Deacon Blue: Riding on the Tide of Love (earMUSIC) ****
Celeste: Not Your Muse (Both Sides/Polydor) ***
Martin Gore: The Third Chimpanzee EP (Mute) ***
Deacon Blue’s new album was never meant to be but, as Covid has bent lives and livelihoods out of shape, doors close, plans change and opportunities arise. With no option to tour their 2020 City of Love album, the band chose to mine the spirit of that record in other ways with their second album in less than 12 months.
Riding on the Tide of Love is a continuation, featuring three tracks recorded during the City of Love sessions and others polished up incrementally, with each musician heading into the studio to record their part in isolation. The result is a mellow companion piece, gentle, unhurried, simple, effective and, given its piecemeal gestation, admirably cohesive.
The opening title track combines a number of Deacon Blue signatures – a swagger to the rhythm, an ache to the vocals, an uplift to the arrangement – with the bonus feature of Ricky Ross intoning on the verses like a Caledonian Leonard Cohen warming to the theme of love in the time of adversity.
Next comes love in a cold climate. She Loved the Snow is a winter song to snuggle up with, a comforting, cosy, breathy duet with Lorraine McIntosh. The easy rapture of their intertwined voices recalls the languid atmosphere of their 2009 McIntosh Ross album, The Great Lakes, recorded in the US with the cream of Americana players.
This album is buffed up with more of a pop sheen, but the beguiling spirit remains the same, with soft, burnished guitar on the easy listening Look Up, acid guitar chords and a cantering rhythm supporting the charming tune of Time and a laidback southern soul feel to Send Out a Note.
This last number is a call to call out in times of trouble, while there is further empathy in Ross’s beseeching falsetto assurance that “there’s nothing to be scared of, no reason to fear” on Nothing’s Changed. In a year where everything changed, Deacon Blue are determined to be a safe haven.
Rewind 12 months and all systems were go for the British-Jamaican singer Celeste, who had scooped both the Brits Rising Star Award and the BBC Sound of 2020 title. As per industry norms, the plan would have been to blitz the airwaves with her debut album throughout 2020; instead, Not Your Muse has been shunted around the schedules to find a germane release slot.
But it’s no bad thing to match Celeste’s relatively subtle, delicate sound with a quieter commercial overture. Not Your Muse is infused with retro soul and jazz flavours and many of the tracks are breathy, slightly affected affairs making use of the practised catch in her voice.
The coquettish flutter of A Little Love is already familiar from its use in the most recent John Lewis Christmas ad, which these days is second best to a Bond theme. Elsewhere, she glides from the soft focus 70s balladry of A Kiss backwards to the 50s for the marimba-laden luau of Beloved, with reverb turned up to the max as she levitates vocally.
In contrast, the title track is a big, rapturous production, Tonight Tonight injects some pep in her step and there is a Paloma Faith-like belter of a chorus on Somebody Stop This Flame which flickers with diva potential.
Hot on the heels of Depeche Mode’s virtual induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, their chief songwriter Martin Gore exercises his armory of modular synthesizers and love of dark electro on his new primate-themed solo instrumental EP – with accompanying sleeve painted by a capuchin monkey called Pockets Warhol.
The Third Chimpanzee is brooding but not overly foreboding, chiselling instrumental hooks from heavily synthesized vocal sounds, and embellishing its expansive industrial plane with percussive paradiddles, fuzzy synth doodles and bass wobble.
Bach - Busoni: Goldberg Variations & other works (Linn) ****
Bach’s Goldberg Variations have appeared in various guises recently and are no worse for it. This, from Hong Kong-born pianist Chiyan Wong, offers a version edited by Busoni with “modifications” by Wong himself, and the quirkiness of a further trio of works that pay homage to Bach. He brings a stylistic sincerity to the main work, its Aria and 30 variations crisp, clear and iridescent, the multiplicity of moods enhanced by the added richness of occasionally bolstered textures. Bach purists may balk at the exaggerated rubato in the opening aria, and the protracted cadence extending the final bars - rather like the church organist compensating for the late arrival of the processing clergy. Wong takes his openminded vision further with his own Inversion of Variation 15, a spectral moment. Busoni’s chromatically seductive Sonatina “In Diem Nativitatis Christus McmVii” and his transcription of Bach’s violin Chaconne complete a strangely satisfying odyssey. Ken Walton
Shai Maestro: Human (ECM) ****
Israeli pianist Shai Maestro adds US trumpeter Philip Dizack to his trio with double-bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Ofri Nehemya, further developing his sensitive approach to tone, texture and atmosphere. Maestro’s propensity for delicately exploratory melodies and haunting atmosphere is exemplified in the limpid opener, Time, piano and horn spelling out a theme over hissing cymbals, while the title track is a short but beautifully lingering melody, working up to an ecstatic crescendo. Hank and Charlie is an affectionately gospel-tinged tribute to two of Maestro’s heroes, Hank Jones and Charlie Hayden, underscored by warm bass murmuring from Roeder, while The Thief’s Dream suggests a cinematic adventure, piano, drums and cymbals gradually whipping up excitement, with trumpet generating further drama. All compositions are by Maestro, apart from a joyful engagement with Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood, followed by the closing Ima, a stately, Middle-Eastern-accented piano journey over rattling toms. Jim Gilchrist
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription at https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions
Joy Yates, Editorial Director