Album reviews: Kesha - Rainbow, David Rawlings - Poor David’s Almanack, Richard Thompson - Acoustic Classics II

Plus The Cribs – 24/7 Rock Star Shit, Mike & Lal Waterson – Bright Phoebus, 5 Billion In Diamonds – 5 Billion In Diamonds, 10cc – Before/During/After

Andy Gill
Thursday 10 August 2017 16:18
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Kesha, Rainbow

★★★★☆

Download this: Bastards; Woman; Finding You; Rainbow; Hunt You Down

The work of female American pop artists over the last couple of decades has become dominated by backstories of betrayal and abuse, these ongoing soap-operas carefully sustained and manipulated through twittering social media feuds and, increasingly, their work itself. But what was once hinted at in a few songs by Rihanna has, with Beyonce’s Lemonade, ballooned into album-length diatribes, the latest of which is Kesha’s ambitious Rainbow.

Kesha’s back-story has it all, a checklist of showbiz venality, rehab, alleged abuse and restraint of trade eventually resulting in multi-million-dollar lawsuits flying back and forth between the singer, her management, and her producer Luke “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, whom she accused of sexual assault and battery. He in turn filed a counter-claim accusing Kesha and her mother of making defamatory statements aimed at securing her release from an exclusive recording contract with his company. Her claims were subsequently dismissed, but although Rainbow is released through Gottwald’s label Kemosabe, she seems to have secured one of her aims in escaping his production stranglehold on her music.

The result is a revelation. Where previous albums had been bland landfill electro-pop rendered even more indistinguishable through her heavily autotuned vocals, Rainbow offers a range of approaches, from pop and R&B to country and funk, applied to material that brings greater depth to her characteristic sassy attitude. It’s littered with swearing, right from the opening “Bastards”, a simple folksy strummer in which she explains “I could fight forever, but life’s too short”, asserting her determination to carry on. It’s followed by the punky blast of “Let ‘Em Talk” (“don’t let those losers take the magic out of you”) and the burning funk of “Woman”, where her claims of being a self-possessed “motherf**cker” are supported by the rasping brass of the Dap-Tone Horns.

From there the album slips from one style to another, lent continuity by the thematic focus on her tribulations: in the piano ballad “Praying”, she thanks her oppressor for making her become strong; “Learn To Let Go” celebrates the exorcism of her old life, while “Rainbow” posits her new, colourful attitude against the way she “used to live in the darkness”. Her delivery throughout is impassioned and exultant, albeit a touch strident in “Finding You”, which with acoustic guitar finger-picking over pulsing bass and clattering drums creates one of the album’s more intriguing arrangements, an odd blend of the raw and the cooked, sonically speaking.

Elsewhere, “Hunt You Down” and the Dolly Parton duet “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You)” are cantering country on steroids – although Dolly sounds muffled, as if singing through the wall, on her own song. And in its melding of banjo-trotting country-pop with alien-anthem message, “Spaceship” recalls The Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman”. As her focus wanders in the album’s late stages, Rainbow starts to fray – “Boogie Feet” is a dull rocker, and “Boots” and “Godzilla” weak (but catchy) novelties – but there’s more than enough evidence here to support Kesha’s decision to confront her stagnant situation and strike out in her own direction. As she reflects, “the past can’t haunt me if I don’t let it”.

David Rawlings, Poor David’s Almanack

★★★★☆

Download this: Cumberland Gap; Come On Over My House; Guitar Man; Yup

There’s a rustic, down-homey charm to David Rawlings’ latest album, with Gillian Welch adding knee-slaps and claps to “Money Is The Meat In The Coconut”, and “Come On Over My House” brimful of hillbilly jollity. As ever on Welch & Rawlings records, their harmonies are sublime, warmed by guitarist Willie Watson’s third part; but there are fewer dark shadows here than usual, with songs like “Good God A Woman” and “Yup” offering light-hearted fables of God’s and Satan’s dealings with women. Punctuated by drawled affirmations of the title, the latter depicts an exasperated Devil returning a hellbound wife to her husband, to escape the torture of her tongue: “The one advantage that women have, they can go down to hell and then come back”. Musically, the most satisfying pieces are “Cumberland Gap”, where Welch & Rawlings’ harmonies, and his double-tracking of acoustic and electric guitars, achieves something close to classic Fairport, and “Guitar Man”, which uses similar forces to summon the spirits of The Band and Crazy Horse.

Richard Thompson, Acoustic Classics II

★★★★☆

Download this: She Twists The Knife Again; The Ghost Of You Walks; Meet On The Ledge; Gethsemane; Guns Are The Tongues

Despite most of his well-known songs being crammed onto this album’s 2014 predecessor, there’s no dip in quality here as Richard Thompson revisits material ranging from Fairport Convention classics like “Genesis Hall” and “Meet On The Ledge” through to 2007’s “Guns Are The Tongues”. The latter offers a rare deviation from the solo guitar format, with mandolin and guitar lines twisting like rope gradually tightening around the account of a child trained for war. But his playing elsewhere often deftly juggles several lines, as when the chugging trepidation of the bass pulse carrying the elegant arabesques of “Gethsemane” embodies the looming darkness of military brutality. Likewise, the twitchy chording of “She Twists The Knife Again” bristles with seething animus – a potent realisation of the theme of decaying relationships sketched in more despairing manner in “The Ghost Of You Walks”. Thompson’s scarred, flinty delivery is equally effective on “Meet On The Ledge”, where it more persuasively evokes the final verse’s resignation in solitude than the Fairport original.

The Cribs, 24/7 Rock Star Shit

★★☆☆☆

Download this: Give Good Time; In Your Palace; Sticks Not Twigs

24/7 Rock Star Shit has to be one of the all-time great rock’n’roll titles; but sadly, lurking behind it is an album which struggles to fulfil such vagabond promise. Rather, it seems terminally enervated: most of these songs have a shrugging, slovenly manner, as if sulky about being sung; and in the case of “Year Of Hate”, the incongruity of vocal, melody, tempo and riff give the impression that the song’s trying to slip unnoticed out of itself. The single “In Your Palace” is catchy enough, but by far the best thing here is the opener “Give Good Time”, which sounds like a cross between The Libertines’ raggedy, wanton swagger and Sonic Youth’s exploratory extremity, courtesy of bouts of barely controlled guitar noise. “What Have You Done For Me” revisits similar territory with diminishing returns; otherwise, only the acoustic rocker “Sticks Not Twigs”, with its plea, “Wait for me, my baby, as strong as five of me”, adds a restrained power to proceedings.

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Mike & Lal Waterson, Bright Phoebus

★★★★☆

Download this: Rubber Band; The Scarecrow; Danny Rose; Child Among The Weeds; Bright Phoebus

Since its release in 1972, Bright Phoebus has become one of the most highly-regarded artefacts of British folk music, with rare copies commanding high prices, and its growing reputation swollen by fans such as Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley and Arcade Fire. Though frowned on by some purists expecting the traditional fare of the family band The Watersons, the siblings’ original songs were eagerly accompanied by luminaries like Martin Carthy, Richard Thompson and Ashley Hutchings, who bring a roguish enthusiasm to tracks such as “Rubber Band”, on which even the horns seem to have their cap at a jaunty angle. The material shifts frequently between dark and light – sometimes, as with “Child Among The Weeds”, within the same song. “The Scarecrow” (“you’re only a bag of bones in an overall”) has a quiet, haunting power, while “Winifer Odd” and “Danny Rose” depict contrasting characters bound together in doom: her life spent just waiting, his raggle-taggle criminality embodied in Thompson’s rockabilly picking. Both, however, fall victim to car crashes.

5 Billion In Diamonds, 5 Billion In Diamonds

★★★☆☆

Download this: Gravity Rules; I’m Becoming You; Traveling In Time; Glider

Reflecting a shared affection for psychedelia, soundtracks and Krautrock, 5 Billion In Diamonds was created by Butch Vig with DJ/producers James Grillo and Andy Jenks as their idea of the perfect cult film soundtrack. Wreathed in mellotronic strings, flute and synths alongside looped guitars and an adaptable rhythm section switching easily between the smooth psych-rock of “Broken Wing” and the cycling motorik of “Glider”, it’s an elegant, enjoyable affair – albeit one over-larded with cosmicity in lines like “tiny lamps of light fill our mind” and “through the ages, worlds collide”. With Helen White cooing Liz Fraser-style over punchy electro-psych rhythms, “Traveling In Time” resembles a blend of Goldfrapp and Cocteau Twins, while “Lost In The Sea” (“melted and free”) is another miasmic whisk of hippy sentiment. And with juddering synth driving a warmly shuffling groove, “I’m Becoming You” is close to the full Saucerful of Pink Floyd in mood, manner and melody, but with added mind-meld theme for extra heaviosity. Spliff-tastic stuff!

10cc, Before/During/After

★★★★☆

Download this: Rubber Bullets; The Wall Street Shuffle; I’m Not In Love; Groovy Kind Of Love; Neanderthal Man; For Your Love; Cry

Reflecting the band’s idiosyncratic manner, this 4CD retrospective takes an unusual approach to 10cc’s career. Perhaps surmising that any prospective purchaser will already own their two unquestioned masterpieces – 10cc and Sheet Music – they’ve opted to focus instead on extra-curricular activities from before and after their group success. So while a single disc marshals hits like “Rubber Bullets”, “I’m Not In Love” and “Dreadlock Holiday”, another sketches later spin-offs like Godley & Creme’s “Cry” and Art Of Noise’s “Metaforce”, and two more deal with earlier work as artists and producers. The Strawberry Hit Factory is fancifully titled, mostly comprising productions for such deathless acts as Garden Odyssey and Tristar Airbus, but The Early Years draws together inspired ‘60s pop such as The Mindbenders’ “Groovy Kind Of Love”, Graham Gouldman’s original versions of chart hits like “No Milk Today” and “For Your Love”, and most pertinently, Hotlegs’ primitive “Neanderthal Man”, in which can be glimpsed early traces of the group’s trademark witty amalgam of diverse pop modes, pastiche and irony.

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