Since cleaning up – in more ways than one – in the 1990s, Red Hot Chili Peppers have occupied a very comfortable groove – hardly the spirit of rock’n’roll which their enthusiastic bassist Flea recently said he was keen to relocate. Yet here they are, settling in again on their 11th album (***) with the smooth funk pop of the title track, the first in a succession of run-of-the-mill cuts buffed by Danger Mouse, who can only sprinkle so much production magic on mediocrity.
For better or worse, you would not mistake recent single Dark Necessities for the work of any other band in a blind tasting but proceedings take a turn for the more interesting and engaging around the halfway point with Sick Love, a cocktail of cynicism, empathy and sensitivity, co-written with Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Its burnished blues guitar and laidback summer vibe could, weather permitting, be just the ticket to seduce T in the Park during their Sunday night headline set this year.
The lithe, springy bassline and twinkling descending synth lines of Go Robot could easily be a nod to Daft Punk, though its catalogue of lyrical proclivities was actually inspired by Prince’s Controversy. The heavier groove and wah-wah riffage of Detroit and economical bursts of charged guitar on This Ticonderoga rev up proceedings. Their “new” guitarist Josh Klinghoffer does some lovely work on The Hunter, and the cosmic prog of Dreams of a Samurai is straight out of the Danger Mouse school of plangent sound.
Nottingham troubadour Jake Bugg returns with an all-over-the-shop third album (***) which is more eclectic than your typical Primal Scream offering. On My One – Nottspeak for “on my own” – kicks off with the autobiographical acoustic tour blues of the title track, before taking in the busker skiffle of Put Out The Fire, sonorous folky ballad All That and electro indie shuffle of Gimme The Love. So far, so fair enough. But the insolent teenager who once slagged off reality TV talent shows appears to be flirting with actual mainstream pop music now he has reached the age of majority. The smooth soul pop of Never Wanna Dance could have been ripped from the Simply Red songbook but Bugg fancies himself as more of a sultry Alex Turner crooner on the swelling ballad Love, Hope and Misery, even though he has neither the voice nor the flair to pull it off.
Rick Redbeard is a far more convincing musical shapeshifter. As rocking Rick Anthony, he is often sighted freaking out with his psychedelic brethren in the Phantom Band but in solo guise he has put his rich baritone to soulful use on a spare, folk-rooted soundtrack. Awake Unto (****) builds on the beauty of his debut No Selfish Heart, with the casual contentment on catchy single The Golden Age and resonant Celtic/Americana crossover of Unfound. Album highlight The Night Is All Ours is a sensitive torch song of the kind currently revitalised by John Grant and Father John Misty, while Paul Buchanan will surely be cursing the elegance of Field Years.
Ahead of the release of her new album this autumn, Fife’s finest KT Tunstall celebrates her new California home on the Golden State EP (***), not with freeway-friendly MOR or Chili Peppers funk rock but two blasts of husky, ballsy, bluesy pop in All Or Nothing and The Healer and the choppy pop strumalong of lead track Evil Eye, which is somewhat superfluously remixed by Django Django. Fiona Shepherd
FOLK: MacMillan: Since It Was The Day Of Preparation | Rating: ***** | Delphian
The Hebrides Ensemble are riding high at the moment, both live and in the recording studio. It’s their 25th anniversary season after all. Their latest disc picks up on a major work by James MacMillan – Since It Was the Day Of Preparation – which Hebrides commissioned and premiered at the 2012 Edinburgh International Festival. The line-up is the same – Brindley Sherrat in the bass role as Christ, Synergy Vocals providing the vocal quartet, and an intimate instrumental ensemble under William Conway’s direction – and the music, now firmly embedded in Hebrides’ repertoire, bares its dramatic soul in this powerful recording. There is heightened emotion, but there is also simplicity, extraordinary beauty and intimacy in MacMillan’s thoughtful setting of the Resurrection story. Sherrat’s performance echoes its flowing purposefulness. This is a definitive version of a definitive work. Ken Walton
FOLK: Adam Holmes & The Embers: Brighter Still | Rating: **** | Gogar Records
Having made an impact with his last album, Heirs and Graces, Edinburgh singer-songwriter Adam Holmes consolidates his reputation with this clutch of uncomplicated but largely persuasive songs, delivered in his gruffly warm-toned vocals and couched in the expertly deployed guitars and keyboards of his band. This is more Celtic soul than folk, as evinced by When the Lights Go Down, with its gospel chorusing, and One Soul, sounding somewhere between John Martyn and The Commitments.
Unsurprisingly, the irresistible afro beat and instrumental shimmer of People Come/People Go has been released as a single, while, in contrast, there’s a brooding power to the ominously reverberating guitar and dramatically building coda of Nadine. Elsewhere, Holmes reverts to his imploring, melancholic mode in Joanna and he duets engagingly with guest singer Eddi Reader on country sounding Love Down the Line. Jim Gilchrist