Albums: Laura Marling, Ed O'Brien, Jerskin Fendrix and Ron Sexsmith
Song for Our Daughter
THREE years since Grammy Award-nominated Semper Femina, the cream of British folk returns with another album to delight the scene. Fans of Laura Marling will know how difficult it is to listen to her dulcet crooning without being delighted, but for those not versed in the 30-year-old's work, this new record is as good a place to start as any.
From the feet-stomping rhythm of Strange Girl to the thoughtful reflection of Fortune and the album's title track, considered and bright acoustic guitar accompanied by stirring drums and rich strings respectively, this is another perfect example of why Marling is so highly regarded.
More pensive than upbeat, the album is another lyrical masterpiece which rewards the attentive listener in new ways each time you play it.
RADIOHEAD'S Ed O'Brien – or EOB – is an unlikely solo star: the guitarist's role in Radiohead has always been well and truly in the shadow of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. With that in mind, O'Brien's debut record Earth is undoubtedly an intriguing listen.
Lead single Brasil starts off sounding like a twee acoustic ballad but soon evolves into something altogether bolder. There is, admittedly, a lot of Radiohead in there: both literally in the form of bandmate Colin Greenwood's driving, inexorable bassline, but also stylistically, in the brooding, reverb-heavy guitar. But it's also set over a pulsing samba beat with more than a passing resemblance to Doves' There Goes The Fear.
Opener Shangri-La has shades of Gomez and Primal Scream and, after a fairly drab middle, Earth culminates with Cloak Of The Night, a gorgeous folk duet alongside Laura Marling.
JERSKIN Fendrix is a classically trained pianist and violinist associated with cult bands Black Midi and Black Country, New Road and South London musical institution/boozer the Brixton Windmill.
After a few singles and an experimental opera at the V&A Museum, the Cambridge University graduate releases his debut album, named after a Schubert song-cycle.
It began as a New York-based break-up album and opener Manhattan starts with gentle piano before heavily treated vocals kick in with mournful keyboards, then a sudden uptempo lurch, ending with insistent electric guitar and the refrain "I guess I wasn't good enough for...". There's about four songs in one, and Fendrix is only just getting started with his avant-garde take on electronic pop.
Onigiri is different again, autotuned vocals with chunky synth chords interspersed with what sounds like a xylophone, while Last Night In New York starts with an ominous low rumble as treated vocals plead "would you wait for me".
Scared of repeating himself but not of seeming pretentious, there are more ideas packed into every track than some artists manage in a career. The "everything but the kitchen sink" approach won't be to everyone's taste, with I'll Wait For It especially histrionic.
But there won't be a more ambitious debut album all year, and those prepared to listen with no preconceptions will find this modern day Renaissance man richly rewarding.
THE problem with being prolific is ensuring the quality never drops off. It's an issue even Dylan has struggled with across a 38-album career (remember 1970's Self Portrait or 1985's Empire Burlesque?)
But like Dylan, even at his most laissez-faire the perennial Canadian troubador Ron Sexsmith is capable of turning out a few choice tracks. Hermitage features a few of these but not enough to achieve lift-off.
It is the 56-year-old's first album since moving from his long-time home of Toronto to a more rural life in Stratford, Ontario, and marks his 25th year in the game.
On album opener Spring Of The Following Year, Sexsmith channels White Album-era Beatles, while Is It Or Isn't It? recalls the brighter moments of Van Morrison's back catalogue.
Sexsmith delivers a suite of melodious, gentle compositions, bulked out with breezy guitar solos and piano, all recorded in his living room. A devoted follower might find something of interest here, but for most a single listen will suffice.