2005 – July

 JAMES BLUNT – Back To Bedlam

For those ever in despair at the music industry and left feeling hollow by all that mass produced plastic crap that litter the airwaves then James Blunt and this album will always help reinvigorate you. Aside from the fact that the record is stunning from start to finish, the man’s background harks back to a different age. For once we get a song- writer with a truly exceptional past which seems almost alien to many of us. Blunt is a former solider and his army career saw him stationed in Kosovo as part of NATO’s peacekeeping force and he uses this experience to create a very confident yet sometimes haunting debut. The opening four tracks of this album could all be number one singles and if there is any justice in this world then at least half of them will. ‘You’re Beautiful’ and ‘Goodbye My Lover’ are exceptionally good tracks and it is on these opening few songs the album hangs its hat. There is enough in the opening half of this record for anybody to make a connection with. ‘You’re Beautiful’ is a tale of unattainable love whilst ‘Goodbye My Lover’ charts a failed and doomed relationship. Add into the mix that all these songs are incredibly catchy and you have my justification for my bold claims of a potential chart topper in any one of them. The second half of the album does not disappoint and whilst it is perhaps not as catchy as what has gone before it the tracks are no less special. Uplifting and painful but never short on passion Back To Bedlam is a stunning debut and one that should not be missed.

JAMIROQUAI – Dynamite

Of the rock critics who habitually slate Jay Kay, more than a few could be outed as fawning acolytes back in 1992, when he was the silly-hatted darling of the (late great) Acid Jazz movement, alongside the Brand New Heavies and Young Disciples. If his career had ended when the new jazz-soul thing did, he’d be reverently remembered as a soulful wild child, but he had the temerity to become enormously successful. 20 million record sales later and he and his Ferraris now generate irritation that won’t be quelled by the release of his sixth album. Yet there’s an elegant languor to Dynamite’s Starbucks-soul that shouldn’t be dismissed. The vocals, which may well have been recorded from a hammock, mesh beguilingly with sunny melodies that rank with Jamiroquai staples like Cosmic Girl. When Kay rouses himself, he can even funk convincingly, as proved by Electric Mistress, though I admit some of the song titles need a bit more work!

MAGIC NUMBERS – Magic Numbers

This debut album arrives amid a shower of phrases like “hotly tipped” and “hugely anticipated” and The Magic Numbers must have some secret ingredient, because they’ve managed to land the support slot on Brian Wilson’s British tour. It ought to add up to a rather fine night out, since the Numbers play an alluring kind of soulful harmony-pop that suggests they’ve been listening to the Beach Boys all their lives. Add a touch of country to the mix and you’re pretty much there …
Though their songs tend to mutate through various permutations of fast-and-slow and soft-and-loud (the opening ‘Mornings Eleven’ or the ambitious ‘I See You, You See Me’ being cases in point), they avoid the pitfall of unnecessary clutter. Often there’s just simple guitar, bass and drums underpinning the light and airy voices of Romeo and Michele Stodart and Angela Gannon, while Gannon’s melodica is affectingly deployed on ‘Try’ and ‘Love’s a Game’. Refreshingly different if you’re in the market for some “proper” music and sick of the usual chart fodder.

WILLIE NELSON – Countryman

Despite the misleading title, this is in fact an old reggae project that should have been shelved shortly after it had begun a decade ago under the auspices of super-producer Don Was. Willie Nelson’s country-reggae fusion album was originally intended for Island Records but when Island folded into Universal, the album lost its allies until a former executive landed at Nelson’s current label. Unfortunately, the story behind Countryman is better than its music: with the exception of a folky rendition of the Jimmy Cliff classic “The Harder They Come,” Nelson’s vocals sound like they’re in a different world than these slick, overly tinkered-with instrumental tracks. Really … everyone concerned should have know better. What next : jazz-metal anyone?

ROYSKSOPP – The Understanding

Nick Hornby included Royksopp’s ‘Night Out’ in his book ‘31 Songs’ alongside choices by Dylan and Springsteen, though for the Norwegians the compliment was backhanded. Their song, once a furtive delight for Hornby, had become so omnipresent that it now reeked of Moby-style overplay and to have gained such mainstream approval as to be in the book at all reputedly grated on the duo behind the group. Hipsters themselves, Torbjorn Brundtland and Svein Berge may have empathised, having evolved from a dance scene where cool is currency, but thankfully they haven’t taken a blind bit of notice. ‘The Understanding’ is even more melodious, lush and seductive than their million-selling debut ‘Melody AM’, and likely to become even more ubiquitous. An inspirational dance set with delightfully pompous instrumentals, an emotionally soulful pop record with gothic dramatics and proper songs – ‘The Understanding’ has the lot. ‘49 Per Cent’ is garage house with tricky tongue-twisting lyrics; Karin Dreijer of the Knife’s Bjork-like voice enthrals on the beguiling ‘What Else Is There?’ and Torbjorn and Svein acquit themselves ably as vocalists, both delicate and swoonsome on ‘Someone Like Me’ and the single ‘Only This Moment’. They sing of “charismatic pills” on ‘Circuit Breaker’ and, on the evidence of this set, they’ve scoffed a whole box full.

MATTHEW HERBERT – Plat Du Jour

When you are able to make an engaging and deeply textured composition out of the various stages of a crushed Coke can, the idea of structuring an entire album from noises related to, and made by, food probably seems a perfectly natural progression. So it should come as no surprise that weirdo big band jazzman Mathew Herbert has gone and done just that on new album ‘Plat Du Jour’. Between running his Accidental imprint and producing Roisin Murphy’s new LP, Herbert has evidently found the time to read ‘Fast Food Nation’, with ‘Plat Du Jour’ a journey through the darker aspects of the culinary countryside. Herbert has built incremental elements of recorded sound into astonishingly complete pieces that reveal a biting indignation on the part of their author. Opening with ‘The Truncated Life of a Modern Industrialised Chicken’, Herbert contrasts what are at times quite disturbing sounds with an end result that is both eminently listenable and gently uplifting. With a skill that prevents tracks like ‘These Branded Waters’ descending into Stomp territory, Herbert also understands that a continuous sound montage could potentially become too much so drafts in Dana Siciliano on vocal duties for the biting ‘Celebrity’ (“Go David, Go Victoria, Go Beyonce…”), providing a good focal point for the record. Closing with ‘Nigella, George, Tony and Me’ wherein Herbert recreates the meal cooked by Nigella Lawson for Blair and Bush’s post Iraq talks, ‘Plat Du Jour’ is inventive, esoteric and sardonic without ever sacrificing the listener… trust me : you must hear this album!


MADNESS – Dangerman Sessions

One of Britain’s best-loved bands return with a collection of outstanding cover versions. The Nutty Boys have given each song their own personal music touch, bringing the songs into the twenty first century but still making sure they keep the magic of old ska and reggae of the originals. Highlights of the album include their versions of the Supremes hit ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ and Prince Buster’s ‘Girl’.


ROBERT POST – Robert Post

Robert Post is from Norway. A very remote part of Norway. He didn’t have TV when he was growing up so he got stuck into music instead and started writing at the age of 8. By 10, he’d formed his first band and from then on he was hell-bent on being a star. At 15, the first album came out, was followed by two more, before a sudden reappraisal of his life took place and he decided he didn’t like the current grunge scene so he became a postman. Tiring of that, he began dabbling again, driving a taxi to supplement his meager gigging income and that’s where we come in … if it wasn’t for the chance pick-up of an English A&R man on the way to the airport, and the subtle use of his demo CD in the in-car player, we would never be able to listen to the guy. Now, signed to Mercury Records and being produced by the man behind The Cure and The Manic Street Preachers, Robert Post is looking to deliver his message further afield. The music itself is classic uplifting pop, with lush strings accompanying the simple guitar, bass, drums format and is reminiscent in feeling to The Stereophonics at their most euphoric or The Teardrop Explodes at their most commercial. It’s an interesting story … here’s hoping he never has to go back to the cab business. He won’t get another break like that again if he does.

RICK BROWN – Black And White

Rick Brown has been around since the sixties and had a few chart singles over the years, and this album is something of a reflection of his career, both in terms of the songs he’s sung, but also in terms of the era in which he was most successful. All the songs on Black And White are well known, almost to the point of being called “standards” in the twenty first century. Rick’s voice is deep and full and lusty and really shines on the more soulful numbers like Dock Of The Bay, Up On The Roof and Stand By Me, almost reaching a growl at times. But he can croon like a Vegas veteran too when he wants to and does so to good effect on the more easy listening songs such as Dream Lover and (Hey There) Lonely Girl. There’s also a very effective version of You Make Me Feel Brand New, recorded as a duet with Beau Dinnage here. There’s no new ground covered by the album and it won’t be featured on Radio 1 any time soon, but as a dinner party album or as a gift for a mature relative with a love of sixties soul and the classic sounds of the Atlantic label, it’s a good choice.  

Originally published in 2005

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