Rod Stewart: The Tears of Hercules (Warner/Rhino) **
Sting: The Bridge (UMC/Polydor) ***
Peter Capaldi: St Christopher (Monks Road Records) ***
Hen Hoose: Equaliser (Tantrum Records) ****
Rod Stewart continues to enjoy a high old time in his later career with his fourth album of new material since he exhausted the Great American Songbook. Whether his listeners will have quite as much fun listening to his simplistic songs when there is a vastly superior back catalogue to be enjoyed is another matter, but let’s at least raise a weak beer to making an effort when he didn’t need to.
Sitting through The Tears of Hercules is the equivalent of nodding politely to the rheumy recollections of a fondly regarded if slightly horny elderly relative. One More Time starts as an airy acoustic canter with Rod recalling his wild days, before its bluegrass hoedown arrangement is smothered by sterile production. He then conjures a holiday romance on Gabriella and shakes his maracas along to the cheesy All My Days, with its message of escapism/retirement.
Stewart outlines his recipe for a long life on Kookooarambama – suffice to say it doesn’t involve cocoa before bedtime. But he casts himself firmly as a one-woman man on I Can’t Imagine, written for wife Penny Lancaster, writes sweetly of attending football matches with his dad on Touchline and summons a bit more substance on Hold On, a soul-influenced plea for tolerance which references civil rights leader John Lewis.
Rhythm of My Heart writer Marc Jordan contributes a title track from the same mawkish ballad ballpark, right down to the bagpipe embellishment, and there is a similar Tartan Day parade feel to Stewart’s over-egged rendition of Johnny Cash’s These Are My People, which speaks to the sentimentality of the expat – standard Rod style, just a long way from the brilliant bombast of Sailing.
Relative spring chicken Sting is also in sprightly mood on The Bridge, whistling along on the blithe single If It’s Love, as decent a pop tune as he has produced in some time.
This lockdown production nods to his diverse musical tastes, from mellow roots track The Book of Numbers with its plangent bass twang to the slick soaring saxophone (from Branford Marsalis no less) on Harmony Road to the fiddle flourish of Captain Bateman, which is revisited as a jazzy scat bonus track called Captain Bateman’s Basement.
Forty years ago, an art school student called Peter Capaldi formed a band with his pal Craig Ferguson. They were called The Dreamboys and their USP was that they were the only Glasgow band of the day who were not invited to record a John Peel session.
Since then, Capaldi has been somewhat waylaid winning Oscars and playing Timelords and spin doctors but his first album in four decades remains rooted in that early eighties era of Glaswegian musical romanticism – including the tradition of singing with a slightly Americanised twang instead of the forced braying of his second cousin once removed Lewis Capaldi.
Encouraged by his producer, Blow Monkeys frontman Dr Robert, the elder Capaldi is more of a gruff crooner in the Dylan tradition with an added dash of Bowiesque melodrama, industrial guitars and squalling saxophone.
Founded by Tamara Schlesinger, former frontwoman of 6 Day Riot who now records as MALKA, Hen Hoose is a collective of female and non-binary Scottish musicians dedicated to achieving gender equality in the industry.
Their debut missive, Equaliser, is a persuasive calling card, showcasing and blending the different traditions of the members, including such distinctive voices as Emma Pollock, Karine Polwart and Carla J Easton, and encompasses catchy electro pop, gospel-infused hip-hop and the tremulous torch melodrama of Burn It All, featuring Beldina Odenyo, whose recent premature passing has left the Scottish music scene poorer but the fire of the project undimmed.
MacMillan: Consecration (Linn) ****
It’s strange to think that any of Sir James MacMillan’s music might have gone unrecorded, but here’s proof to the contrary. In the latest of Cappella Nova’s ongoing Linn recordings of MacMillan’s choral music, the Scots-based vocal ensemble, under director Alan Tavener and organist Steven McIntyre, remedy the situation with some fairly recent works – from the beautiful Culham Motets and angrily dramatic A Special Appeal to numerous “family pieces” written for the MacMillan offspring weddings – and also the earlier St Anne’s Mass, notable for its innate simplicity and re-use of the composer’s Tryst melody that has remained a subliminal cypher through so much of his music. Tavener flavours each performance with easy sophistication and sensitivity to the range of emotions. The final Sing Joyfully to the Lord is exultant. McIntyre adds his own explosive touch with the virile Albanian-inspired organ solo, Kenga e Krushqve. Ken Walton
Kate Green: Dark Carnival (Own Label) *****
Her first release in 14 years, this clutch of traditional and contemporary songs finds Greenock-raised, south-Yorkshire-based Kate Green superb form, singing over sometimes intricate but effective folk-rock accompaniments with formidable poise and clarity. She opens with a spine-tingling account of Lady Diamond, a tale of grisly misogyny and there’s elemental cruelty, too, in Bows of London, a Cruel Sister ballad variant. A counterblast is her own song, Maddy’s Leaving, a celebration of a woman’s escape from an oppressive relationship, voiced with a worldly-wise, bluesy slide, while Lal Waterson’s enigmatic Fine Horseman hangs in the air, dark and strange. A powerful rending of the blues When the Levee Breaks is a primer, perhaps, for the contemporary climate crisis concerns which inform two other own compositions, the cheerfully subversive samba of Renegades (Love and Rage), dedicated to Extinction Rebellion, and a stirring, Irish-inflected anthem, Reclaim the Light. Jim Gilchrist
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