Jack White: Fear of the Dawn (Third Man Records) ****
Horace Andy: Midnight Rocker (On-U Sound Records) ****
Wet leg: Wet leg (Domino) ****
Calexique: El Mirador (City Slang) ****
Four long years have passed since the usually prolific Jack White released an album – anyone would think we were in the middle of a global pandemic. Fortunately, the blue bequiff has not let go of the bar and will land two new solo albums this year.
Entering Heaven Alive, described by White as a folk album, will be released in July, but the first breath of his popcorn double feature, Fear of the Dawn, is White in more familiar but ubiquitous unfettered rock territory. The Detroit-born, Nashville-based music maven is fluent in many musical languages and roams freely, often in the span of a single song.
The jaw-dropping comeback track, Taking Me Back, applies a heavy fuzz riff to its classic rock groove before launching into prog rock keyboards with a funk cut and random beat. Yes, Jack White will always be bored before his listeners.
There is no fat in this feast. The title track is a two-minute sprint, unleashing further fuzztastic metallic riffola, while The White Raven keeps the punky rhythm pugnacious.
But the relentless momentum doesn’t preclude playful embellishments. Hi De Ho is one of White’s periodic entertaining follies with mountain drumming and a powerful devotional ululation giving way to a peppy, edgy bassline, silvery synth arpeggios and rap. Among other eccentric highlights, Eosophobia oscillates between a dub reggae beat and freewheeling Cream-esque blues rock, with a vampiric White unleashing solar voodoo: “the sun goes down when I say it, but the sun comes up when it wants ” . After this complete encounter, you may need to lie down in a darkened room.
Icon darling of reggae Horace Andy is one of Jamaica’s most soulful voices, nicknamed Sleepy for her effortless style, which is captured in splendid spirit on dub producer Adrian Sherwood’s new album Midnight Rocker, backed by his band On U Sound featuring Skip McDonald by Tackhead and Doug Wimbish.
The mournful breathing of melodica, the sweet sashay of reggae and the warning lyrics of Easy Money set the bittersweet tone. A wise message of caution runs through the album. The Materialist cost of living blues number protects against the temptations of peacock displays. Watch Over Them is a reggae prayer against the seduction of violence and Today is Right Here begs us to live in the moment.
Andy is probably best known in the UK as Massive Attack’s oldest vocalist, so it’s a treat to hear his stripped down version of their classic single Safe from Harm, originally sung by Shara Nelson, featuring a bass line intact but devoid of the sumptuous strings. .
Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers trained on the Isle of Wight wet leg in 2019 with the laudable aim of writing fun songs, and which hit home when the first deadpan earworm Chaise Longue became a viral hit last year. Their self-titled debut album fleshes out their quirky vision with the rhythmic carefreeness and funny sentiments of Ur Mum, the springy lo-fi punk vocals Oh No (“you’re so awake, Diet Coke”) and Supermarket’s bass rumination on the shot of a new romance, proclaiming “I want to shop until I’m weak in the knees”.
Duo of American border countries Calexic are staunch exponents of the frictionless commerce, straddling musical cultures with ease on their tenth album, collaborating again with brilliant Guatemalan singer Gaby Moreno on the title track’s Latino hunt and Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam on the sweet and free Tex-Mex Crosby, Styles Stills & Nash from Harness the Wind. Cumbia Peninsula is equal parts mariachi and Morricone and elsewhere they use vibrant mariachi horns, elegant salsa and soft desert rock in their evocative soundtracks.
Beethoven: Piano Concertos, No. 5 & “No. 0” (Naxos) ****
Beethoven wrote two piano concertos in E flat, but only one of them is among the official five. The best known is, of course, the last of the composer, “the Emperor”. But as soloist Boris Giltburg demonstrates in an offbeat duet on this disc, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and conductor Vasily Petrenko, in addition to his “Emperor”, the young Beethoven composed a genre prototype, the Concerto “No. 0”. His skilful childhood – despite the lack of an existing orchestral score, so this is just a piano solo – is perfectly captured by the Moscow-born pianist. The real draw, however, is inevitably the later concerto, which Giltburg presents with powerful urgency and panache, urging Petrenko and the orchestra to line up, which they do deliberately. Yet there is also a penetrating richness and delicacy in the opening movement, which prepares us for the golden serenity of Giltburg’s Adagio and the final volcanic thrust of the Finale. Ken Walton
Iona Lane: Hallival (own label) ****
Time and tide run through this debut album by young singer-songwriter Iona Lane. Raised in Yorkshire, her Scottish holidays sparked a passion for nature that permeates her songs, delivered with a light, melodious voice and engaging conviction, richly accompanied by her own guitar, Mia Scott’s warm-toned fiddle, bassist Jay Taylor, drummer Louis Berthoud and Sol Edwards on keyboards. The Western Tidal Swell opener, with guest vocals from Jenny Sturgeon, eloquently sets the tone, inspired by the Isle of Rum, with its titular volcanic plug from Hallival. Also memorable is Mary Anning, celebrating the all-too-often-overlooked dean of Victorian fossil collectors. Schiehallion’s totemic peak is celebrated for its historic role in calculating the Earth’s density, accompanied by guest harp and violin by Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl. Siren isn’t quite as successful, with its labored, Middle Eastern-style intonation, but May You Find Time’s cheerful invocation is genuinely compelling. Jim Gilchrist
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