Nancy Elizabeth - Dancing (***)
Arguably her most elaborate offering to date, Nancy Elizabeth’s third album Dancing pushes the Lancastrian singer-songwriter’s neo-folk muse into freshly baroque territories. It shares with predecessors Wrought Iron and Battle and Victory a nuanced atmosphere pitched between maudlin and inspiriting, while further continuity is provided by Elizabeth’s lyrical flair, with words given extra resonance by her seraphic tones.
But where in the past her simpler songs were afforded ample space to bloom, Dancing is marked by busier arrangements – diminishing a key strength, though luckily introducing others in its stead. While piano remains her base instrument, it’s rarely left to carry a song; for instance, The Last Battle’s gothic beauty stems from rippling harp flourishes, while Heart is buoyed by brooding snippets of synth. But most often, the crucial component in these compositions is a rich cloud of layered vocal sighs, which swoop and soar to hypnotic – if not always singular – effect.
Three Blind Wolves - Sing Hallelujah for the Old Machine (***)
Right back to his solo days as a fixture in Glasgow’s live listings, Ross Clark has been an attention-grabbing performer. Back then, his noticeability was partly down to the spirited manner in which he conducted his live sets, but now more than ever, it’s the songs that turn heads – well, that and his expert Telly Monster impression, as rolled out in Sex is For Loser’s opening lines.
Their honking delivery sees Clark’s mannered style exceed its reach and tumble close to self-parody, but thankfully it’s an isolated incident, with his craggy vocals otherwise bracingly emotive (on the likes of Edgar’s Church) and rousingly vociferous (particularly so across Honey Fire’s grizzled expanse). Musically, too, things have upped a gear since last the Wolves convened on record, with the second half of their ostensible ‘country-rock’ pigeonhole now more forcefully underscored, and tracks like In Here Somewhere evincing the confidence with which they currently operate.
Magic Arm - Images Rolling (***)
Magic Arm is more or less the work of one man, who uses magic hands (plus a heap of helpful gadgets and instruments) to craft impressively full-bodied recordings from the comfort of his own home. Marc Rigelsford’s 2009 debut Make Lists, Do Something drew favourable and justifiable comparisons to Beck for its tendency to sandwich ideas and genres together with playful nonchalance, though a side effect of its scattered tactics was the occasional lame appendage – something which second album Images Rolling rectifies, albeit at the expense of filing away some of its creator’s idiosyncrasies.
Yet even with quirks depleted, enough pleasing left-turns pepper the album’s flow to keep things interesting, with Put Your Collar Up’s high-drama opening section breaking into a warmly familiar indie-pop canter; the woozy drift of Warning Signs introducing a gently psychedelic strand; and Lanes delivering a whimsically skewed suite of strings and echoed vocals.