Loch Lomond - Dresses (****)
Now in its tenth year of existence, Ritchie Young’s Loch Lomond project has grown and receded through many guises, moving from solo beginnings to become a revolving, multi-headed ensemble with a small orchestra of instruments at its disposal. Fourth album Dresses (Loch Lomond’s second for Chemikal Underground) seems to wheel out every one of them, though never gratuitously; rather, this elegant collection elicits emotions through restraint, deploying strings, brass and the like with moderation.
For the most part, Young’s powerful vocals remain forefront, imbuing songs like Virgin Mountain with a persuasive drama. But credit is claimed just as surely by others present – not least longstanding member Jason Leonard, whose ambient lap steel interludes boost the record’s pronounced cinematic beauty. Other highlights include the haunting choral harmonies of atmospheric opener Bells and the closing trumpet calls of Black Dresses, which supply the record with one final lift to the heavens – a fitting residence.
Out 8th April
Dear Reader - Rivonia (****)
Dear Reader (the nom-de-plume of South African songwriter Cherilyn MacNeil) has named third album Rivonia after the Johannesburg neighbourhood she grew up in. But the record has more demanding lyrical themes than childhood, with the suburb having played a significant role in the country’s unhappy history of Apartheid: it was there, at a farm called Liliesleaf, that several ANC members were arrested, with the subsequent Rivonia trials leading directly to the imprisonment of numerous key figures (Nelson Mandela included).
It’s an ambitious subject to set down in song, but MacNeil finds effortless ways in, tackling politics askance through (imagined) recollections and oblique poetry. The music to which these tales are set, meanwhile, is vivid and puissant, with 26.04.1994 (the date prior to the elections that took Mandela to the presidency) a silvery, soaring highlight and Man of the Book’s dancing, wheezing melodies affirmation of talents finally finding full voice.
Out 1st April
Roddy Woomble - Listen To Keep (***)
The sleeve for Listen to Keep includes a snap of Roddy Woomble relaxing by a fireplace, shoes off and feet up. The music, meanwhile, evidences Woomble’s continued retreat from erstwhile noisiness, entrenching its maker deeper in the warm and familiar folk territories explored on predecessors My Secret is My Silence andThe Impossible Song & Other Songs. In short, not only does the former Idlewild frontman look comfortable on his third solo release; he sounds comfortable too.
This can be taken two ways. If you were to insist on looking for negatives, it’d be relatively simple to make a claim for the album’s pedestrianism, with smooth easy-listening melodies offering few surprises. But comfort needn’t imply complacency. While the components are often stock, their arrangement is consummately considered throughout, with tracks like The Last One of My Kind possessing a pronounced pop bent and housing some of Woomble’s most striking lyrics to date.