Island CID 8059
His brief tenure at RCA now over, 's latest comes via Island, through a licensing deal with his US company Mercury. It's entirely appropriate that he should record for an American label, as his following there is probably firmer and larger than his British fan-base these days.
Certainly, the paper-thin caricature Englishness of much of Maladjusted is likely to go down much better with Americans, for whom the title-track's mentions of the Fulham Road and "a Stevenage overspill" might yet retain a little declasse glamour. A tale of a "working girl" out for a good time, it's set to sprawling, heavy-booted rock riffing in the vein of the poorly- received Southpaw Grammar album, but the lack of lyrical engagement is more critical to its failure: at no point is one remotely concerned about this character, just as the subjects of "Alma Matters" and "Roy's Keen" never offer the slightest hint that they might have more substance than a particularly threadbare pun.
Mechanical in its wielding of geographical references, facile in its psychology, predictable in its overweening self-pity, and hopelessly bereft of both decent tunes and decisive musical style, Maladjusted finds casting about vainly for ways of tarting-up substandard material, adding tympani and pizzicato strings to some tracks, even including a blatant cop from "Won't Get Fooled Again" in "Papa Jack". But who's listening, when there are so many more exciting alternatives on offer?
Carefully measured and hugely self-assured, Aleyn deserves to effect for folk-music diva June Tabor the kind of career revival that her colleague Norma Waterson has experienced over the last few years. Using a discreet and sensitive backing band of piano, accordions, violin, double bass, clarinet and saxes, Tabor ranges freely here over a wide range of folk- music sources, encompassing traditional airs like "I Wonder What's Keeping My True Love Tonight?", modern classics like Richard Thompson's "The Great Valerio", and the 20th-century Yiddish lament "Di Nakht", drawing the maximum impact from each in turn.
Tabor's voice is a remarkable instrument. The arrangements throughout are subtle but dramatic, from the palm-court orchestra tango of "No Good At Love" to the slower dynamic of the lengthy poaching tale "Johnny O'Bredislee", which starts with a faint accordion drone, developing a more fulsome structure as the story reaches its bloody conclusion.
Virgin CDV 2808
A hot, swampy gris-gris atmosphere may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you fancy a cuppa, but that's the way Dreadzone have chosen to pay tribute to tea in "Heat the Pot". It offers a refreshing break from the strutting skank rhythms which dominate the rest of their new album, a series of techno-fied dub-house grooves of which the title-track is the most potent example.
It's an infectious blend, certainly, but there are signs of something like the insipid mateyness of UB40 creeping into their work; as if mindful of this tendency, Dreadzone have broadened their style to take in the aforementioned swamp-groove and some pseudo-classical influences. Intriguing, and increasingly eclectic.
Chin on the Kerb
Blending languid beats with evocative guitar and piano figures and the soulful vocals of Steve Roberts, this is one of the more impressive recent groove-crew releases. Ramshackle have real songs to work with, and a coherent attitude of social responsibility. The slouch grooves of tracks like "Don't You Turn Me Away" and "Chin on the Kerb" hint at a residual Portishead influence, but a more significant comparison is with The Christians: there's the same sense of secular conscience, and a similar awareness of human fallibility undercutting higher aspirations, be it the relationship-destroying alcoholism of "Chin on the Kerb", or the emotional treachery of "Broken Soul". The result is a mix of warmth and alienation which deserves to locate its own special niche in the overcrowded R&B market. Recommended.