ARTS : RECORDS

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The Independent Culture
Booth and the Bad Angel : Booth and the Bad Angel (Fontana, CD/tape). Tim Booth, lead singer of where-are-they-now? proto-Britpoppers James, and Angelo Badalamenti, composer of the Twin Peaks music, have teamed up to make an album of towering rock songs. No, wait, come back! It's not as daft an idea as it sounds, especially when you take into account the third "b", Bernard Butler, who, despite smothering some tracks with acoustic guitar, also sprinkles some of his customary genius over proceedings. The stratospheric "I Believe", in particular, bears the mark of the Butler, while "Heart" and "Old Ways" are so bouncy you wonder why Booth didn't just make a James album. The answer is probably that the rest of James sniggered at his high-falutin' lyrics about life and eternity, sex and the soul, to which Badalamenti's otherworldly orchestral textures are better suited. Much like Badalamenti's recent collaboration with Marianne Faithfull, "Dance of the Bad Angels" and "Life Gets Better" are too portentous for their own good. But the album as a whole gets better the more you listen to it. Nicholas Barber

Patti Smith: Gone Again (Arista CD/LP/tape). Just when Alanis Morissette and PJ Harvey thought it was safe to go back in the water ... the empress of androgynous angst makes a triumphant return. Though it's presented largely as a memorial to her late husband - former MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith - Gone Again is not nearly as funereal as it might have been. From the ecstatic negation of "Beneath the Southern Cross" to the courtly beauty of "My Madrigal", Smith's scrawny, keening rasp is in upliftingly good shape. Debate may rage about the social acceptability of her poetry - as it did with Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan (whose "Wicked Messenger" she covers here) before her - but there's no arguing with the quality of her voice. Ben Thompson

Julian Joseph: Universal Traveller (East West, CD). Sometimes, you can't help wondering whether wunderkind British pianist Julian Joseph has had it too easy. His career path is layed out impeccably before him, with alternate jazz and classical routes, and the carefully managed retro- ish style has produced some memorable themes but surprisingly little passion. And then he releases another album pretty much in the pattern of the others that preceded it. From the opening "Slow Blues", it is elegant, unforced, seductive music and Joseph plays like an angel throughout, with the double bass of Reginald Veal dancing around the melody and Mark Mondesir's subtle drumming shimmering away at the edges of the excellent sound. Passion might have to wait a while yet, but when the music is as good as this, it seems churlish to object. Phil Johnson

Orquestra Mahatma: A Young Person's Guide (Babel, CD). "Stars Fell on Alabama", Tennessee Waltz", a killing version of "Mercy Mercy Mercy" and perhaps a few too many Slavic-sounding ditties than are strictly necessary, are the jumping-off points for this marvellous strings-and-percussion trio set by Stuart Hall, Thad Kelly and Paul Clarvis. Perhaps best described as neo-skiffle, it's a little miracle of home-grown British jazz. PJ

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