Album reviews: Bonnie Tyler, Fishermen's Friends, Maverick Sabre, Benjamin Francis Leftwich
Between The Earth And The Stars
THE husky-voiced Welsh chanteuse is celebrating 50 years in the business with her 17th studio release and has called in a few big names. These include three duets and a couple of top songwriters, Amy Wadge and Sir Barry Gibb. The album kicks off with a rocky ballad, Hold On, before the first duet of the set. Tyler has, in the past, been described as a female Rod Stewart, so it is with some irony that she pairs up with him for Battle Of The Sexes. Their voices, as can be imagined, mesh successfully. The next collaboration starts with a very familiar boogie chug, and, lo and behold, the voice of Francis Rossi is heard. If it wasn't for Tyler's vocals, this could almost be a Quo song. Sir Cliff Richard sings on Taking Control, a classic pop number. There is a fair sprinkling of ballads, plus up-tempo songs with country and polite funk flavours. All-in-all this is a fine, mature, album.
Keep Hauling (Official Soundtrack)
IT SEEMS the Fisherman's Friends story knows no bounds. What started out – and, to some degree, continues – as a group of amateur singers belting out shanty songs on a Cornish harbourside has become an unstoppable global success. The latest stage on the journey – following appearances at Glastonbury, at the top of the charts, and on television screens flogging fish fingers – is Keep Hauling, the companion album to the recently-released and widely acclaimed silver screen biopic. For those fairly new to the self-styled 'buoy band', this collection of songs from the sea will be as fresh and authentic as a crab just landed from Cornish waters. Rousing renditions of Trelawny – the Cornish anthem – and folk song Little Lize are joyous, although not every track hits the right mark, particularly the tepid rendition of Fisherman's Blues, originally by The Waterboys. A fun listen, but no match for the real enjoyment of the live show.
When I Wake Up
MAVERICK Sabre quietly retells stories of gritty realism like a man who has stood on the edge on conflict and witnessed it with his own eyes. His soulful vocals weave across lyrical themes from crime and violence to hope, faith and grace, his illustrative songwriting reflecting upon the realities of modern day casualties and inner city crime with sensitivity and sincerity. Such realism is backed by the artists he references in his lyrics – The Stone Roses and Oasis – and some Kasabian-inspired harmonies, music that's the soundtrack to working class British culture, which, in essence, sums up When I Wake Up. There is a slight hint of Motown here and there and some drum'n'bass elements, but ultimately the music is bare and upbeat. Heavy, fuzzy bass, touches of bluesy guitar and cymbals and tambourine set the low tempo, all providing a backing for Sabre's vocal, which always takes centre stage. An optimistic, powerful and uplifting offering.
Benjamin Francis Leftwich
LIFE for York-raised folky Benjamin Francis Leftwich is vastly improved. His previous album, After The Rain, followed a five-year hiatus triggered by the death of his father from cancer. If that album was an act of catharsis, then Gratitude is the singer-songwriter's redemption. Still mournful and utterly beautiful, yes. But Leftwich's voice feels hopeful. On Tell Me You Started To Pray, he sings, "You showed me/I could be/poison free and I now believe", and it's difficult to doubt his almost religious fervour. It's an album soaked through with optimism that proves his voice is as suited to gentle positivity as it is to deep sadness. His vocabulary still focuses on the natural world – a red rose, a forest and a quiet morning. But this time his lush, blissed-out live instrumentation is replaced with more electronics. His usual touchstones (Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, Bob Dylan) are ever-present but with a richer palate of sound to draw on, Leftwich discovers a sonic niche he failed to find before.
SWAGGERING their way into a genre usually characterised by an excess of testosterone, all-female trio Ex Hex's second album is packed with mighty licks and maddeningly infectious tunes that prove that old-school rock is not just for the boys. A little bit of variety is offered up by a couple of New-Wave-inflected tracks (Diamond Drive and Cosmic Cave) but for the most part we're in hair-metal territory. Tough Enough, Rainbow Shiner and Another Dimension are characterised by a sound that's big and brash: booming drums; vocals bathed in echo; guitars thick with distortion. There hasn't been this much shameless riffing packed into an album since The Darkness imploded. Unlike The Darkness, it seems to be delivered without irony. It's rare to hear a modern rock album so unselfconsciously exuberant. In this way, Ex Hex's music might not be cool exactly, but It's Real all right.