ALBUM REVIEWS – Corinne Bailey Rae / Midlake / Buddy Holly / Lambchop
Corinne Bailey Rae – The Sea
It is, of course, impossible to hear this record without feeling you are rubbernecking in on the personal tragedy that surrounds it (Rae’s husband died during its creation), but in purely musical terms this represents a huge creative step forward for the Leeds-born singer-songwriter.
To her eternal credit she neither wallows in grisly sentiment or shies away from facing up to the tragedy and what emerges, ultimately, is a moving and redemptive record. Musically there’s been a definitive and welcome shift away from the coffee shop jazz-lite that made her name – so here we get bubbling Hammond organs, big orchestral arrangements, languid funk and, most importantly, a couple of genuinely memorable hook-filled choruses. That aural wallpaper has, finally, been torn down. Occasionally the over-slick production washes out the emotion but when, in the title track, Rae sings, ‘The sea, the majestic sea, takes everything from me,’ there’s simply nothing that can detract from its devastated beauty. A graceful progression.
Midlake – The Courage of Others
Midlake toured 2nd album, The Trials of Van Occupanther - the best album of 2006 no less – to death. They flogged it, milked it, hoiked it around the globe – and then, 2 years ago, disappeared into the backwoods of Texas from whence they came. Since then, not a whimper. But they’ve been listening – and growing. Listening it would seem, somewhat incongruously, to Brit-folk. Not just to Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, and Steeleye Span but to nu-folk’s finest modern adventurers – James Yorkston, Adem, Rachel Unthank.
It’s a welcome left turn, when most might have been expecting a fairy step forward on the American psychedelic road, they’ve veered off at a tangent. The Courage of Others might as well have emerged from the English countryside so brilliantly and convincingly does it echo the best of Brit-folk old and new. Gone is the last album’s warm palette of sounds, replaced by an icy, monochromatic chill. Gone is the accessible, radio-friendly soft rock, replaced by a grainy, picky, guitar-led wash. What remains is a sense of isolation, a remoteness and an hypnotic, singular vision. Nu-folk’s creative endgame, right here, from the wilds of Texas.
Buddy Holly – Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings
He died at 23 after just three albums yet Buddy Holly’s legacy is formidable – after all, this is the man who saved rock.
Why? Because in the late 50’s rock ‘n’ roll was still a novelty, still derided by snobbish, cool-brigade jazz critics, still perceived as a passing phase by the moms and dads of America and, worse, ripe for pandering to those that were ready to milk it for every lowest common denominator dollar they could before it died its inevitable slow, undignified death. How did he save it? By rushing every door that the detractors tried to close. When they said dumb, Holly outsmarted them. Where they cried uninspired, he outwitted them. When they called it dour – well, “Oh Boy”, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”, “Not Fade Away” and, best of all, “Rave On” – my, how that little ditty would rock like a mutha in the 21st century.
Needless to say there were a few keen listeners – Lennon, Dylan, Jagger et al. These 203 tracks basically compile everything he ever put on tape – including numerous outtakes, alternate mixes, instrumentals and even fragments of conversation – it’s a completist’s fantasy. If, however, it’s the 30 or so adrenalin-firing blasts of life-affirming, prototype rock ‘n’ roll you’re after – go buy the nearest greatest hits. But this is more than that – it’s a warm legacy to a man who never got the career and the plaudits that he so dearly deserved.
BURIED TREASURE … DID YOU MISS?
10 years ago this month:
Lambchop – Nixon
Working up to this quiet masterpiece across four albums of subtle, detailed folk, jangle-pop, country and soul, Nashville’s Lambchop had the odd trough among the peaks. But this jaw-dropping album is ecstatic peak after ecstatic peak. The band might employ old-time instrumentation – pedal steel, banjo, string bass – but the layers of shimmering soundscapes, where instruments mingle in breathtakingly arranged, densely-textured layers, are as ravishingly cutting-edge as anyone.
Mainman Kurt Wagner alternates from assured falsetto to wry baritone, adding some of the best storytelling and laser-guided one-liners in modern American music. But it’s the band’s interplay that’s the star of the show, a rare musical alchemy that’s at once familiar and hallucinatory. 10 years later “Up With People” remains their anthem, a tidal rush of gospel and blasting horns, but Nixon as a whole remains sweet, untarnished perfection. A twilit wonder.