Peter Doherty & Frédéric Lo: The Fantasy Life of Poetry & Crime (Strap Originals) ****
Steg G: Surface Pressure (Powercut Productions) ****
Franz Ferdinand: Hits to the Head (Domino) ****
Could we be looking at a happier chapter in the rollercoaster biography of Pete – sorry, peter doherty? The charismatic but chaotic Libertines and Babyshambles frontman has been clean of his heroin addiction since pre-pandemic and these days his visits to prison are in aid of others’ rehabilitation – last year, at HMP Barlinnie prisoners were invited to sketch Doherty and their portraits were exhibited alongside his own artworks in Glasgow.
Doherty has always been a prolific creator but there is something particularly pleasing and organic in his latest collaboration. He has teamed up with Paris-based composer and songwriter Frédéric Lo, who supplies the classy soundtrack to lyrics Doherty wrote in lockdown during his longest period of sobriety in 20 years.
The duo worked spontaneously in Normandy, with Doherty responding to Lo’s romantic music and the local landscape. The results are a reminder that when Doherty is good, he is very, very good, but he has an elegant sparring partner in Lo. The Fantasy Life of Poetry & Crime nods to Lo’s French forebears Serge Gainsbourg and Jacques Dutronc, with a similar baroque pop sensibility to Jarvis Cocker’s recent Chansons Ennui or Alex Turner’s stint in The Last Shadow Puppets.
Doherty sounds relaxed rather than louche, and more naturally tuneful than he has been for a while, as he settles in against the filmic strings and mournful brass of L’orchestre de la Garde républicaine on the title track, inspired by Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupine novels .
Closer to home, Doherty pays tribute to a late friend on the folky ode Abe Wasserstein and to the artisan history of his Whitechapel/Brick Lane stomping ground on The Glassblower, which teams sonorous guitar with harpsichord. He alludes to his addiction troubles from him on The Monster and sings about walking the tightrope of sobriety on the breezy bubblegum pop of You Can’t Keep It From Me Forever with a simplicity of sentiment once characteristic of Morrissey.
The casual shuffle and wheeze of melodica and harmonica on Keeping Me On File recalls another prolific peer, Damon Albarn, while Rock & Roll Alchemy could be a commentary on his collaboration with Lo, whose twanging guitar and lovely brass arrangement put the wind in its sails .
Doherty also plays with pandemic imagery on The Epidemiologist and torch song confessional Yes I Wear a Mask and is upfront about missing the madness of gigs on closing piano ballad Far From the Madding Crowd – an enforced absence he will remedy soon enough this spring.
Glasgow-based hip-hop producer Steg G completes his Govan trilogy, commissioned by the Glasgow Barons community orchestra, with Surface Pressure, a post-COP26 call to environmental action which invites ten guest Scottish rappers such as Solareye, Conscious Route and Paisley MC Empress to rhyme and ruminate on the climate crisis and its ill effects on this riverside burgh.
On The Rise and Fall, rapper Jam imagines a post-apocalyptic Govan which is “ready to die…the Clyde runs dry” over an elegant electronic ebb and flow and twinkling keyboard hook. Respek BA is in a similar doom-laden horror film soundtrack mood on The Point of No Return, while Scottish Album of the Year Award winner Nova Scotia the Truth opts for a mournful, soulful trip-hop-influenced response on Hope and Despair.
Franz Ferdinand look back and forward on their compilation album, Hits to the Head, which concludes its chronological pop odyssey with two buoyant new tracks, featuring new drummer Audrey Tait. Curious is Franz in flinty, funky gear, while Billy Goodbye – who sounds like he could be related to FFS character Johnny Delusional – is an exultant glam stomp, which deserves to be accompanied by one of those retro-futuristic camera effects you used to get on 1970s Top of the Pops episodes.
Eden: Joyce DiDonato (Erato) *****
Joyce DiDonato’s latest album, Eden, opens on the eeriest of notes – a version of Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question that replaces the solo trumpet with the American mezzo soprano’s mystical, wordless vocalisation. It sets the scene for a program intended as a reset after Covid, or as she puts it, “a vivid musical exploration through the centuries to remember and to create a new Eden from within.” But my goodness, how the Ukraine catastrophe suddenly throws new light on that. Nonetheless, a glowing optimism shines through these performances with the SCO’s Russian conductor Maxim Emelyanychev and the original instrumental ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro. As well as a warmly-spun premiere recording of Rachel Portman’s The First Morning Of The World, the repertoire ranges from ebullient Renaissance and irresistible Handel (Ombra mai fù) to Wagner and Copland. It’s every bit as good as these musicians’ engaging Edinburgh International Festival performance last year. Ken Walton
Barry Reid: Breathing Space (Rose Croft Records) ****
Melling traditional instruments with electronic grooves and synthesisers that flow with the landscape and weathers of the Highlands, this debut solo album from multi-instrumentalist Barry Reid celebrates place as well as emergence from lockdown. In the opening Better Days, Reid’s strathspey-ish guitar melody rides pulses and woody percussion. The title track sees jubilant guitar sounding from groves of twiggy-sounding shakers, muttering bass and electronic percussion, fading to bird song. Elsewhere Reid is joined by fiddlers Laura Wilkie, Innes Watson and Lauren MacColl, flutist Hamish Napier and whistle player Ali Hutton. Wilkie’s bowing dances over dark-toned chimes and washes in The Unknown, while Napier’s flute threads through the restless keyboards and beats of If Six Was Twelve. Occasionally the ceaseless percussion can become metronomic, but there is exhilaration too, as in Shifting Baseline, MacColl’s fiddle flying across keyboard contours that do indeed shift and change. 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.