Album reviews: John Coltrane, Jim James, Gorillaz, Johnny Jewel, Sons Of Bill
Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album
A NEW Coltrane album? The prospect provokes reverence – but this has too much life in it to be a sacred relic. The product of one 1963 session, this collection would be worthwhile for Untitled Original 11383 alone – an urbane 12-bar transfigured by Coltrane's modal melody, his nightingale flourishes and the sheer freshness of this quartet's chemistry. Jimmy Garrison's (unusually, bowed) bass solo soon sees the other players shutting up entirely. The clarity and punch of these unreleased recordings situates us right in the studio. A delicious Slow Blues sees drummer Elvin Jones itching to raise the tempo until he gets his wish five minutes in, his powerful and good-humoured soloing makes closer One Up One Down incendiary, McCoy Tyner's piano steals the show in Untitled Original 11386. Though a couple of standards feel inessential, this collection is a welcome window on to a magisterial quartet and the liberality of its leader's genius.
MY MORNING Jacket frontman Jim James returns with his third solo album, Uniform Distortion, hot on the heels of his recent covers EP Tribute To 2. The Kentucky native, who left the Bluegrass behind and found his muse within the dirty garage rock of the late 1990s, has gone all-out in his latest album. Uniform Distortion is an example of raw garage rock as you would hear it in the suburbs of a typical small American town. There is feedback and tonal changes. None of the live griminess has been lost in post-production, and there is something satisfying about hearing the music affected by the surroundings in which it is played. Overall what James has created is a piece of work that questions modern life – is what we have now everything it is cracked up to be? This is at the forefront of the bouncy Out Of Time. No Secrets has more than a passing resemblance to Fleetwood Mac's Dreams, and the amused crack in his voice on Elvis Costello-eque Yes To Everything is just joyful., A wonderful listen.
The Now Now
IF LAST year's Humanz felt akin to a wild, star-studded house party, Gorillaz' uncharacteristically swift follow-up The Now Now soundtracks the hard core who made it through to sunrise. Gone (with the notable exceptions of Snoop Dogg and George Benson) are the head-turning cameos and frantic pace of the record's predecessor, in comes a mellower mix of mid-paced electronica, house, disco and funk. But surely the most notable difference is the return of Damon Albarn to front and central position throughout. Few could argue that's a bad thing, and while The Now Now lacks some of the outright bangers on Humanz, it certainly hangs together better as a collection of songs. That's not to say it isn't eclectic: Idaho is an understated weirdo-country ballad that could easily have sat on Blur's Think Tank, and it's a mark of Albarn's virtuosity and songwriting prowess that the sun-kissed house of Lake Zurich sits perfectly alongside it. Closer Souk Eye is perhaps the highlight of the bunch – starting with a simple calypso beat and gentle guitar refrain and slowly building in to a burning, hulking ball of pop mass that makes it impossible not to hit repeat.
Themes For Television
THEMES For Television is partially ironic title for this extensive collection of previously unreleased music from the prolific Johnny Jewel. Although they were not specifically commissioned for the TV show, his peculiar brand of quirky, atmospheric and faintly creepy electronica proved a perfect fit for last year's revival of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Windswept And Shadow, alternative versions of which appear here, will be particularly familiar to fans of that series as being a major part of its distinctive sonic landscape. Although Ruth Radelet of The Chromatics provides vocals on the melancholy Saturday (Evening), most of the tracks are instrumentals with a distinctively 1980s, synthesiser-heavy sound. They range in mood from the brooding Red Curtains, to the hypnotic Infinity Room and the gentle, childlike Breathless. All of the album's 21 tracks are compelling. It would be no bad thing if one day all television shows sounded like this.
Sons Of Bill
Oh God Ma'am
IF YOU'RE searching for the perfect soundtrack to a sedate drive down some sun-scorched motorway, look no further. Named after band members James, Abe and Sam Wilson's country musician and university professor father, this album is a fat slab of country rock that doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. It gets off to a slightly stalled start with slow-burning, piano-driven opener Sweeter, Sadder Fade Away. Second track Firebird '85 sets the tone for the remainder of this record. Its shimmering, reverb-ladden lead guitar sounds like it could be crackling out of a truck's radio sometime in the 1980s. The band don't change gear again until the final track, meaning the record does feel very "samey". Signal Fade offers a darker tone. James Wilson's southern drawl adopts a tormented quality during its foreboding verses. While never offensive to the ears, Sons Of Bill often fail to arrest the listener's attention on a journey that rarely diverts from the middle of the road.