Tim Burgess - Oh No I Love You
Charlatans front-man and part-time DJ Tim Burgess has released two solo albums, the first I Believe in 2003 was a warm, charming and spirited attempt to break away from the then well-established Charlatans formula. The band were an important part of the Manchester scene, with the brilliant albums Between 10th and 11th, Up To Our Hips and Tellin' Stories (to name the best three from the five great albums the band made in the 90s), and have never quite reached those heights since. So nearly ten years after his solo début, Burgess is back with Oh No I Love You. Anyone expecting a Charlatans album will be disappointed, and should be. Burgess uses his solo work as an outlet to try different things, and unlike I Believe, which is largely straight-forward and uncluttered, this second album is a mix of styles and sounds. This is mainly due to the collaboration with Lambchop's Kurt Wagner and a host of other musicians including My Morning Jacket. From the big lead single and opening break-up song White, all cool retro keyboards and brass section, to the sad, croaky, six and half minute ballad A Case For Vinyl, to the love-lost downbeat electro-pop The Great Outdoors Bitches, this is both sublime and compelling. Elsewhere the songs are comfortable. The Doors Of Then is a pleasant country waltz and Hours is a string-laden slice of easy-listening. Only the slow listless Tobacco Fields grates somewhat. But Oh No I Love You ends well, with the falsetto-driven and slick guitar work of The Economy and the second six-minute epic, mournful choral closer A Gain, with Burgess again showing his wonderful vocal range and timing, proving that the project is a worthwhile success.
Bob Mould - Silver Age
Former Husker Du and Sugar front-man Bob Mould releases his tenth solo album Silver Age. A man with a huge musical legacy, he is now an assured elder statesman, and his current 'band' featuring Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster (Superchunk and The Mountain Goats) sound as brilliant as ever. Silver Age has all the angst and guitars of Husker Du, the melodies of Sugar, and Mould's sharp spiky tuneful vocals. From furious opener Star Machine, to the wonderful shimmering pop of The Descent, to the epic guitar-fuelled psychedelia of Steam Of Hercules, there is never a dull moment. The second half of Silver Age is only marred by the trite and predictable Angels Rearrange but the blistering Fugue State and final duo of Keep Believing and First Time Joy are both excellent; the former is the perfect way to start any rock song - even if the melody flattens as the song concludes, while the latter is the vibrant hope-filled album highlight. The bands he has influenced through the years can be heard everywhere on this album, the echoes of the past sounding new and fresh. Bob Mould has not only proved his continued relevance and importance with Silver Age but found a collection of songs worthy of his tenth solo record.
Beth Orton - Sugaring Season
Beth Orton has been away for a while, to get married and start a family, but now six years after the disappointing Comfort Of Strangers, and sixteen years after her brilliant début Trailer Park, Orton releases the re-energised Sugaring Season. Thankfully Orton has discarded the 'easy-listening' style and bland middle-of-the-road balladry of her previous few albums and returned to her vibrant 'folk' roots. This has been described as a 'folk album for people who don't like folk' which is plainly ridiculous - what it means is this is a deep, atmospheric acoustic record filled with swathes of instrumentation, gorgeous vocals and compelling stories. From opener Magpie, you can tell Orton is determined and driven - like she is now giving Laura Marling something to think about. Her (now forty years young) vocals still retain a breathless quality, while gaining strength and maturity. Candles is especially surprising and wonderful - an impossibly high, yet husky, register drives the song forward through guitars and distant backing vocals: "You just found another way to cry..." is the dramatic closer to each chorus (with 'you' replaced with 'I' in the last dramatic moment). The lightness comes with Call Me The Breeze, a wonderful organ-keyboard filled, breezy-vocal country romp; while Poison Tree is a dark, menacing tale of lost love and faith. And the brilliance continues with the piano-led ballad Last Leaves Of Autumn, quickly followed by more great piano and the subtle tunefulness of State Of Grace. And closer Mystery is perfect, elegant simplicity and Orton's best vocal, not only of the album, but her life. Only the short See Through Blue, trying to break the 'seriousness', is misjudged, as Sugaring Season unfolds into a major triumph. Even though it lacks the song-craft and wide-eyed innocence of Trailer Park, Beth Orton is now, with Sugaring Season, a better musician and better song-writer.