Trashcan Sinatras: Wild Pendulum ****
Kathryn Williams & Anthony Kerr: Resonator ****
One Little Indian
Justice: Woman ****
Trashcan Sinatras are a true musical cult, inspiring a deep rather than wide love over the past quarter of a century and making hearts grew fonder across fairly lengthy absences between albums. So the ardent fans were queuing up to bid for guitar lessons and bedtime stories delivered by band members as part of the crowdfunding campaign for this sixth album.
It was all money well invested, as Wild Pendulum is a ravishing listen, beautifully marshalled by producer Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes but largely defined by the celestial touch of longstanding supporter Simon Dine, who has previously sprinkled his sonic fairy dust over Paul Weller and has now festooned the Trashcans’ lovely songs with twinkling samples.
The carefree, buoyant momentum, bright jangling guitars, celebratory blasts of trumpet and uplifting harmonies on Let Me In (Or Let Me Out) belie its timely, wary lyrics: “there’s a shadow on the mountain, there’s a growing sense of dread”. Conversely, Best Days On Earth is suffused with enough gentle, bittersweet, simple soul to make Teenage Fanclub envious.
The Ayrshire band indulge their unabashed romantic side through the sonorous 60s beat pop feel of Ain’t That Something, the swooning Bond theme orchestration of Autumn and the glistening folk waltz I Want to Capture Your Heart, a distant cousin of Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart sung with a breathy yearning by Frank Reader.
All Night is their idea of a clubbing number, clearly bang up to date with its airy Beach Boys innocence, Herb Alpert brass and swirling sampled sci-fi siren backing vocals, while The Family Way is an evergreen girl group number. There is yet time for Little Mix to jump on this gem.
The Neighbours’ Place is a comforting country lope about simple hospitality and seeking company through the dark nights and, in another nod to the album’s recording sessions in snowy Nebraska, I’m Not The Fella is an old-fashioned croon to cuddle up to this Christmas.
There is no let-up in quality throughout. Waves (Sweep Away My Melancholy) is a particularly heady retro feast, with backwards guitars, tremulous strings and a swoon of a tune. But lest listeners get lost in the more decorative aspects of the sound, the band wisely strip away the effects at the end to show off acoustic lullaby I See The Moon for the bare bones beauty it is.
On the subject of stripped back sounds, the versatile Kathryn Williams has joined tender forces with vibraphone player Anthony Kerr to produce a collection of wispy renditions of jazz standards. Divested of the more customary melodramatic orchestration and ornamented vocals, these strictly non-cheesy supper club arrangements are no less stylised but allow the songs to breathe anew, bringing out the gentle desolation of I’m A Fool To Want You, wistful romanticism of The Man I Love, sweet nothings of Embraceable You and exquisite light touch melancholy of Autumn Leaves.
Hirsute French duo Justice are the hippy Daft Punk, and every bit as playful as their robot peers in their referencing of 70s disco soul and 80s synth soundtracks. Their third album Woman is conceived as carefree driving music but there’s a wealth of detail in this slick production – slap bass, a zen choir and sumptuous disco strings on Safe and Sound, smooth, serene, multi-tracked falsetto vocals on the gospel house track Pleasure and some gothic Gary Numan synthquake on Alakazam! They also have great fun with the knowingly hokey Chorus and baroque’n’roll synth arpeggios of Heavy Metal before the cooling comedown of Close Call.
Erik Chisholm: Simoon ***
This premiere recording of Erik Chisholm’s short opera, Simoon, is important in redressing a previous absence of recognition for the Scots composer as a significant (if niche) figure in 20th century musical history.
Chisholm was a maverick: in the way he promoted music in 1930s Glasgow by inviting Bartok, Hindemith and other world music figures to perform, and in his fostering of opera in South Africa following his relocation to Cape Town. He wrote several operas, among them this 1950s setting of August Strindberg’s Algeria-set play. It was only ever performed once, with piano accompaniment, so this live recording – from Glasgow’s 2015 Cotters Festival – is effectively its premiere.
It is a work of enormous passion and grit and Ian Ryan directs a vital, uptempo performance, with soprano Jane Irwin (Biskra) shining among a motivated cast, and the musicians of Co-OPERAtive Scotland finding character and energy in the score.
Kate Rusby: Life in a Paper Boat ***
The Barnsley Lintie’s 14th studio album proves an impressive production job by her husband, guitarist Damien O’Kane, and she is joined by accordionist Nick Cooke, Steven Iveson on electric guitar and Duncan Lyall on bass and occasional synthesiser. Guests include the Alison Krauss band’s banjoist Ron Block and vocalist Dan Tyminski.
Rusby’s breathily delicate tones come couched in ethereal reverb and electronic shimmers and while the overall effect can become a bit homogenous, there are some fine things here, not least her poignant title composition reflecting the predicament of refugees, adrift in a sea of echoes. She gives a spine-tingling account of Archie Fisher’s Witch of the Westmorland and her own hymn-like Night Lament hangs beautifully above a string section.
In contrast, Big Brave Bill is a brass-driven drollery about a Yorkshire-tea-drinking superhero while the hoary old Pace Egging Song is charming.