This week sees new releases from Matraca Berg, Barb Jungr, Manu Katché and Martha Tilston.
Matraca Berg – Love’s Truck Stop (Proper Records)
With her mother’s thwarted musical ambitions and various other family members in and around the country music scene, Matraca’s own musical schooling came early. Her initial success came as a co-writer taken under the wing of veteran, Nashville legendary songsmith Bobby Braddock and she subsequently steadily penned a number of hits for others, but Matraca’s own recording career (with RCA Nashville), seemed to have started and ended with the 90s. At least until the release of last year’s The Dreaming Fields, when she also toured as part of Wine, Women & Song with Suzy Boggus and Gretchen Peters, as dulcet a triple billing as you could wish for.
Love’s Truck Stop shows she’s hit a rich vein of new material and now freed from major label demands, is producing some exceptional work. Producer David Henry and a celestial cast, including Suzy, Gretchen and Emmylou sure help, but these sad-eyed songs of broken promises, the busted flush of dreams unlived, false moves and wrong turns are powerful and beautifully framed by expert arrangements. Her voice, tremulous at the edges, wounded and vulnerable, yet cutting and defiant by turns is utterly captivating. This is everything that country music should be. . Catch her on tour in the UK from 4th Nov 2012. [Reviewed by Simon]
She may be a multi-award winning vocalist of international acclaim, but Stockport girl Barb Jungr revisits her roots in the North East of England for her latest album. Here she reflects on her own life through a sequence of songs interpreting the work of some of her favourite songwriters and, for the first time, her own material. Kicking off with the funky soul of Stockport To Memphis, she recalls how the American music she heard as a teenager made her want to escape her Lancashire home town and spread her wings. While she may not have actually made it to Memphis, Jungr’s honed her talents worldwide as a skilful interpreter and learnt to distil her musical passions into a style that’s uniquely her own.
Barb offers up a moving rendition of Sam Cooke’s Change Is Gonna Come and gets right inside Joni Mitchell’s River with help from Mari Wilson, Ian Shaw and Sarah Moule on backing vocals. On the next stage of her journey, she says goodbye to Stockport, moves on to Manchester and Euston, finally setting her heart on Beale Street to start her New Life. Elsewhere, her swirling Urban Fox wraps you up in its carefully crafted imagery, while she nails Rod Argent’s She’s (He’s) Not There as Simon Wallace pumps away on Hammond organ. Among the standouts: an achingly beautiful, chamber reworking of Mike Scott’s Fisherman’s Blues, a softly sensual approach to Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay and a slinky interpretation of Tom Waits’ Way Down In The Hole, rounding out a superb collection of performances from one classy lady. Great band too! [Reviewed by Sofi]
Manu Katché – Manu Katché (ECM)
Manu Katché may forever be better known for the company he’s kept (Peter Gabriel, Sting, etc.), but this self-titled release is his fourth for ECM and deserves recognition. It’s strong on melodic ideas and subtle textures, created in part by the unusual line-up. Saxophonist Tore Brunborg, retained from the previous outing, is the sound that Manu hears when composing new material he admits. Nils Petter Molvær is also on board, reigniting a musical partnership that first burned 30 years ago, when he and Manu were starting their careers.
Unusually, especially for an album led by a drummer, there is no bassist, instead the quartet is completed by the piano and Hammond B3 of Jim Watson, with the organ’s bass pedals used in the lower octaves. Molvær naturally adds loops and treatments, but the absence of the usual stringed bass creates an interesting dynamic that if anything seems to liberate Manu. The organ’s bass has less natural edge and attack, so Katché’s bass drum and floor toms take on extra significance. That Manu doesn’t try to showboat is also significant, although his drums open Running After All These Years and Tore and Nils add extra floor toms to Loose, this is an album that puts tunes first. That shouldn’t surprise as Manu started as a piano player and finishes here with a solo piece, Dusk On Carnon, but overall it’s an inviting CD and at times quite beautiful. [Reviewed by Simon]
Martha Tilston – Machines Of Love And Grace (Squiggly Records)
As Martha Tilston celebrates a decade as a solo performer, Machines Of Love And Grace sets the deep engrossing passions of love against the joys of the Muse and social concerns. Its opening song, Stags Bellow, has a compelling, seductive lyric, chorus and sly melody that get right under the listener’s skin. As she reflects on old love, Tilston hauntingly proclaims: “Oh, lord I love this time of year/ I love this time of year”.
The daughter of singer-songwriter Steve Tilston, Martha’s stepmother is the London-Irish folk singer Maggie Boyle and she grew up as a child hearing the likes of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn playing in her family kitchen. Those formative experiences stood her in good stead and informed her own strong musical and political will. In Wall Street, Martha explores the burning question of the day – how we distribute wealth: “Where does the money flow from? / Who does it go to?” she asks; “We’re just asking peacefully / Where does it all go?” These are good questions; thank goodness someone is still articulating them for us. [Reviewed by John Crosby]