Album reviews: Whitney Houston | Katie Melua | The Zombies | LVRA

Whitney Houston PIC: Marc Bryan-BrownWhitney Houston PIC: Marc Bryan-Brown
Whitney Houston PIC: Marc Bryan-Brown
Bringing together gospel recordings from across Whitney Houston’s career, I Go to the Rock is sometimes slick to the point of sanitisation, but there’s still interest in the previously unheard material, writes Fiona Shepherd

Whitney Houston: I Go To the Rock: The Gospel Music of Whitney Houston (Arista/Legacy Recordings) ***

Katie Melua: Love and Money (BMG) **

The Zombies: Different Game (Cooking Vinyl) ***

LVRA: Soft Like Steel (Eastern Margins) ***

Eleven years on from her untimely passing, Whitney Houston receives another posthumous push from the curators of her estate. I Go To the Rock – also a documentary of the same name – is a celebration of her church roots, collating gospel recordings from across her career, some well known, some previously unreleased.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The big, brassy title track is the first of five numbers from the soundtrack to The Preacher’s Wife, Penny Marshall’s 1996 remake of The Bishop’s Wife. Thanks to Houston’s blockbusting stock and its Christmas release date, the soundtrack became the best-selling gospel collection of all time. The selections here, all with full gospel choir backing, are slick to the point of sanitisation, with a touch of musical theatre jazz hands to the rendition of Joy to the World, but Houston testifies effortlessly.

A sumptuous church organ gives way to saccharine keyboards on Jesus Loves Me, a version of the popular kids’ chorus from The Bodyguard soundtrack, with Whitney in twittering melisma mode. Bridge Over Troubled Water, recorded live in the Nineties with gospel singer CeCe Winans, has also been overdone to death.

Katie MeluaKatie Melua
Katie Melua

I Look To You, from her final album of the same name, is already familiar in its pop bombast – less so, another late recording of gospel standard His Eye Is On the Sparrow. Inevitably, the interest lies in the unheard material, particularly Testimony, a showcase for the youthful brio of a 17-year-old Houston, even if the song is a bit repetitive.

The slow, moody background of He Can Use Me leaves space for Houston to do her thing but she dials it back a little on the sweet soul of I Found A Way, reminiscent in parts of her cousin Dionne Warwick’s softer delivery. I Go to the Rock bows out on the barnstorming soul testifying of He/I Believe, recorded live in Japan in 1990, and worth hearing even if it does finish rather abruptly.

At the other end of the emoting scale, Katie Melua returns with her ninth album, recorded in the flush of new love and pregnancy. Even by her delicate standards, Love and Money is a lightweight offering to the point of blandness, whether she is singing about her partner’s dance moves, her early days as a new arrival in Britain or the suicide of her psychiatrist. The environmental prayer of Reefs is marginally musically heftier with its rock guitar and clattering drums, and the slow waltz of Those Sweet Days is more full-bodied with cooing gospel backing vocals.

Sixties cult heroes The Zombies were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019 and have been making up for lost time since reforming two decades ago. Latest album Different Game is, in fact, the same game, referencing musical contemporaries from the sultry Hammond chords of Procol Harum to the smooth funk rock of Steely Dan and the dreamy harmonies of The Beach Boys. Colin Blunstone’s well-preserved and soulful tenor is heard to aching effect on piano ballad You Could Be My Love and bare acoustic ballad The Sun Will Rise Again, while Rod Argent exercises his limber keyboard skills on the rollicking Merry-Go-Round and Love You While I Can comes closest to their signature baroque pop of old.

LVRA PIC: Jeff HahnLVRA PIC: Jeff Hahn
LVRA PIC: Jeff Hahn

In contrast, Edinburgh-bred, London-based LVRA occupies a whole other musical universe. The SAY Award’s Sound of Young Scotland winner presents her latest wares on the seven-track EP Soft Like Steel – appropriately named in its blend of soft coquettish vocals with tough tech beats on the opening Welcome. The title track transforms from fluttering techno torch song to juddering electro ride, while Clones is a glitchy cyber punk odyssey with robotic vocals and a drawling guest rap from girl_irl.


Mozart: Complete Piano Sonatas (naïve) *****

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This is a sheer delight, which won’t surprise those who caught South Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son’s recent concerto performances in Scotland, either with the BBC SSO or SCO. With the latter, she demonstrated a masterful command of Mozart – exquisite clarity, stylistically nuanced sensitivity and nimble precision – and it is with Mozart again, the complete sonatas, that she launches her new record deal with the French-based naïve label. Spread over six chronologically-arranged discs, the full spectrum of Mozart’s life is explored with unfolding fascination, from the probing, refreshing simplicity of the initial 1774 sonatas by an already masterful 18-year-old, to the more reflective twists of his final utterances of the late 1780s, and much in between. Yet the strongest message from Eum Son’s performances is Mozart’s natural, compulsive joie-de-vivre. She captures that natural genius with bewitching consistency and dizzying charm. Ken Walton


The Young‘uns: Tiny Notes (Hudson Records) ****

Sunderland’s Wearmouth Bridge has been the scene of many suicides, yet handwritten messages left there by a young woman called Paige Hunter have deterred many others from ending their lives. Thus the title song of this frequently moving album from Teesside vocal trio The Young’uns. Sometimes augmented by strings or by David Eagle’s piano, they open in characteristically rousing a cappella style with Jack Merritt’s Boots, memorialising a humane man murdered during a terror attack. Richard Moore portrays the Derry man blinded by a rubber bullet as a child who later befriended the soldier who fired it, Trespassers celebrates the 1932 mass trespass at Kinder Scout, Derbyshire, while Tim Burman is a love song for a life lost in the Lockerbie disaster. The Surgeon, meanwhile, recounts the heroic David Nott, operating on an injured ISIS fighter amid terrifying circumstances. Delivered in impeccable vocal harmonies, the message is that humanity transcends all. Jim Gilchrist

Related topics: