Kevin Bryan reviews new music, compilations and re-released gems.
The Unthanks: Mount The Air
Rachel and Becky Unthank may be loosely pigeonholed as folk performers but the Northumbrian duo’s work is blessed with a freshness and originality which should appeal to music lovers of all persuasions.
Mount The Air was penned by Rachel’s husband, producer and pianist Adrian McNally, drawing inspiration from a book of traditional Dorset songs which sister Becky found in Cecil Sharp House.
The epic and expansive title track is the crowning glory of a typically innovative set which also features beguiling gems such as Died For Love, Magpie and the strangely sinister Flutter.
Meat Puppets: Out My Way
This heartfelt 1986 offering began life as an EP with an overall running time of just under half an hour, but the contents have now been expanded into a fully fledged Meat Puppets album with the inclusion of their classic version of I Just Want to Make Love to You and six hitherto unreleased recordings.
The expanded package captures the Arizona band’s free-flowing fusion of punk, psychedlia and country at its most compelling, including manic covers of such unlikely bedfellows as Little Richard’s Good Golly Miss Molly and George Jones’ Burn The Honky Tonk Down.
Various: Great Songs Of The Heart From The Fifties & Sixties
This rather unwieldy title masks an undemanding three-CD anthology featuring no less than 90 tuneful ditties from half a century and more ago linked by the presence of the word “heart” in their titles.
The bulk of the set could be loosely pigeonholed as dated easy-listening, although the compilers have extracted quite a few tasty musical morsels from the archives too, including Buddy Holly’s Raining In My Heart, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Cold Cold Heart and Detroit R&B group The Royals’ 1953 doo-wop hit, Every Beat of My Heart.
Black Slate: World Citizen
Black Slate provided an excellent backing band for many of Jamaica’s top reggae acts when they toured Britain during the 1970s, but their fortunes gradually waned as the years wore on and the group finally gave up the ghost in 1995.
Original members Desmond Mahoney and Elroy Bailey decided to put together a new version of the band two years ago, and World Citizen is the second album from the revamped Black Slate line-up.
World Citizenship and Living in the Footsteps are the pick of a polished and musicianly set.
Gaz Coombes: Matador
Gaz Coombes’ songwriting has certainly grown in depth and maturity since he first entered the public’s consciousness 20 years ago as the bewhiskered frontman of infectious Britpop combo Supergrass.
Matador is the second Coombes solo album to see the light of day since his former outfit’s sad demise in 2010 and this home-produced effort is certainly an impressive piece of work, with the multi-talented musician creating the bulk of the instrumental backdrop for fine tracks such as “he Girl Who Fell To Earth, The English Ruse and the epic To The Wire.
The Kennedys: West
These prime practitioners of the finest Americana first met in Texas during the early 1990s when Pete Kennedy was playing lead guitar in Nanci Griffith’s Blue Moon Orchestra and future musical soulmate Maura was the creative driving force behind Austin roots rockers the Delta Rays.
Their shared passion for the sound of the 12-string guitar and the collected works of Buddy Holly has carried this splendid duo through 20 years of exemplary music-making and West provides an ideal introduction to their enchanting and evocative sound, dominated by subtly memorable self-penned ditties with the notable exception of the late great John Stewart’s classic The Queen of Hollywood High.
Various: Mod World
This endlessly entertaining two-CD anthology celebrates the unusually eclectic musical tastes which characterised the Mod movement during the early 1960s.
The contents draw on some splendid examples of ska, soul, blues and jazz from those far off days, including alto saxist Cannonball Adderley’s Work Song, The Isley Brothers’ Shout and legendary New Orleans piano player Professor Longhair’s infectious signature song, Tipitina.
The third long-player from polished prog rockers Sky soared into the higher reaches of the British album charts when it first saw the light of day in 1981, and this skilfully crafted offering has now been expanded with the inclusion of a DVD recorded at the group’s Westminster Abbey show in February of the same year.
This provides an ideal vehicle for the consumate artistry of guitarists Kevin Peek and John Williams, and the duo acknowledge the latter’s classical roots with a splendid version of Francisco Tarrega’s haunting tremolo study, Recuderos de la Alhambra.
BB King: The Essential Collection
The latest offering in this excellent archive series couples a highly representative selection of BB King’s 1950s recordings with a live DVD capturing the venerable bluesman’s appearance at the 1993 Montreux Jazz Festival.
The Mississippi-born singer and guitarist is in typically fine fettle as he regales his appreciative Swiss audience with the cream of his vast back catalogue, bringing his distinctively economical playing style to bear on trademark numbers such as Ain’t Nobody Home and The Thrill Is Gone.