This week sees new releases from Paul Heaton, Maz O’Connor, Christine Tobin and Rick Estrin & The Nightcats.
Paul Heaton Presents… The 8th (Proper Records)
Billed as “one of the longest pop songs ever”, the latest creation by Housemartins and Beautiful South frontman Paul Heaton is an epic production recounting the seven deadly sins with Paul presenting an 8th sin to represent our times – Gossip. Premiered at last year’s Manchester International Festival, with music written by Heaton, Dave Rotheray and Jonny Lexus, the theatrical narrative comes from award-winning playwright Che Walker (Royal Court/Young Vic) and is vividly brought to life by The Wire’s Reg E Cathey who makes a magnificent preacher as he delivers a dramatic sermon on the corruption of mankind, accompanied by the cinematic strings of The Owl Ensemble.
Between his charismatic performances, The Southside Sinnaires each unmask in turn to sing a song representing a different sin. It’s a stellar cast that includes ex-Beautiful South singer Jacqui Abbott, Kenny Anderson aka King Creosote and Cherry Ghost’s Simon Aldred among others. Aside from Cathey, highlights of The 8th include Jacqui Abbot performing Envy, Yvonne Shelton on the funky Sloth, Wayne Gidden’s Lust and, of course, the man himself on Gossip – a mix of spacey dub, ska and rock guitar. An accompanying DVD featuring the entire concert from MIF 2011, plus bonus footage from Heaton’s extensive back catalogue, brings this remarkable work to life.
Go experience it live this week at London’s Barbican and Salford’s Lowry Theatre and next week at Sheffield’s Lyceum and St Paul’s, Birmingham. More details HERE. [Reviewed by Sofi]
Maz O’Connor – Upon A Stranger Shore (Demon Barber Sounds)
Such riches abound that it’s sometimes tempting to think of a great and powerful machine turning out pristine young folk singers for our delectation. It’s nonsense of course and the numbers of young people who seem to have grown up with an assiduous appreciation of the traditions don’t roll off a conveyor belt, being as individual as their DNA. Nevertheless a healthy folk gig and festival circuit and the gentle guidance of peers, parents, friends and siblings drawn to them must play a part. But however Maz O’Connor has arrived at Upon A Stranger Shore, simply relish it.
She has a Young Folk Award back story, but more fundamentally an exquisite, clear-toned voice that illuminates this song collection in a warm, beatific glow. The familiar (South Australia, Leaving Of Liverpool, Constant Lovers, Caw The Yowes), the less familiar (Hard Ain’t It Hard, Stormalong) and the original (Songs Of Old, Whitley Bay, Black And Blue) bring the swell of emotion and waves of joys and sweet sorrows rippling in. Sparkling arrangements, particularly the deft guitar of Matthew Jones add the perfect settings. Maz O’Connor is a name to remember, Upon A Stranger Shore is the reason why. A stunner! [Reviewed by Simon]
Christine Tobin – Sailing To Byzantium (Trail Belle)
It was an invitation from The National Library Of Ireland to take part in their Yeats festival in 2010, that revived a flame in Tobin and set the creative wheels in motion towards the creation of Sailing To Byzantium. Growing up in Ireland, Yeats had long figured in Tobin’s life. That Hollywood star Gabriel Byrne had also once been a teacher who had encouraged her artistic leanings, explains his voice here. He recites three works amongst Christine’s own vocal interpretations, two with musical arrangement added, but one creating a striking interlude. Musically the arrangements are sublime with Liam Noble’s fluid piano a consistent delight, liquid guitar runs from Phil Robson, double bass and cello give the gravity and Gareth Lockrane’s flute lights up five tracks.
Tobin’s voice is equally majestic as she builds on Yeats’ natural poetic rhythms, gently moulding them into gorgeous melodies. It seems to satisfy on all levels, whether you come to it from the poetry or the music and there’s no denying that the combination is powerfully realised in the performance. The weight of the words is there, but paradoxically the burden of them is lightened as the very spirit and essence crystallise before you. Profoundly beautiful. [Reviewed by Simon]
Rick Estrin – One Wrong Turn (Alligator)
To call Rick Estrin sharp could be taken in the wrong way, he’s so willow-whip slim Jim that a glancing blow from his chin might cut you in two. But conversely he’s a snappy dresser, an exceptional harmonica player (who apparently had Muddy waters in awe) and a witty song writer who, with Chris ‘Kid’ Anderson along for good measure, prowls a razor’s edge through the blues and beyond.
Lorenzo Farrell and J.Hansen provide the rhythm and more that completes the Nightcats’ line-up, doing much more than making up the numbers. It’s a powerful quartet that seems hell-bent on fun, albeit laced with a sardonic world view made up of short straws, double crosses and bad breaks. Still (I Met Her On The) Blues Cruise, Desperation Perspiration and Old News raise a chuckle or three, while Lucky You, Callin’ All Fools and Broke And Lonesome are dog-eared tales of trouble and strife. Add some punchy horns and the grooves range from slinky to sleazy, with a couple of instrumentals allowing the band to stretch out. Zonin’ is a stroll on the jazz side, while The Legend Of Taco Cobbler is a bonkers/brilliant climax. Spaghetti-surf-blues-ska anyone? [Reviewed by Simon]