Lizabett Russo: While I Sit And Watch This Tree Vol.2 (Last Night From Glasgow) ****
Lomond Campbell: Under This Hunger Wing We Fell (One Little Independent) ***
The Southern Tenant: Hallowe’en Hits Vol 1 – Enter the Horror Disco (Johnny Rock Records) ***
Goat: Oh Death (Rocket Recordings) ****
Transylvanian troubadour Lizabett Russo is a far too well kept secret of the Scottish music scene. This Romanian-born, now Edinburgh-based singer and songwriter was one of the quiet discoveries of lockdown, with her bewitching 2020 album While I Sit And Watch This Tree. Now, she builds tenderly and meticulously on its intoxicating blend of folk, jazz and world traditions with a second volume in the same ethereal spirit, recorded with her partner Graeme Stephen on guitar, piano and effects, Udo Dermadt on percussion and Oene van Geel on strings.
Collectively, the group has many instruments at their disposal, but they make exquisite choices around what to use in the service of the most beautiful instrument, Russo’s rapturous voice, which is layered hypnotically against pizzicato strings on the haunting invocation Do You Know? and soothes with a lullaby softness on Lessons.
Dincolo de Nori, meaning “beyond the clouds”, is an Italian language ode to her immigrant journey, drawing on her east European musical roots and adding a wash of electronica. The whispers and whoops of Balkan vocal traditions add a creepy edge to What Grows Inside Dark Souls, while Romanian poem Hora Unirii is arranged in a twinkling nursery rhyme-like setting.
Russo also pays tribute to her adopted home, rolling her r’s on House Carpenter, her plangent take on a traditional Scottish song of temptation, infidelity, abandonment and punishment, once again making light work of heavy weather.
From Lothian to Lochabar, and the workshop/studio of inventor/musician/producer Lomond Campbell. Under This Hunger Wing We Fell is the last in a trilogy of instrumental albums composed using tape loops, in this case whittled away methodically to create a collection which could easily soundtrack some early Eighties neon noir film.
Bastard Wing is a primer for the lush analogue synth sounds to come, while Phonon For No One adds lonesome violin, then fuller string sounds and foreboding keyboards to the mix. And They Are Afraid Of Her is a seamless blend of electronic and acoustic, teaming powerful mournful cello with waves of synthesizer, while The Mountain and the Pendulum pairs silken wordless vocal sighs with a pumping bassline.
For something more explicitly seasonal, try Hallowe’en Hits Vol 1 – Enter the Horror Disco, an electro funk collection of spooky tunes in the spirit of the (Loch Ness) Monster Mash from The Southern Tenant, the electronic wing of Americana outfit The Southern Tenant Folk Union, with guest vocals from Seamus McGarvey, Xan Tyler and members of Blueflint and James Brown Is Annie, plus tongue-in-cheek narration from actor Simon Tait.
Head ghoul Pat McGarvey and his ensemble display a gleeful commitment to their eldritch theme across 16 tracks which feature all your monster favourites from vampires, witches and mummies to the more esoteric Lovecraftian Cthulhu, given the Chic treatment on Cthulu Clap. The blithe brass intro to Monsters Rock the House evokes the spirit of early Bronx hip-hop while closing track Werewolf Fever has it all – skinny funk guitar, disco arpeggios, chime bars and Thriller pomp.
There is more Hammer horror from cult Swedish masked marauders Goat who bring the psychedelic voodoo vibes and a touch of tribal Antmusic to their latest album Oh Death, summoning the spirits with the evil funk guitar on opening omen Soon You Die, a track which is content to laissez les mal temps rouler. Their dance macabre continues with psych rock raindance Goatmilk and Afrobeat incantation Blow the Horns. Chukua Pesa is a tasty brew of West African strings and percussion, while the acid punk-funk number Under No Nation is a prime example of their demonic declamatory unison vocals, topped with a no wave saxophone fanfare.
A Shropshire Lad: English Songs orchestrated by Roderick Williams (Hallé) *****
For the multitalented baritone-turned-composer Roderick Williams, here is a wonderfully extravagant showcase for his new-found skill as an orchestrator. Every one of the 20th century British songs performed by him with the Hallé Orchestra, all originally conceived for piano accompaniment, are recast by Williams in the most luscious, expressive and colourful terms. It’s a dangerous game, maintaining in this way the idiomatic integrity of such well-known gems as John Ireland’s Sea Fever, George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad or Vaughan Williams’ The House of Life. Yet Williams succeeds in honouring their sentimental intimacy with perceptive and sensitive brushstrokes, and more interestingly – listen simply to the filmic underscoring of Sea Fever – using the rich Hallé resources to powerfully illuminate his own interpretational vision. Conductor Sir Mark Elder masterminds unceasingly fine performances, including lesser-known works by Ina Boyle, William Denis Browne, Ruth Gipps and Madeleine Dring. Ken Walton
Sean Gibbs: Confluence (Ubuntu Music) ****
London-based trumpeter and composer Sean Gibbs, a familiar figure in the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra as well as numerous other groups, embarks on his most ambitious venture yet with this all-star, 17-piece outfit, creating a rich, muscular sound straight out of jazz’s big band tradition. His rangy, melodic trumpet opens the first track, Lewis, over an impeccable ensemble glide, giving way to a rip-roaring alto sax break from James Gardiner-Bateman. New Beginnings is similarly polished, with expressive trumpet from James Copus and a gleeful breakout from drummer Jay Davis before Copus brings things to an elegant close. The joyful bounce of Gibb It Some More features limber tenor sax from Helena Kay, while Hungover Moments of Clarity is a lot more fun than its title suggests, not least due to Riley Stone-Lonergan’s ebullient tenor sax. As a confluence of talent and ideas, this is a happy one. Jim Gilchrist