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Album reviews with Ian Sinclair: November 19, 2020

Matt Berninger
Serpentine Prison
(Book Records)
★★★★

HAVING fronted the critically acclaimed US indie rock outfit The National for over two decades, Serpentine Prison is Ohio-born Matt Berninger’s first solo album.

“I'd say I have average Midwestern white man's depression, no more or less,” he recently told Uncut magazine. This fits with his previous work and his new songs, the confessional lyrics of the latter often seeming to revolve around the protagonist going through some kind of personal crisis.

Produced by Booker T Jones, musically it isn’t a million miles away from The National’s glitchy soundscapes, though there is a much more conventional, organic rock sound on songs like opener My Eyes Are T-Shirts and the downcast Oh Dearie. He has cited Willie Nelson’s Stardust as a reference point for the record.
Best of all is Berninger’s rich, very recognisable baritone and the sombre, hugely compellingly atmosphere he weaves.

Tom Petty
Wildflowers & All The Rest
(Warners)
★★★★

TOM Petty’s 1994 solo Wildflowers was one of the best records of his later career.

Now, three years after the American musician’s untimely death, comes this impressive reissue. It turns out Petty’s plan was to release a 25-track double album, rather than the 15-track single disc that ended up on the shelves.

For completists, the five CD super deluxe version includes home recordings and live performances. For everyone else the double CD version of the reissue will suffice, compromised of the original set (brilliant mid-tempo rock songs like the lovely Time To Move On and throwback to his late 70s work You Wreck Me) alongside the missing songs.

Full of regret, outtakes like Leave Virginia Alone and California match anything on the official record, as is the folky Harry Green, an affecting Springsteenesque story song.

A real treat.

Multiquarium Big Band feat. Bireli Lagrene
Remembering Jaco
(Naïve/Believe)
★★★★

BEFORE his life was cut short following a fight outside a Florida nightclub in 1987, US musician Jaco Pastorius was a pioneer of the fretless bass, playing with Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny and, most famously, jazz-fusion band Weather Report.

A fitting tribute from French big band Multiquarium, Remembering Jaco is a terrifically exciting, high-energy set. While a lot of jazz can be quite cerebral and rarefied, the propulsive, jutting horn section here make it impossible not to move to the music. Guitar maestro Bireli Lagrene guests on Pastorious’s favoured instrument and there are brief, pensive spoken-word interludes from former bandmate Peter Erskine.

The songs are taken from across his career, with swinging takes on Barbary Coast and Teen Town particular highlights.

“What was it like to play with Jaco?,” Erskine asks. “In a word, it was fun.”

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