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MUSIC Album reviews

Latest releases from Paul Handyside, The Anchoress, Benoit Delbecq, Afton Wolfe, Ringo Starr, George Haslam and Friends, Stripmall Ballads, Alice Cooper, Mario Laginha/Julian Arguelles/Helge Andreas Norbakken

Paul Handyside
Loveless Town
(Malady Music)

THIS interesting solo offering is the brainchild of folk and roots singer-songwriter Paul Handyside, who first cut his teeth as a performer and creative mainstay of ’80s indie rockers Hurrah!

Loveless Town is a nicely varied package, which captures his multi-faceted approach to music-making at its most appealing as he blends elements of Americana, folk and pop to excellent effect.

His eclectic songwriting style has prompted comparisons with such unlikely bedfellows as Chris Difford, Jeff Buckley and veteran folk legend Martin Carthy in the past but his fourth solo album provides an eloquent vehicle for Handyside’s singularly affecting sound, with invaluable instrumental support supplied by his perennial cohorts Dave Porthouse on double bass and melodeon and producer Rob Tickell on guitar and dobro.

Lord, Show Yourself, Not in my Name and the poignant, folk-inspired Hartley Pit Catastrophe are the best of the bunch.



The Anchoress
The Art of Losing



MELANCHOLIC and moving, painful but hopeful, The Anchoress’s second album looks at loss in all its guises.

Touching on The Anchoress’s— aka Catherine Anne Davies — own personal tragedy, the album charts her grief following her father’s death, multiple miscarriages and destructive relationships.

It’s a mix of slow, often piano-driven songs, plus rockier tunes and even some good old synth pop.
5AM is dripping in trauma with morose strings and a gentle piano tinkling in the background.
The Exchange, featuring the Manics’ James Dean Bradfield, is elegiac, guitar rock, while The Art of Losing is like a looser Ladytron with a hint of Visage-like synth.

Davies’s vocals echo Kate Jackson of The Long Blondes, while channelling Chrissie Hynde and the stark and vulnerable approach of Tori Amos.

It’s a mixed record, with maybe too many slow tracks, but it’s worth repeated listens to discover its truly devastating depth.



Benoit Delbecq
The Weight of Light
(Pyroclastic Records)



FLICKERING like a dying electric bulb struggling to retain its light, the sounds of Parisian pianist Benoit Delbecq are unique in jazz, with his notes evoking shapes and shadows like no other.

His sonic compositions recall childlike memories, like those of a mobile casting shadows in his parents’ bedroom, and his sleeve drawing references that image, as if sound and shape were inter-related.

They are, of course, interactive dimensions of any artist’s imagination — tracks like Dripping Stones and Anamorphoses create images that stream into the consciousness.

Delbecq asserts that “light has a mass” and, hearing his record the same could be said to apply to sound — his pianism is a way of appraising it and expressing its beauty.

On tracks like Family Trees, it is as if Africa, Europe, America and all the land and water in between are coalescing.



Afton Wolfe
Kings For Sale
(Grandiflora Records)



THE FIRST full-length solo album from Mississippi-born musical adventurer Afton Wolfe is a genuinely fascinating affair, rooted in the authentic spirit of Americana but liberally peppered with tempting forays into the enticing worlds of jazz and the avant garde.

Wolfe apparently spent his formative years plying his trade in the environs of New Orleans and the influence of this legendary musical melting pot informs many of his most compelling creations here.

This eagerly anticipated follow-up to the gruff vocalist’s long-delayed 2020 debut EP Petronius’ Last Meal features sterling contributions from some of the finest roots musicians that the states of Mississippi and Tennessee have to offer.

The excellent Cary Hudson deserving a special mention in dispatches for his sublime harmonica and bottleneck guitar work on Dirty Girl, the first single to be extracted from the album.



Ringo Starr
Zoom In



FORMER Beatle Ringo Starr’s new EP Zoom — namechecking the videoconferencing app — features five tracks focusing on life, love and positivity.

Opener Here’s to the Night fields a smorgasbord of guests from Sheryl Crow to Lenny Kravitz and even Paul McCartney. It sees Starr and co looking to raise spirits and hope over a slightly modern Bob Dylan-esque rocking beat.

Zoom In, Zoom Out is a bluesy stomp-along that starts with a dirty bass but goes a bit middle-of-the-road rock, while Teach me to Tango has a welcome Hammond organ riff and call to learn anew.

Not a revolutionary collection, but it preaches Starr’s long-term message of peace and harmony, especially so on enjoyable closer Not Enough Love in this World.

It’s simple, and with a little help from his friends, comes together just right. Enjoy the love.



George Haslam and Friends
(Slam Records)



FOR the veteran baritone saxophonist and jazz internationalist George Haslam, Loveland is synonymous with the Czech Republic. This live quintet album, recorded in a small club in Prague, features Haslam and violinist Stefano Pastor with Czech musicians drummer Jan Sikl, keyboardist Jan Faix and Jozef Laska on bass.

Haslam has a deep, lyrical tone, expressed from his first solo notes onward in Waiting and he also plays tarogato, a woodwind instrument used in Hungarian and Romanian folk music.

His resonating baritone surge in Landing makes a stark contrast with the virtuoso Pastor and his seething electric violin and the empathetic rhythms of his Czech confreres, with the violinist taking flight on Pastorale, his notes soaring skyward.

Haslam maintains that the Czech Republic is “ a stimulating place to live and create” and the proof is in this album, forged by musicians determined to touch the stars.



Stripmall Ballads



SPARSE, understated balladry is the order of the day as Phillips Saylor Wisor unveils his latest album, created via his alter ego Stripmall Ballads. It adds to the highly atmospheric body of work that he’s been steadily assembling since he made his recording debut in 2008.

Treading a path once followed by the likes of Cisco Houston and legendary “Dustbowl Balladeer” Woody Guthrie, this socially aware singer-songwriter chronicles the flipside of the much-vaunted American Dream with a commendable blend of dry wit and innate human empathy.

He peoples his deeply affecting creations with a parade of seemingly doomed characters, whose fate seemed to have been determined long before they reached adulthood.

The finished product is surprisingly hopeful in the circumstances, with Susan at the Crossroads, Pull Over Johnny and Don’t Mind Me emerging as the best of an excellent bunch.



Alice Cooper
Detroit Stories



BEST-KNOWN for bringing horror theatricals to rock, Alice Cooper’s 28th studio album is more of the same.

It’s in your face from the off, with opener (The Velvet Underground’s) Rock & Roll exactly that in a cliched but good way, while Go Man Go has fast, Ramones-like riffs that gets toes tapping and heads banging.

A cover of the MC5’s Sister Anne doesn’t add anything new — the track really needs no improvement.

The bluesy $1,000 High Heeled Shoes unexpectedly has Sister Sledge harmonising in the background and it works surprisingly well, while metal shows its mettle on Hanging by a Thread — Don’t Give Up, which ends with Cooper intoning a suicide hotline for fans suffering during lockdown.

It may be a bit sexist, old school, glam and predictable but it’s rooted in rock and roll, allowing the listener to escape into Cooper’s slightly twisted and shocking, albeit ultimately safe world.



Mario Laginha/Julian Arguelles/Helge Andreas Norbakken
(Edition Records)



THIS trio unearths and combines the powerful talents of Portuguese pianist Mario Laginha, English saxophonist Julian Arguelles and Norwegian drummer Helge Andreas Norbakken.

All three have a love for Africa and the continent is at the heart of every tune they play, beginning with the affable opener Jaamm Rek, the title a response to a daily greeting in the Wolof tongue.

Laginha has a deftly rhapsodic sound, evidenced in his phrases on Triple Ripple, while Arguelles, fresh from recent album Let it Be Told, celebrates the music of South African exiles.

He plays his soprano saxophone with a beautiful melodism in the balladic Sweetie and Norbakken’s percussionism is constantly inventive and rhythmically complex, as on the pounding Juroom.

Theirs is a trio of compelling musicianship born of long-time friendship and respect and the mutual musical trust vibrates through every track, with La Graziels, full of delicacy, depth and fire, a stand-out.




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