People Move On
(Creation CRECD 221)
After one false conclusion (with Suede) and one false start (with David McAlmont), Bernard Butler finally gets to offer something relatively definitive with his solo debut. Neither of those previous incarnations quite prepares one for People Move On, which shares their taste for sumptuous grandiloquence, but sounds much more fulfilled and complete.
It also sounds more rooted in classic-rock influences than his earlier work, with the first few tracks sounding like homages to esteemed hippy guitar heroes. "Woman I Know" glides in like an adaptation of Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross"; the tart acid-pop of "You Just Know" rides a piercing riff in the style of Jefferson Airplane's "Jorma Kaukonen"; and the title track features the kind of liquid guitar lines that Lee Underwood threaded through Tim Buckley's early albums. All worthy influences, and all used with taste and discretion within arrangements for which Butler himself plays all instruments apart from drums, including the odd dab of flute or melodica.
Despite the journalistic nature of songs reflecting on his early life and career - leaving Suede, the frustrating mismatch with McAlmont, fatherhood, and so on - there is little of Butler's renowned waspishness about the material on People Move On, whose title accurately reflects the album's pervasive sense of forward-looking equanimity. Judging by the domestic bliss of "Woman I Know" and the acoustic ballad "You Light The Fire", this is undoubtedly due to developments in Butler's private life - as he exults from the midst of the classic-pop maelstrom which is his current single, "I'm not alone anymore".
Overall, it is a notable, and welcome, success; apart from the occasional ponderous moment, and the frailties of a voice which recalls Scritti Politti's Green, Butler's sheer ambition hoists most tracks to their optimum level, allowing him for the first time to be defined by his future rather than his past.
Slow Dirty Tears
(Smoke FUME 002A)
Though her new group features members of bands as disparate as the Voodoo Queens, Stereolab and Laika, it is the sound and personality of the former Raincoat Gina Birch which dominates The Hangovers on this debut album. Her voice is quite unique, with a cartoonish inflection that paradoxically carries more humanity than most singers' desperate attempts at evoking "soul".
As Birch tacks between the tense, repressed hysteria of Beth Gibbon and the quavering whimsy of Victoria Williams, myriad strengths, vulnerabilities and desires are revealed which correspond closely to real human feelings, rather than the cloying romantic fantasies of pop. There are, she seems to be suggesting, as many ways to sing as there are emotions, and not all of them comply with standard notions of beauty: on the opening "Duck Song", her conspiratorial vocals are capped with a whistled hook, while on the jubilantly self-assertive "I'm Glad I'm Me Today", she sings like a crone - but not unpleasantly so.
Musically, The Hangovers have devised a sort of drifting pastoral sadcore, the closest English folk get to the likes of Palace and Smog, but with a taste for oblique samples and an engagingly hedonistic edge which allows them to celebrate the innocent fun of druggy euphoria in "We Had A Really Smashing Time" and the self-explanatory "Drink". Utterly beguiling.
The first of Bonnie Raitt's albums since her 1989 comeback with Nick of Time not to employ the Midas touch of Don Was in the producer's chair, Fundamental finds her stranded between intention and execution. She might want to "get back to the fundamental thing" - which in her case surely means the blues basics - but there is little in new co-producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake's previous credits to suggest that they might be the men to facilitate such a move.
In their work with such as Crowded House, Richard Thompson, Cibo Matto and Suzanne Vega - most of which, by the by, is excellent - Froom and Blake have usually served the opposite function, embellishing basic songs with their well-judged sense of roots eclecticism. Here, the basic blues songs such as "Cure for Love" and "Lovers Will" just sound dull, while the more outlandish attempts at cross-fertilisation end up producing embarrassments such as "On Your Side", which tries half-heartedly to be both cajun and reggae but ends up neither. The best track by far is "The Fundamental Thing", a light swamp-funk number which plays straight to Bonnie's strengths, with weary swells of horns back-dropping her funky guitar picking.
(Wah Tup WAHTCD002)
This features nicely-blended American roots Gothic songs - lots of stuff about death and drinking, set to arrangements which aim for an air of whiskery authenticity somewhere midway between The Band's second album and Tom Waits' 10th, but which are, alas, performed by men whose own goatees are far too neatly trimmed. So while tracks such as "Coal Black Dirt Sky", "Black Crow" and "The Mortuary Band" suggest a well-researched sense of smalltown decrepitude and rural oblivion, the accompanying wheezes of sax and clarinet, plunks of banjo and curlicues of lap steel guitar sound like a heritage-centre version of real roots music, with no danger of an unruly hair slipping out of place.
In some cases, there is not much more than the research there: "Faces in the West", for instance, is simply a description of archetypal American old-timer physiognomies, a parade of small similes which doesn't attempt to look beyond its own cliches to the individual behind the appearance, settling instead for "leather, bark, dust, soil and bones/faces in the west become the land where they roam". The element of Preacher Boy's sound which casts the final, irrevocable shadow of artifice over Crow, however, is songwriter Christopher Watkins' ludicrous singing style - a laryngitic belch that is equal parts Tom Waits and Jack Hawkins, with perhaps a touch of that fellow who used to bellow in Napalm Death. It manages to be both unattractive and unconvincing, which is some kind of achievement, though I'm not sure exactly what.
(Peace Frog PF074)
Kenny Dixon Jr, the Detroit producer who records as Moodymann, isn't your average, run-of-the-mill house-music operative. Private and reclusive, he is not as dominated by the physical imperatives of the dancefloor as most of his colleagues - as he says here, "I don't make music for the mass majority to dance to; I make music for the small majority to listen to". And on Mahogany Brown, the results are just as intriguing and contradictory as his description.
Moodymann's pieces pointedly lack the contrived glamour and hysteria of most disco music; instead, they occupy a strange, largely deserted, entropic wasteland in which languid, Seventies-influenced electric piano funk grooves rub shoulders with samples commenting upon the black American experience.
In one track, "On The Run", a funk guitar riff is preceded by a two-minute phone message from Moodymann's drug-dealing uncle, outlining how he had rather die than go back to prison again; but the hollow, weary tone of his voice conveys the chilling truth that something inside him has already died.
The opening "Radio" is a collage of radio fragments, street soundbites and slivers of soul music (all produced by Dixon) which combine to present an understanding of "soul" as an environmental, rather than a musical notion - an idea borne out by the concluding "Black Sunday", a 10-minute recording of a gospel sermon riding an almost subliminal house pulse.
But even if you would rather be part of that "mass majority" which Moodymann disdains, there are enough shifting polyrhythms in the shimmering tribal samba-soul of "Joy Pt.3" to move the most thoughtful of feet.