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Proof that some actresses can make an album to be proud of; CD REVIEWS.

Rock and pop

Scarlett Johansson Anywhere I Lay My Head ***

Bit of a tricky one this. Tom Waits is a genius and Scarlett Johansson is a decent actress, but encouraging an actress-turned-singer crossover is not something anyone should do.

What's next? Li-Lo releasing an album inspired by Leonard Cohen?

Hopefully not. The luscious Ms Johansson has a fantastically husky speaking voice, but there's so much "noise" on this album that sometimes she's a little hard to hear. Still, she does a great job of Song For Jo, and Falling Down, which features a certain Mr David Bowie on backing vocals, is pretty good too.

The title track, however, is the best this album has to offer - it's a true melancholic triumph:

Lucy Corry

Sparks Exotic Creatures Of The Deep ****

Most bands who made 21 albums over nearly 40 years would be sounding pretty stale by now, but Sparks have lost none of the strangeness, sparkle and scale which made This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us so unforgettable. Drawing back a little from the experiments in repetition which made 2006's Hello Young Lovers a little unrewarding for some, they're back to doing what they do best - making very funny songs while being a band only a nincompoop could dismiss as a comedy act. Let The Monkey Drive and Lighten Up, Morrissey are especially fine examples.

Alex Sarll

Jont Supernatural ***

As far as the winding road travels for the weary, acoustic singer-songwriter in search of that higher plain, London-based musician Jont has pretty much covered them all.

The past few years have seen Jont take his magical Unlit nights (gig/house party hybrids that have discovered the likes of Duke Spirit, Adem and Sam Sparro) across America, Europe and now throughout the UK (YouTube is currently enjoying its latest craze, and Jont is its instigator).

Supernatural is the sound of a man who has discovered his inner-self, and portrays it with a real passion and verve. Recent single Candlelit noodles in Velvet Underground territory, while Sweetheart twinkles and coos in splenetic fashion. Marvelously tender and beautifully understated, Jont's way with words and music will make a star of him yet:

Andy Welch

The Ting Tings We Started Nothing ****

It's with no small amount of hype that The Ting Tings' debut album arrives. Listening to We Started Nothing, the pasts of both singer Katie White and programmer/drummer Jules de Martino become glaringly obvious. Salford lass White was a former girl band member who once auditioned to be in Atomic Kitten, while De Martino once wrote songs for George Michael. There's innovation, originality by the bucketload and great vocals from White. When this debut's good, it's about as good as DIY pop gets, all sparse beats and infectious, snarling choruses. When it's bad, it's really not very good, though, with Traffic Light among the worst offenders.

Thankfully, Shut Up And Let Me Go and the title track are so strong, it scarcely matters:

Andy Welch

Various Eurovision Ultimate Party ***

Boasting "the greatest Eurovision tracks of all time", this two-CD compilation is a non-stop doo-wop of tip-top musique pop, from Sandi Shaw's triumphant Puppet On A String to Scooch's air hostess-themed campfest Flying The Flag (For You), which crashed and burned in Helsinki last year. The classics are present and correct (ABBA, Bucks Fizz, Brother Of Man, Cliff Richard...) including all five winning UK entries and four from Ireland's record-breaking victory parade.

Sadly, Cry Baby by Jemini doesn't warrant a mention - pity - nor Bobbysocks' infectious La Det Swinge and Secret Garden's haunting Nocturne. Consequently, the CD falls short of douze points

Damon Smith

Drive By Argument Drive By Argument **

This album, Drive By Argument's self-titled debut, darts between emo, rock and electro in a way that manages to be current and relevant, but at the same time, unique. Despite not being entirely original, either in their formation or in their style, the enthusiasm that they bring to the table manages to shine through in an unashamedly bouncy, frothy melding of influences. While their much vaunted four-to-the-Joor happy hardcore is hardly a brand-spanking new innovation, their splicing of electronica and punk-pop reaps rich rewards. The thrilling pulse of the synthesisers on Dance Like No One's Watching You drop-kicks the rest of the song into life, and former single Sex Lines Are Expensive Comedy is even catchier.

Meanwhile, The Fish Star Fish Eye is an inverted love song that collapses in a wailing squall of electronic despair; by contrast, We Techno Prisoners is the album's poppiest moment, with its nagging guitar hook.

Mark Cook

El Perro Del Mar From The Valley To The Stars ***

Another day, another Swede brings us some bittersweet pop. A contradictory collection of songs that encapsulate the scope of the album title. At once lo-K and mellow but also grand, understated use of orchestral arrangements including trumpets, Jutes, organs and xylophones showcase her impossibly saccharine voice as it weaves in and out of tracks, at times barely audible. El Perro Del Mar is part heartbroken lazy-day jazz chanteuse, as on How Did We Forget and a hazy, hopeful lover on piercing woodwind-led track, Glory To The World. It has a few lose fragments such as instrumental track, Inside The Golden Egg, but overall the album is a poised and charming, if not a little strange, summer soundtrack.

Claire Gilligan

Cazals What Of Our Future? ***

The debut long player from this Londonbased indie five-piece proves them capable of making a decent enough racket, but over the course of an album their pedestrian lyrics and melodies start to drag. It's not all bad though - Somebody Somewhere and Life Is Boring are energetic, spiky pop anthems with enough interesting bleeps and scratches to make them worth a listen for anyone intrigued by the band's status as the first guitar-based outfit to be signed to French dance label fiitsune. For the most part, however, this release is neither distinctive enough to stand out in the post-Libertines indie scene or forward thinking enough to impress fans of Crystal Castles or Klaxons, leaving Cazals with plenty of hard work to do before the release of album number two.

Simon Harker

A.Human Third Hand Prophecy ***

Like the much-hyped new wave of the new wave, A. Human are seeking to sell themselves as cutting edge while covering ground that has already been well walked by others. But that isn't to say their debut album is not a well directed shot in the arm for dance music. Bass-heavy and drenched in shimmering synths, the likes of Zoot Woman and Hot Chip are obvious reference points and the interplay between that crisp, manufactured sound and tangental lyrics from the Antony Hegarty playbook is a canny mix.

Post Post Modern Anxiety Blues looks set to become their wordy signature but although the most hummable, it is by no means the only cut worthy of attention:

Rory Dollard

Amy Winehouse Frank: Deluxe Edition ****

This is the CD that started it all for Camden's most notorious tear away back in 2004, repackaged with 18 added goodies. The album caused a stir when it first hit the streets and singles such as Stronger Than Me and Take The Box still sound as fresh today as they did back then. While Amy's legions of fans will no doubt loathe forking out for the album again, the various early demos, B-sides and live performances will certainly prove tempting. Mr Magic (Through The Smoke) from the Janice Long sessions is perhaps the pick of the newly-added bunch, but even the four remixes tagged on the end make for mesmerising listening.

Nick Howes


Alboran Trio Near Gale (ACT) ****

This Italian band is something of a synthesis in terms of 21st century piano trios. It has the European modern feel of a post-jazz group like est, but also tips its hat across the Atlantic to the Brad Mehldau Trio and their link back to the classic trio of the past, led by Bill Evans. And, in its quiet but nevertheless strong propulsion, it can evoke at times the Tord Gustavsen Trio.

There are classical references in pianist Paolo Paliaga's compositions and playing, but Gigi Biolcati's drumming often has a more African or Indian feel, while bassist Dino Contenti favours the higher counterpoint lines of Evans' bassists Scott LaFaro and Eddie Gomez. A pretty album.

Eric Alexander Quartet

Prime Time In Concert (High Note) ***

We have the Western North Carolina Jazz Society to thank for this live album and accompanying DVD of the performance in April last year.

Alexander is a straight down the line hardbop tenor player with the broad sweep we expect these days. He has David Hazeltine on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums.

Both CD and DVD are taken from the concert, but while the film is continuous, the CD presents some of the material in a different order. The audio is fine but the film is better: smart men in suits, an admirably uncluttered stage, loads of good camera angles, together with really great sound and fine playing. It's all here.

Catherine Russell

Sentimental Streak (World Village) ***

While many modern jazz singers are exploring non-jazz material from rock, blues and folk sources, no one else seems to be exploring quite the same ground as Catherine Russell.

Having been a backing singer for the likes of Steely Dan and David Bowie, she has returned to her roots in New Orleans and her family history - her dad was a friend of Louis Armstrong - to reprise songs first sung by Nellie Lutcher, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter and Pearl Bailey.

I'm Lazy That's All is a particular, languid and sensual beauty. Exemplary backing with Steven Bernstein on slide trumpet and Howard Johnson on tuba among many others.

Peter Bacon


Gabi Lunca Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol 5 (Asphalt Tango Records) ****

Hit play and I dare you to resist the temptation to dance around the room as this Romanian wedding singer and the band led by her husband, Ion Onoriu, on accordion, hurtle through Omul Bun N-are Noroc pushed by the frenetic tzimbali (a kind of hammered dulcimer) rhythm.

Apparently she was out of official favour in the Ceausescu era but was played on the radio in the early morning so her fans would wake early to listen to her before heading for another gruelling day at the factory. She has the quality that Edith Piaf and Amelia Rodriguez have - the sound of hope over adversity. Great stuff.

Peter Bacon


George Weldon conducts Edward Elgar (Somm Records SOMMCD 073) ***

For Midlands music lovers especially, the name of George Weldon (1908-1963), still has many resonances. Just 36 years old when he became the conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra, during his tenure there from 1944 he was immensely popular with audiences and well liked by his colleagues, until political in-fighting led to his premature departure in 1951.

He died young for a conductor, and this well-engineered and well-filled CD of recordings from 1953-4, the first offerings with the London Symphony Orchestra, the last with the Philharmonia, gives us a fresh opportunity to hear a fine musician who has disappeared from view.

In the South (Alassio), according to Elgar "conceived on a glorious spring day in the valley of Andorra", achieves a perfect blend of the joys of nature with recollections of the past. Its forward momentum not as feverishly Straussian as sometimes heard and with time for the Elgarian sequences to be lovingly caressed, while the viola solo in the Canto popolare section has a rapt tenderness that is most affecting before the exhilaration of the Knale whirls us away.

For many of my generation it is Janet Baker who we connect most immediately with Sea Pictures.

It is good therefore to hear this celebrated performance from Gladys Ripley again. Her exemplary diction and judgement of line fill songs such as Sabbath Morning at Sea with grandeur and majesty. Beautiful playing too from the LSO with very English clarinets.

A well-paced account of the Enigma variations concludes these fine performances by a local hero who deserves to find a new audience, as well as delight an older one.

John Gough


Scarlett Johansson; Catherine Russell; The Ting Tings
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 19, 2008
Previous Article:REVIEWS: Full-bodied choir acquit themselves in any language; City of Birmingham Choir Symphony Hall ***.
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