Album reviews: PP Arnold | Craig Armstrong | Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

PP Arnold rekindles the spirit of her 60s hits with her first album of new material for over half a century

PP Arnold
PP Arnold

PP Arnold: The New Adventures Of… PP Arnold, earMUSIC ****

Craig Armstrong: Music for the Films of Peter Mullan, CMA Music ***

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Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: The Road, Mute/BMG ***

For the cognoscenti who have followed her career from the 1960s, PP Arnold remains one of the great unsung soul sisters, with a remarkable, eclectic CV born of her survivor stickability.

As a teenager Arnold, born Patricia Ann Cole, escaped an abusive marriage to join Tina Turner’s Ikettes. Her handful of hits in the late 60s coupled with her time as backing singer with The Small Faces made her a cult icon of the British Mod and Northern Soul scene, and led to recording with Eric Clapton and Barry Gibb and touring with Roger Waters.

Following a West End diversion to appear on the original cast recording of Jesus Christ Superstar and later in Starlight Express, Arnold popped up again as a go-to diva for the house and rave scenes, providing the vocals for The KLF’s 3am Eternal and What Time Is Love among others.

But it was those Mod connections which led her to Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Cradock and the recording of her first album of new material in a whopping 51 years, supplemented with a little songwriting help from Cradock’s mucker Paul Weller.

The appropriately titled New Adventures of… PP Arnold successfully seeks to rekindle some of the pastoral psychedelic spirit of her 60s hits, highlighting her pop tones over her rhythm’n’blues chops.

Cradock has done a fine job of being the Burt Bacharach to Arnold’s Dionne Warwick on the horn-swaddled Magic Hour and a widescreen arrangement of Mike Nesmith’s freewheeling classic Different Drum recalls her symphonic pop hit cover of Cat Steven’s First Cut is the Deepest.

Weller contributes the bittersweet throwback When I Was Part of Your Picture and the elegant chamber pop of Shoot the Dove, while her son Kodzo varies the palette with the nu-soul of I Believe and tribal house rhythms of Hold On To Your Dreams.

Arnold is not one for pigeon-holing, and her ten-minute beat rendition of Bob Dylan’s poem The Last Thoughts of Woody Guthrie evokes the street poetry spirit of Gil Scott Heron, while the sepulchral I’ll Always Remember You… (Debbie’s Song) is a part-spoken, part-sung cathartic eulogy for her daughter backed with elegiac backing vocals, rapturous harp and the sombre organ of Exeter Cathedral.

Glasgow’s Grammy- and Golden Globe-winning Craig Armstrong is the go-to composer for the likes of Baz Luhrmann but, closer to home, he has forged a creative relationship with actor/director Peter Mullan which goes back to their tenure at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre in the 1980s.

Music for the Films of Peter Mullan is a digital-only self-released collection of works written between 1995 and 2010, encompassing the stately theme for Mullan’s debut full-length feature Orphans and the classic lush orchestration of The Magdalene Sisters, as well as mournful, minimal piano pieces for Mullan’s earlier short films, some with snippets of dialogue.

The gamelan chimes of the Close theme add a fresh texture, and there are shades of Mike Oldfield and Jean Michel Jarre in the retro-futuristic synthscape of Crumble which, along with the tremulous, twinkling November and rueful piano/cello duet John Leaves Home, is taken from Mullan’s most recent film Neds.

On the subject of stark soundtracks, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s bleak but beautiful score for John Hillcoat’s film adaptation of The Road gets a limited release on “grey smoke-coloured” vinyl as grim and earthy as the film.

Cave’s piano is by turns lyrical and rumbling while violinist Ellis bends his bow to staccato stabs, folk laments and soaring romanticism. Like the film, dread is usually round the corner. Side one culminates in the unsettling urgency of The House, while the tenderness of the closing stages of side two are undermined by a final desolate drone. Fiona Shepherd


Handel’s Queens, Signum ****

In Handel’s time, as today, singing superstars were fêted and paid vast amounts of money. Arias were written to virtuosic order and the divas themselves could often be difficult, as Bridget Cunningham, conductor and creator of Handel’s Queens, informs us in her fascinating sleeve notes to this compelling double disc.

Cunningham’s nimble London Early Opera provide a glorious backdrop to the vocal dexterity and stylistic flourishes of sopranos Mary Bevan and Lucy Crowe, who in effect reenact the personas of real-life 18th century divas Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni.

They perform arias not just by Handel but by his contemporaries such as Hasse, Pollaro, Vivaldi, Bononcini and the Englishman Maurice Greene.

There’s no shortage of music on offer here, and the performances all boast star quality. Ken Walton


Gianluigi Trovesi & Gianni Coscia: La misteriosa musica della Regina Loana, ECM ****

A lovely act of shared music and affectionate remembrance, this disc is a tribute by clarinettist Trovesi and accordionist Coscia to the late Umberto Eco, novelist, philosopher and Coscia’s friend since childhood. Referring to Eco’s semi-autobiographical novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, the album drifts between jazz, film music, popular song and much else, Coscia’s gentle solo Interludio contrasting with a neatly swinging rendition of Basin Street Blues, Trovesi’s clarinet soaring and trilling with unbounded relish.

There’s honest, lingering sentiment in their treatment of As Time Goes By and Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade. The popular Bel Ami, meanwhile, is darkened by hindsight, Coscia having once accompanied a Jewish singer whose life was spared in Auschwitz because she sang it. Jim Gilchrist