Lucinda Williams: Good Souls Better Angels (Thirty Tigers) ****
EOB: Earth (Capitol) **
The Twilight Sad: It Won/t Be Like This All The Time (Via Bandcamp) ***
Lucinda Williams possesses one of the most idiosyncratic voices in country music, or anywhere, and it’s a raw pleasure to behold her curled lip on the self-explanatory strut of Bad News Blues and her raspy relish of the infernal descent to Down Past the Bottom.
Good Souls Better Angels runs the emotional gamut, raining down retribution over stormy guitars and crashing drums on Man Without A Soul (guess who?) and recounting the sinister, stealthy nightmare of domestic abuse with devastating matter-of-factness on Wakin’ Up.
But she also showcases her vulnerability on broken lament Shadows and Doubts and continues on her wounded way with When the Way Gets Dark, dispensing comfort in a voice which sounds like it’s already been through the wars.
Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien can only offer a pale facsimile of his parent band on his solo debut as EOB via repetitive rhythmical jams such as Shangri-La and Banksters (“where did all the money go?”).
O’Brien’s breathy voice lacks character and Cloak of the Night, his duet with Laura Marling, is a non-event but his cut-and-paste approach to composition at least yields the therapeutic shoulder shimmy of Brasil and futurist funk groove of Olympik.
The Twilight Sad mark what would have been a triumphant return to the Barrowland by releasing a live album via their Bandcamp page on a pay what you want basis. It Won/t Be Like This All The Time comprises recordings made on their 2019 tour, favouring tracks from the prophetically titled album of the same name, powered along by lusty whoops from the audience, but losing laser focus as it proceeds.
Piers Hellawell: Up by the Roots (Delphian) ****
Piers Hellawell’s music is as refreshing as it is alluringly strange. The idiom, expressed in its many facets in this second representative recording of Hellawell’s music, is in one sense mainstream late 20th century, yet there is a visceral energy that gives it a sense of the here and now. Much of that is down to pulsating performances by varying scales of instrumental scoring, from the dense virtuosity of the Ulster Orchestra in Wild Flow, to the rhapsodic otherworldliness of Piani, Latebre, performed by solo pianist William Howard. Between these extremes are cello and piano duo Paul and Huw Watkins, in the wistful timbral experimentation of atria; the five-strong Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble’s delightfully puckish performance of Ground Truthing; and Hellawell’s hypertensive setting of Sinéad Morrissey’s poem Up by the Roots, narrated by the poet with intoxicating instrumental backing by the excellent Fidelio Trio. Ken Walton
Brian McNeill: No Silence (Greentrax Recordings) ****
A long-standing presence on the Scottish scene, fiddler and multi-instrumentalist Brian McNeill is the singer-songwriter behind such politically and historically charged songs as No Gods and Precious Few Heroes and Strong Women Rule Us All. No Silence celebrates his half-century in the music business, combining fresh recordings of his craft – the historical landscape of The Yew Tree, for instance – with newer material. There’s the uncompromising mining chronicle of Prince of Darkness, while John Harrison’s Hands celebrates the inventor of the marine chronometer, his achievement traduced by his alleged “betters.” Percussionist Tad Sargent bolsters some tracks and McNeill’s instrumental excursions on fiddle, mandocello and much else include a striking solo setting of The Burning of Auchendoon on baritone guitar. Most memorable, however, is the title track’s excoriation of “the running sore” of the international arms trade. Jim Gilchrist