POP / Albums: Reflections in a jaundiced eye

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Mirror Blue

(Parlophone CD EST 2207)

IN Mitchell Froom, Richard Thompson has found his perfect producer, one who favours a wider, more varied sound palette than most, and who's also handy for adding a little emotional guts, courtesy of a Hammond organ. Not that Thompson's ever in need of added emotional guts: this, their third collaboration, is as honest as its predecessor, Rumour and Sigh, in its depictions of contemporary realities of the heart and the head.

Froom's influence shows in the opening track, 'For the Sake of Mary', where the metallic percussion and galumphing rhythm lend the song a Tom Waitsian feel. Like Waits, and Ry Cooder, Thompson is adept at remodelling a variety of roots influences, a leaning the eclectic Froom encourages throughout Mirror Blue. So 'Easy There, Steady Now' presents its gentle Balkan flavour in a jazz mode, and the nightmare account 'I Can't Wake Up to Save My Life' veers from a vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding intro to rock tinged with increasing hints of folk. The Middle Eastern flavour is present too in the dizzy reed figure which duets with accordion in the break of 'MGB GT', a car song quite unlike any clean-cut American ode to flash and chrome.

The weaker tracks are those in which influences are taken straight, such as the sedate rockabilly ode to star-crossed criminal lovers, 'Shane & Dixie'. But while one always welcomes Thompson's angst-ridden electric guitar lacerations - that concluding 'The Way that it Shows' is this album's best - the most affecting tracks here are those that showcase his songwriting skills in the barest acoustic settings, such as the moving 'King of Bohemia' and 'Beeswing'.


A World Out Of Time, Volume 2

(Shanachie 64048)

THE first compilation of recordings made by the multi-talented guitarists Kaiser & Lindley with a variety of Malagasy musicians was a landmark in 'world' music. This second volume is of a similar standard, ranging from the guitar duets of Dama & D'Gary - the former's acoustic finger style abetted by the latter's funky little electric guitar figures - to the more idiosyncratic sound combinations of the island's indigenous instruments, such as the valiha (bamboo harp), lokanga (fiddle), kabosy (a cross between mandolin and dulcimer) and sodina (a type of flute).

The sheer range of musical styles native to Madagascar is staggering. At one end of the scale, the gentle valiha / guitar duet 'Afindrafindrao', by Sylvestre Randafison & Germain Rakotomavo, represents the more classically orientated style, while groups such as Rossy and Tarika Sammy present the more commercial types, respectively dealing in reggae-beat pop and a rootsier folk-rock, rather like a Malagasy Fairport Convention.

The rhythms employed seem familiar, though how much this is due to Kaiser & Lindley's contributions is uncertain. Roger Georges' 'Tsaiky Mboly Hely', for instance, is in the Salegy dance rhythm, a sort of cross between Louisiana cajun and South African mbaqanga jive, with double-timed handclaps adding a flamenco element, and Kaiser topping it all off with an insane, backward-sounding guitar coda. Elsewhere, Voninavoko's eponymous contribution, an example of 'old- timey' Malagasy music, sounds like a cross between cajun and Colombian cumbia rhythms.

It's easy to see what fascinates Kaiser and Lindley about the island's music - a third volume is planned, plus individual albums by some of the Malagasy musicians - since even the island's animals seem naturally endowed with musical gifts, judging by the opening track 'Lemur Rap'. Here, a serendipitous accident resulted in the whooping song of a lemur being recorded alongside a drum-machine track, and fitting its rhythm perfectly. Sublime stuff.


In Pursuit of Shashamanie Land

(On-U Sound ONU CD-25)

AFRICAN Head Charge's percussion-accompanied vocal chants are in a similar vein to Seventies roots reggae offerings by such as Ras Michael & the Sons Of Negus, but funnelled through the dub sensibility of Adrian Sherwood. 'Animal Law' is typical, a churning stew of organ and bongos and simple chant of 'jungle law'. 'Learning' is more adventurous, its predatory riff sounding like a vamp from some cop-show incidental music, into which the massed voices suddenly intrude.

Raw yet sophisticated, the Head Charge sound has been around for over a decade, yet now sounds uncannily in step with contemporary trends in ambient house: what goes around, comes around.