Roddy Woomble: Lo! Soul (A Modern Way) ****
St Vincent: Daddy’s Home (Loma Vista Recordings) ****
Gary Numan: Intruder (BMG) ***
My, how they’ve grown – Idlewild are 25 years old. Actually, they were 25 years old in 2020 but have deferred the birthday party until later this year. One clear cause for celebration is the satisfying way in which one of Scotland’s most influential bands have matured over the years, producing some of their best work across their post-hiatus albums, Everything Ever Written and Interview Music.
Their frontman Roddy Woomble has enjoyed a parallel creative development over the course of his solo career from teenage shouter to thirtysomething folk fan to confident crooner on latest album Lo! Soul, a collection of classy, leisurely pop which recalls at times the lush, timeless tunes of his namesake Roddy Frame as well as the evocative elegance of The Blue Nile.
Lo! Soul is a remote collaboration with Idlewild keyboard player Andrew Mitchell, whose solo work as Andrew Wasylyk marks him out as a trusty go-to guy for absorbing arrangements. Glasgow-based musician Danny Grant also adds gentle, atmospheric electronica to Woomble’s acoustic sketches, created in his Hebridean home.
Woomble travels in his mind, first to California on the light summery pop of Architecture in LA with its characterful synthesizers, sunny trumpet and blithe backing vocals from Jill O’Sullivan, and then to Paris on melancholy missive …It’s Late with its fuzzy, crepuscular piano track. There’s even a flavour of plangent oriental percussion on the touching snapshot Dead of the Moon, but Woomble lands right back on Mull for Atlantic Photography, a spoken word meditation backed with resonant piano and eddying Enoesque electronica.
Secret Show creates a more unsettling tone with its mournful chiming percussion and grey area electronica, while the skittering beat, rhythmic vocals and milky synths of As If It Did Not Happen sound a more strident note in an otherwise mellow collection which is a pleasure to behold.
Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, is a world class guitar shredder and audacious stylist. As a songwriter, however, she is often more to be admired than loved. Her latest album, Daddy’s Home, could change that. Banish all thoughts of Cliff Richard – this playful party collection has been inspired by her father’s release from prison (he served a decade on a fraud conviction) and by his record collection of grimy 70s NY funk.
This love letter to her New York home makes reference to director John Cassavettes and sweet, gentle tribute to Warhol superstar Candy Darling, but is also blatantly influenced by the Minneapolis maestro Prince. If the conscious funk of Pay Your Way In Pain does not quite reach the epic social comment heights of Sign of the Times, it is still a strong protest against economic debasement.
Elsewhere, Clark takes a leaf out of Beck’s book of rapturous reverie on Live in the Dream, which she bolsters with a leisurely sprawling fuzz guitar solo. The Laughing Man is similarly expansive, with languid, ravishing reminisences of “half pipes and Playstations, suicidal ideations,” while the wry My Baby Wants a Baby makes musical reference, unwitting or not, to Sheena Easton’s 9 to 5 (Morning Train). Rather than mooning about at home, St Vincent is wrestling with what (potential) motherhood might do to her career. On this fiery, funky form, she has nothing to worry about.
Gary Numan continues to give decent dystopia. His latest album, Intruder, is another brooding slice of ecogeddon shot through with the synthesized middle eastern promise of his recent commercial successes, Splinter and Savage, though the earth-dies-screaming theme doesn’t really rev up until the second half of the album with the industrial rock urgency of The Chosen and widescreen synthscape of Saints and Liars.
Alexandra Whittingham: My European Journey (Delphian) ****
Scots-based Delphian label has a track record when it comes to talent-spotting guitarists. Its first success was the classy Sean Shibe. He recently switched label, but a worthy replacement is the young British guitarist Alexandra Whittingham, whose debut album My European Journey reveals a player of sound ability and creative charisma. She’s already gained prominence on Youtube, where her presence has accumulated significant following, but this launch album of seminal 19th century repertoire marks her true “coming out”. Predictably, there’s music from Spain, by Franciso Tárrega and Jaime Bosch. Just as flavoursome are works by J K Mertz (Austro-Hungarian), Catharina Josepha Pratten (German-born Londoner) and populist Englishman Ernest Shand, whose skittish miniature The Gnomes is exquisite. There’s a natty Humoreske by Scandinavian Frederik Rung, Frenchman Napoléon Coste’s fantasie dramatique Le Départ, and from Italian Luigi Legnani a showcase Fantasie brilliante e facile. By then, Whittingham is on fire. Ken Walton
Roy Mor: After the Real Thing (Ubuntu Music) ****
The microtonal twang of the oud, played by guitarist Amos Hoffman on three tracks of this impressive debut from Israeli pianist Roy Mor, adds a striking element to the piano trio core, without detracting from the rich tone, lyricism and command of Mor’s playing. The album’s 11 tracks are inspired by Mor’s musical journeyings between New York, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, ranging from the Hebrew folk of The Echo Song and Do You Know the Way, to Mor's own compositions, such as the rollicking, boppish title track and similarly boisterous Playground, and classics – notably a poised yet warmly affectionate (and live) treatment of Hoagy Carmichael’s Nearness of You. A memorable stand-out is the marvellous Jerusalem Mezcla, inspired by the city’s bustling Mahne Yehuda market, as oud partners piano and bass and drums (Myles Sloniker and Itay Morchay) muscle up for some irresistibly springy riffing. Jim Gilchrist