Album reviews: Shakira, Sam Brookes, Anthony Joseph, Band Of Skulls, Johnny Winter


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The Independent Culture

Sam Brookes Kairos (Sam Brookes)

With his keening tenor vibrato sailing effortlessly into the upper register, there’s something of  Tim Buckley about Sam Brookes, especially when it’s set among starlight droplets of electric guitar on tracks such as “Breaking Blue”. The sense of powerful fragility is most effective on “Numb”, where over a slouching percussion groove, a lovelorn Brookes regrets his inability to act decisively: “In a maze of indecision, and a drought of action in the mind,” he croons sadly, his voice beautifully framed in an intimate, ambient space. But there are vast emotional reserves at work in songs such as “James” and “Crazy World and You”, the latter featuring birdsong layered into its later stages, duetting with Brookes’ wordless cooings. “I’ll  be the light in your night,” he promises, and he delivers.


Download: Numb; Crazy World and You; James; Breaking Blue

Anthony Joseph Time (Heavenly Sweetness/Naïve)

Poet Anthony Joseph’s excellent fifth album is suffused with female influences: not only is it produced by Meshell Ndegeocello, who threads percussion-based grooves around Joseph’s allusive, tightly wrought lyrics, but the tracks are mostly about women. There’s the oppressed rural mother of “Alice of the River”, seeking solace in suicide; the admired subject of “Tamarind”, a “black whip of a woman” whose outer demeanour remains noble no matter her tribulations; Malala Yousafzai, celebrated in “Girl with a Grenade”; and Joseph’s own mother, paid tribute in “Heir”. Elsewhere, echoes of Gil Scott-Heron and Curtis Mayfield can be heard in commentaries like “Hustle to Live” and “Kezi”, while the opening “Time - Archaeology” recalls The Last Poets, with an itchy percussion and organ groove.


Download: Time – Archaeology; Tamarind; Hustle to Live; Heir

Band Of Skulls Himalayan (Electric Blues)

“Where we’re going is anyone’s guess,” sing Southampton’s melodic rockers Band of Skulls  on the opening track of their third album, Himalayan – a title that conveys their growing ambition. In that specific case, the chunky robot-rock riff suggests they’re headed to Queens of the Stone Age territory, a route confirmed by the strutting “Brothers and Sisters”; but each track seems to signal some fresh direction, from the title track’s slinky funk undertow to the grandiose soul-rock torment of “Cold Sweat”, which with bassist Emma Richardson taking vocals sounds like a cross between Portishead and Meatloaf. But that element of grandeur becomes more finely honed on “I Guess  I Know You Fairly Well” and the shrilly dramatic “I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying”.


Download: Asleep a the Wheel; Cold Sweat; I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead And One Dying

Johnny Winter True to the Blues (Columbia)

The old canard about white men being unable to play the blues was dispelled in dramatic manner by cross-eyed albino Texan guitarist Johnny Winter, whose innate feel and startling technique unsettled even Jimi Hendrix. Winters developed a distinctive blues/rock hybrid, using his snarling, super-fast runs and razoring slide work to thrilling effect on cuts such as “Hustled Down in Texas” and an incandescent cover of “Highway 61 Revisited”. An alliance with wunderkind Rick Derringer brought hits, though Winter was equally adept at dynamic covers of R&B classics, notably a funky “Harlem Shuffle”. This four-disc retrospective tells his story from scuffling Texas roots through to recent work, the septuagenarian’s powers undiminished by time.


Download: Hustled Down in Texas; Highway 61 Revisited; Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo; It’s My Own Fault

Shakira Shakira (RCA)

The drawback of having such  a cross-cultural appeal as Shakira is that you’re expected to try and satisfy its every demographic niche, a demand that weakens her first English-language album since 2009’s She Wolf. It’s too schizophrenic in style, darting from  the springy reggae skank of the Rihanna duet “Can’t Remember to Forget You” to the weak country crossover of “Medicine” without completely convincing at any turn. The bouncy electro anthem “Dare (La La La)” is not quite as sexy as hoped, though the subtler acoustic arrangements of “23” and “You Don’t Care about Me” are more successful. The former, a tribute to boyfriend Gerard Piqué which finds her “agnosticism turned into dust” by his blue eyes, may be the sweetest compliment ever paid to a footballer.


Download: Can’t Remember to Forget You; You Don’t Care about Me; 23