Twin Atlantic: Transparency (Believe) ***
Elvis Costello & The Imposters: The Boy Named If (EMI) ****
Cat Power: Covers (Domino) ****
Adam Ross: Staring At Mountains (Olive Grove Records) ****
There has been a pandemic shake-up in the Twin Atlantic camp, with drummer Craig Kneale amicably departing the line-up last autumn, leaving the core duo of frontman Sam McTrusty and bassist Ross McNae. But the radical soundshift of their latest album reflects the conditions in which it was developed a year earlier when the Glasgow band ditched the material they had recorded for the follow-up to their 2020 album Power and McTrusty worked remotely from home through the nights with California-based producer Jacknife Lee while holding down daddy day care duties for his baby daughter.
As its title indicates, Transparency is spontaneous, cathartic and direct, with McTrusty often using his lower register so as not to wake the baby (or the neighbours) and a staccato, semi-spoken vernacular to spit out ten tracks in just over half an hour, from the lo-fi turbo-charged pogo pop of One Man Party to the self-confessed meltdown of Get Famous and the low-slung pseudo-industrial strut of Bang on the Gong, which opens with McTrusty’s mum ticking him off in foul-mouthed terms.
This is Twin Atlantic as they have never quite sounded before. But just as unceremoniously, they ditch the dirty grooves for the sonorous piano ballad It’s Getting Dark and the wide-eyed electro pop of Haunt, with McTrusty in more declamatory mode as he appreciates parenthood from the perspective of a child and a father.
Elvis Costello has had a fruitful recording run through the pandemic, releasing new albums and EPs (in new languages) and an Armed Forces box set. This latest Imposters album is cut from the same effervescent cloth as Spanish Model, his recent Spanish language re-recording of This Year’s Model.
However, the language here is yarn-spinning – according to Costello, the album’s full title is The Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Stories) and its vinyl edition comes with a hardback book containing illustrated short stories with the same titles as the album tracks.
Costello’s broad theme is the painful transition from childhood to maturity (whenever that might be) and the Imposters come out all guns blazing on raucous rock’n’rollers Farewell, OK and Penelope Halfpenny, the latter reminiscent of acid pen portraits by The Who and The Kinks. Mistook Me For A Friend is a rabble-rousing new wave stomp and the steely title track concerns the imaginary friend blamed for your transgressions.
The aching balladry of Paint the Red Rose Blue provides a contemplative breather before the high-kicking vaudeville flourish of The Man You Love to Hate and Costello is in prime melodramatic mode on The Death of Magic Thinking.
US singer/songwriter Cat Power is a distinctive interpreter of other people’s songs. Covers is her third collection of cover versions, on which she captures the agony and ecstasy of Frank Ocean’s Bad Religion in mellow and sultry style, seamlessly shifts from the burnished strut of Iggy Pop’s Endless Sea to the warm wistfulness of Jackson Browne’s These Days and offers a slinky rockabilly take on Kitty Wells’ country classic It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. She even covers her own tormented track Hate, cushioning it as Unhate.
Randolph’s Leap frontman Adam Ross releases his first album under his own name, retaining his signature quavering vocal style and glimpses of wry humour on tracks such as The Quiet Joy of Parenthood and Alice & Christine, while favouring bare acoustic balladry over spry indie pop. Highlights include country folk number The Swell, a haunting requiem for the lost fishing village of Shieldhill on the east coast of Scotland, and the post-tour comedown of When the Music Ends, with Pedro Cameron’s fiddle accompaniment never more soulful.
Hail Caledonia: Scotland in Music (SOMM) ***
It’s January, and time to wallow in the torpor that follows New Year. What better fix than SOMM’s remastered re-release of Hail Caledonia – a super-sentimentalised musical feast featuring conductor Iain Sutherland’s City of Glasgow Philharmonic, chorus and bagpipes? Originally recorded live in 1996 in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, it’s an unapologetic vision of Scotland through a misted lens: familiar TV themes such as Take the High Road (given the full-blown Hollywood treatment) and Sutherland’s Law (an arrangement that refashions Hamish McCunn’s unforgettable tune from Land of the Mountain and the Flood); hearty dances; serious stuff from Alexander McKenzie and Malcolm Arnold; and a Sutherland-arranged Flower of Scotland originally created for the opening of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. In truth, some of the playing is rough and ready – most notably an accident-prone Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony – but there are enough stirring moments. Best taken with a dram. Ken Walton
Isla Ratcliff: The Castalia (Own Label) ****
Titled after the ship which bore her forebears to Canada’s maritime province of New Brunswick, The Castalia is a fine debut album from Edinburgh fiddler Isla Ratcliff, not only showcasing her bright, articulate playing but reflecting a seminal period she spent studying on Cape Breton Island, with its flourishing Gaelic diaspora. She’s accompanied deftly by cellist Ellen Gira with some snappy duetting, as in the Three Mile Bridge jig set and some skeely strathspeys, while Adam Young provides typically brisk Cape Breton-style piano and there are crisply percussive step-dance interludes from Annabelle Bugay. Another lively set, The Blue Mist, is named after a notable session pub where she was clearly made very welcome, with local fiddlers writing tunes for her. In gentler mode are her own, fondly rendered air, Memories of Cape Breton and the wistful title tune for which she double-tracks on fiddle and piano. Jim Gilchrist
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