Friday, 1 February 2013

reviews: dawn mccarthy and bonnie 'prince' billy, thao and the get down stay down, fuzzy lights,

                                               Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy – What the Brothers Sang 

Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - What the Brothers Sang (***) 
Last year, Dawn McCarthy and Will Oldham channelled their mutual passion for The Everly Brothers into a festive 7” containing a brace of cover versions, fronted by forlorn favourite Christmas Eve Can Kill You. Two months on, a full-length tribute arrives in the form of What the Brothers Sang, in which the duo understatedly refashion thirteen more tracks written or previously performed by the Everlys.

As before, McCarthy and Oldham evidence utmost respect for the material, recognising and keeping sight of what made these songs tick in the first place. There are no radical reworkings here, but rather well-considered reflections of the brothers’ key hallmarks, with vocal harmonies decorously forefront throughout, and a suitably old-fashioned aesthetic prevailing thanks to a dream line-up of consummate old-hand session players. Though marginal in relation to its creators’ larger bodies of work (Oldham’s ample discography especially), the results offer vintage pleasures too handsome to pass by.

Out 18th February

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – We the Common

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down - We the Common (****)

On her third album as Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Thao Nguyen’s nimble genre borrowings pay great dividends. There are touches of porch-front folk on banjo-based sing-along We The Common (for Valerie Bolden); country trail songs on Kindness Be Conceived (a duet with Joanna Newsom); then there's the afrobeat infusions of occasional collaborator Tune-Yards in City’s playful percussion and rolling guitar riff.

Each showcases Nguyen’s manifold songwriting skills and lightness of touch, with her casual ear for melody delivering instant, wide-reaching appeal. Tracks like We Don’t Call (all dancing bass and brass) are warmly familiar on first introductions, but sufficiently multifaceted to hold attentions several listens further down the line – a not inconsiderable feat. It’s not a flawless venture – Holy Roller’s repetitive chorus, for instance, quickly turns leaden – but for the majority of its duration, We the Common conveys a natural charm that’s highly persuasive.

Out 4th February

Fuzzy Lights – Rule of Twelfths

Fuzzy Lights - Rule of Twelfths (***)

Rule of Twelfths refines an aesthetic nine years and three albums in the making, as Cambridgeshire quintet Fuzzy Lights tweak their pastoral-folk-meets-post-rock style without misplacing its most distinctive qualities. The balance now emphatically favours the ‘folk’ half of their portmanteau sound, with fewer noisy crescendos than debut A Distant Voice or successor Twin Feathers, which laid on drama comparatively thick.

Also shifting the parameters are Rachel Watkins’ delicate vocals, more prevalent and centrally placed this time around. The results of this adjustment are mixed, with her soft timbre working beautifully on bewitching single Summer’s Tide, but sounding listless on tracks like Second Skin – a gossamer lullaby boasting the album’s prettiest string parts, but not enough else. Yet attention-grabbing flashes of inspiration – such as the distorted guitar that enlivens The Hour’s close, or the rapid violin that interrupts Blind’s mantras – ensure that, minor qualms aside, Rule of Twelfths is a beguiling success.

Out 4th February

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