Albums: New music from Gary Barlow, Alicia Keys, Neil Young and Tom Morello
GARY BARLOW – THE DREAM OF CHRISTMAS
THIRTY years into his career, it's a surprise Gary Barlow has managed to avoid recording a Christmas album.
The Dream of Christmas contains a selection of original tracks interspersed with festive standards and a few curveballs.
Surprisingly, his duet with Sheridan Smith is one of the record's weaker moments, with an uninspired chorus and ill-suited horns, while The Colder It Feels with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a delightful piece that somehow recreates the soft touch of snow through soaring strings and voices.
Another surprise comes in the form of A Child's Christmas in Wales, which turns prose from poet Dylan Thomas into a solid duet between Barlow and Aled Jones, whose crystal clear voice is well suited here.
None of Barlow's originals are likely to become seasonal classics, but his light touch works wonders with many of these songs.
ALICIA KEYS – KEYS
ON HER eighth album, Alicia Keys delivers some of her most inventive material in years.
Keys is a fantastic idea: It is two albums, Originals and Unlocked. The former is a suite of piano-led songs that show off her often forgotten virtuosity, while the second side sees her remixing her own tracks like a hip-hop producer.
On side one, the propulsive grooves of tracks like Best of Me and Billions are juxtaposed pleasingly with deep cuts like the atmospheric, swaggering Nat King Cole.
Side two, meanwhile, is more titillating, kicking off with a house music remix of Only You that flips the original on its head, while the alternative version of Love When You Call My Name introduces a classic R&B feel to proceedings.
Elsewhere, there are red hot features from rappers Swae Lee and Lil Wayne.
If this album proves anything, it's that it is possible to be both clever and entertaining.
TOM MORELLO – THE ATLAS UNDERGROUND FLOOD
RAGE Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello is undoubtedly a legend of rock, but until the release of The Atlas Underground Fire in October he was stuck in something of a rough patch.
Recent projects with Prophets of Rage (essentially Rage fronted by members of Cypress Hill and Public Enemy) and as a solo artist have looked back rather than forward.
The Atlas Underground Flood carries the torch of its predecessor while also exploring new avenues. Inspired by The Clash's era-defining 1979 double album London Calling, it is a mish-mash of genres, with Morello taking a back seat and working more as a facilitator than director.
A Radical In The Family, which opens the album, features Dutch DJ San Holo and melds shimmering EDM beats with euphoric synths.
The Bachelor with Bristol band Idles delivers straightforward punk, while Warrior Spirit with Rodrigo y Gabriela is a funky fusion of flamenco and house beats.
NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE – BARN
RECORDED with his long-time backing band Crazy Horse in a 19th-century barn perched high up in the Rockies, this is Neil Young and co in full rustic mode.
The music is loose, sometimes even slapdash, but delivered with the vital energy of a group of 70-somethings back at what they do best.
An accompanying documentary shows the band huddled and harmonising around a piano with only the most minimalist of recording facilities to hand. Their camaraderie, earned over 50 years of making music together, is evident in both the footage and the music itself.
Barn is perhaps the most straightforward of Young's recent work. Tracks like Human Race return to the the environmentalist themes that have characterised his music since his classic 1972 album Harvest, while Shape Of You is a bluesy workout and Change Ain't Never Gonna is a loose exercise in garage rock.
It's stirring, if unadventurous, stuff.