Album reviews: Martha Wainwright | Wanda Jackson | The Datsuns | Lorraine Mccauley & The Borderlands

We review the latest music releases

POP

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT: COME HOME TO MAMA

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V2, £13.99

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MARTHA Wainwright’s third album of original material starts auspiciously with the artful elegance of I Am Sorry, which twists and undulates its way to an unresolved ending, before taking further diversions from the rootsier pop of her early work with the Talking Heads vibe of I Wanna Make An Arrest and the application of bubbling synthesizer to Some People. Wainwright’s light, gymnastic phrasing remains impressive but seems to dance around the emotions she is expressing connected with the birth of her son Arcangelo and death of her mother, Kate McGarrigle. However, she does a respectful and resonant job of recording Proserpina, the last song her mother wrote.

FIONA SHEPHERD

POP

WANDA JACKSON: UNFINISHED BUSINESS

SUGAR HILL, £14.99

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FOLLOWING her Jack White-produced comeback album, The Party Ain’t Over, Wanda Jackson, the 73-year-old first lady of rockabilly (and key influence on Adele), consorts with another younger man, Justin Townes Earle, on this latest collection of covers. Unfinished Business favours country and rhythm’n’blues material, from Greg Garing’s wonderfully lachrymose Am I Even A Memory? to Bobby Womack’s It’s All Over Now. Although her voice quavers slightly with age, Jackson can still muster a formidable rasp, project a no-nonsense attitude or play it sweet and lonesome, as on Woody Guthrie’s California Stars, and really sounds like she is having a blast with her band.

THE DATSUNS: DEATH RATTLE BOOGIE

HELLSQUAD, £12.99

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DESPITE its fatalistic title, Death Rattle Boogie signals the rebooting rather than expiration of The Datsuns. Ten years ago, the New Zealand garage rockers were knuckleheaded cousins to the The Hives’ slick entertainment machine but their gleeful mastery of caveman riffola had bags of charm. Somewhere along the line they lost spirit and momentum – maybe those trousers just weren’t tight enough – which they have now rediscovered on the likes of fuzzed-up bug-eyed sprint Helping Hands. Making concessions to their advancing years, they allow themselves a six-minute breather on the tasty garage blues number Wander the Night but elsewhere they go headbanging hell for leather, leaving that death rattle for dust.

FIONA SHEPHERD

CLASSICAL

PARTSONGS BY JOHN IRELAND AND FREDERICK DELIUS

SOMM, £11.99

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PARTSONGS may be a shade passé nowadays, but for composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in Britain, they were a popular and fruitful genre. Those of Frederick Delius (English born, but whose heart lay in mainland Europe) and John Ireland are featured here in a uniformly presented programme by the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir under its director Paul Spicer. The Delius examples range from early Leipzig settings in German and Scandinavian, to the more obviously Delian “Songs to be sung of a summer night on the river” – wordless, fluid and charming. Ireland’s songs – from his tasteful settings of Blake to modally-inflected carols – are equally well represented in a series of subtly-coloured performances.

KEN WALTON

JAZZ

TOM GIBBS: FEAR OF FLYING

WHIRLWIND RECORDINGS, £12.99

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PIANIST Tom Gibbs has made a big impression on the Scottish jazz scene in recent years, and follows his co-led recording debut with bassist Euan Burton in 2010 with this strong quartet session. Burton again features in the band, alongside New York-based saxophonist Will Vinson – a major asset – and the increasingly ubiquitous James Maddren on drums. As well as the pianist’s fluent improvisations, the disc provides a showcase for his attractive compositions, which balance a bright, approachable lyricism with more intricate harmonic and rhythmic depths, and provide plenty for the musicians to get their teeth into. The album opens and closes with absorbing uptempo tunes, Jumanji and Tiny Leaps, and the tender, graceful Rebecca Song is a dedication to his young daughter. The most intriguing track, Farming Stock, is also the shortest and most experimental.

KENNY MATHIESON

FOLK

LORRAINE McCAULEY & THE BORDERLANDS: LIGHT IN THE DARKEST CORNERS

OWN LABEL: £9.99

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AN IMPRESSIVE debut shot from this Edinburgh-based band fronted by Donegal-born singer-songwriter Lorraine McCauley, whose impassioned tones and songs of angst and defiance are set dramatically against the moody-sounding reeds and strings of producer Jonathan Duggan on accordion (and glockenspiel), Nick Jenkins on fiddle and mandolin and Billy Hamilton on cello.

Inhabiting the debatable lands between folk and indie pop, the quintet is augmented by guest percussion and, save us, that spooky backdrop to many a 1950s B-movie, the theremin, which descends like a flying saucer into Goddess, triggering some scary instrumental outbursts.

Some of McCauley’s songs seethe with dramatic tension, such as Stepping Stones or the emotional drive and instrumental pulse of Big Love, and there’s plenty of drama, too, in the likes of Planned Escape. Others are less memorable, but the rakish energy of this outfit will make you sit up.

JIM GILCHRIST

WORLD

ITALIE: LA CANZONETA

AIR MAIL, £8.99

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MADAGASCAR: TRADITIONAL MUSIC - VOAHANGY

AIR MAIL, £8.99

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LES FLUTES ROUMAINES

AIR MAIL, £8.99

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TRADITIONAL JAPAN: KOTO AND SHAKUHACHI

AIR MAIL, £8.99

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IT’S easy to overlook the humble Air Mail label, and it doesn’t do itself any favours by steadfastly refusing to provide proper liner notes: music may communicate across linguistic and cultural borders, but if we are to really get to grips with a form which is alien to us then background information is essential. Yes, I know it costs money, but the writers of such notes are routinely paid peanuts, and to dispense with their services represents a wasted opportunity if the idea behind a CD is to open minds and ears.

That said, the first of these CDs needs no explanation. Born in Rome and now living in France, Eugenio Sartini purveys the easiest of easy-listening with a series of songs backed by the gentlest of orchestral accompaniments.

On the other hand, the Madagascan group Voahangy might have benefited from some illuminatory words. Powered by guitar and tribal percussion, their music is no less easy on the ear, but there’s a cultural hinterland here which it would have been interesting to explore.

As you might expect from a conservatory-trained ensemble, Les Flutes Roumaines is a much more substantial affair, with echoes of that quintessentially Romanian Gypsy group Taraf de Haïdouks plus a wide range of different instrumental styles. Crai Nou have been performing since their foundation in 1965, and their collecting forays have taken them to their country’s remotest regions; much of what you hear on this CD will already have died out in its natural habitat.

There’s no such danger, however, with the Japanese compilation, beautifully performed by Sozan Chiaki Kariya on the shakuhachi flute and Fumie Hihara on the koto zither: no country preserves its musical heritage better than Japan.

MICHAEL CHURCH