Paul Weller: On Sunset (Polydor) ****
Haim: Women in Music Pt.III (Polydor) ***
Ray LaMontagne: Monovision (RCA/Columbia) ****
Grey Dogs: Outlaw King – Music from the Film (Rock Action) ****
There is never any doubt that the creation of new music is what drives Paul Weller forward. Tours and royalties pay the bills but the steady flow of new material is what gets him out of bed. He’s not so perverse that he would forfeit his back catalogue entirely but he’s still going to go his own way regardless.
His latest album On Sunset continues his fertile run of releases which blend his love of classic musical style with a desire to experiment. Opener Mirrorball is a seven-minute-plus cocktail of cosmic soul and slinky electro-funk and he draws on southern and northern soul respectively on the Van Morrisonesque Baptiste and Old Father Tyme.
The one-time angry young man sounds mostly like a contented older gent here, offering soothing solace throughout. Village celebrates the local life with breezy soul strings, carefree guitar twang, a warm undercoat of Hammond organ and Weller in uplifting vocal form as he declares “I’m happy here in my neighbourhood.”
Walkin hails the head-clearing joy of a constitutional and philosophical Cockney pastoral Equanimity, featuring Slade’s Jimmy Lea on gypsy fiddle, takes a relaxed attitude to both constancy and change.
Best of all, he extends his horizons with the Afro jazz shimmy of More, coloured with beefy bursts of saxophone, fluttering flute and the acid sound of desert rock guitar.
That summer feeling continues on the third album by LA sister act Haim, who keep those rhythms light and springy throughout, even when dealing with the languor of post-tour comedown on I Know Alone.
Over three albums, the trio have forged an effortless, idiosyncratic sound, typified by the freewheeling Californian country pop of The Steps, dappled with bursts of George Harrison-style guitar from frontwoman Danielle Haim.
The wryly titled Women In Music Pt III runs a little long and lethargic at times but is perked up by the light glam rock rumble of Up From a Dream, LA electro funk odyssey 3AM and the Joni Mitchell-indebted Man from the Magazine, a droll catalogue of the routine sexism they have encountered across the music industry over the years.
Ray LaMontagne knows his strengths and his sound and he’s broadly sticking to it, though his eighth album does buck the trend of his recent excursions in being more pastoral than psychedelic.
Monovision was written, played and recorded solo on his Massachusetts farm with the surrounding countryside for inspiration. Meteorological and geographical references abound on the likes of Misty Morning Rain, Rocky Mountain Healin’ and the pure straw-hat escapism of Summer Clouds, a hippy missive from a bygone time.
LaMontagne’s bruised blues voice is his lead instrument in a warm, understated package, which encompasses the California soul of Roll Me Mama Roll Me, the brazen Everly Brothers homage Weeping Willow, on which he overdubs harmonies, and the more animated rhythm’n’blues of Strong Enough, a celebratory tale of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.
But he saves the best till last with his exquisite, heartworn delivery of Highway to the Sun, on a par with the melancholic nostalgia of Rolling Stones’ classic As Tears Go By.
Robert the Bruce biopic Outlaw King has been stationed on Netflix since late 2018 but its soundtrack now gets a belated release on Mogwai’s Rock Action label. Using the moniker Grey Dogs, director David Mackenzie collaborated with Mogwai/Belle & Sebastian producer Tony Doogan on its foreboding ambience, using the martial percussion, drunken, sliding strings and ominous brass of the Scottish Session Orchestra.
The menacing rumble is broken up by devotional plainsong, actress Florence Pugh’s husky alto on a couple of folk ballads and Kathryn Joseph’s quavery take on Scots Wha Hae, a stark contrast to the usual rousing renditions of the Bruce anthem.
Debussy: Music for Orchestra (Hallé) *****
The delicate brushstrokes that open Debussy’s Gigues from Images pour orchestre invite us into the magical world of Sir Mark Elder and his Hallé Orchestra. It’s an instantly captivating moment, beautifully nuanced, a disarming springboard to the nimbleness, gentle wit and winsome cross-channel quotations of the ensuing movement.What follows is revelatory, both for its originality (Colin Matthews’ stylish orchestration of Et la lune, from the second set of Images pour piano), and for Elder’s free and fresh interpretations of such familiar Debussy hits as the richly-scented Ibéria and the seminal Impressionist masterpiece, L’après-midi d’un faune. The earthy and the exotic combine in these wholesome, lustrous performances.It’s also a pleasure to have the shimmering atmospherics of Rondes de printemps and La plus sue lente is in what is unarguably a sublime Debussy feast. Ken Walton
Kevin Henderson & Neil Pearlman: Burden Lake (Sungaet Records) *****
Place and heritage inform instrumental prowess in this inspired pairing of Shetland fiddler Kevin Henderson and American fiddler and mandolinist Neil Pearlman, not least the eponymous New York State lake of the haunting title track. Henderson is well known for his work with the Boys of the Lough, Fiddler’s Bid and Nordic Fiddler’s Bloc, while Pearlman’s accompaniments are influenced by Cape Breton styles and playing with the likes of Darol Anger and Wendy McIsaac. Joined by bassist Neil Harland, they hit the ground running with the opening Sjovald set (named after a shipwrecked Viking ancestor of Henderson’s); similarly sparkling is Talon’s Trip to Thompson Island, which must have been quite an excursion, going by the sheer exhilaration the pair generate. In contrast is Liam’s, an air written for his youngest son by Henderson, whose playing also shines in Trowie Burn, a Shetland classic. Jim Gilchrist
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