Album reviews: Bedouine – Bedouine, Jeff Tweedy – Together At Last, Big Boi – Boomiverse

Plus Steve Earle & The Dukes, Imagine Dragons and Justin Adams

Andy Gill
Thursday 22 June 2017 10:46
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Bedouine, Bedouine

★★★★★

Download: Solitary Daughter; Nice And Quiet; Summer Cold; Heart Take Flight

In an era of increasingly synthetic, programmed music, Richmond, Virginia’s Spacebomb Records collective operates with a refreshingly analogue sensibility. Describing themselves as “a unified crew of arrangers and musicians, artists, scribes, vibe-gardeners and business men who feel it takes a village to produce a record”, Spacebomb apply a detailed attention to the mood and meaning of each song, using a huge complement of local musicians to realise the lush, distinctive orchestrations devised by arranger Trey Pollard for Matthew E White’s meticulous productions.

Whatever a “vibe gardener” does – perhaps something akin to Bez’s indefinable contribution to Happy Mondays and Black Grape? – I think every record label ought to have one, given Spacebomb’s aesthetic hit-rate. Certainly, the label has developed a signature sound that’s equally effective for smooth soul outings like White’s own albums and his cover-versions collaboration with Flo Morrissey on Gentlewoman, Ruby Man, and more folksy, singer-songwriter projects such as Natalie Prass’s eponymous debut album.

It’s the latter category into which Azniv Korkejian’s equally sublime debut falls. Born in Aleppo of Armenian descent, Korkejian has every right to the sobriquet Bedouine, her nomadic upbringing having taken her from Syria to Saudi Arabia to America, where she eventually settled in LA as a sound-editor – skills employed here in the montage of street-noises at the end of “Summer Cold”, a re-creation of the Syrian streets of her youth. But it’s her voice that immediately grabs you, a warm, grounded delivery oozing devotional calm on the opener “Nice And Quiet”, where lines like “When I’m on my way, I keep my feet nice and quiet for you” have the enigmatic charm of hermetic tribal spirituality. There are obvious affinities with the likes of Norah Jones and Katie Melua in Bedouine’s tone and timbre, anchored here by loping bass and lightly brushed with tints of oboe and strings, before the crisp restraint of Smokey Hormel’s guitar break brings the song home.

It’s a simply lovely start to the album, reinforced by the languid “soon-come” message of “One Of These Days”, a plea for patience as regards both love and money. Its anti-materialist tone is taken up later in “Heart Take Flight”, where fingerpicked acoustic guitar and what sounds like the crystalline high tones of glass harmonica accompany her ruminations. “Any more than what I have would be too much for me to feel free,” she muses, an attitude reflected elsewhere in the nomadic instincts and drifting sensibility of “You Kill Me” and the repressive dread afflicting “Mind’s Eye” (“I’m trapped and I can’t find my way out of graven doubt”).

The centrepiece of the album, however, is the impressive “Solitary Daughter”, an affirmation of self-sufficiency and rejection of worldly distractions which in both its poetic locutions and vocal delivery seems to channel Laura Marling. “I’m not an island, I’m a body of water/Jewelled in the evening, a solitary daughter,” sings Bedouine over a delicate web of fingerpicking, strings and occasional distant, yearning horn, adding warily, “If picked at by noon, by midnight I’m mined”. It’s the standout track on an album heralding a talent as intriguingly fully-formed and distinctive, in its own way, as Marling, Mitchell and Bush.

Jeff Tweedy, Together At Last

★★★☆☆

Download this: Via Chicago; Dawned On Me; I’m Always In Love; I’m Trying To Break Your Heart

For Together At Last, Jeff Tweedy revisits choice items from his back catalogue in solo unplugged mode. It’s a brave step, given the imaginative depth with which Wilco animates this material, but it does allow the songs’ core characters to come through more strongly, most notably on the opener “Via Chicago”. “Dreamt about killing you again last night, and it felt all right to me” is a devastating opening line, and here it’s left all the more nakedly exposed, supported by just acoustic guitar and faint wheezes of Dylanesque harmonica. It establishes the album’s overall tone of an uprooted, drifting mind attempting to anchor life in snatched images and observations: “The sun gets passed from tree to tree, finally back to me”; “You can put it behind you, but it’s still beyond me”; “Trees will bend, some will fall/Then again, so will us all”. And lest we forget, joyous love songs like “Dawned On Me” and “I’m Always In Love” confirm Tweedy’s skills as a natural tunesmith.

Big Boi, Boomiverse

★★★☆☆

Download this: All Night; Made Men; Freakonomics

OutKast alumnus Antwan “Big Boi” Patton doesn’t make that many records these days, but when he does, it’s a pleasure to hear him ignoring transient trends in favour of tried and trusted, old-school ways. He’s still, for instance, largely reliant on Atlanta’s Organized Noize for most of his backing tracks, and his guests are largely gents of a certain maturity, like Snoop Dogg celebrating “big money, big cars, big toys, makin’ big noise” on “Get Wit It”, or Killer Mike and Kurupt helping Big Boi bring low-rider menace to “Made Men”. There are a few irritations – I hate the ghastly synthetic-strings sound used on “Da Next Day”, and I hate Adam Levine’s hook on “Mic Jack”, no matter how impressively Patton piles rhyme upon rhyme. The hit cuts, though, are quirky novelties: “Freakanomics” is an autotuned, cod-reggae celebration of carnality (“Every girl I see got a PhD in Freakanomics”), while the barroom tack-piano groove of “All Night” heralds the track’s cheery, good-time attitude.

Various Artists, Making Time: A Shel Talmy Production

★★★★☆

Download: Bald Headed Woman; Tired Of Waiting For You; Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere; Light Flight; Daddy Long Legs

American expat studio genius Shel Talmy was a crucial enabler of Sixties British pop, unequalled at realising the raw sound of such as The Who, Kinks and Creation at its most explosively assertive; though later that decade he became a skilled recorder of folk-rock subtleties. His most groundbreaking chart productions (“My Generation” and “You Really Got Me”) are ignored here in favour of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” – a gripping evocation of The Who’s live performance style – and the musically enigmatic “Tired Of Waiting For You”, a crucial bridge on The Kinks’ journey from garage-rock roots to sardonic social realism. This excellent compilation ranges from The Sneekers’ great R&B rave-up “Bald Headed Woman” (with chum Jimmy Page on guitar) to the folksy filigree of Pentangle’s “Light Flight”, a beautifully-balanced mix of the band’s diverse virtuosities; while a previously unreleased take of Davy Jones’ “You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving” offers a glimpse of the young Bowie grappling with his own convoluted ideas.

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Steve Earle & The Dukes, So You Wannabe An Outlaw

★★★☆☆

Download: So You Wannabe An Outlaw; Lookin’ For A Woman; The Firebreak Line; If Mama Coulda Seen Me

Steve Earle makes an impressive fist here of paying stylistic tribute to “outlaw country” pioneer Waylon Jennings. His band certainly nails Jennings’ trenchant country-rock tread on the title-track, a warning of the downside of the outlaw lifestyle for which Earle’s joined by Waylon’s old buddy Willie Nelson. “Everybody reckons that they wanna be free,” they sing, “Ain’t nobody wants to be alone.” But solitude is an essential component of the condition, from the hard-up subject signalling his poverty by “Walkin’ In LA”, to the ageing outlaw contemplating death’s approach on his “Sunset Highway”. Love is a matter of either regret for a romantic road not travelled (“Girl On The Mountain”), or a sardonic hunt for a woman who “won’t do me like you”, as in “Lookin’ For A Woman”. Elsewhere, a couple of prison songs view death from different angles, the gallows-bound con’s reflection in “Fixin’ To Die” contrasting with the jailbird of “If Mama Coulda Seen Me”, wryly thankful his mother died too young to cry at the way he turned out.

Imagine Dragons, Evolve

★★☆☆☆

Download: Rise Up; Yesterday

Presumably seeking to arrest the precipitous sales drop between their first two albums, for Evolve Imagine Dragons ceased producing most of their own songs in favour of the R&B strategy of spreading the work amongst a range of talents. The hot British producer Alex Da Kid – who secured their diamond-selling breakthrough hit “Radioactive” – is retained for three songs, but the most significant shift is the involvement of Swedish hitmakers Mattman & Robin on four of the eleven tracks, including the brazen but empty stadium singalong anthems “Believer” and “Walking The Wire”, songs whose messages of uplift delve no deeper than their titles. That message is most literally realised in “Rise Up”, although their proclaimed openness to new experiences – “I was always up for making changes/Walking down the street and meeting strangers” – doesn’t seem to apply to music. On the contrary, Evolve involves mostly devolving back into the hoariest of tired rock cliches (including what sounds like roto-toms), and plodding grimly towards the summer’s festivals.

Justin Adams, Ribbons

★★★☆☆

Download: Aerial; Deep C; Fog March; Strand

Best known as Robert Plant’s guitarist and producer of Tinariwen, Justin Adams here applies his distinctive Arabic-influenced guitar skills to more abstract ends, on eleven largely unstructured pieces influenced by painters such as Rauschenberg, Pollock and Miro. “Lightshaft” features sparse guitar notes echoing in a sea of delays and reverbs; “Aerial” anchors high trills, akin to oud, with a pulse of damped notes; and “Deep C” is a whirl of eddying trills and darting runs, like a quicksilver shoal of fish glimpsed beneath the surface. He’s accompanied in places by Norwegian singer Anneli Drecker, whose wordless contributions mostly soar across the upper register – apart from “Open Invitation”, where her high, rhapsodic tones feature alongside deeper, burring vocal sounds akin to Tuvan throat-singing, their relationship paralleled by Adams’ looming drones and wisps of guitar. For all its apparent homogeneity, there’s considerable diversity in approach, with the resonant, vibes-like tones and cyclical guitar waves of “Strand” a continent apart from the shadowy, almost Krautrock manner of “Fog March”.

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