Kevin Bryan reviews the best new music releases.
The Beta Band: The Regal Years 1997-2004 (Parlophone Records)
This genuinely definitive six-CD set brings together all the recordings that this wilfully eclectic outfit recorded for Parlophone’s Regal imprint during their seven years together, along with a generous helping of live recordings, remixes, BBC radio sessions and demos.
The Beta Band finally gave up the ghost for good in 2004 when they decided the critical plaudits which invariably greeted their challenging musical exploits were no substitute for solid record sales, and if you’ve never come across any of their work before you’d be well advised to lend an unbiased ear to tracks such as The House Song, Wonderful or the splendid Dry The Rain.
Losing Our Virginity: The First Four Years 1973-1977 (Virgin Records)
Richard Branson’s Virgin label began operations long long ago in 1973, and they’ve decided to celebrate their 40th anniversary by releasing a series of wide-ranging three-CD compilations, beginning with this mildly esoteric celebration of their early years.
Mike Oldfield sets the ball rolling with an excerpt from his trailblazing Tubular Bells, and the compilers have also found space for a string of refreshingly memorable archive gems from the likes of Steve Hillage, Wigwam, Hatfield and the North and Robert Wyatt, who chips in with inspired covers of Yesterday Man and The Monkees’ I’m A Believer.
Ashleigh Flynn: A Million Stars (Home Perm Records)
Oregon-based singer-songwriter Ashleigh Flynn grew up in Kentucky, where she spent her formative years plying her trade on the local bluegrass scene.
Her approach to music-making now embraces Americana in all its forms, from folk and blues to country and rock, with a little vintage jazz added to the mix for good measure on the jaunty Prohibition Rose.
A Million Stars is unlikely to be the album that propels Ashleigh to major stardom, but its life affirming charms are well worth investigating nonetheless.
Vladimir Ashkenazy: Rachmaninov Piano Trios (Decca 478 5346)
Vladimir Ashkenazy concludes his exploration of Rachmaninov’s keyboard repertoire with this absorbing chamber music recital.
The world renowned classical pianist joins forces with violinist Zsolt-Tihamer Visontay and cellist Mats Lidstrom to tackle the Russian composer’s two Trios Elegaique, and the finished product captures the melancholy passion of Rachmaninov’s creations quite superbly.
Cosmic Machine (Because Music)
This deliciously dated anthology showcases the work of some of the ingeniuous performers who helped to expose the French pop and rock scene to the delights of the analog synthesiser during the 1970s.
These early adventures in electronic music-making include offerings from household names such as Serge Gainsbourg and Jean Michel Jarre alongside the spacious disco-orientated sounds of Cerrone, Space and Patrick Juvet, although the contents are probably most palatable when sampled in relatively small doses.