Album reviews: Jack White | HoraceAndy | Wet Leg | Calexico


Jack White PIC: Paige Sara

Jack White: Fear of the Dawn (Third Man Records) ****

Horace Andy: Midnight Rocker (On-U Sound Records) ****

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Wet Leg: Wet Leg (Domino) ****

Calexico: El Mirador (City Slang) ****

It has been four long years since the habitually prolific Jack White has released an album – anyone would think we were in the middle of a global pandemic. Thankfully, the blue bequiffed one has not taken his hand off the tiller and will be landing two new solo albums this year.

Entering Heaven Alive, described by White as a folk album, will appear in July but the first blast in his popcorn double feature, Fear of the Dawn, is White in more familiar yet all-over-the-map unfettered rock territory. The Detroit-bred, Nashville-based music maven is fluent in many musical languages, and flits around freely, often within the space of one song.

Hair-flailing comeback track Taking Me Back applies a chunky fuzz riff to its classic rock groove before launching into prog rock keyboards with funk trimming and a shuffle in the rhythm. Yup, Jack White will always get bored before his listeners do.

Horace Andy PIC: Micheal Moodie

There is zero fat in this feast. The title track is a two-minute sprint, firing off further fuzztastic metallic riffola, while The White Raven keeps up the pugnacious punky pace.

But the relentless momentum is no impediment to playful embellishments. Hi De Ho is one of White’s periodic entertaining follies with mountainous drums and powerful devotional ululation giving way to a pithy, sinewy bassline, silvery synth arpeggios and a rap. Among other eccentric highlights, Eosophobia oscillates between a dub reggae rhythm and freewheeling Cream-style blues rock, with a vampiric White unleashing some solar voodoo: “the sun goes down when I tell it to, but the sun comes up when it wants to” . After this full-on encounter, you might need to lie down in a darkened room.

Cherished reggae icon Horace Andy is one of Jamaica’s most soulful voices, nicknamed Sleepy for his easy style, which is captured in splendid spirit on new album Midnight Rocker by dub producer Adrian Sherwood, backed by his On U Sound band including Tackhead’s Skip McDonald and Doug Wimbish.

The mournful wheeze of melodica, gentle reggae sashay and cautionary lyric of Easy Money sets the bittersweet tone. A sage message of prudence runs through the album. The cost-of-living blues number Materialist guards against the temptations of peacock displays. Watch Over Them is a reggae prayer against the seduction of violence and Today is Right Here beseeches us to live in the moment.

Wet Leg PIC: Hollie Fernando

Andy is probably best known in the UK as Massive Attack’s most longstanding featured vocalist so it’s a treat to hear his wall-back version of their classic single Safe from Harm, originally sung by Shara Nelson, with prowling bassline intact but divested of the lavish strings. .

Isle of Wight chums Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers formed Wet Leg in 2019 with the laudable aim of writing songs that are funny, and hit paydirt when deadpan debut earworm Chaise Longue became a viral hit last year. Their self-titled debut album fleshes out their offbeat vision with the rhythmic insouciance and droll sentiments of Ur Mum, the springy lo-fi punk chant Oh No (“you’re so woke, Diet coke”), and Supermarket’s low-slung rumination. on the flush of new romance, proclaiming “I want to shop until I’m weak at the knees.”

US border country duo Calexico are keen exponents of frictionless trade, easily straddling musical cultures on their tenth album, collaborating again with the brilliant Guatemalan vocalist Gaby Moreno on the Latino prowl of the title track and Sam Beam of Iron & Wine on the mellow, freewheeling Tex-Mex Crosby, Stills & Nash stylings of Harness the Wind. Cumbia Peninsula is equal parts mariachi and Morricone and elsewhere they employ vibrant mariachi horns, stylish salsa and soft desert rock in their evocative soundtracks.

Beethoven: Piano Concertos, No 5 & “No 0” (Naxos) ****

Beethoven wrote two piano concertos in E flat, but only one of them features among the official five. The known one is, of course, the composer’s last, the “Emperor”. But as soloist Boris Giltburg demonstrates in a quirky pairing on this disc, performing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and conductor Vasily Petrenko, in addition to his “Emperor” the young Beethoven composed a genre prototype, Concerto “No 0”. Its skilled infancy – despite the lack of an extant orchestral score, so it’s just a piano solo here – is crisply captured by the Moscow-born pianist. The real draw, however, is inevitably the later concerto, which Giltburg presents with powerful urgency and panache, urging Petrenko and the orchestra to align, which they purposefully do. Yet there is also a penetrating richness and delicacy in the opening movement, which prepares us for the golden serenity of Giltburg’s Adagio and the ultimate volcanic thrust of the Finale. Ken Walton

Iona Lane: Hallival (Own Label) ****

Time and tide wash through this debut from young singer-songwriter Iona Lane. Yorkshire-raised, her Scottish holidays kindled a passion for nature which infuses her songs, delivered in a light, melodious voice and with engaging conviction, richly accompanied by her own guitar, Mia Scott’s warm-toned fiddle, bassist Jay Taylor, drummer Louis Berthoud and Sol Edwards on keyboards. The opening Western Tidal Swell, featuring guest vocals from Jenny Sturgeon, eloquently sets the tone, inspired by the Isle of Rum, with its titular volcanic plug of Hallival. Also memorable is Mary Anning, celebrating that too often overlooked doyenne of Victorian fossil collectors. The totemic peak of Schiehallion is celebrated for its historic role in calculating Earth’s density, flowing with guest harp and fiddle from Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl. Not as successful is Mermaid, with its labored Middle-Eastern-style intonation, but the joyful invocation of May You Find Time is convincingly heartfelt. Jim Gilchrist

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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