniversary of Haydn’s birth, but already conductor Giovanni Antonio, in tandem with his own ensemble Giardino Antonini, the Basel Chamber Orchestra and record label Alpha, have got the party going. The series divides the symphonies into thematic programmes, coupled with connecting works by other composers. This latest release, Les Heures Du Jour, consists of the programmatic trilogy – the three 1761 early symphonies “Le Matin”, “Le Midi” and “Le Soir”, with Mozart’s Serenade in D “Serenata Notturna” as a musical nightcap. From the magical sunrise of “Le Matin” and intoxicating morning freshness of the Allegro, to the leisurely chitter-chatter of “Le Midi” and thunderstorm that ends “Le Soir”, there is effervescence in Il Giardino Armonico’s performances. Far from ending the day in quiet calm, Mozart’s playful Serenade is a call to party into the night. Ken Walton
John McLaughlin: Liberation Time (Abstract Logix) ****
What veteran guitarist and jazz-fusion pioneer John McLaughlin expresses in this high-powered if short-ish album is encapsulated in its opener, As the Spirit Sings, an eruption of creative energy, informed by his eastern spiritual leanings. McLaughlin is joined by an admirable squad of strong sidemen including members of his 4th Dimension Band – Gary Husband on drums and keyboards and bassist Etienne M’Bappé, the latter delivering an edgy bass guitar solo in the hard-travelling Lockdown Blues, further enlivened by Ranjit Barot’s staccato Indian konokol vocalising. McLaughlin makes a rare recorded visit to the piano stool for two brief, melancholy solo meditations. In contrast, the exhilarating Right Here, Right Now, Right On, joined by ebullient tenor sax from Julian Siegel, is probably as near to straight-ahead as you’ll get from McLaughlin, while the closing title track is indeed a break-out of joyous energy. Jim Gilchrist
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