Drake - Views - Island - 2/5
Download this: Still Here; Hotline Bling
Drake’s latest offering isn’t improved by being heard straight after Anohni’s: rarely has one man moaned quite so much about so little. Over 80 interminable minutes, the Canadian rapper appears to find no satisfaction in anything at all: in the opener “Keep The Family Close”, he blubs about someone who “chose a side that wasn’t mine”, the first of an endless litany of autotuned complaints regarding his tiny world of rivals and girlfriends, the latter wooed and warned within virtually the same breath. It’s not completely without merit - some of the backing tracks have a mesmerisingly entropic grip, as well they might, with 14 writer/producers involved in a single track - but the overall effect is utterly wearying, and unpersuasive: after all, only fools waste pity on the wealthy.
Kacy & Clayton - Strange Country - 4/5
Download this: Strange Country; If You Ask How I’m Keeping; Brunswick Stew; Dyin’ Bed Maker
Kacy Anderson and her second cousin Clayton Linthicum irresistibly recall the work of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings on this second album, though the Canadian duo’s distinctive appreciation of traditional folk themes and modes owes just as much to British precursors, Linthicum’s guitar work on the title-track boasting the ebullient spring of Jansch and Renbourn, while the tone of fragility tempered with experience aligns Anderson’s vocal with the likes of Sandy Denny and Anne Briggs. Save for three traditional songs, Strange Country comprises brilliantly-wrought original material haunted by themes of uncertainty, lassitude, jealousy and spite, perhaps most strikingly realised in “Brunswick Stew”, where a pulsing drum lends fatalist momentum to a tragic tale of a pregnant daughter’s shame.
Thomas Cohen - Bloom Forever - Stolen - 3/5
Download this: Honeymoon; Bloom Forever; Country Home
As Thomas Cohen’s first album since the death of his wife Peaches Geldof, it’s inevitable that Bloom Forever should be tinged with tragedy. Any potential sensationalism, however, is dispelled by his decision to present the songs chronologically - so we get the languid “Honeymoon” first, followed by the birth of a son in “Bloom Forever”, before he returns to their “Country Home” to find her body, disarmingly wondering “why weren’t her eyes covered and closed?”. From there, the process of recovery shifts through numbness, melancholy and tentative hope in an admirably straightforward, touching manner that suggests Cohen’s previous tenure in edgy art-rockers S.C.U.M. was another world entirely. As does his musical mode on Bloom Forever, wielding watery vibrato guitars and lilting piano in an appealingly relaxed, retro style that recalls latterday Laurel Canyon laureate Jonathan Wilson.
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers - Live In 1967:Volume Two - Forty Below - 4/5
Download this: Tears In My Eyes; So Many Roads; Greeny; Sweet Little Angel
Recorded covertly in glorious mono by a fan at London clubs such as Klooks Kleek, this vividly atmospheric lo-fi album captures at its best the short-lived version of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers that featured Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, on the cusp of their formation of Fleetwood Mac. Green is clearly the ascendant star here: oozing emotion, his intro to “Tears In My Eyes” displays the touch and sensitivity that set him apart from the journeymen speed-merchants of ‘60s Brit-blues. The tracks are roughly split between Mayall’s organ and bluesharp showcases, band rave-ups like “Please Don’t Tell”, and Green showcases like his signature boogie instrumental “Greeny”: for many punters, this was the first time they were exposed to the blues, and they couldn’t have been in better hands.
Kel Assouf - Tikounen - Igloo - 4/5
Download this: Assoufenam; Europa; Ahile Lamma; Tikounen
It’s hardly surprising that, as a combo congregated in Brussels around Saharan musician Anana Harouna, Kel Assouf should have reached a deeper compromise with Western music than most Tuareg desert-blues outfits. But the results confirm the efficacy of musical crossover: the heavy, stoner-rock groove and stinging guitar of “Europa”, about Harouna’s decade of exile from his homeland, embodies that exile in European modes; while the undulating, spiky polyrhythms of “Assoufenam” sounds like some Beefheartian oddity from Trout Mask Replica, bulging with disciplined joy. Elsewhere, the familiar desert-blues elements - chants, handclaps, keening, and waspish electric guitars - are applied to themes from love and homesickness to camel-racing and identity, in sometimes striking lines: “Give my regards to the revolution/Tell her that she flirts with anarchy”.
Allan MacDonald & Neil Johnstone - The Bruce 700 - Birnam - 4/5
Download this: An Ceapadh Eucorach; The Uprising; Bruce’s March; Lament; Saorsa
Commissioned to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, The Bruce 700 is another crossover work, in this case blending standard orchestration with pibroch, the classical form of bagpipe music. It’s both artful - “The Uprising” punningly follows rising pipe scales - and packed with emotion throughout. The opening “Overture” is moving in itself, but when “An Ceapadh Eucorach” sweeps in, the effect of the massed pipes is quite overwhelming, picking you up by the ears and not letting you down till the closing “Saorsa”, where the massed choirs of Lewis add depth and power to the finale, joining strings, pipes, harp, saxophones, whistles and a huge batterie of percussion to build a Wall of Sound beyond Spector and Hadrian alike.
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