Album reviews: Katie Melua – In Winter, Tom Chaplin – The Wave, and more

Also Solange, Conor Oberst, and Smoove & Turrell 

Andy Gill
Wednesday 12 October 2016 14:54 BST

Katie Melua, In Winter


Download this: The Little Swallow; O Holy Night; River; Dreams On Fire

In Winter is the result of Katie Melua’s desire to make a seasonal album that wasn’t stuffed full of hoary old chestnut carols and childrens’ singalongs – a more mature Christmas album, cocoa-warm and comforting. She’s joined by the Gori Womens’ Choir, gently lowing behind her on a quietly pristine version of Joni Mitchell’s “River”, and more harmoniously fulsome on the Ukrainian carol “The Little Swallow”, the Eastern European root of “Carol Of The Bells”. Elsewhere are songs in Romanian and Georgian, while the more familiar “O Holy Night” is delivered in a curiously enervated calm. Of Melua’s own material, “A Time To Buy” treats Christmas shopping with celebration rather than reservation, and “Dreams On Fire” confronts romantic uncertainty with quiet determination: “If all your dreams were on fire, which one would you save?”

Tom Chaplin, The Wave


Download this: I Remember You; Hardened Heart

“High hopes and young dreams, time will sweep these things away,” warns Tom Chaplin on the title track of this first solo album, a dreary account of the Keane singer’s struggle with cocaine addiction. With sombre strings indicating the general mood on early songs such as “Still Waiting” and “Hardened Heart”, The Wave exemplifies the old joke about how Chaplin’s suffered for his art, and now it’s our turn. The latter song does at least consider others – “How I wish that I was not hurting everyone I know” – although the album arguably gets worse as he gets better, particularly in “Quicksand”, with its Coldplay-esque promise to “patch you up, we’ll work it out”. The time-shifting reminiscence “I Remember You”, with Chaplin recalling his younger self, is the best track here, boasting musical echoes of The Cure, albeit hobbled by a surfeit of earnest uplift.

Katie Gately, Color


Download this: Lift; Tuck; Rive; Sire; Color

Los Angeles-based movie sound-editor Katie Gately’s musical work involves sculpting found-sounds into songs – literally, organising noises into music. Her debut album Color demonstrates her maximalist approach, its plethora of sounds and multi-tracked vocals layered into rich, dense sonic tableaux. She’s like a one-woman Avalanches, without the pop and hip-hop imperatives, able to switch direction suddenly from the metal-banging and synth bleeps of “Sire” to the swaddling sound-mix of “Color”, a reflection on musical colours which she speak-sings with the fragile purity of Karen Carpenter. Elsewhere, “Rive” is woozy and confusing, like a sea-shanty heard through a hallucinatory gauze, while “Tuck” marshals disparate melodic lines in the manner of those Charles Ives pieces evoking collisions of marching-bands. Complex, involved and engaging, her music’s exploratory inclinations are tempered with a distinctive melodic charm.

Solange, A Seat At The Table


Download this: Cranes In The Sky; Don’t You Wait; F.U.B.U.

Solange Knowles claims her new album is “a project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing”, which seems an awful lot with which to burden a humble album. But it’s a pleasant change to encounter an R&B album which acknowledges a world beyond romantic cliche. Spoken interludes from her parents recall the visceral prejudice of an earlier era, while Solange herself admits a wider range of emotions than usual, from the anger of “Mad” to the ennui she attempts to dispel through sex, work and shopping in “Cranes In The Sky”, just one of several miasmic psychedelic-soul meditations featuring her stratospheric, Minnie Riperton-style falsetto. But save for the chunky “Don’t You Wait”, there’s little punch or pop charm to the album, which boasts a surfeit of luscious textures and feisty attitudes, but a shortfall of killer melodies.

Conor Oberst, Ruminations


Download this: Tachycardia; Gossamer Thin; Counting Sheep

Always an unflinchingly open songwriter, Conor Oberst leaves himself even more exposed on Ruminations, where his songs are accompanied just by his own piano, guitar and harmonica. It leaves material such as “Next Of Kin”, dealing with the lingering wounds of bereavement, and “Counting Sheep”, an evocation of the frustration of illness, painfully raw and exposed. “I don’t want to seem needy, especially to you”, claims the latter’s protagonist, amidst moodswings surging between spite and self-pity, in much the same way that some songs dart, dream-like, between different tableaux. But Oberst’s eye is always keen, whether he’s observing the adulterous liaison in “Gossamer Thin”, musing in “Barbary Coast (Later)” on how an affection for the primitive offers salve for his own anxieties, or depicting in “A Little Uncanny” the bleakness of an internet sensation with “millions of admirers but not a single friend”.

Smoove & Turrell, Crown Posada


Download this: You Could’ve Been A Lady; No Point In Trying; Given It All; New Jerusalem

Geordie funkateers Smoove & Turrell continue their confident revitalisation of classic soul and funk modes on Crown Posada, where tracks such as “No Point In Trying” and a cover of Hot Chocolate’s “You Could’ve Been A Lady” blend slick rhythm guitar grooves with popping conga and cowbell beats in the style of Chic, with the Steve Winwood tone of singer John Turrell’s delivery adding a vintage Brit-soul flavour. Though rooted in Motown and Northern Soul stomper style, distorted keyboard bass lends a more contemporary edge to “Given It All”, while the darker “50 Days Of Winter” offers a throbbing electro treatment of depression. New guitarist Lloyd Wright is a key addition to their ranks, peeling off meticulous, propulsive lines with the deft acuity of Nile Rodgers and Steve Cropper, his MVP performance capped off by the gorgeous jazz-guitar intro to “New Jerusalem”.

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