Snow Patrol and the Saturday Songwriters: The Fireside Sessions (Polydor) ****
Gregory Porter: All Rise (Blue Note) ***
Carla J Easton: Weirdo (Olive Grove Records) ***
The Wee Cherubs: The Merry Makers (Optic Nerve Recordings) ****
While communing with their fanbase in sweaty venues is firmly off the menu for now, musicians have been exploring other ways to connect with their audience in as direct a fashion as is possible through a screen. Move over meet and greets, how about the opportunity to write a song with your favourite artist?
Throughout lockdown, Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody has been conducting collaborative songwriting sessions via Instagram Live, soliciting chords and lyrical ideas from fans, dubbed the Saturday Songwriters, who are given due credit on the sleeve of 5-track EP, The Fireside Sessions.
Clearly, writing by committee suits Lightbody as these recordings are the best work Snow Patrol have released in a long time. Shorn of their trademark bombastic production, the songs breathe easier, and Lightbody sounds liberated by the light-touch approach, with the typical Snow Patrol melancholy given breathier expression on The Curve of the Earth and the majestic, folky quality of On The Edge Of All This conveyed with the strum of acoustic guitar and uplifting backing vocals.
A peppy soul funk bassline, unexpected, mellow falsetto and pleasant burst of brass propels the twinkling northern soul-influenced Reaching Out To You and there are other explicit pandemic references in the “panic wine” of the yearning Dance with Me and the lockdowns – and ups – of Light Years: “you could be two metres away from me but it seems light years sometimes dear…the sun shines brighter now the skies are empty, and the loudest birdsongs fill us up again.” All proceeds go to the Trussell Trust.
Gregory Porter is no longer the hip jazz crossover artist but a bona fide mainstream success. He follows his loving Nat King Cole tribute album with a collection of original songs steeped in jazz and gospel but also trading in soul and roots, from the robust pop testifying of Revival Song and happy clappy hymn Thank You to the smooth poetic crooning of If Love Is Overrated and Modern Day Apprentice.
His social conscience is served by the autobiographical Dad Gone Thing, about what is and isn’t passed down through the generations, and the contrasting Mr Holland, celebrating neighbourhood companionship and tolerance, while he remains connected to his jazz roots via the smoochy Everything You Touch is Gold and mellow electro jazz jam Real Truth.
Glasgow indie singer/songwriter Carla J Easton swaps the evocative orchestration and girl group inspiration of Impossible Stuff for big sparkly synths, beefy drumming and pumped up pop tunes on her third solo album Weirdo, with guest contributions from Honeyblood and Stanley Odd frontman Solareye.
The cutesy synth pop of Get Lost channels the spirit of Chvrches’ former studio in which the album was recorded with former Sons and Daughters’ frontman Scott Paterson, while the girlish Never Knew You takes a leaf from the Taylor Swift pop production book. In contrast, an angsty Easton drowns in dark 80s synths on Coming Up Daisies, and she continues to hang around in the decade that refuses to die for the bombastic climax of Thorns.
A new compilation of long lost material by The Wee Cherubs provides a blast from Glasgow’s indie past. This DIY trio from the early/mid-80s only released one single, Dreaming, in the Orange Juice angular jangle style, but members Martin Cotter, Christine Gibson and Graham Adam would go on to form the idiosyncratic Bachelor Pad.
The influence of another Postcard Records band, The Go-Betweens, infuses Two Things at the One Time while the dark Eurovision of the instrumental Theme echoes the austere tones of Factory Records and early Simple Minds and a dreamily-paced cover of the Velvet Underground classic Waiting for My Man, with depth charge bass, shows their range.
Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 19 & 27, Rondo K386 (Linn) *****
The moment this music bursts into action there is a charged brilliance that never dims. It’s to do with two things: the fiery crackle of Francesco Piemontesi at the piano; and the raw precision that Andrew Manze elicits from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who never once play these Mozart concertos like back room staff. There’s simply never a dull moment. Take the finale of Piano Concerto No 19, K459, progressing from militaristic counterpoint to joyous abandon. Or the grace of the delightful Rondo K386, an interlude between the youthfulness of the opening concerto and the reflective B flat Concerto, No 27, K595, written in 1791, which was to be the composer’s last such work. Manze opts for steely tightness in string tone, which slightly short-changes the first movement’s emotional breadth, but it’s hardly an issue in the Larghetto, and none whatsoever in the final Allegro. Ken Walton
Malcolm MacFarlane & Ross Milligan: Two Rivers Meet (Download only: https://rossmilligan.bandcamp.com/album/two-rivers-meet) ****
Guitarists Malcolm MacFarlane and Ross Milligan are both established figures in the Scottish jazz scene and beyond, and have worked together over the years in settings ranging from the Scottish Guitar Quartet to Mark Knopfler’s Local Hero musical. That they are well-used to each other’s musical company is evident from these ten mainly acoustic, virtually-recorded duets emerging from lockdown, the opening Dancing Waters exemplifying the generally relaxed, easeful tone, rather than any jazz fireworks. Above the languid acoustic guitar circling of Good Days, an electric instrument echoes like distant murmurs of whale song, the title track birls along with a country-ish road song feel to it and the relaxed mode returns for Waltz for Charlie. Electric guitar slides over glittering acoustic chords in The Shining Levels before Under the Stars closes the collection with a gentle shimmer. Jim Gilchrist