Album reviews: Peter Blegvad​ – Go Figure, Tyler Childers​ – Purgatory, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – Young Adult

Plus Jim Ghedi​ – A Hymn For Ancient Land, The Wailin’ Jennys​ – Fifteen, Edith Piaf​ – Edith Piaf, and Foy Vance – Live In London

Andy Gill
Thursday 04 January 2018 13:47
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Peter Blegvad​, Go Figure

★★★★☆

Download this: Had To Be Bad; Sven; Way To Play The Blues; God Detector; Too Much

Artist, poet, illustrator, philosopher, cartoonist – so broad are Peter Blegvad’s other interests, and so protean his muse, that one sometimes has to wait for years for his attention to turn again to music. But the payoff lies in the way that those other pursuits feed back into his music in the form of songs that exult in their uniqueness. Blegvad is one of pop’s very few “true originals” whose work always bears out that status.

Probably best known for Leviathan, his long-running Independent On Sunday cartoon strip, Blegvad brings a similar level of abstruse conjecture and whimsical wordplay to his lyrics, whether he’s musing, in “Sven”, upon a leathery ancient corpse preserved “in a Finnish fen”, or offering a grim reflection, in “Mind The Gap”, on how a terrorist bomb destroys the collective isolation of Tube travellers: “Blown apart and blown together, now the two of us were one”.

However, it’s not usually that dark: “Too Much” is a jaunty ragtime rumination on excess, slipping from familiar physical indulgence to more abstract realms (“too much sturm, too much drang, too much yin, too much yang”); and in “My Father’s Face”, Blegvad pirouettes on the cusp of whimsy and something more sinister, relating how he once drew his sleeping father, then erased his face. But perhaps his most elegant and amusing aesthetic reflection resides in “Way To Play The Blues”, where he uses John Cage’s epigram “I have nothing to say and I am saying it, and that is poetry as I need it” as inspiration for a (probably apocryphal) tale of the Stones asking Blegvad to help them understand the way to play the blues, a question he denudes of dues, and ultimately of volition.

Blegvad’s band, comprising various Henry Cow alumni and sundry avant-gardists, provides flexible support for his musings, from the sinister cod-reggae shuffle of “Penny Black”, about a cursed stamp, to the more indefinable brew of languid, jazzy raunch-rock conjured to convey the enigmatic villain of “Had To Be Bad”. Elsewhere, there’s an aptly Kevin Ayers-y air to the Provençal tableau “Cote D’Azur”, while “God Detector” adopts a suitably Dylanesque tone for the tale of a man with a machine he claims can trace divinity – for which, of course, he searches in vain amongst humanity.

If there is a unifying theme to the album, it’s probably to be found in the reflections upon dissipation and the futility of ambition in songs such as “Simon At The Stone” and “Winner Came There None” – songs which don’t so much disparage notions of being and doing, as prompt enquiry about the limitless ranges of experience, and their comparative values.

Jim Ghedi​, A Hymn For Ancient Land

★★★★☆

Download this: Home For Moss Valley; Bramley Moor; Fortingall Yew; Phoenix Works

This second album from Sheffield guitarist Jim Ghedi is infused with a strong sense of place, in tunes and settings that seem to ooze from the ground itself. Guitar and harp spin a gently undulating waltz around “Cwm Elan”, while a miasmic thrum of bowed and plucked strings evoke the ancient, mythic origins of Scotland’s 2000-year-old “Fortingall Yew”. But Ghedi’s main focus is his home of Moss Valley, on Sheffield’s Derbyshire border: “Home For Moss Valley” opens the album with glints of steel guitar and violin, before developing a raga-like texture of tingling drones and jaunty picking that recalls both John Fahey and the Penguin Cafe. The rickety percussion, slide and guitar picking of the fracking-threatened “Bramley Moor” trot along sweetly in the manner of Michael Chapman; and “Phoenix Works” disinters a verse by blacksmith Joseph Rippon to memorialise the valley’s long-gone scythe-making industry, the hammer blows evoked by a steady percussive thud, whilst guitar, strings and brass dance ever more forcefully around it.

Tyler Childers​, Purgatory

★★★☆☆

Download this: I Swear (To God); Tattoos; Whitehouse Road; Honky Tonk Flame

On his debut album, Kentuckian country newcomer Tyler Childers echoes John Donne in his desire to be saved, but not just yet. Opener “I Swear (To God)” sets the tone with a cantering celebration of à la carte good-time exploits with a side order of hankering for salvation, a theme taken up later in “Honky Tonk Flame” and “Whitehouse Road”, a swaggering country rocker in which the heady buzz of moonshine and cocaine is conveyed by the woozy twang of Jew’s harp. Elsewhere, he finds new wrinkles in classic tropes such as the murder ballad (“Banded Clovis”) and love lament (“Tattoos”), musing in the latter on how his name upon her skin now remains as “a haunted tale for someone else” when she disrobes; whilst bringing a whole new meaning with the regeneration theme of “Born Again”: Buddhist country, anyone? Produced by Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson, the arrangements offer a feisty take on bluegrass mountain music which sets off Childers’ perkily engaging delivery splendidly.

The Wailin’ Jennys​, Fifteen

★★★☆☆​

Download this: Old Churchyard; Boulder To Birmingham; Wildflowers; Light Of A Clear Blue Morning

The winsome charm of The Wailin’ Jennys’ first album in six years is utterly irresistible, and all the more impressive for the speed of its creation. Convening from across the North American continent, whilst restrained by the sweet shackles of motherhood, Ruth Moody, Heather Masse and Nicky Mehta had but a one-week window in which to choose songs and settings, arranging harmonies on the fly for a sweet selection of covers ranging from Paul Simon’s “Love Me Like A Rock” – done a cappella with finger clicks and foot stomps – to a heartbreaking version of Warren Zevon’s valedictory farewell “Keep Me In Your Heart”. Banjo, mandolin, guitar and violin lend a suitably old-timey bluegrass feel to Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers”, but elsewhere the trio’s braided, balm-like vocals are mostly delivered purely a cappella, their hums eliding into harmonies on Dolly Parton’s “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning”, and blanketing Emmylou Harris’s achingly beautiful “Boulder To Birmingham”.

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, Young Adult

★★☆☆☆

Download this: VHS Forever; Always

Dusting down his Get Cape persona after several albums under his own name, Sam Duckworth finds the world a tough place to understand on Young Adult. In particular, the realisation is dawning that the comforting delusions of adolescence are little use in confronting the perplexities of adulthood – as he concedes in “Man2Man”, “walking the same old path isn’t quite going to plan”. But it’s altogether too late to be railing against “generational apathy”, as Duckworth does in “Adults”, while his reflections on rejection and incompatibility in songs such as “Always” and “Invisible” hardly profit from being so glumly humdrum. The diluted-pop character of the arrangements doesn’t help, their blandly propulsive blends of guitar and organ failing to rouse interest until he conjures up a burst of retro-electropop fizz for “VHS Forever”, cheesy enough to match the rhyming of “Nietzsche” with “pizza”. But even here, he seems mired in old battles – and as he acknowledges, “what’s a battle cry if it falls on deaf ears?”.

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Edith Piaf​, Edith Piaf

★★★★☆

Download this: Les Trois Cloches; La Complainte Du Roi Renaud; La Vie En Rose; Milord; Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

As with Billie Holiday, there’s a danger that Edith Piaf’s artistry is sometimes stained by the way her own life slipped perilously close to soap opera. In eschewing such overtly melodramatic aspects without diminishing her interpretive gifts, this compilation packs more potency than previous Piaf anthologies, not least for its partial focus on the immediate postwar years of her career, when she was accompanied by the vocal nonet Les Compagnons De La Chanson. Having to share lead duties with the group’s charismatic Fred Mella, and work with their complex vocal arrangements, imposed a discipline which enabled Piaf to draw the most from songs like the hit “Les Trois Cloches” – so much more affecting in its original French than in English covers as “The Three Bells” or “Little Jimmy Brown” – and “La Complainte Du Roi Renaud”, a previously unreleased 1946 recording. A 15th century anti-war song, it demonstrates how Piaf and Les Compagnons could handle not just music hall material but also the complex polyphonies employed in medieval music.

Foy Vance, Live In London

★★★☆☆

Download this: The Wild Swans On The Lake; Free Fallin’; London City; Ziggy Looked Me In The Eye

“Don’t think of tonight as a show,” croons Foy Vance at the start of this Union Chapel show. “Think of it more as watching a man fucking about with music.” Which, while giving some idea of his agreeably droll character, sets up exploratory expectations which his performance doesn’t quite bear out. Featuring his scorched sepia vocals accompanied by solo piano, guitar or ukulele, the tone becomes too repetitive across two CDs, with songs stretched by deep-soul inflections to the point that they drift free of melodies. An opening cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” stands up well to Vance’s extemporisations; but it’s hard to imagine the more polished form of several new songs yet to feature on a studio album, other than to note the melodic echoes of “Desperado” and “Up The Junction” in “And So In Closing” and “London City” respectively. The latter, a more forgiving addendum to his dyspeptic “Closed Hand, Full Of Friends”, is perhaps the best of the new material, while the show’s overall highlight is the closing “The Wild Swans On The Lake”, which best capitalises on Vance’s impassioned delivery.

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