Jungle, Jungle (XL)
West London’s Jungle emerged shrouded in mystery last year, brewing an alluring mix of stylish videos and silky future-soul pop-art. Perhaps founding members “J” and “T” (enigmatic, see) should have cultivated the mystique some more, because their heat-haze hybrid of soul grooves and falsetto-funk chic feels too under-cooked to sustain a whole album.
At best, on the vibrant “Busy Earnin’” and the Tears for Fears-go-tropical undulations of “Accelerate”, they combine summery uplift with a reflective tug: dancing against the downturn. When the tunes and the tension thin out, too much here dissolves into a vague chill-out-zone drift, destined to be heard – if rarely remembered – at W10 barbecues near you.
Levon Helm Band, Midnight Ramble Sessions Vol 3 (Vanguard)
The late and utterly great drummer/vocalist of The Band habituated himself in his dwindling years to staging “Midnight Rambles” in his barn in Woodstock: tailored jams in which Levon’s coterie of excellent homie musos would cook up tasty morsels from the R&B/gospel canon in the company of eminent guests.
Elvis Costello, Chris Robinson and Allen Toussaint grace this volume. Yet it is not the stars (not even “Brian Mitchell”, who sounds remarkably like Bob Dylan) but the collective vibe which signifies in this barn. Songs by Willie Dixon, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Dylan; voices, horns, drums, mandolins, guitars and that curious energy you get when people are doing what they love best in the world.
Bill Laurance, Flint (Groundup)
The debut album by Snarky Puppy pianist Laurance (who once played with Morcheeba) recalls the Cinematic Orchestra or LTJ Bukem on post-rave anthems where strings, horns and keyboards intertwine amid a real composer’s sense of structure.
The instruments are almost all overdubbed by various members of the Snarky crew – as a bonus DVD you won’t want to see twice tells you – which can lead to a slightly arbitrary feeling, and anyone old enough to remember Paul Hardcastle might cringe when they hear a random Syndrum or synth-squelch. But the best of Flint – named for the city in Michigan – is very good indeed, with Laurance’s ragtime-meets-minimalism piano style outstanding.
Noura Mint Seymali, Tzenni (Glitterbeat)
On the album’s cover, this Mauritanian Muslim has what can only be described as a mischievous smile. Happily, spirited appearances are supported by the bluesy bounce of the music. Tzenni actually means “to spin” and that’s precisely what Seymali does to one’s sensibilities by in turn warbling, roaring and trilling songs about Earthly love, spiritual love, fate and food.
The only slight letdown is that the band – a largely traditional rock line-up of bass, guitar and kit drum (apart from Noura’s own tidinit) – aren’t quite as boldly mercurial as their singer. But having said that, the potent mix of rock and funk with traditional pentatonic melodies is clearly something that needs to be experienced live.
Gulp, Season Sun (Sonic Cathedral)
From “the new Dylan” to “the new Nick Drake” to “Wicker Man-esque”, the words used to describe music of a folky nature are depressingly familiar. And what’s this? “The Wicker Man getting fresh with Nancy Sinatra” (Guardian Guide). Here we go again, then.
In fact, Gulp is a group formed around Super Furry Animal Guto Pryce and his partner Lindsey Leven and Season Sun is their attempt to make a “sunshine pop record”.
Have they succeeded? In a way – this is light and breezy pop that marries summery synths with dreamy female vocals: think I Monster’s “Daydream in Blue”. Which, sadly for Gulp, was such a great pop-folk-electronica moment, that Season Sun never quite emerges from its shadow.