LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III: SOCIAL STUDIES (Hannibal)
As a respite from his usual, scorchingly frank autobiographical vignettes, Wainwright presents an album of topical satires and protest songs, written over the last decade for America's National Public Radio. He is as wry and acid as ever, but most tracks should probably have remained one-off live broadcasts, as intended. While "Tonya's Twirls," a wistful rumination on the career of Tonya Harding, stands as a timelessly evocative piece of storytelling, listening to discourses on the Gulf War, OJ Simpson and Monica Lewinsky can feel like leafing through a scrapbook of yellowing newspaper editorials.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN: TIGERMILK (Jeepster) When Belle and Sebastian (below) were declared the Best Newcomers at this year's Brit Awards, the general reaction was a puzzled "Who?" In fact, the publicity-shy Glaswegian gang had already released three albums. The first of these, Tigermilk, was made in 1996 as an assignment for the singer's music business diploma at Stowe College and only 1,000 copies were pressed. Now the record has been re-released, so a wider audience can hear the group's delicately assembled, sensitive indie pop. Stuart Murdoch's main subject is the misery of adolescence. "If there's one thing that I learned when I was still at school/ It's to be alone," he pipes on "I Don't Love Anyone." None the less, this is very pretty stuff, twinkling with viola, glockenspiel, harpsichord, trumpet and an excerpt from Pachelbel's Canon. Despite the debt to the Velvet Underground and Nick Drake, Tigermilk is an extraordinarily original and assured debut. The Brit was well deserved, if a couple of years late.
BRITTEN: DOUBLE CONCERTO/ YOUNG APOLLO/ SINFONIETTA (Erato 1CD)
Kent Nagano's time in charge of the Halle hasn't been distinguished, and there won't be many tears when he steps down in favour of Mark Elder. But what he's failed to achieve live, in the concert hall, he has sometimes managed to pull off in recordings. Especially recordings of rare Britten repertory. A couple of years ago there was a fascinating disc of an early radio score, The Rescue. Then came the original four-act version of Billy Budd. And now, a star-encrusted disc of early works, including the first-ever issue of the Double Concerto for Violin and Viola; a piece nobody knew until 1997 when Colin Matthews fleshed out Britten's never-completed composition sketch and premiered it at Aldeburgh. Rooting round in Britten's bottom drawers for music he discarded or suppressed has become something of a cottage industry these days, and it doesn't always do the composer any favours. Young Apollo, a mindless, almost minimalist meditation on A Major for piano and orchestra, is a case in point. Britten abandoned it with reason. But the Double Concerto is a different matter: hardly a mature score - it was written at the age of 19 - but with magical moments such as the Mahlerian pastoral of the opening, which promises to turn into something for solo horn rather than solo strings. With Kremer and Bashmet as the strings in question, it sounds rather classy. And the Halle sound in good shape too. Surprisingly.
CHARLIE HADEN QUARTET WEST: THE ART OF SONG (Verve)
The former Ornette Coleman bassist has produced his very own "Song of Songs" in this superficially sugary but none the less satisfying tribute to the potency of cheap music. Vocal tracks featuring singers Shirley Horn and Bill Henderson are mixed with variations on compositions by Rachmaninov and Ravel. Finally, Haden himself sings, croaking out a c1800 folk song like a high-art version of Lee Marvin's performance on "Wandering Star".Reuse content