Kevin Bryan record reviews

Our in-house musical maestro Kevin Bryan serves up a selection of the latest releases.

Tom Russell,”Aztec Jazz” (Proper PRPCD 113)- If there was any semblance of natural justice left in this benighted world Tom Russell would have become a star of major proportions long long ago,but this almost criminally gifted singer-songwriter sadly remains a relatively obscure figure despite possessing the sort of richly rewarding back catalogue which would put many of his better known contemporaries to shame.The acoustic balladeer’s latest Proper offering was recorded live in Norway last year and finds Tom sharing the stage with his regular guitarist Thad Beckman and the 25 members of the Norwegian Wind Ensemble as they tackle Mats Halling’s newly minted arrangements of some affecting creations from his recent albums,including “Guadalupe,” “Nina Simone” and “East of Woodstock,West of Vietnam.” Splendid stuff.

Scott Cook, “One More Time Around” (Groove Revival GRP006)- Canadian roots troubadour Scott Cook was earning a living in the rather unlikely setting of a Taiwanese kindergarten when he made the momentous decision to abandon his teaching career and embark on the much more uncertain life of a travelling musician. The past six years have found him roaming the backroads of North America rather like a 21st century Woody Guthrie, releasing the occasional low-key album along the way to delight the growing coterie of fans who’ve been charmed by his beguiling vocals and relaxed finger picked guitar work. “One More Time Around” is Scott’s fourth self-styled “love letter to the world,”and stand-out tracks such as”Pass It Along” and “The Poet Game” should help to win a whole host of new converts over to the Alberta based performer’s refreshingly human cause.

Dr.Feelgood, “Taking No Prisoners” (EMI Records)-Manic guitarist Wilko Johnson’s decision to leave the Feelgoods in March 1977 could easily have hastened the band’s demise but Canvey Island’s finest musical exports stubbornly opted to soldier on regardless.swiftly recruiting John “Gypie” Mayo to fill the gaping void left by Wilko’s departure. This handsomely packaged anthology chronicles Mayo’s four year stint with the supercharged pub rockers in admirable detail ,bringing together live and studio recordings,hitherto unreleased tracks and some interesting videos from the era,including a complete “BBC Sight & Sound In Concert” show from December 1977.

The Proclaimers,”The Very Best Of (1987-2012)” (Chrysalis Records)- The Proclaimers first won the hearts of music lovers across the land with the release of 1987’s “This Is The Story,” a stunning debut set whose sublime fusion of raucous tunefulness and righteous indignation marked out the Reid twins as a uniquely Scottish variant on the Everly Brothers.This new anthology features tracks from each of the Auchtermuchty duo’s nine studio albums but it’s their early offerings which still pack by far the greatest emotional punch,most notably “Sunshine on Leith,” “Letter From America” and their sole U.S. hit,”I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).”

New Order,”Live at Bestival 2012” (Sunday Best Records)- All profits from sales of this triumphant live set will go to the Isle of Wight Youth Trust,which represents a commendable gesture on the part of the current incarnation of New Order. The band were in peerless form at last year’s Bestival shindig as they raided their hugely successful repertoire for gems such as “True Faith,” “Temptation” and “Blue Monday” before closing proceedings with two old Joy Division favourites, “Transmission” and the classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

Slaid Cleaves, “Still Fighting The War” (Music Road Records MRRCD 015)- This Texas based singer-songwriter operates in much the same sort of musical territory as the much better known Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen, highlighting the trials and tribulations of smalltown life in the U.S.of A. with an empathy and perception which is sadly all too rare these days. Cleaves’ meditations on the plight of returning war veterans and factory workers cast adrift by the effects of globalisation are delivered with an intimacy and unaffected charm which should have elevated this unassuming master craftsman to rock stardom long ago,and devotees of superior Americana would be well advised to lend an ear to tracks such as “Texas Love Song,” “I Bet She Does” or “Still Fighting The War” itself.

Big Deal,”June Gloom” (Mute Records)- The follow-up to 2011’s eponymously titled debut set finds this Anglo-American duo exceeding all expectations with a splendid package which blends subtle introspection and soaringly extrovert guitar work in near perfect proportions.Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe have also injected a healthy dose of muscularity into their effortlessly tuneful sound with the addition of a rock solid rhythm section,and the potent new musical hybrid that they’ve created is captured at its most compelling on “Golden Light, “ “In Your Car” and the CD’s powerful finale,”Close Your Eyes.”

The Paul McKenna Band, “Elements”(Greentrax CDTRAX 373)- McKenna and his cohorts have been hailed by discerning pundits as the best folk band to emerge from Scotland during the past two decades.and their third Greentrax album adds to the impressive body of work that this inventive Glaswegian outfit has assembled since they signed to the label in 2006. The contents deliver the familiar blend of captivating original material and solid traditional fare which has helped to cement their reputation during the past few years, including skilfully crafted acoustic gems such as “Lonely Man,” the dramatic fiddle driven narrative of “Michael Hayes” and a heartfelt cover of the great Nic Jones’ deeply poignant “Ruins By The Shore.”

Arcane Roots,”Blood And Chemistry”(Play It Again Sam)- Arcane Roots’ eagerly awaited debut set takes listeners on a voyage of musical discovery as the post- hardcore trio unleash a no holds barred assault on the senses,blending inventively progressive passages with the odd moment of quiet melodic reflection. “Held Like Kites” and the epic “You Keep Me Here” bring together the various disparate elements of Arcane Roots’ vibrant sound most successfully.and the two tracks provide an ideal introduction to one of the most interesting rock albums that I’ve come across this year.

Blues’n’Trouble, “Try Anything Twice” (Moonbeam Music MB012)- No less a luminary than the great B.B.King has apparently hailed Blues’n’Trouble as “ The best white blues band in the world,” and this gritty Scottish outfit have certainly amassed a wealth of experience during their thirty years together,having worked with such giants of the genre as Buddy Guy,Junior Wells and King himself. The band deliver their hard driving version of the Chicago blues with the swagger and bravado which has become their trademark as they revive golden oldies such as Slim Harpo’s “King Bee,” Bo Diddley’s “Cadillac” and the Count Five’s 1966 garage band classic,”Psychotic Reaction” alongside some typically muscular new creations from the pens of guitarist Sandy Tweeddale and soulful frontman Tim Elliott.