Prince: Welcome 2 America (Legacy Reordings) ****
Dave: We’re All Alone In This Together (Neighbourhood Recordings) ****
Dot Allison: Heart-Shaped Scars (SA Recordings) ****
Rejoice at the Prince estate’s safe-cracking skills, for they have drilled into the late superstar’s high security vault and prised the first posthumous studio album release from the (presumably) manifold treasures within.
Welcome 2 America (“where you can fail at your job, get fired, rehired and get a 700 billion dollar tip”) comes oven-ready. Despite touring a show of the same name in 2011, the contrary one shelved the parent album, recorded the previous year, for reasons known only to himself. Perhaps he sensed that this Sign of the Times for the 21st century would resonate more potently in a world of reality TV presidents and regenerated civil rights movements.
The slinky cosmic jazz funk title track is scarily prescient with its silky spoken word soundbites (“truth is the new minority”) and fairly trite observations on internet dating and celebrity culture delivered in call-and-response style with his Greek chorus of New Power Generation vocalists, Liv Warfield, Shelby J and Elisa Fiorillo.
These musical conversations were recorded live in the studio with the singers round one microphone, plus rhythm section Tal Wilkenfeld and Chris Coleman in attendance for their first (and possibly only) Prince gig, then handed to old compadre Morris Hayes with the instruction to over-produce it.
The results are a throwback musical playground, from the laidback proto-hip-hop of Running Game (Son of a Slave Master) to Curtis Mayfield pastiche Born 2 Die, from the bright soul funk sounds of 1000 Light Years from Here to cutesy party tune Hot Summer and sumptuous slow jam When She Comes.
There is a touch of his own Alphabet Street to the lean funk, sprung percussion and brass salvos of anti-war song Same Page, Different Book, while Yes is a rollicking rallying cry in the style of Sly Stone. But there is also a musical theatre flourish to his cover of Soul Asylum’s Stand Up and B Strong, and the breezy conscious soul reflection of One Day We Will All B Free could almost have been written for Hamilton.
Highly acclaimed Streatham rapper Dave took home both a Brit and the Mercury Prize for his debut album Pyschodrama and maintains a high bar on the follow-up, another personal/political chronicle drawing on the travails of his family but allowing for some fun with his Lagos roots, courtesy of cool guest appearances by Nigerian artists Wizkid and BOJ.
We’re All Alone In This Together is hard and soft. The music is considered but hardly cutting edge, more of a mellow backdrop for Dave’s candid chronicles. “I’m a young black belligerent, son of an immigrant, lifestyle frivolous” is his opening shot, and throughout he treats his hard knock background not as some badge of honour but a source of anxiety to be worked through.
There is also a strong thread of bearing witness – from victims of the Windrush scandal on Three Rivers to his own distressed mum on the hard-hitting Heart Attack, which details the violent circumstances of his birth, initially over a noodly guitar, then when it runs out of road musically, Dave keeps on going, as much in sadness as in anger.
The elusive Dot Allison, former frontwoman of electronica trio One Dove and sometime guest vocalist for the likes of Massive Attack, releases her first new album in 12 years. Heart-Shaped Scars is all breathy, wilting languor, with Allison’s delicate voice backed by mournful picking on the ukulele and trembling strings on the likes of Long Exposure.
The Edinburgh-based singer/songwriter holds her nerve stylistically. Save for the bigger electronic production of Love Died In Our Arms, Heart-Shaped Scars is an exercise in fragility, gently sculpted from sultry piano, plangent strings and siren vocals, with the self-comforting sway of Cue the Tears conveying a sense of scale and drama amid the intimacy.
Nicola Benedetti: Baroque (Decca) ****
There was a time, some half a century ago, when Baroque music, much of it newly unearthed, was approached with wholly natural and emotive abandon. The performance style was more instinctive than what we now understand as “authentic”, and so the early music brigade emerged with an informed orthodoxy that, to some extent, dampened the “uneducated” ardour. The scales have rebalanced, and armed with the academic knowledge, but not overwhelmed by it, newer ensembles are once again letting their hair down, as Nicola Benedetti and her eponymous hand-picked Benedetti Baroque illustrate in this new album. The focus is Vivaldi, so the tenor of the concertos is light, lyrical and effervescent, even in the one minor key work (RV386). The ensemble is affably collegiate, Benedetti’s solo lines thoughtfully distinctive, and razor-sharp articulation captures the drama. Geminiani’s reworking of Corelli’s “La Folia” sonata as concerto grosso provides an engaging scene-setter. Ken Walton
Daniel Herskedal: Harbour (Edition Records) *****
The astonishing musical imagination of Norwegian tuba virtuoso Daniel Herskedal transforms an instrument too often associated with the functional and the lugubrious into a voice of sonorous beauty and passion. Here, with collaborators Eyolf Dale on piano and celesta and drummer Helge Andreas Norbakken, multitracking enables Herskedal to combine melodic leads and rumbling bass lines as well as multitudinous effects. It’s not surprising to learn that the album was recorded on an island off the Norwegian coast. Thus in Hunter’s Point Drydocks, as well as human-sounding intonation over minimalist piano and insistent drums, background sighs and whoops give way to a roar like a breaking wave. Perhaps most epic of this filmic music is The Lighthouse on the Horizon, its lonesome melody expanding over a distant drone, while the swaying Middle-Eastern vibe of Dancing Dhow Deckhands sees tuba glissading and whooping querulously over a deliciously irresistible beat. Jim Gilchrist
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