Dolly Parton: Run, Rose, Run (Butterfly Records) ****
Stereophonics: Oochya! (Ignition Records) **
The Weather Station: How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars (Fat Possum) ****
Savage Mansion: Golden Mountain, Here I Come (Lost Map) ****
Having encouraged generations of disadvantaged children to read through her Imagination Library book-gifting programme, Dolly Parton has now had a crack at the narrative fiction malarkey herself, co-writing her first novel, Run, Rose, Run with best-selling author James Patterson. It’s another benevolent takeover from the multi-talented country star.
Of course, Parton is no stranger to storytelling – she has been spinning simple but compelling yarns since she started writing songs as a child. Music remains her primary medium de ella so she has composed a song cycle of the same name as an accompaniment to the book, meaning her tale of a young singer / songwriter trying to outrun her past de ella by pursuing a music career in Nashville is jukebox music-ready. Once again, Parton has it covered in her direct but resonant style.
Run, Rose, Run is a vibrant and varied country suite, which dives straight into the action with Run, a lively bluegrass bid for freedom, delivered in Parton’s own freewheeling phrasing. Big Dreams and Faded Jeans is a mid-paced celebration of Nashville’s heritage as a music city with a sweet Kris Kristofferson reference in the lyrics, and Parton pays her own tribute to Nashville royalty by duetting on Demons with Ben Haggard, son of the late, great Merle, who shares his father’s classic country tones.
The helter skelter bluegrass of Driven, with its hectic expression of aspirations, is a work of dark matter (by Dolly standards), while Snakes in the Grass summons the torrid atmosphere of an evangelical revival meeting with its dusty blues rock.
Blue Bonnet Breeze is a great, evocative Dolly title, capturing the romantic nostalgia of this breathy acoustic ballad, which also takes a dark turn. In contrast, Parton showcases her playful character of Ella on the rambunctious Woman Up (And Take It Like A Man) and the lightning bluegrass sass of Firecracker.
Elsewhere, there are Tex Mex and flamenco frills, a totally trad country love duet and a rip-roaring bluegrass party so vivid that it hardly seems necessary to take in Rose’s story in another form, yet whets the appetite for the detail which a novel can bring.
Stereophonics‘twelfth album answers to the cartoony name of Oochya! Apparently, the band bish-bash-boshed it out in seven days instead of releasing a compilation. All credit to them for living slightly more dangerously even if the results are pretty conservative. Oochya! opens well with the brazenly ZZ Top-indebted fuzz blues of Hanging On Your Hinges and is comfortable in its old school references to Free on the earthy blues rocker Running Round My Brain and The Faces on Don’t Know What You’ve Got, but this is hardly the knockout blow suggested by its title.
The Weather Station‘s new “quiet, strange album of ballads” was written around the same time as acclaimed 2021 release Ignorance. How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars is a distinct yet companion piece, recorded live in three days (take that, Stereophonics) just as the Covid pandemic reared its head and put a piquant spin on the song Endless Time.
Frontwoman Tamara Lindemann’s lyrics are captivating throughout, with the natural flow of good prose, like short stories or vignettes set to a soundtrack supplied by a band of Toronto jazz players, who improvised around her singing and playing with delicate but precise results, dappling her mournful piano balladry with mellow woodwind.
Glasgow-based quintet Savage Mansion make confident, dynamic strides on their third album. Golden Mountain, Here I Come flaunts unapologetic guitar solos, glam strutting, testifying new wave rock’n’roll, some prime post-punk saxophone honking from Cate Le Bon collaborator Stephen “Sweet Baboo” Black and a closing eight-minute amble in the low-slung style of Jonathan Richman.
The Sixteen: An Old Belief (CHORUS) ****
It goes without saying that this latest album, An Old Belief, by The Sixteen maintains the a cappella group’s silvery reputation. It includes historic repertoire, ranging from feisty medieval carols and Thomas Campion’s Never Weather-Beaten Sail to a more recent gem, Herbert Howells’ densely moving Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing. Cecila McDowall’s An Unexpected Shore, the first movement in her more extensive Good News From New England, is a refreshing insertion, its cool, languid modalism nestling in conducive company. The most substantial portion of the disc is given over to Hubert Parry’s Songs Of Farewell, which, as a complete set of six motets, goes well beyond the singular familiarity of its opening My Soul, There Is A Country. Harry Christophers’ choristers capture their persuasive, comforting warmth, especially in a version of Never Weather-Beaten Sail that reinterprets Campion’s 17th century strophic simplicity in 20th century terms. Ken Walton
Jim McNeely / Frankfurt Radio Big Band feat. Chris Potter: Rituals (Double Moon Records) ****
Igor Stravinsky, whose centenary falls this year, has long attracted jazz musicians, Scottish pianist David Patrick’s Rite of Spring adaptation for jazz octet a few years ago being a noteworthy example. Here, composer and arranger Jim McNeely pays tribute to the Rite, reworking its sound and syntax into a six-piece suite, Rituals, “in the spirit of Stravinsky”, powerfully voiced by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and American tenor saxophonist Chris Potter. McNeely’s arrangements capture Stravinsky’s dark-toned musical palette. Potter’s sax, as sacrificial voice, sings and rages, while the FRBB woodwind and brass generate suspenseful forest murmurs, slam chords or awe-inspiring thunder: the opening movement, Adoration I, sets the bar high. Beyond McNeely’s suite, tracks by Potter include Dawn, with its animated sax conversation between Potter and FRBB’s Tony Lakatos and Steffen Weber, as well as the magnificent funk of the Wheel. Jim Gilchrist
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.