Latest album releases: From sea shanties to psychedelic soul

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Cerys Matthews, Never Said Goodbye, ROUGH TRADE

Having recast herself as a folksy alternative country warbler with 2003's Cockahoop, Cerys Matthews makes a few tentative moves towards regaining her former indie-pop-queen status with Never Said Goodbye, but without relinquishing too much of a hold on her newer roots-rock style. The results are fairly decent for the most part, save for blunders like the mawkish ballad "This Endless Rain" and the saccharine, ickle-girly vocalising on "Blue Light Alarm". Elsewhere, the styles are more pleasantly jumbled on tracks such as "Seed Song" and the rumbustious "Ruby", and even "Oxygen" has a certain galumphing charm, despite the brash brass and the shrill vocal that recalls the darker days of Catatonia. Oddly, "Streets Of New York" is built on a frisky New Orleans second-line drum groove. Songs such as "Open Roads" and "Bird In The Hand" continue are reminiscence of Cockahoop, with Matthews claiming, "I'm going nowhere/There's nowhere that I'd rather be/Than sitting here getting old/In the shade of the same old tree".

Easy Star All-Stars, Radiodread, EASY STAR

Having brought a breath of freshness to Pink Floyd's gnarled classic with their splendid Dub Side Of The Moon, the Easy Star All-Stars collective turn their attention towards another progressive rock milestone with this reggaefied version of Radiohead's OK Computer. While it's nowhere near as effective a makeover as the Floyd album, that's at least partly due to the relative paucity of easily adaptable tunes they have to deal with. Other than the sublime "No Surprises" - here given a suitably blissful harmony-trio treatment by The Meditations - overtly hummable melodies are fairly thin on the ground on Radiohead's most overrated album. Which is not to say the project is entirely bereft of pleasing moments. Horace Andy makes a more convincing show than Thom Yorke of being "back to save the universe" on "Airbag", Toots & The Maytals are as irrepressible as ever on "Let Down", and the All-Stars negotiate the various stages of "Paranoid Android" with surprising ease and comfort, bringing an entirely new slant to the song.

Various Artists, Rogue's Gallery, ANTI

While working on the two sequels to Pirates Of The Caribbean, Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski became fascinated by sea shanties, and commissioned Hal Willner to research and record an anthology. The result is Rogue's Gallery, a vast double-CD of songs bawdy, bitter, drunken, lonely and lovelorn, recorded by a cast not only of folk singers like Martin Carthy, Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright III, but also leftfield icons like Van Dyke Parks, Nick Cave and David Thomas, and pop stars such as Bono, Bryan Ferry and Jarvis Cocker. It's an extraordinarily diverse collection, ranging from the Tuvan-style drone of Baby Gramps's "Cape Cod Girls" through the laments of Ferry's "The Cruel Ship's Captain", to Wainwright's enthusiastic rendition of the obscene classic "Good Ship Venus". Besides the opportunity to hear some bizarre combinations (Ed Harcourt and Ralph Steadman' Ferry and Antony warbling together), it's a fund of educational fascination, not least in the punk-folk history lesson "Boney Was A Warrior".

Outkast, Idlewild, LA FACE

Given the way that both rappers possess such potent visual charisma, it's hardly surprising that OutKast have opted to move into the movies. Idlewild - a Prohibition-era tale involving the classic combination of musicians and mobsters - enables Big Boi and Dre to import hip-hop sensibilities into the period narrative, via jazz, blues and rap. At their best, the music fizzes with imagination. "Morris Brown" is an infectious combination of slick vocals and funky groove, and "Call The Law" includes Janelle Monae's accomplished vocal in a jazz piano arrangement. Andre 3000, in particular, has plenty of scope to demonstrate his diverse skills. As on The Love Below, he's the one who stretches the OutKast style to its furthest extent, ending proceedings on "A Bad Note", a wild psychedelic-soul-jazz excursion. But despite his more limited abilities, it's Big Boi who makes the biggest impact with "The Train", where he reflects on childhood, fatherhood and death over a wispy synth and guitar riff buttressed by a great horn hook. "All aboard!" he calls out, "Or, are all a'y'all bored?" Not for a moment.

Lambchop, Damaged, CITY SLANG

Damaged, claims Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, "deals with dark and heavy concerns related to deeply personal experience", chronicling an apparently troubled year in the songwriter's life. Not that you'd realise that from the songs themselves, which are some of his most opaque and inscrutable, seemingly written in a private language wherein random observations are roughly corralled into lyrics, as in tracks such as "Fear" and "Crackers". The comforts of the arrangements, in which William Tyler's twinkling guitar parts provide most of the significant detailing, ensure that Damaged is never less than agreeable. However, the overall similarity of tone and texture tends to blur the focus, as songs blend into one another via the ambient entractes created from sampled track fragments by Ryan Norris and Scott Martin. When it works, as on "Beers Before The Barbican" and the Swap Shop tableau of "Paperback Bible", the songs glow from within' elsewhere, it's hard to recall the distinct shape of a track.

Comments