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Wide open spaces; MUSIC CD REVIEWS.

AMERICANA

Jeff Talmadge - At Least That Much Was True (CoraZong Records)

****

Just like Boston and the northeast of the USA seems to produce great folk musicians, so Texas also has its share of really talented folk/blues/country singers and writers.

Jeff Talmadge is one such singer and his latest offering confirms his talent for great story-based songs based around melodies that lodge themselves in your consciousness.

His latest CD, his sixth, is made up of ten originals plus a cover of Bob Dylan's Girl From The North Country. Sung in a voice that can only be described as a whisky soaked growl, there are echoes of John Prine, Townes Van Zandt and the aforementioned Mr. Dylan.

Accompanied by some of the finest musicians that Nashville and Austin have to offer, this is a worthy addition to the Americana/roots canon.

Alistair Moock - Fortune Street (CoraZong Records)

****

Anyone who is a fan of Peter Mulvey or Kris Delmhorst should check out this very good CD.

Produced by long-time Mulvey associate, David Goodrich, and featuring Delmhorst on backing vocals, Fortune Street is Alistair Moock's fifth album.

Ten self-written songs, including the stunning Cloudsplitter, the story of John Brown and the Civil War, make this an almost old-fashioned folk record.

It's edgy and adventurous, a very personal expression of Moock's obvious talent. Roll On (Song For Anne Marie) is a tale of loss beautifully played with delicacy and pathos, followed by the quirky One Way To Heaven.

Inneke23 and The Lipstick Painters - Elephant Crossing (CoraZong 255094)

****

A totally new name to me - apparently this is the debut album from Inneke23 and her band The Lipstick Painters who are based in Belgium. It's a really varied album with ten original tracks and covers of Bob Dylan's Oh Sister (renamed Oh Brother) and Lucinda Williams's I Envy The Wind.

The opening three tracks are quite poppy and happy-go-lucky and mix well with the more aggressive tracks like Hate Song which betrays Inneke23's punk background.

Listen carefully and you'll hear bits of Steve Earle, Gillian Welch and Emmylou.

Alison Krauss - A Hundred Miles Or More (Rounder Records)

****

This is an album that reeks quality with the usual attention to detail that characterises Krauss's work. The 16 tracks, running close to 70 minutes, are made up of songs recorded for projects outside her usual Union Station band, covering film work (two tracks from Cold Mountain), tributes (to the Louvin Brothers) and guest spots on other albums (Natalie McMaster and John Waite).

The opening two tracks are absolute gems -a beautiful version of Don Williams's Country Boy followed by Simple Love written by Sarah Siskind. Her version of Down To The River To Pray from the Oh Brother film is just wonderful, with accompaniment from the First Baptist Choir of White House Tennessee - and what a joyful noise they make.

Chris Field

ALTERNATIVE

Lucas - Skeletons and the Kings Of All Cities (Ghostly Records)

****

Lucas is named after a small town in Kansas, "where the Garden of Eden is", according to Skeletons ringleader, Matt Mehlan.

This is perhaps appropriate; not because of any paradise allegories, but because there is definitely something other-worldly about it.

The album may also have one foot on the other side, however, because for all the airy moments that makes you think it may float away from your grasp at any given moment, the somewhat deranged vocal arrangements lead you to conclude that there's something almost disturbing about Lucas at times.

This is immediately apparent from opener What They Said with its warped Give Peace A Chance-like chant over some handclapping in an odd time signature that 70's prog gods Gentle Giant would have been proud of.

Fake Tits has a more conventional melody over its busy early 1980s beat, whilst Hey W'happens opens with elephant-like noises that inspired startled looks from shoppers as I drove into my local supermarket with the windows wound down.

Pick of the crop though has to be Don't Worry which opens with an almost African feel punctuated by some Stax-like stabs from the horns, before things quieten down with Mehlan's soft, gloomy vocals at the fore, only for everything to suddenly explode. It's ten minutes of pure unbridled ambition.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the album peters out slightly after this, although the closing two tracks, the repetitive keyboard driven Sickness and Push 'im Out, with its nightmare jazz funeral feel, end matters on a suitably interesting high.

It might need more than a few listens to fully engage, but there's more than enough to reward your perseverance here.

Keith Astbury

JAZZ

Kurt Elling - Nightmoves (Concord)

*****

You'd be hard pressed to find a more complete jazz singer than Kurt Elling. He handles the standards with grace and aplomb, mixes them in with more modern material and as a lyricist and master of vocalese (improvising lyrics as well as melody) he brings new insights to old classics.

Nightmoves has a theme suggested by the title, starting as it does with the title track (a Michael Franks tune) and ending with the spellbinding I Like The Sunrise.

If the Franks is the weakest material on the album, Elling still turns it into something special, and guest soloist Bob Mintzer adds the cherries.

Betty Carter's Tight is a witty follow-up and then we are into the first of the medleys.

Like his only other rival in the male jazz category (and probably one of his heroes) Mark Murphy, Elling is a master of combining two tunes into one. On this disc he blends the standard Change Partners and the bossa classic If You Never Come To Me, and later on he prefaces In The Wee Small Hours with Leaving Again, his own lyrics to a Keith Jarrett improvisation.

The vocalese highlight is an amazing ten-minute romp through Body & Soul, and the finale, the aforementioned I Like The Sunrise adds his own lyrics, inspired by a 13th century Persian poet and the veteran Chicago tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, to an obscure Duke Ellington melody.

Wondrous instrumental support from his own trio, some lovely arrangements by Fred Hersch, and truly inspiring vocal performances by Elling make this one of my albums of the year, and the best jazz vocal album I have heard in, oh, decades.

And the good news continues - Kurt Elling is appearing with the BBC Big Band in the refurbished Town Hall as part of its opening season. You can book now.

Claire Martin - He Never Mentioned Love (Linn)

****

Another fine singer and possibly her best album yet. Martin was originally going to call this album Slowly But Shirley, a pun recognising that Shirley Horn, the inspiration behind this project, was mistress of the scarily slow tempo.

Claire keeps things pretty stately of pace herself, though she can't resist a little speed on Forget Me and Everything Must Change, to mention just two.

She is far too classy and individual a singer to do an imitation of Horn, but what she does do is keep her vocals here close the microphone and breathier than she has in the past.

It is that intimacy and cool of Horn's that has rubbed off here.

Fab band, with the irrepressible Gareth Williams on piano, rock-solid Laurence Cottle on bass and fleet of stick Clark Tracey on drums.

Guests include Gerard Presencer on flugel-horn and Jim Mullen on guitar.

Iain Ballamy's Anorak - More Jazz (Basho Records)

****

The tenor saxophonist with the tone like no other has mixed Indian music into his jazz, worked in a folk context with June Tabor, played in countless bands of varying sizes since his early days in Loose Tubes, and made more than a few good records under his own name.

The title of this one feels like a sop to those who have been longing to hear some straight-ahead acoustic pure jazz from him.

That's just what you get here. All original compositions apart from the opener - an ear-opening version of My Way - there is loads of four-four swing, bags of powerful improvising, and very little fanciness in arrangements.

Again, Gareth Williams is at the piano, pushing the whole band (Orlando Le Fleming on bass and Martin France) to new heights of energy and hardness of swing.

Generous playing by all, especially the leader who, with his compositions, nods to his inspirations, from Coltrane to Dudley Moore, Alan Skidmore to Ella Fitzgerald.

Peter Bacon

CAPTION(S):

Has Kurt Elling made the best vocal jazz album in a decade? You better believe it...
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 11, 2007
Words:1411
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