The Cranberries: In The End (BMG) ***
Pete Doherty & the Puta Madres: Pete Doherty & the Puta Madres (Strap Originals/Cargo Records) ***
A New International: The Dark Carnival (Self-released) ****
Eddi Reader: Starlight EP (Reveal Records) ****
There is no avoiding the poignancy attached to The Cranberries’ latest and final album. In the End was never conceived as a swansong but became so following the death of frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan in January 2018, not long after she had recorded demo vocals on a batch of new songs.
Her bandmates Noel and Mike Hogan and Fergal Lawler chose to wind up the group, but not before completing the album with their regular producer Stephen Street, using touring backing vocalist Johanna Cranitch to ghost-sing the occasional word or expression.
The band are keen that In the End be treated as a celebration, not a valediction. Given the frank lyrics on the likes of All Over Now, a grim chronicle of domestic abuse, and Crazy Heart, a portrait of a passionate mess, perhaps catharsis might be the more likely takeaway.
Musically, the album offers more of The Cranberries’ trademark polished arena-friendly Celtic mysticism, shot through with manicured bursts of brooding gothic guitar. The mid-paced Summer Song feels underpowered and unfinished but elsewhere O’Riordan reveals herself to be a Brexit soothsayer on Wake Me When It’s Over as well as her fluctuating mindset with the self-comforting mantra of the breezy, undemanding Got It (“I know that I got it, I did not lose it all”) and the demurely delivered distress of The Pressure ringing out clearly against uplifting, chiming guitars.
In contrast, it’s hard to get a handle on where Pete Doherty is at with his latest laidback venture. Like Jack White, he appears to be collecting new bands but the material is not there, with his latest outfit The Puta Madres stepping in to rescue his lacklustre songs of “love, loss and being lost” on Pete Doherty & the Puta Madres. Paradise Is Under Your Nose is a duet of sorts with his guitarist Jack Jones (of indie band Trampolene). Likewise, Someone Else To Be is saved by the band sweeping up his lethargic delivery, then delivering a proper hoedown in the middle of the maudlin Travelling Tinker and a jolly western swing interlude during the meandering A Fool There Was.
With better songs, the sloppy spontaneity might hold some charm but the indulgent acoustic blues of Punk Buck Bonafide is a studio strum which should have remained there.
Vanishing Point’s gothic vaudeville wingding The Dark Carnival has been one of the theatre hits of the season, spurred by the integrated, characterful score performed by Glasgow ensemble A New International, which is now released as an album in its own right.
While these whimsical, melodramatic, rambunctious songs, capturing the regrets and longings of the undead (“let me have the fun I was not allowed before”), truly come to life when performed live, their recorded incarnations still abound in personality, with vaudeville, klezmer and chanson influences piled on over a theatrical pop/rock foundation – think The Divine Comedy with added mischievous swagger, as singer Biff Smith outlines the opportunities for the restless soul on Give Me Fun and leads the company in the worksong lament Until the Earth Runs Dry.
Eddi Reader supplements her beautiful Cavalier album on the Starlight EP which revisits a couple of rapturous tracks and gathers equally soothing additional material from those sessions, including James Grant’s Scarecrow Song with massed choir comprising much of the Reader clan, a subtle new arrangement by Reader and band of US protest song Build High, Build Wide (No Contempt), and John Douglas’s wry country lament No Reply Dot Com.
Leighton & Martin: Masses for Double Choir (Delphian) ****
Of prime interest here is the Mass for Double Choir by Kenneth Leighton, former Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University, mentor to the likes of James MacMillan, and a composer whose music throws together the edgy progressiveness of 20th century European avant-garde and the diatonic warmth of the English choral tradition he grew up in.
This fresh, incisive performance by the choir of King’s College, London, under Joseph Fort, has a natural energy to it, gently caressing the embryonic Kyrie opening, capturing the thrill of its organically-fed climaxes and catchy rhythms, and revelling in its shifting textural beauty. Written in the 1960s for Herrick Bunney’s Edinburgh University Singers, it’s a work of enduring impact, partnered here by another moving example of the genre, Frank Martin’s mellifluous Mass for Double Choir, where the influences of plainchant are more obvious. - Ken Walton
Mary Ann Kennedy: Glaschu (ARC Music) ****
Mary Ann Kennedy’s love song to her home town is in turn as gritty and big-hearted as the Dear Green Place itself, in a vivid sonic tapestry that combines the songs of her Glasgow Gaelic community with urban soundscapes and guests such as Finlay Wells on guitar, Jarlath Henderson on uilleann pipes and young singers from a Gaelic school.
Interspersed throughout is Derick Thomson’s evocative poetry, such as Orange Parade in Glasgow and Sauchiehall Street Friday Morning, read by actors Bill Paterson and Kennedy’s sister Wilma.
Kennedy sings the core song, Òran do Ghlaschu, with poise and passion, whistle twining through dramatic string quartet and traffic rumble, and gives an affectionate Gaelic reprise to Michael Marra’s Mother Glasgow.
Òran do Clutha, celebrating the old Clutha ferries, gets a zany vaudeville accompaniment by the Brooklyn trio The Wiyos, while an atmospheric highlight is Storm on the Broomielaw, with its pelting rain and a busking saxophone from Richard Ingham.