Album reviews: Guided By Voices | Ani DiFranco | The Big Pink | Classical | Jazz | Folk | World

Our critics take a look at some of this week’s new releases...


Guided By Voices: Let’s Go Eat The Factory

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Fire, £11.99. Rating: ***

OHIO’S Guided By Voices are a true cult band. With frontman Robert Pollard as their more genial Mark E Smith, they were spiritual cousins of The Fall in eccentricity, spontaneity and profligacy – at least until they split up 15 years ago. Let’s Go Eat The Factory caps their reunion year with a further (final?) flurry of their customary lo-fi, low-slung melodic grunge, literally recorded in the guitarist’s garage with attendant instrument-swapping.

Only a few of the album’s 21 tracks break the three-minute mark; many more squeak in at little over a minute long. The fade-out freak-out of Imperial Racehorsing feels sketchy at three times that length. Others, such as the Beefheart-influenced Big Hat And Toy Show and the mournful Hang Mr Kite, are more enigmatic, while the Auld Lang Syne-referencing Old Bones is most curious of all.

Ani DiFranco: Which Side Are You On?

Righteous Babe Records, £10.99. Rating: **

YET again, it falls to a veteran troubadour (a 20-year career constitutes veteran, right?) to inject some politics into pop. All is calm musically on Which Side Are You On? but, as usual, DiFranco doesn’t mince her words. “I don’t need those money lenders suckin’ on my tit, a little socialism don’t scare me one bit,” she declares on her 21st-century feminist reworking of the old Pete Seeger rallying cry for the working man. Her own songs, accompanied by mellow finger-picking, reggae inflections and other signifiers of brown-rice radicalism don’t grab you by the scruff of the neck to the same degree and, commendably candid though she is, you just know she is preaching to the converted once more.

The Big Pink: Future This

4AD, £10.99. Rating: **

FURTHER to the success of their air-punching singalong Dominoes, sampled wholesale to provide the hookline for the Nicki Minaj hit Girls Fall Like Dominoes, London duo The Big Pink follow up with a second album of tepid electro indie anthems where a two-note chant from Robbie “rough as” Furze invoking their audience to Stay Gold or Lose Your Mind suffices for a chorus. The Big Pink aspire to make a big noise but don’t appear to have the songs to fill that hollow, rattling cage of a sound. FIONA SHEPHERD


Roussel: The Spider’s Banquet / Padmâvatî

Naxos, £5.99. Rating: ****

THIS coupling of works by Roussel is surely the most lustrous and colourful in the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s recorded survey on of the French composer’s orchestral works, now finalised in this fifth-volume release. The timing is significant – Stéphane Denève leaves the RSNO as musical director this summer, so the series is, to a great extent, symbolic of his best work with the orchestra. The Spider’s Banquet is a sparkling cocktail of entomological sketches, ebulliently brought to life in this ballet score. The Indian-inspired Padmâvatî suites are every bit as flamboyant, but with a defining whiff of exoticism. KEN WALTON


Frank Harrison Trio: Sideways

Linus Records, online only. Rating: ****

PIANIST Frank Harrison is probably best know as a member of saxophonist Gilad Atzmon’s groups, but his debut CD in 2006 served notice that he is a considerable talent in his own right. This new release confirms that impression in some style. Harrison alternates fresh and compelling readings of standards (Autumn Leaves, Jobim’s Dindi, How Long Has This Been Going On and You and The Night and The Music) with three of his own compositions and one traditional tune, The Riddle Song. It adds up to a varied and absorbing programme of music that draws on the traditional piano trio virtues of melodic imagination, harmonic ingenuity and highly attentive interplay. The pianist’s lucid and inventive developments of the material are matched by the contributions of his collaborators, bassist Davide Petrocca (replacing Aidan O’Donnell from the earlier trio) and drummer Stephen Keogh. KENNY MATHIESON


Dan Gurney: Traditional Irish Music on the Button Accordion, online only. Rating: ****

THIS auspicious debut recording by the young New York button-box player was apparently recorded in three hours and it delivers exactly what it says on the label, with consummate ease. Gurney may be a New Yorker, but he is steeped in Irish traditional music, as suggested by his considered approach, rather than in any virtuosic fireworks, as in the unhurried yet sweetly flowing reels The Brook and Ambrose Moloney’s. Brian McGrath’s accompanying piano, meanwhile, underpins the tunes with quiet skill, climbing and chiming steadily through sets such as a fine rolling pair of jigs, Return to Burton Road and I Buried My Wife and Danced on Top of Her. Other material includes The Princess Royal, played here as a loping march, rather than its usual stately hornpipe approach, while the song air Sliabh Geal gCua shows Gurney to have a delicate way with slower material. JIM GILCHRIST


Yale Strom and Hot Pstromi - The Devil’s Brides

EUCD, £11.99. Rating: ****

“HOSTED by Miriam Margolyes” reads the cover of this CD, and hers is the voice on the first track welcoming us in. A nice idea, and very appropriate, since the repertoire on this recording was based on the radio drama The Witches of Lublin. It’s not generally known that in late-18th-century Poland there were women klezmer musicians who travelled to perform at fairs all over Central Europe. Ethnographer-violinist Yale Strom has researched their repertoire exhaustively, and here – with his klezmer group Hot Pstromi – he presents a few of his trouvailles, some of which have a poignant history. One dance tune was collected from a Jewish barrel-maker by Menachem Kipnis, who died in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942; another was collected from a Jewish baker in Kiev in 1937. One poem was found by Strom in a folder in the archives of a library in Vilnius: it had been lodged there by the Yiddish folklorist Yehudah Leib Cahan before he emigrated to America, and tells of the plight of a young Jewish girl in Vilna, as the armies of Germany and the Soviet Union were advancing on the city. Another song Cahan collected reflects the klezmer musicians’ traditional money problems in the shtetls, where their status was – despite their music’s popularity – at the bottom of the social heap. The spoken commentary by Margolyes and Strom works well, with the music itself achingly genuine. And that is thanks to the musical integrity of the performers: the husky sound of Elizabeth Schwartz, a one-time collaborator with Muzsiukas; the dexterity of Alexander Fedoriouk, whose playing of the cimbalom began with village weddings in the Carpathian Mountains; plus Roger Sprocket on bass, and Peter Stan on accordion. MICHAEL CHURCH