Albums: Dubliner Hansard a musical power house
Glen Hansard - Didn't He Ramble
Glen Hansard is a musical powerhouse whose gentle treatment of songs and emotional voice results in a kind of romantic perfection. He is known for his work as part of Dublin group The Frames as well as having taken home the Academy Award for Best Original Song with Czech songstress Marketa Irglova for Falling Slowly from the soundtrack of the film Once.
This album showcases his strong voice – a voice that delivers lyrics with clarity. Grace Beneath The Pines demands total silence to be listened to, Winning Streak has a country vibe and an infectious chorus, McCormack's Wall has an unmistakably Irish feel with a gorgeous traditional instrumental in the second half, while Lowly Deserter has an entirely different sound which is cool, laid back and even a bit jazzy.
Didn't He Ramble is a lovely set of songs that shows Hansard is still very much on form.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Bring Me The Horizon - That's The Spirit
Back in 2006, Bring Me The Horizon were the kings of the scene kids. Known for throaty metal-growls and drunken performances, the five-piece comprising frontman Oliver Sykes, lead guitarist Lee Malia, bassist Matt Kean, drummer Matt Nicholls and keyboardist Jordan Fish didn't exactly have widespread appeal.
Fast forward nine years and they are unrecognisable, with a much softer, alt-rock sound, and a new album that proves Sykes can actually sing remarkably well. Belt-along beauty Drown is so polished, it could have been lifted straight from a Linkin Park album, and Oh No has disco beats and sweet poppy vocals reminiscent of Panic! At The Disco.
Meanwhile, the angst-ridden screams on Happy Song and True Friends prove the group haven't entirely lost their edge. Anyone who dismissed Bring Me The Horizon's music as screamy noise is about to be proved wrong; this is a work of emotional genius.
Duran Duran - Paper Gods
The Mark Ronson-produced long-player, All You Need Is Now, in 2011 saw Duran Duran rediscover their long-lost form, but it gained only plaudits, not commercial success. Paper Gods, their 14th studio album, could well deliver both.
With the help of some choice collaborators, the (still) four-piece band have produced some of their best and most progressive work for decades. Ronson returns to oversee lead single Pressure Off, a highly polished slab of power pop-funk featuring long-time friend Nile Rodgers.
By contrast, the opening, seven-minute title track is a dark, synth-heavy epic which begins with Gregorian chant-like vocals. Just as that production is sinking in, we're hit with Last Night In The City, a full-blown disco stomper in which Simon Le Bon shares vocal duties with Hideaway singer Kiesza.
The most divisive track will be Danceophobia, which features an unlikely voiceover from actress Lindsay Lohan. The stand-out is What Are The Chances?, featuring former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, a beautiful ballad every bit as good as Save A Prayer and Ordinary World, and surely a nailed-on hit.
Kwabs - Love + War
London-born Kwabena Adjepong, better known as Kwabs, first came to public attention in 2011 on the TV show Goldie's Band: By Royal Appointment, a programme that searched for and then coached young talented musicians.
Following three EP releases, his debut album has finally arrived. While a minor hit in the UK, the single, Walk, has been huge internationally and it stomps proudly among a collection full of heartfelt and soul-searching songs with electronic backing and echoes of nineties R&B and eighties soul.
Fight For Love and the gospel-influenced Cheating On Me are highlights on a collection that successfully showcases Kwabs'S outstanding baritone and emotional power as a songwriter.
Beirut - No No No
With the title of Beirut's new album, No No No, you have to wonder what exactly it is that band leader Zach Condon is objecting to. He's created a record with an overall feel-good factor, and on top of that, it's his best yet.
Since an early European adventure exposed the American musician to the sounds of the Balkans, Condon has made his name by getting to the root of a tradition and respectfully incorporating its influence into his own indie sound. Beirut has taken us around the world with a record player, this latest release melding these impressions in a more subtle way.
It's varied but cohesive, flowing from the rhythmic start of Gibraltar, through building instrumentation in As Needed, ending with the tender buoyancy of So Allowed, and taking in many catchy yet perfectly crafted tunes along the way. The feel is upbeat without being overwhelmingly joyful. After listening, the only reasonable reaction is yes, yes, yes.
Chris Cornell - Higher Truth
Chris Cornell seems to have got wise in the past few years. He reformed the band he made his name with, Seattle grunge rock pioneers Soundgarden, who stormed back with 2012's King Animal, and he also seems more sure of himself without them after years of dispiriting collaborations.
There was the actually-not-that-super supergroup Audioslave, and the travesty that was 2009's venture Scream, in which producer Timbaland swamped Cornell's powerhouse voice in all manner of inappropriate hip hop beats and synths.
That voice, with just an acoustic guitar for accompaniment, has recently held thousands of fans in rapture on a world stadium tour which seems to have given the singer the confidence to strip down his sound for latest album Higher Truth.
It is centre stage on these intimate, confessional tales spangled with acoustic guitar, banjo and porch-front plucked blues. It's all surprisingly mainstream. Many of the tracks are so slick and conventional they could make a John Legend album, but that voice, which has seen him survive all kind of career incarnations, still makes Cornell a singular talent.