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MUSIC Album reviews

Latest releases from Loudon Wainwright III, Global Village Trucking Company, Mark Feldman, MG Boulter, Anansy Cisse, Satoko Fujii and Ikue Mori, Jason Ringenberg, Louisiana Red and Sugar Blue and Kate Westbrook and the Granite Band

Loudon Wainwright III
I’d Rather Lead a Band
(Thirty Tigers)
★★★★

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT  has assembled a very impressive body of work during the five decades which have slipped effortlessly  by since he was one of the aspiring young contenders in the rock media’s ultimately fruitless task to discover “the new Bob Dylan.”

I’d Rather Lead A Band signals a fairly radical shift in musical direction for the  perennially sardonic singer-songwriter, as he puts down his trusty acoustic guitar for a while and joins forces with Vince Giordano and the massed ranks of his award-winning big band to tackle a selection of classic tunes from the  illustrious pages of the Great American Songbook.

This loose, fresh and anti-nostalgic package finds Wainwright and his slick cohorts in sprightly form as they breathe new life into timeless gems such as Ain’t Misbehavin’, My Blue Heaven and You Rascal You.

KEVIN BRYAN

Global Village Trucking Company
Smiling Revolution
(Esoteric)
★★★★★

DUBBED Britain’s s answer to the Grateful Dead, the GVTC lived the hippy dream, “getting it together” with their roadies and families in a rural commune in Norfolk in the early 1970s.

They played benefits and free festivals — long jams a speciality — shunned record companies and made their recording debut on a Greasy Truckers benefit album waxed at London’s Dingwall’s in 1973.

They cut the album included on this two-CD set plus booklet at Dave Edmund’s Rockfield studio in Wales in 1974 and eventually it was released after they disbanded in 1975.

Both CDs feature their full repertoire of songs by chief songwriter and guitarist Jon Owen complemented by James Lascelles on keyboards plus other studio tracks, John Peel sessions and live material from Dingwalls.

Laid-back British cosmic rock at its best.

TONY BURKE

Mark Feldman
Sounding Point
(Intakt Records)
★★★★

CHICAGO-BORN Mark Feldman is a master jazz violinist, whose early years found him in Nashville playing country music. More recently, with his partnership with Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, he has become a compelling free improviser.

Sounding Point is a solo album — although when you hear it sometimes there seems like a whole string section playing — and on the remarkable track Viciously, he sounds like a swarm of menacing locusts.

In Unbound his sounds dart sonic fire and occasionally you can hear a dancing country undertow in his version of Ornette Coleman’s Peace Warriors, as if many feet were tapping and, when he concludes with a pizzicato coda, he creates a compelling amalgam of genres.

The listener marvels that this is but one single musician at work, creating an album of such diversity of intriguing and beautiful sound.

CHRIS SEARLE

MG Boulter
Clifftown
(Hudson Records)
★★★★

MG BOULTER may ply his trade within the confines of Americana but this gifted singer-songwriter actually draws his creative inspiration from the dubious delights of the suburban experience enjoyed by the residents of the British seaside.

Boulter initially cut his teeth as a musician in a succession of sadly long-forgotten bands who strutted their stuff in the rough-and-ready ambiance of the once vibrant Southend on Sea pub-rock circuit. But he’s now firmly established as a solo performer in his own right and Clifftown must rank as his most impressive offering to date.

The artist who’s been hailed as “the poet laureate of the Thames estuary” has joined forces with assorted members of outfits such as Bellowhead and Spiritualised to assemble a life-enhancing package which explores the minutiae of everyday Essex existence with warmth, honesty and charm.

KB

Anansy Cisse
Anoura/The Light
(Riverboat Records)
★★★★

THIS album from great Malian desert-blues guitarist Anansy Cisse has taken four years to complete, unsurprising when you learn that his band were beaten up by an armed group who smashed their instruments and held them captive en route to a festival two years ago..

“I just didn’t feel like it anymore,” Cisse said. “What was the point of singing about the benefits of love and peace as long as justice and security for all are not assured?” He concentrated instead on recording a new generation of young Malians at his home studio.

Following the birth of his first child, he decided to finish the album and tackle the problems of Mali in songs such as Talka (Poverty) and Tiawo (Education).

Mixing traditional Malian rhythms and instruments with modern sounds, complete with spellbinding guitar riffs and solos, his is a positive message for better times ahead.

TB

Satoko Fujii and Ikue Mori
Prickly Pear Cactus
(Libra Records)
★★★★

PRICKLY Pear Cactus is an album which was forged by the pandemic in two nations. In her home in Kobe, Japan, pianist Satoko Fujii with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, sent their music via the internet to New York, where Ikue Mori added her sonic electronics through a laptop.

These international exchanges produced extraordinary and poignantly beautiful sounds — listen to Fujii’s piano on Sweet Fish, with Mori’s distant electronics now fused with an uncanny proximity, or Fuji’s rampaging notes on Guerilla Rain.

That such techno unity could evoke mystifying sounds close to nature in tracks like Mountain Stream is marvellous in itself. Physically thousands of miles apart, they play with such empathy that their musiccreates even more astonishing levels of unity.

As Fujii asserts: “Music can give you strength and hope. We could feel our spirits lift,” even in the midst of a pandemic.

CS

Jason Ringenberg
Rhinestoned
(Courageous Chicken Music)
★★★★

ILLINOIS-BORN Jason Ringenberg was delivering his own distinctive brand of Americana long before the genre was even blessed with a name, fusing the unbridled energy of new wave with the homespun charms of country music as he made his name with Jason and the Scorchers during the early 1980s.

A good deal of water has flowed beneath the proverbial bridge since those heady days but Ringenberg remains one of the most vital and engaging performers that you could ever wish to hear and his latest solo offering serves up a finely judged blend of freshly minted new material such as Keep Your Promise and heartfelt revivals of timeless ditties such as the Carter Family’s The Storms Are on the Ocean and Hank Williams’s You Win Again.

Rhinestoned doesn’t spring too many surprises on the unwary listener but is well worth hearing nonetheless.

KB

Louisiana Red and Sugar Blue
Red Funk 'n’ Blue
(JSP)
★★★★

US BLUESMAN Louisiana Red (Iverson Minter) made his recording debut in 1963 and went on to make records for a number of small US and European labels before his British debut in 1977, when he wowed UK blues fans with his spine-chilling slide guitar.

To cut an album in 1978 he called on young blues harmonica player Sugar Blue, then living in Paris, who had been spotted busking by Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones. Blue played on their Some Girls and Emotional Rescue albums.

This set, recorded at London’s 100 Club in 1978, includes everything they played that night — 21 of Red on his own backed by Blue on harmonica. They deliver stunning down-home blues on Cadillac Blues, Dead Stray Dog and Rollin’ and Tumblin’.

TB

Kate Westbrook and the Granite Band
Says the Duke
(Westbrook Records)
★★★★★

IN 1973 the Duke Ellington Orchestra played their last British concert at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park. It was wondrous, particularly when Ellington called master-saxophonist Paul Gonsalves to play his serenely serpentine solo on Happy Reunion.

Says the Duke is the Westbrook salute to that concert, with Mike’s music played by the Granite Band. Kate’s vocals invoke Ellington’s great musicians and tune titles in a stream of Dukish consciousness and there are fine solos by alto saxophonist Roz Harding, guitarists Jesse Molins and Matthew North, with the powerful upsurge of Coach York’s drums and Billie Bottle’s bass guitar.

This is much, much more than musical nostalgia. The band summons “the ghosts of the Rainbow,” with Duke’s habitual farewell: “We love you madly.”

A tribute to one of the true musical geniuses of the 20th century.

CS

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