Neil Young with Crazy Horse: World Record (Reprise Records) ***
Bruce Springsteen: Only The Strong Survive (Columbia Records) ****
Drake & 21 Savage: Her Loss (Republic Records) ***
Hailey Beavis: I’ll Put You Where The Trombone Slides (OK Pal) ****
Neil Young never sleeps. How else to explain his prolific album output? Already this year he has released a live album with Promise of the Real, excavated a 2001 album recording, Toast, with Crazy Horse and now releases his second new album with his old amigos in the space of year.
Like 2021’s Barn, World Record was recorded live, then mixed in analogue with producer Rick Rubin for that easy, in-the-room feel. An action street snap of Young’s journalist father Scott graces the album sleeve, but there is less urgency to the music despite the climate crisis subtext of its ecological appreciation.
This is long-time climate campaigner Young adopting a carrot rather than stick approach to his messaging, with many fond reminiscences of happy connections with the natural world. “We can bring the seasons back, can you imagine that?” he marvels on gentle, piano-led amble Love Earth. The following Overhead is an agreeably loose, slightly lopsided blues with Crazy Horse as scratch choir, before they collectively unleash the electric on the stormy yet plaintive I Walk With You (Earth Ringtone).
This Old Planet (Changing Days) is a quietly heartbreaking ode to the glories of nature, but the sparse rhythm’n’blues of The World (Is In Trouble Now) is more assertive and querulous. Elsewhere, hearty blues boogie Break the Chain, beseeching hymn Walkin’ on the Road (To The Future) and wheezy waltz The Long Day Before are all steady, if not spectacular work. Even the time-honoured Crazy Horse blowout – in this case, an ambivalent ode to car use called Chevrolet – is a safe 15-minute local excursion rather than an epic road trip.
Bruce Springsteen pauses a fertile run of original albums to celebrate America’s soul songbook on his first covers album since 2006’s Seeger Sessions. In contrast to Young’s almost wilful lo-fi approach, Springsteen goes big and lavish with the E Street Horns, rapturous strings and a tasty backing chorus of Sessions Band regulars, plus special guest Sam Moore.
The Jimmy Ruffin classic What Becomes of the Brokenhearted never fails to rouse but Springsteen largely avoids the obvious standards – in addition to a raspy rhythm’n’blues When She Was My Girl, his other Four Tops’ pick is the pumping, melodramatic 7 Rooms of Gloom and his definition of soul includes the lush orchestral pop of The Walker Brothers’ The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore and William Bell/Booker T Jones’ aching I Forgot To Be Your Lover, better known as Billy Idol’s electro boogie To Be A Lover.
Mere months after the release of his latest chart-topping album Honestly, Nevermind, Canadian superstar Drake extends his collaboration with London-born Atlanta rapper 21 Savage who guested on the international hit Jimmy Cooks. Her Loss was announced with a humorous promotional campaign, including a fake Vogue cover and spoof of an NPR Tiny Desk concert, but falls some way short of the Kanye/Jay-Z collaboration Watch the Throne, a hip-hop clash of the titans benchmark. Drake’s horizontal (and frequently autotuned) conversational delivery gives the impression of a free-flowing extempore odyssey with the marginally more animated Savage invited along to join his alpha buddy in casting shade on Privileged Rappers and Broke Boys and referencing Daft Punk on Circo Loco.
Singer/songwriter Hailey Beavis is a familiar name and voice on the Edinburgh folk scene but has taken seven years to produce her fluent debut album, reclaiming older material and making a fresh start on her own label, co-founded with fellow Edinburgh denizen Faith Eliott. Anything That Shines sets the tone with words on overcoming exploitation and a sophisticated pop palette, which suits her malleable girlish soprano. There are even shades of Kate Bush and Bjork in her lithe yelps, chanting multi-tracked backing vocals and brooding electro pop arrangements.
Venables: Requiem | Howells: Anthems (Delphian) ****
Anyone who has sung the church music of Herbert Howells will cherish the seamless somnolence and contemporary modalism of its vocal textures, and the smouldering organ writing that cushions its journey. By orchestrating two of his best known anthems – Like as the Hart and O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem – Howard Eckdahl and Jonathan Clinch respectively shine a brighter torch on this unhurried, mellifluous music. They are the openers in an elegant new disc by the Choir of Merton College and Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia under conductor Benjamin Nicholas, and along with the premiere recording of Howell’s own rich orchestration of his The House of the Mind, they provide the ideal preparation for the central work, Ian Venables’ Requiem. The latter is unmistakably Howells-like, plaintive and reserved. As such, it boasts efficient functionality rather than originality. But sung with such purity and warmth, its impact is soulful and fulfilling. 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