Album reviews: Loretta Lynn | Gillian Welch & David Rawlings | Sananda Maitreya | Mason Hill

In revisiting key songs from her 60-year career, queen of country Loretta Lynn still sounds every bit as good as she did in her prime, writes Fiona Shepherd

Loretta Lynn by Russ Harrington

Loretta Lynn: Still Woman Enough (Legacy) ****

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings: All the Good Times (Acony Records) ****

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Sananda Maitreya: Pandora’s Playhouse (TreeHouse Publishing) ***

Mason Hill: Against the Wall (7Hz Recordings) ***

The queen of country sits regally on her throne on the cover of her 50th album. In a career which stretches back over 60 years, what more is there for Loretta Lynn to do or say? Perhaps nothing new but Lynn, one of the greatest country singers and songwriters of all time, can reiterate her evergreen riffs on domestic reality with her customary character.

Still Woman Enough, titled after her 2002 autobiography, is the fourth of a five album set for Legacy produced by John Carter Cash and her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell, and is billed as a celebration of the women of country. In practise, it is a celebration of Lynn and her influence, with the occasional superstar guest – such as Carrie Underwood and Reba McIntyre on the opening title track – queuing up to defer to Lynn’s fire.

Still Woman Enough, co-written with Lynn Russell, is the only new number in a collection which revisits key songs from Lynn’s back catalogue, stretching as far back as her first single Honky Tonk Girl from 1960.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings by Henry Diltz

Lynn sounds completely at home in her natural territory of glorious twang, shuffling rhythm and true country tone. She recites the lyrics of her signature song Coal Miner’s Daughter over sonorous banjo backing and sounds half her age delivering the earthy bluegrass optimism of Carter family classic Keep on the Sunny Side.

Along the way, she testifies nobly on the country gospel of Where No One Stands Alone, indulges in the lush, freewheeling Nashville sound of I Wanna Be Free and throws some Tex Mex flavours into kitchen sink melodrama I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight

Her musical descendant Margo Price relishes her part in the droll social commentary of One’s on the Way and Lynn finds a great match in Tanya Tucker for the pure attitude of You Ain’t Woman Enough. Still a badass.

In a good week for trusted Americana oracles, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings release a CD version of their first co-credited album – though the couple are so symbiotically entwined that it hardly matters what you call it.

Mason Hill

The Grammy-nominated All The Good Times first popped up last year as an online lockdown treat, its selection of covers recorded at home on reel-to-reel tape with their customary mix of care and subtlety. Each takes a share of lead vocals, with Rawlings displaying a particular affinity for Bob Dylan on a bare bones rendition of Señor, its narrator’s uncertainty chiming with the times. Among other astute choices, the resonant requiem of traditional tune All The Good Times Are Past and Gone is countered by the warm positivity of gathering song Y’All Come, inviting a visit “when you can.”

Sananda Maitreya may not be a household name but the artist formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby is enjoying his commercial liberty – not least in creating this lengthy double album which covers cosmic jazz, an ode to his gonads and a game of rhyming bingo with Rod Steiger in its first 15 minutes.

His raspy soul pipes remain in good shape, as heard on the mild vocal gymnastics of Her Kiss, as well as his ear for a pop hook on a handful of tracks which jump out from an otherwise overstuffed pack.

Glasgow rock quintet Mason Hill deliver the streamlined goods on their accomplished debut album. No prizes for innovation here – Against the Wall features catchy, commercial, foot-on-the-monitor, fist-in-the-air fare, like Biffy Clyro never happened. Out of Reach is frontman Scott Taylor’s chance to show off some soul grit, while the old school shredding of Find My Way is a rare indulgence in a trim collection.

CLASSICAL

HK Gruber: Percussion Concertos (Colin Currie Records) *****

Not so long ago, percussion concerts were few and far between. With the explosion of virtuoso solo performers in recent decades, namely such Scots as Colin Currie and Evelyn Glennie, the repertoire has equally mushroomed. Here are two hugely engaging examples from the pen of anarchic Viennese composer HK Gruber, played by Currie. Rough Music dates back to the early 1980s, and is a menagerie of conflicting styles sculpted cinematically as one bracing, exhilarating rollercoaster ride. Currie’s partnership with the BBC Philharmonic (under Juanjo Mena) is edge-of-the-seat brilliant, not without reflective mistique in Grubter’s courteous references (most obviously to Satie), but memorable mostly for its riotous flamboyance and infectious whimsy. He joins the same orchestra, under John Storgårds, for “into the open….”, written for Currie in 2010. As a tribute to Gruber’s late friend and mentor David Drew it elicits deeper, challenging thoughts, yet is anything but sombre. Ken Walton

JAZZ

Omar Sosa: An East African Journey (OTA Records) ****

Constantly exploring his Afro-Cuban musical roots, pianist Omar Sosa embarked on a deeply personal pilgrimage through East Africa with his Afreecanos Trio, linking up with musicians in Sudan, Ethiopia, Mauritius, and elsewhere. The result is an intriguing compendium of songs, sounds and often irresistible rhythms, Sosa adding judiciously empathetic piano in the studio with percussionist and co-producer Steve Argüelles and multi-instrumentalist Christophe Minck. Collaborators include the Malagasy singer and musician Rajery, whose bamboo zither, the valiha, releases harp-like cascades of notes to glitter against Sosa’s warmer-toned playing, generating a riverine energy that informs the album. In Kenya, Sosa meets Olith Ratego who sings lustily over the plucking of his eight-stringed lyre, while a lyrical piano instrumental, Eirababa, is inspired by Sudan’s Dafaalla Elhag Ali. Despite a sense of being hurriedly ushered from one culture to the next, the overall effect is beguiling. Jim Gilchrist

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