POP: Loretta Lynn: Full Circle | Rating: *** | Legacy
Ever since Rick Rubin helped to reboot Johnny Cash’s career with the American Recordings series of albums, it seems that no veteran vocalist need be left high and dry, wondering if they have anything left to offer artistically.
Even in a musical field where experience is valued, there are few country musicians as respected and influential as Loretta Lynn, the much garlanded feminist trailblazer who caused a sensation in the 60s and 70s with candid, empowered anthems such as Don’t Come Home A’ Drinking (With Lovin’ on Your Mind) and The Pill.
Twelve years ago, she collaborated with confirmed fan Jack White on the vibrant Van Lear Rose, adding a batch of fine new songs to her extensive catalogue. She has spent the time since then recording with her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell and family friend John Carter Cash at Johnny Cash’s Cash Cabin Studio, with far more traditional results.
It is a joy to hear Lynn excelling in her comfort zone. But while Full Circle is lovingly conceived and beautifully played and produced, it is a much safer project than Van Lear Rose. Musically, it roots around in Lynn’s songwriting treasure chest, reviving some of her old favourites alongside a handful of the bluegrass standards on which she was weaned, and adds a couple of new songs in which Lynn ruminates on life and death.
The album begins with Lynn talking about the first song she ever wrote, the lovelorn ballad Whispering Sea, before demonstrating what a gem it was with a new version on which she effortlessly milks the yearning lyric.
Her eloquently aching vocal is the highlight of the easy listening Secret Love, from Calamity Jane. Always On My Mind is another middle of the road offering, wrapped up in a somewhat sentimental piano and string accompaniment, but Lynn is utterly believable as the rueful lover.
Her gift for confessional storytelling, whatever the sentiment, remains strong. She impishly follows the blushingly romantic Band of Gold with a spirited re-recording of her own straight-talking Fist City. Her wronged protagonist would never plead with any Jolene.
The old mountain music numbers Black Jack David and I Never Will Marry are dispatched with cosy, front porch intimacy while In The Pines is missing the shiver it could deliver. Lynn contemplates mortality without morbidity on Who’s Gonna Miss Me? and a business-like Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven (“but nobody wants to die”).
She is then joined in her reflections by a couple of country chums. Fellow octogenarian and serial duetter Willie Nelson matches her for integrity on wistful folk rocker Lay Me Down, while Elvis Costello lingers respectfully in the background on Everything It Takes, a new song he has co-written in the old tradition, as Lynn does her sublime vocal thing over plentiful pedal steel licks. Fiona Shepherd
POP: Barry Adamson: Know Where To Run | Rating: **** | Central Control
Magazine/Bad Seeds bassist Barry Adamson’s solo career has been defined by his evocative soundtracks for films both imagined and real. His latest album begins evocatively with an analogue synth odyssey, In Other Worlds, which sounds like it’s been harvested from an 80s horror sci-fi movie. But the menacing reverie is quickly broken by a succession of vocal tracks, ranging from the Hammond organ-led soul of Come Away to the chirpy croon of Death Takes A Holiday.
Adamson carries himself with swagger throughout, but nothing betters the instrumental showreel Texas Crash which oscillates from demonic, distorted slide guitar to film noir bass strut and sax squall then a brief bubbling synth break before coming to a choppy rhythm’n’blues conclusion. FS
POP: The Cat Empire: Rising With The Sun | Rating: *** | Two Shoes Records
This six piece Melbourne ska and jazz band have emerged as great festival favourites over the past decade with a melting pot sound to appeal to the feet as much as the ears.
Their globe-trotting sixth album encompasses the swaying lovers rock of Midnight, with sweet falsetto vocals from frontman Felix Riebl, the calypso rhythms of Blasting Away, slick soul funk of You Are My Song
and jazz funk noodle on Daggers Drawn. However, the livelier likes of Bataclan, their folk-rock rapid response to the Paris shootings, suggests that they could rouse some rabbles when they play these songs live. FS
CLASSICAL: Duet | RatingL: **** | Delphian
Pianist Iain Burnside continues his vital association with Delphian, this time teaming up with soprano Lucy Crowe and baritone William Berger in vocal duets by Schumann, Mendelssohn and Peter Cornelius.
The real curiosity are those of Cornelius, and ardent follower of the Liszt-Wagner movement, whose searching style has a certain post-Schumann charm, unsettled by occasional artificial harmonic adventure.
Crowe and Berger are a complementary delight, focusing our minds on a rich seam of duet music that deserves to be heard more. Worth it alone for Mendelssohn’s exquisite Sechs Duette Op 63. Ken Walton
JAZZ: Ian Shaw: The Theory of Joy | Rating: **** | Jazz Village
Ian Shaw’s first album for Harmonia Mundi’s Jazz Village label sees the award-winning vocalist very much at home in the classic format with a formidable piano of (Barry Green), bass (Mick Hutton) and drums (Dave Ohm).
As a performer, Shaw can be highly droll, but this nicely considered choice of songs is full of wry humanity as well as ebullience, from his clear and wistful articulation of the much-covered 1980s classic ballad How Do You Keep the Music Playing? to an arch rendition of
Lionel Bart’s You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two from the popular musical Oliver!
A long-time champion of the Joni Mitchell songbook, Shaw delivers her flâneur’s anthem, In France they Kiss on Main Street, with great zest, while the ruminative poignancy of David Bowie’s 2013 track Where Are We Now drifts sublimely over the hiss of Ohm’s brushes.
There’s great tenderness, too, in his own song, My Brother, while he lets rip with impassioned holler, over dark, bluesy piano, in the old Traffic number The Low Spark of the High Heeled Boys. Jim Gilchrist
FOLK: Iain MacFarlane: Gallop to Callop | Rating: **** | Old Laundry Productions
A founder member of Blazin’ Fiddles and a weel-kent figure on the Highland music scene, Iain MacFarlane delves engagingly into his tune catalogue in this fine “solo” showcase.
He’s accompanied by no less than four members of the Henderson music clan, including his wife,
Ingrid, on nicely ringing piano
and clarsach, as well as other stalwarts such as Ewan Robertson and James Lindsay, both of Breabach, on guitar and double bass respectively.
The album opens with the crisp, pipe-style triplets of Camus Eidhinn, one of his many compositions featured here, along with other contemporary material and seasoned traditional tunes including such old favourites as the pipe reels Mrs MacPherson of Inveran and John Morrison of Assynt House.
There’s plenty of lively jig ‘n’ reel playing, but particularly demonstrative of MacFarlane’s ability and immersion in fiddle tradition are two lovely airs, Isobel’s Tune, which he wrote for his mother, and the eloquently lamenting Am Bruadair, his fiddle keening over grainy melodeon chords. JG