Albums: New music from Silvertwin, Stephen Fretwell, Blondie and Vince Staples
SILVERTWIN – SILVERTWIN
LONDON band Silvertwin mined the best soft rock of the 70s and 80s for their self-titled debut album – with great results.
Like the perfect soundtrack to a sunny drive down a Californian highway, songs like The Night Is Ours and Ploy, which opens the album, combine expansive songwriting with quintessentially British lyricism.
Paul McCartney's Wings, Supertramp and Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra are obvious touchstones on the 10-track effort, but the band also draw on less enduring figures such as Scottish folk-rocker Al Stewart.
Masterminded by songwriter Isaac Shalam and recorded at Electro-Vox Recording Studios in Los Angeles, piano and three-part harmonies take centre stage.
Foxygen's Jonathan Rado brings a deft touch to production, making the band's retro-leaning sound feel fresh and modern.
Silvertwin's debut is warm, nostalgic and downright fun.
STEPHEN FRETWELL – BUSY GUY
ALMOST 15 years ago, Stephen Fretwell put down the guitar to become a stay-at-home dad to his two sons in Brighton.
The Scunthorpe-raised musician was rising fast, having supported the likes of Oasis and Travis, but instead opted for a quiet family life, redoing his A-levels and working at a Wetherspoons pub.
Now, nearing 40 years of age, he has decided to step back into the spotlight with his third album, the sardonically titled Busy Guy – one of the best records of 2021 so far.
Busy Guy manages to combine both the world-weary longing of middle-age and the pent-up musicianship of a man too long away from his guitar.
It sounds like a debut album in all its raw creativity.
If the world is a fair place, it will elevate Stephen Fretwell from cult figure to household name.
VINCE STAPLES – VINCE STAPLES
VINCE Staples has achieved a devoted following despite never having a major hit – in the UK he may be best known for collaborating with Gorillaz on Ascension from the Humanz album.
"I'm a real beach boy" he notes on opener Are You With That, reflecting on his tough upbringing in North Long Beach, a long way from the California dreaming stereotype.
He seldom repeats himself and on this album – his fourth, with 10 tracks clocking in at less than 22 minutes – leaning heavily on G-funk, the laid-back early '90s rap genre pioneered by the likes of Snoop Dog and Warren G, both also from Long Beach, making it ideal for summer listening.
His masterpiece is still to come, perhaps with another full-length album, Ramona Park Broke My Heart, due next year, and while Staples could go anywhere from here, one thing is certain – he'll do it on his own terms.
BLONDIE – VIVIR EN LA HABANA
LIVE music has been mostly absent from our lives.
Instead, live albums have offered much-needed connection to the communal experience that is a rock concert.
In that respect, Vivir En La Habana, which documents Blondie's 2019 trip to the Cuban capital as part of a cultural exchange, fits the bill nicely.
The six-track EP plus its accompanying film catches the band in fine form, bolstered by Cuban vocalists, percussionists and horn players.
Debbie Harry's sometimes temperamental voice holds up and excels on more melodic tracks such as The Tide Is High, where she is joined by members of veteran Cuban rockers Sintesis.
Classic cuts such as Heart Of Glass and Rapture sit alongside newer material like the Spanish-language Wipe Off My Sweat.
Harry's back and forths with an adoring audience help feed the sense of intimacy.
It's transportative and timely stuff. A short, sharp and much needed hit.