Album reviews: Texas | James | Wolf Alice | Adam Holmes

Sharleen Spiteri is on luminous vocal form on Texas’s new album Hi, writes Fiona Shepherd, while Mercury-winners Wolf Alice take a break from traditional indie rocking to explore softer textures and evocative atmospheres

Texas: Hi (BMG) ****

James: All the Colours of You (Virgin) **

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Wolf Alice: Blue Weekend (Dirty Hit/RCA) ****

Sharleen Spiteri of Texas

Adam Holmes: Dreamweaver (self-released) ***

The first lockdown of 2020 sparked a flurry of spring cleaning, decluttering and recycling, but Texas were way ahead of the curve, having already rooted out some old demo recordings from around their White on Blonde renaissance for possible compilation. Instead, these unfinished songs inspired a whole new collection a quarter of a century down the line.

Inevitably, the band have developed further over these years, and now occupy a very satisfying groove around the intersection of their beloved pop, soul and disco influences. Tenth album Hi emerges as another musical lucky bag where every dip is a winner, from the slinky retro country pop of Moonstar to the Donna Summer-sampling Mr Haze, the breathy pop slowburn of Falling to the Al Green vibes of You Can Call Me.

Along the way, they check in on some old friends. Hip-hop legends Wu Tang Clan, with whom the band collaborated at the Brits back in 1998, add some bars to the mellow Hi, Richard Hawley’s fingerprints are all over the yearning retro pop of Dark Fire and bassist Johnny McElhone’s former Altered Images bandmate Clare Grogan duets with Sharleen Spiteri on the breezy Look What You’ve Done.

James

Spiteri is on luminous vocal form on ballad Unbelievable, delivering the sultry ache of Just Wanna Be Liked with supporting mournful mariachi trumpet and the bittersweet sentiments of Sound of My Voice, another otherwise jaunty indie pop tune, propelled along by choppy Strokes-style rhythmic fuzz guitar. Even the bonus tracks are caught up in the rapture of this elegant pop offering.

Mancunian veterans James are of a similar vintage, and a bigger concert attraction than ever. We may have to wait until the return of live music to assess the impact of their 16th album, All the Colours of You, because – despite some topical lyrics on Covid bereavement, white supremacy and wildfire carnage, largely inspired by frontman Tim Booth’s adopted US homeland – the Jacknife Lee-produced musical backdrop is a rather bland electro-flavoured soup, through which only the controlled melodrama of Zero, slick turbo-charged Whatever It Takes Us and stronger melodic hook of Getting Myself Into manage to penetrate.

London-based four-piece Wolf Alice follow up their Mercury Prize-winning Visions of a Life in style on third album Blue Weekend, which pulls further away from traditional indie rocking to explore softer textures and evocative atmospheres. The band even tested their atmospheric credentials by playing album tracks over muted movie trailers for effect.

Their opening credits feature the slow build, insistent rhythm and abrupt finish of The Beach and they proceed with a subtly shifting musical story. The blissful vocals and sumptuous guitar of Delicious Things give way to a semi-spoken whisper, while the dynamic vocal choices continue with a ravishing turn from frontwoman Ellie Rowsell on Lipstick on the Glass and multi-tracked Fleetwood Mac-inspired harmonic vocals from Rowsell and her bandmates on floaty folk number Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love).

Wolf Alice

But Wolf Alice can still bare their teeth, and do so in short order with fuzz rocker Smile and the headlong femme punk outpouring of Play the Greatest Hits.

Adam Holmes celebrates first time parenthood on his fourth album, co-written with singer/songwriter Boo Hewerdine. Dreamweaver is an extended soothing lullaby of a collection, pairing the balm of John Martyn with the yearning of Neil Young on a number of tracks. Nature is a comforting and comfortable love song about landing where you’re meant to be, while the gentle patter of drums and plangent finger picking of May Morning Dew is all contentment. Such is his mellow musical state, Holmes even sounds zen in declaring I Met the Devil in the Morning.

CLASSICAL

Mozart: Violin Sonatas arranged for oboe (Delphian) ****

Performing Mozart on an instrument it wasn’t originally intended for is perfectly legitimate, given the composer’s propensity to take the occasional liberty with his own music. In fact, by reimagining the violin sonatas as works for oboe and piano, LSO principal oboist Oliver Stankiewicz reveals the extent to which a change in timbre can beautifully change the character of a piece without necessarily corrupting it. He’s joined here by pianist Jonathan Ware in three such sonatas, two in B flat major – K454 and K378 – with the E minor, K304, snuck neatly in between. The opener, K454, with its serious Largo introduction, melodious Andante, and elsewhere its quintessential breeziness, is a smiling delight. The eloquent simplicity of the central E minor sonata refreshes the ear for the second B flat one, which again finds Stankiewicz intuitively sensitive, nimble and articulate, and supported on even terms by Ware’s empathetic partnership. Ken Walton

JAZZ

Sam Braysher Trio: Dance Little Lady, Dance Little Man (Unit Records) ****

The young, London-based alto saxophonist Sam Braysher is joined by Catalan drummer Jorge Rossy, known for his work with Brad Mehldau among others, and double bassist Tom Farmer from the award-winning quartet Empirical, in this thoughtful trawl through familiar and lesser-known pages of the Great American Songbook. Braysher’s playing is direct and unadorned, eschewing bends or vibratos but with a soft and nimble touch that delivers with respect and with space for deft interaction from his trio-mates, as in the purposeful bounce of the opening Dexter Gordon number, For Regulars Only. There’s a restrained but elegant glide to Richard Rodgers’ The Sweetest Sounds, while Rodgers-Hammerstein’s This Nearly Was Mine spools out tenderly with gentle asides from marimba and a warm-toned arco bass interlude. By way of contrast come the zingy Pintxos and the short, snappy strut of Gershwin’s Walking the Dog. Jim Gilchrist

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