Album Releases

REVIEWED BY ANDY GILL

IBRAHIM FERRER

Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer

World Circuit

BOLERO SINGER Ibrahim Ferrer is one of the main beneficiaries of the Buena Vista Social Club's autumnal success, having previously been unknown abroad and all but forgotten in his native Cuba. Recorded with the same band and producer (Ry Cooder), this solo debut presents the wider spectrum of the 72-year-old's talents, covering both his country's urban and rural styles, including some classic Arsenio Rodriguez songs dating from the 1930s and '40s. It's a non-stop delight, with the Social Club's luxurious horns bringing a louche appeal to cha-cha-cha, rumba and guajira, and musicians like pianist Ruben Gonzalez and guitarist Manuel Galban punctuating the flow with pungent solos. Ferrer is a master of his art, exhibiting the casual vocal control of a Bennett or Sinatra, baked to perfection under a tropical sun: on "Aquellos Ojos Verdes", he evokes a haughty passion executed with no apparent effort at all. His smooth, sensual duet with Omara Portuondo on "Silencio", meanwhile, involves the kind of subtle sexual chemistry that TVam's founders could only dream about.

CAST

Magic Hour

Polydor

TO CAST, the retro-rock of Ocean Colour Scene must sound daringly innovative, even avant-garde in the way it forges bravely on into the 1970s. For despite attempts to tart up their sound with a few desultory studio effects, Magic Hour finds the Scouse quartet still banging away at the most basic form of Beatle-y Britpop, blissfully oblivious to any recent musical developments save perhaps for The Verve, whose blend of self-consciousness and steel guitar is aped on "She Falls". Otherwise, it's the same mildly catchy, inconsequential pop as before, a bit heavier perhaps, but lacking the fresh-faced charm of their early singles. Pleasant at best, the songs strive to ingratiate themselves, but the sheer accumulation of inanity in John Power's lyrics rapidly drains any lingering reserves of goodwill they may have built up. Simple-minded hippy tosh about sunshine and dreams and getting even higher, they betray no trace of original thought - there's even a track about how aliens "have taken over the world", for heaven's sake, a good three years after The X-Files became a passe parody of itself.

SPRING HEEL JACK

Treader

Tugboat

SPRING HEEL Jack's nine-deck turntable performances at London's Barbican and ICA have impressed with their versatility and ecleticism, but the lingering effect of their drum'n'bass origins dogs their recorded work. Treader suggests they're searching for ways out of the jungle, but aren't completely certain which path to take; as a result, several of these 10 tracks tread water, a connotation SHJ probably didn't intend when they named the album. Their favoured route seems to be in the direction of jazz-rock - the intricate rhythm plotting and trumpet of "Winter" suggest the dark, exotic strain that Miles developed on Bitches Brew and On The Corner, while the brooding saxophones of "More Stuff No-One Saw" encroach on the jazz-noir territory of Barry Adamson. There's the ghost of a decent piece lurking behind the relentless crack of the rhythm track of "Pipe", too, and an intimation of further possibilities is offered on the concluding "First Piece For LaMonte Young", a shimmering veil of minimalist drones. One's left with the distinct impression that the main thing holding them back is their reliance on beats.

LABRADFORD

E Luxo So

Mute

BEATS ARE something that American post-rockers Labradford have barely even considered, let alone become reliant upon. From their early-Nineties origins as an ambient duo through to this, their fifth album, they've been more concerned with atmosphere than rhythm. Or, indeed, titles - the six pieces that comprise E Luxo So are simply numbered one to six, steering the listener away from descriptive associations. There's a melancholy fatalism about the way each track develops, sparingly and methodically, etching crepuscular gloom or wistful acquiescence with a minimum of sounds. On track one, contemplative guitar figures evaporate into a desert haze, while occasional tumbleweeds of percussion brush by; track three's piano and strings sound like Astral Weeks without the rhythm section or vocals; and track six is a comparative riot, with dulcimer twinkling quietly over a gentle bass.

Dispassionate and soothing, E Luxo So is Labradford's most engaging work so far, though I still harbour misgivings about their reluctance to ripple the meniscus of their music. It's the sound of entropy setting in, like rust.

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