April & May Reviews – Richard Hawley, Rufus Wainwright, Tom Williams & The Boat, Wedding Present and more

I thoroughly enjoyed my Record Store Day 2012 – I hope you did too. Now that I’ve had a chance to recover, here are April and May’s album reviews for Clash, along with the usual commentary.

April May 1

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT”Out Of The Game’ (MERCURY)

Having rounded out the first phase of his career with a lavish boxset, Wainwright turned to Mark Ronson to smooth down the flamboyant edges and ensnare the music-buying masses. The result is a surprisingly effective 21st century take on the Seventies singer-songwriter album, with tight band performances from the likes of the Dap-Kings and sympathetic production from the king of the trumpets. ‘Perfect Man’ is a pure pop gem, the feel of which Wainwright has never previously achieved and it is this lesson in restraint which Ronson brings to the table. Although, quite how the bagpipes which close the album slipped through, is anyone’s guess.

A genuinely splendid record this, which should draw in some more mainstream attention even if it won’t change the minds of those who couldn’t be doing with his previous work. The pairing of Wainwright and Ronson is clearly one of those moments where something just clicks and anything and everything works. There are at least four stone cold classics on here and some of the finest tunes he’s released to date. Well worth seeking out.

RICHARD HAWLEY‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge (PARLOPHONE)

After the spacious soundscapes of 2009’s ‘Truelove’s Gutter‘, the Sheffield-drenched psychedelia found here may surprise but, thirty years from now, crate diggers of the world will seize upon this album in rapture. ‘She Brings The Sunlight’ is a stellar statement of intent, slowly building to a euphoric squall of droning guitars and sugary harmonies, while ‘Down In The Woods‘ buries an echoey vocal at the heart of a bluesy rattle. Even when ‘Don’t Stare At The Sun’initially evokes memories of tunes gone by, upon reaching the three-minute mark it soars in muscular fashion, the easy emotive colouring of strings left untouched. An unconventional masterpiece.

Regular readers will know that I love Richard Hawley. I love his voice, I love his lyrics and I love the production of his records. All of this triumvirate of loves remains intact after spending time with these nine songs. Stuart Maconie was spot on when he wrote, in his review for The Word, that parts of this album hark back to the sound of Oasis when they tried to vary it a little – ‘Who Feels Love’ was the track I immediately played after listening to the album’s opener, ‘She Brings The Sunlight’. I know it’s hard not to construe this as an insult, but please try. This is a wonderful album and one which becomes familiar in no time and a favourite soon thereafter. Brilliant double vinyl pressing too.

April May 2

THE WEDDING PRESENT – ‘Valentina’ (SCOPIOTONES)

I’m always deeply suspicious of anyone who says they don’t like The Wedding Present. They’re certainly not toiling away at the avant-garde coalface of musical invention, but they don’t seem to ever deliver a stinker. ‘Valentina’, their third outing since rebooting as part of David Gedge’s metamorphosis back from Cinerama to one of Peel’s favourite bands, features the odd surprise – not least some vocals in German – but it’s largely business as usual. Blokey but heartfelt vocals from Gedge and lyrical lovelies like “if I were a painter, I’d just paint portraits of you. You’d be in everything I do.” Predictable, yes. But really comfortingly so.

If you like the Weddoes, you’ll be happy. If you don’t, you probably don’t care by this point. If you’ve never heard them before, it’s as good a primer as any. I do and I am.

AMADOU & MARIAM – ‘Folila’ (BECAUSE)

Having toured with the likes of Coldplay and U2 and performed for Barack Obama, this husband and wife duo were keen to both pursue a rootsy take on their Malian blues and also record an album of collaborations with a wide variety of musical acquaintances. As it happened, two become one on this warm, soulful record, which features performances from Jake Shears, Santigold, Amp Fiddler and, most mesmerisingly, TV On The Radio. Some collaborations are more successful than others, but what never changes is the punchy sense of melody which runs throughout ‘Folila‘, a title which simply means ‘music’ in the language of Mali, Bambara.

An album I found hard to warm to massively but I can admire it. I know that sounds HUGELY patronising but it’s just a little inoffensive to me, even though I can tell that it’s the sort of thing that will inspire passionate recommendations. The middling, pleasant records are always the hardest to review. Give me a crap album anytime. Oh look…

MASHA QRELLA‘Analogies’ (MORR)

The feeling on a June day when you think the sun’s going to come through, but it doesn’t. When you sup your post-work pint on a Friday, having imagined its capacity to remove all of your stress, only to find it’s a bad barrel. Spotting a book in the bag of the person you’re hopelessly infatuated with which, upon reading, is really nothing to write home about. Inoffensive, occasionally melodic plod-pop-rock which talks a good talk and doesn’t really deliver.

Hahahah! See what I did there. The album’s called ‘Analogies’, so I…oh, never mind.

April May 3

M. WARD‘A Wasteland Companion’ (BELLA UNION)

In the three years since Matthew Ward released career highlight ‘Hold Time‘, he’s been kept busy as a quarter of Monsters Of Folk and half of retro-pop combo She & Him. Both had their moments but, after the scope and ambition of that last solo outing, hopes are high for the next instalment of the day job. ‘A Wasteland Companion‘ partly delivers, not least on the uncannily Ed Harcourt-esque ‘Primitive Girl’ with its hammered piano refrain and syrupy backing vocals. The gorgeous ‘Crawl After You‘ gets inside you like the smell on a rainy day, but such emotive responses are less common that you might expect.

I do really rather like M. Ward, and he has released some fine albums including the aforementioned ‘Hold Time’, but I find this a little below par. Still a number of fine moments but it didn’t woo me as a complete outing. The blurring of the She & Him/M. Ward venn diagram didn’t help. I’ve still not forgotten that bloody Christmas album.

OBERHOFER –Time Capsules II’ (GLASSNOTE)

Grandiose orchestral clout mixed with a neat pop nous and a voice pitched somewhere between We Are Scientists and Mull Historical Society, the music of Brad Oberhofer is pretty much adorable. Drums clatter and stutter in frenetic fashion beneath chiming xylophone, indie harmonies and riff-heavy guitar for much of ‘Time Capsules II‘, and its relentless energy is utterly addictive. It perhaps never quite manages to live up to the genuinely breathtaking magnificence of opening track ‘Heart’, with its spectral wall of sound production effects, but those are high standards indeed. The shamelessly repetitive ‘I Could Go‘ comes close, mind, with an embarrassment of hooks.

Took me ages to click with this one. Until the last couple of listens, this was heading for a fence-sitting 5/10, but then it all seemed to make sense. It’ll work well in the sun. So, er, take it on holiday if you go abroad this year.

ONE LITTLE PLANE‘Into The Trees’ (TEXT)

With bass from Colin Greenwood and production duties fulfilled by Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden, this is a lot less fragile than it first seems. While it owes more to Kathryn Williams than either of its distinguished collaborators, their touches are still noticeable and the rhythmic backdrop to many of these songs is disarmingly complex. Kathryn Bint – who, perhaps understandably, trades as One Little Plane – possesses a gorgeous, whispered burr, best highlighted on the chiming, hypnotic shuffle of ‘Nothing Has Changed‘.

Not the sort of thing you’d immediately think of if somebody told you it was a new release on the TEXT label, but rather charming nonetheless. Gilles Peterson has played a track recently on his splendid new Saturday afternoon 6 Music show and it seems to garnering positive notices from most corners. Worth a listen.

tom-williams-teenage-blood

TOM WILLIAMS & THE BOAT‘Teenage Blood’ (MOSHI MOSHI)

At a time when alternative music seems so often preoccupied with fitting in rather than standing out, it’s refreshing to hear such a wilfully individual sound. With roots in the melodic world of the mainstream, ‘Teenage Blood‘ is an instantly endearing proposition, although repeated listens unveil the twisted, writhing soul at its heart. The dextrous band ooze and explode thrillingly with each emotional turn, while Williams’ sung-spoken vocals are perhaps the band’s trademark, variously murmuring, bellowing and spitting out lyrical delights such as “my sister was a referee, reffing Sunday morning leagues, south of Sheffield at a park, showing yellow cards to rapists and thieves.”

Ah, one of the Just Played favourites. The product of a Pledge Music campaign, ‘Teenage Blood’ builds on the majesty of the debut and is a great example of albums where you should listen to the whole thing in one sitting. It’s wonderfully sequenced, brilliantly produced and blessed with some excellent tunes. ‘Trouble With The Truth’ is one of the year’s finest songs to date. There’s a lovely, heavyweight vinyl pressing out there but don’t mull for too long as they’re pretty limited.

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.

Continue reading “July Reviews – Rufus, Liam Finn, Jill Scott & She Keeps Bees”

27. Rufus Wainwright–All Days Are Night: Songs For Lulu

Best of 2010This record proved to be a breath of fresh air after the overcooked swamp of a record that was ‘Release The Stars’. New converts will not be found, and I know how much he splits opinion even amongst you splendid folk, but those who’ve been in love before will be in love again. It’s a dense work which requires some love and attention but it gives but as much as it takes once you’re ensnared.

Rufus Wainwright

Never one to hide his emotions previously, here Wainwright offers a sparse but staggeringly heartfelt collection of songs for voice and piano, influenced, at least in part, by the long-term illness and recent passing of his mother. After experiments in bombast and imitating Judy Garland, this is all about the bare bones and, held against the aforementioned previous outing, the relative simplicity is very welcome. While three Shakespearean sonnets set to music are successful without being showy, Wainwright saves the very best till last. Lyrically, album closer ‘Zebulon’ is endearingly direct, “my mother’s in the hospital, my sister’s at the opera, I’m in love, but let’s not talk about it,” and home to his best vocal performance to date.

Having seen the live show which accompanied this album, which involved Wainwright performing the entire record in full, in order, with a request of no applause between songs, I actually found I loved it just a little bit more. The funereal procession with which he entered and exited the stage did make my soul itch a little but the overwhelming aura of grief, combined with no little sprinkle of pomposity, somehow ended up endearing the record to me even more rather than, to use modern parlance, ‘getting on my tits’. As I said at the start of this piece, do not approach this if you’ve already decided that you hate his voice, face or other specific parts of his anatomy. Your opinion will not be changed. But my, this is a bold record both in terms of what it sits alongside this year and also its bedfellows in Wainwright’s catalogue. A surprise triumph.

I once sat a few seats down from farmer boy at a Rufus Wainwright concert

I picked up the ‘Glastonbury’ movie yesterday. Haven’t watched it yet, but did flick through the bonus material and got all maudlin at the interview with the late, great Peelie. Anyway, this reminded me of a genius Glasto moment from this year that I forgot to talk about. Namely…

Only Rufus.

T’is worth shoving the word ‘Glastonbury’ into YouTube. You can turn up all sorts of vintage performances. And The Seahorses doing ‘Love Is The Law’, back in 1997!

One other thing. I noticed that Dermot O’Leary’s Saturday Show on Radio 2 has spawned a compilation album full of live performances recorded for said broadcast. It has to be said that it is overwhelmingly average with one notable exception. That exception is a quite brilliant ska take on ‘Everybody’s Changing’ (the Keane tune) by Lily Allen. Genius, I promise.
EDIT: Oh, just found a slightly shite quality version with a truly terrible video on YouTube. Presumably the shitty video was made so that they could simply upload a cracking tune. Enjoy.