July Reviews – Rufus, Liam Finn, Jill Scott & She Keeps Bees

A bizarre mix this – two I was absolutely desperate to hear and two about which I was mildly curious. I imagine it’s pretty obvious which ones belong in which pile. 220 words simply do not provide an opportunity to do the Rufus box set justice but I tried. Most other magazines appear to have given it a full page and, I would argue, it deserves it. Anyway, here’s to July…

July 11 trio

LIAM FINN –FOMO’ (TRANSGRESSIVE)

Anyone who heard Finn’s excellent debut, ‘I’ll Be Lightning’, will know that the knack for melody was passed down the family line from his father, Neil from Crowded House. On ‘FOMO’, short for ‘fear of missing out’, Liam Finn manages to do the whole ‘second album about life on the road’ thing without sounding like some pissy grouch. Instead, the euphoric, floating 60s guitar sheen and carefree swagger which dominates proceedings is utterly uplifting, with ‘Cold Feet’ the massive summer smash that will never be. The early-Nineties indie guitar excess on ‘Reckless’ offers another standout moment on an album which takes bold and successful strides.

Oooh, this is a good ‘un. If you never partook of his aforementioned debut, get yourself caught up. I won’t tell anyone you. This is a more fully-realised outing sonically but it’s the sheer joy of his songwriting that makes him worthy of your attention. As something of a Finn Fann, I was always predisposed to like him but he’s more than earned his stripes with this release.

SHE KEEPS BEES – ‘Dig On’ (NAMES)

Self-recorded in the solitude of New York’s Catskill Mountains, ‘Dig On’ has the requisite indie credentials and a fittingly sparse sound. Occupying a lo-fi rock and roll ground somewhere between early PJ Harvey and a Cat Power-fronted White Stripes, She Keeps Bees possess a fine weapon in the vocals of Jess Larrabee. Shifting from anguished yelp to restrained menace in a matter of seconds, its dominant presence across the whole record almost makes up for the fact that there aren’t quite enough killer tunes. ‘Make You My Moon’, however, is a beautiful combination of their raw intensity and a delicate touch which is sadly underused.

Yeah, so it’s alright really. Much as I say above. It has a few particularly good moments but it still doesn’t really feel like the finished article. This was one of those which had engaging artwork, is released on a fine label and was accompanied by a promising press release (Ok, so what isn’t?) but just didn’t grab my attention.

JILL SCOTT – ‘The Light Of The Sun’ (WARNER BROTHERS)

It’s hard to think of this as a 2011 release, so curiously mid-Nineties is the production sound across the album. Lyrically, it is bloated on cliché; take “when I open my eyes and see you, I feel like a breath of fresh air” as one of many examples. It’s perfectly inoffensive stuff , and it will sound innocuous enough burbling away in bookshops and cafes for the next few months, but there is very little here to get you excited, or even make you want to play it a second time. Lolloping along with little desire to vary pace or style, it is ultimately forgettable.

I’ve liked some of Scott’s stuff in the past and regular readers will know that I’m not averse to a bit of well-executed modern soul but ye gods this is boring. An hour long and lacking in any imagination whatsoever, along with shockingly dull lyrics, it is really one to avoid. I admit that I probably wouldn’t be most people’s choice when looking for someone to review syrupy-sweet, American chart-friendly soul/r’n’b but I was asked to give an opinion and I did. Amusingly, Clash actually downgraded the score from 4 to 3 out of 10 in print!

House Of Rufus

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – ‘House Of Rufus’ (UNIVERSAL)

Thirteen years on from a jauntily ambitious debut, and with six studio albums now to his name, Rufus Wainwright has been anthologised in suitably flamboyant fashion. While fans may express dismay at the prospect of paying again for his catalogue to date, all of which is included here, there is a sizeable bundle of bonus material to sweeten the deal. If Wainwright’s slightly slurry coo is not your thing then move along, but, for the initiated, there are impressively few wrong moves to be found amongst almost two hundred tracks. The near-perfection of ‘Wants One and Two’ demonstrates his knack for operatic and meticulously orchestrated pop music, with the ‘Bolero’ cannibalising ‘Oh What A World’ as fine a pop song as has been released in the last decade. The bonus material features early demos, rarities and an avalanche of collaborations. One disc collects Wainwright’s soundtrack work, ranging from an understated reading of ‘Hallalujah’ to a beautiful take on ‘He Ain’t Heavy… He’s My Brother’. Amongst the six DVDs present are several full-length concerts, capturing his charismatic stage presence, and the frank documentary ‘All I Want’. While this is clearly not a cheap sampler for the curious, it’s a fine way to get up to speed and the quality of the bonus material makes it nigh on essential for the hardcore.

I fully intend to go to town on this around its actual release date because a Rufus retrospective will nobody any harm. It is ludicrously expensive and ludicrously extravagant but then what did you expect? The bonus discs are great – the early demos from before his debut are a fascinating listen and the rare and unreleased material is of a consistently high quality. If you don’t like him, it’ll serve no purpose and if you do like him I imagine it will annoy you because of the £150 price tag. Win-win, eh?

2011OTR

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