Most of our music reviews are a mixed bag when it comes to style and content, but the one you are about to experience definitely has a theme. It features great singers and great songs – deceptively simple yet they are all the more powerful for the manner they are produced and presented. This is music which stays with you longer after the last note sounds. Put simply, all of the people you are about to hear – they mean it, man.
Stay on till the end for a bonus track which is a fitting conclusion to this review. It’s not just thrown together, you know…
Alasdair Roberts has featured on these pages many times before, either for one of his many solo projects or in collaboration with others, such as with Ross Whyte, and The Furrow Collective. The latest of the latter sees him alongside composer Amble Skuse and Concerto Caledonia head-honcho David McGuinness for the album What News which the three played in full at the launch at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe. Roberts is known for staying faithful to the folk traditions, but this latest record, with McGuinness’s wonderful piano and Skuse’s understated electronica, breathes new life into old songs.
To my untutored ear, there is something about the loops of all three which works together beautifully – the structure and format of the ballads enhanced and developed by the new accompaniment, and lending the stories themselves extra strength and vigour. Whatever the reason, the result is a quite remarkable record – one of the best of the year, and one of the best of Roberts’ career to date. I urge you to seek it out, and if you get the chance to see them live then make sure you book your seats in good time. To give you a taste as to what to expect, this is ‘The Fair Flower Of Northumberland’:
After writing his latest novel Peacock’s Alibi, Stuart David has returned to music, and his time with wife Karn as Looper. On the 20th anniversary of their formation for a gig at Glasgow School Of Art they released a 10-track acoustic album Quiet and Small named after the song of the same name from their debut album Up A Tree. Pared back to just vocals and an acoustic guitar (and a smattering of judicious whistling), it’s a reminder of the understated and at times heartbreaking beauty of Looper’s best work. If you haven’t yet discovered Looper this is a great place to start. If you haven’t heard them for a while, then Quiet and Small will make you fall in love with them all over again. This is ‘These Things’:
One of the best records of last year was Asleep In The Kaatskills by The Great Albatross, released on Glasgow’s LP Records. It still gets regular outings and continues to give up something new each time. The driving force behind The Great Albatross is A. Wesley Chung and this year he is back with Neon Coast (which has its launch in the aforementioned Glad Cafe on May 18th).
The first single from it is ‘Restless’ and it promises more classy Americana. If The Great Albatross was CSN&Y, then Neon Coast is shaping up like an early Neil Young or David Crosby solo record – understated and personal. A West Coast record which is more California than Kilmarnock, it could just be the sound of the summer. Here is ‘Restless’ to get the bandwagon rolling:
Beginning with her 2015 SAY winning album bones you have thrown me and blood i’ve spilled Kathryn Joseph has made some of the most memorable music of the 21st century, often in collaboration with others including R.M. Hubbert on his album Telling The Trees, and working on the Out Lines project with regular musical partner Marcus Mackay, and James Graham, producing the brilliant album Conflats. However, she is back under her own name with her latest single ‘Tell My Lover’. Achingly beautiful – simultaneously fragile and forceful, it’s a piece of music which takes the breath away and proves once more that Kathryn Joseph is an artist to treasure.
We have said before that a record coming out on Olive Grove Records is a guarantee of quality, and they continue to prove us right. The latest release is the EP Four Cold Walls from Jared Celosse. Some time ago I was talking to Olive Grove supremo and former podcast guest Lloyd Meredith and, in hushed tones, he told me he had just signed Jared and that this was hugely exciting.
Four Cold Walls proves his faith well-founded as it is a beautiful and haunting collection of songs. My favourite, as I write this, is Lost My Voice which is reminiscent of Ed Harcourt, Teddy Thompson, Tom Macrae, and a pinch of Rufus Wainwright, while remaining quite unique. A new voice to break your heart, say hello to Jared Celosse:
Chiara Berardelli has featured on these pages before with her single ‘Deep Space Hibernation’, the first track released from her latest album Seamonster, which is out now. The theme of the album is loss, the grief that is an inevitable result, and coming to terms with that, if we ever do. It is as honest and personal a collection of songs as you’ll have heard, while still being relatable and empathetic.
I was lucky enough to be at the launch of Seamonster at The Glad Cafe (no, they aren’t sponsoring this review). It was a wonderful night – moving and poignant, yet also heart-warmingly communal, and that describes the album as a whole. Here is the title track, ‘Seamonster’:
We started off traditionally and we’re, almost, going to end the same way with a new album from Sarah-Jane Summers, a virtuoso viola and fiddle player who mixes the traditional with the experimental. Her previous album VIRR showed her at her most experimental and improvisational and was one of BBC3 Late Junction’s albums of the year in 2017, (and if it’s good enough for Fiona Talkington, it’s certainly good enough for SWH!).
Solo, her latest record, see her firmly back in the camp marked “traditional”, as evinced by songs such as ‘Oran An Aoig (The Song of Death)’ and ‘Cumha Mhic a h-Arasaig (MacIntosh’s Lament, Pibroch)’, and the playing is quite astonishing. This is a beautiful example of the album as a whole – ‘Lament for Alexander Grant (Battan)’:
I promised you a bonus, so here it is in the form of some phone-footage taken at the Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse and David McGuinness launch as mentioned at the top of the page. It’s their encore, and a cover of The Blue Nile’s ‘Easter Parade’ from A Walk Across The Rooftops. While it’s not great visually (understatement alert) I hope you can enjoy the music. The crowd were so quiet you could have heard a pin drop so you can listen to what is a faithful and reverential cover of one of the great Glasgow songs. Enjoy…
That’s your lot for this month, but the next review will be with you soon. See you then…