Kevin Bryan record reviews

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Our resident music expert brings you his latest picks

Willie Nelson,”To All The Girls...” (Sony Legacy)- Willie Nelson may have celebrated his 80th birthday recently but this venerable performer is still delivering albums of the highest quality with a regularity which is little less than remarkable. The octogenarian balladeer’s latest offering is a collection of heartfelt duets featuring country music luminaries such as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris, delivering an object lesson in the art of growing old gracefully with style and integrity. The equally timeless Mavis Staples joins forces with Willie for a fine gospel tinged rendition of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” blessed with some of the supremely economical guitar work which has become another Nelson trademark.

Graham Parker & The Rumour,”Three Chords Good” (Proper Records)- The notoriously intense Mr.Parker won a whole host of critical plaudits for his energised live exploits with musical soul-mates The Rumour during the late seventies,but these rave reviews were never translated into solid record sales and the parting of the ways finally came in 1980,when Graham decided to embark on a new career as a solo performer. The band’s excellent reunion album,”Three Chords Good” first saw the light of day a couple of years ago and is now being re-promoted to tie in with their forthcoming UK tour,giving listeners an opportunity to savour the delights of acerbic gems such as “Arlington’s Busy,” “Coathangers” and “Snake Oil Capital of the World.”

Il Giardino Armonico,”Musica Barocca” (Teldec Records)- Italy’s Il Giardino Armonico are one of Europe’s leading early music ensembles,specialising in performances of 17th and 18th century compositions using authentic period instrumentation. This pleasingly listenable collection finds them tackling some of the most memorable pieces in the entire Baroque repertoire, including Pachelbel’s “Canon,” Albinoni’s “Adagio” and Handel’s “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” to name but a few. Splendid stuff.

“The Forgotten 45s 1957-1959” (Fantastic Voyage FVTD 158)- This fascinating new anthology from the good people at Fantastic Voyage focusses attention on no less than ninety tracks which were released as singles during the late fifties but failed to make any impact on the charts. Classic recordings from the likes of Wilbert Harrison, Chuck Berry and The Silhouettes are all given an airing,and the compilers have also unearthed some interesting obscurities such as Rod Bernard’s “This Should Go On Forever” and a 1959 flop,”Baby Talk” from Tom and Jerry,who would later go on to find fame and fortune in the more familiar guise of Simon and Garfunkel.

Moby,”Innocents” (Little Idiot Records)-Moby’s eleventh album is the electronic wizard’s most collaborative offering to date,with a string of guest vocalists delivering his mostly low-key musings on the vulnerability of the human condition. Cold Specks,Mark Lanegan and The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne all make telling contributions to the proceedings and the latter is in particularly fine fettle on “The Perfect Life,” a rousing singalong throwback to nineties pop and the undisputed highlight of what is otherwise a mildly underwhelming collection.

Audrey Auld, “Tonk” (Reckless RECK014)-This unpretentious performer describes her style as “music with the dirt left on,” and her uncluttered and emotionally direct approach to music-making is certainly one of the most appealing features of the excellent “Tonk.” Audrey may have been born in Tasmania but her decision to relocate to Nashville six years ago has obviously reinforced her passion for old style country fare ,and devotees of Americana and roots music in general would be well advised to lend an ear to fine tracks such as “Bound For Glory,” “Siren Song” or the elegaic “Lonely Town.”

“Vaughan Williams:Symphony No.5” (Decca 478 569 2)- The London Philharmonic’s impressive 1998 performance of Vaughan Williams’ “Symphony No.5” shares centre stage here with archive recordings of three of the compser’s most evocative creations. The “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” and “The Lark Ascending” complete a splendid orchestral package,with violinist Iona Brown rising to the challenge presented by the latter composition ,which consistently tops listeners’ polls to find the most popular classical work in Britain today.

John Foxx,”Metadelic “ (Edsel EDSG 8024)- This wide-ranging three disc set explores the sadly under-appreciated solo career of John Foxx,the pioneering electronic musician who was Ultravox’s original lead vocalist but left the fold shortly before they embarked on their lengthy run of chart successes in the early eighties. The audio content ranges from some pleasingly psychedelic studio concoctions to a series of hitherto unreleased BBC radio sessions and twelve inch single mixes, and the compilers have also found space for a companion DVD showcasing a selection of charmingly dated promo videos and a performance of “Europe After The Rain” culled from one of John’s all too rare appearances on “Top of the Pops.”

They Might Be Giants,”Nanobots” (Lojinx Records LJX058CD)-A quarter of a century may have slipped by since the mildly surreal “Birdhouse in Your Soul” allowed TMBG to enjoy a brief flirtation with the delights of rock stardom but the two eccentrics are still mining the same rich vein of quirkily memorable pop which proved so lucrative for them during those far-off days .John Flansburgh and John Linnell have always been happy to follow wherever their imaginations lead them,and “Nanobots” boasts no less than 25 snappily memorable ditties dealing with such arcane subjects as tiny robots,insect hospitals and combustible heads. “Stone Cold Coup D’Etat” and “Lost My Mind” capture the unashamedly nerdy duo at their brilliant best.

Samantha Fish,”Black Wind Howlin’” (Ruf 1195)- Ruf Records added Samantha Fish to their impressive roster of young blues performers in 2011,and the Kansas City musician repaid the faith that label supremo Thomas Ruf had showed in her by recording an excellent debut album,”Runaway” for the German based operation a few months later. The singer-guitarist’s eagerly awaited follow-up set also finds Fish in particularly fine fettle as she delivers a refreshingly punchy package whose largely self-penned contents run the gamut from the melodic country pop of “Last September” to sassy rockers such as “Kick Around” and the venomous “Go To Hell.”