This week sees new releases from Dave Stewart, Ian Hunter, Staff Benda Bilili and Megson.
Dave Stewart – The Ringmaster General (Membran)
With a career like Dave Stewart’s behind you it’s probably fair to feel you’ve earned the right to have a little musical fun, should the muse take you there. With Blackbird Diaries and now The Ringmaster General, it’s also fair to suggest that’s exactly where it’s taken him, such is the sense of a good time being had by all taking part. Both benefit form a spontaneity too, coming together quickly in a burst of studio creativity, this latest one taking just five days to put together.
Liberated from the need to maintain the stream of hits that the Eurythmics can be rightly proud of, Stewart instead turns to a rootsier style, that nonetheless still comes with a tune or two pulled from the hat. It suits his vocal style, which if a little limited, has a ragged honesty that suits reflective songs like Different Man Now and Drowning In The Blues. He’s supported by some great players and there are nice guest turns from, amongst others, Alison Krauss, Joss Stone, Jessie Baylin and Diane Birch, who provide some sweetness as duet partners. Dave is clearly enthused and while as a career move it may not prove to be the most lucrative, that’s surely not the point. [Reviewed by Simon]
Ian Hunter & The Rant Band – When I’m President (Proper Records)
To look at him, corkscrew blond and trademark permanent shades in place, you’d almost think time had stood still, but remarkably Ian Hunter is one of a select group of rock ‘n’ rollers who’ve continued working into their 70s with credibility intact. More than that, having toured the States with the latest incarnation of The Rant Band, he’s taken them and the songs they featured in the shows into the studio and recorded an album that sits comfortably amongst the best things he’s done.
The solid boogie of Comfortable (Flyin’ Scotsman) sets the scene in reassuring fashion, Fatally Flawed shows the influence of his buddy Bob Dylan, but also rocks out and the title track gives Ian the chance to show he’s no slouch in the lyric writing department either. The twin guitars make the most of What For, Saint and Wild Bunch and the first of those sets up the power ballad of Black Tears, while Just The Way You Look Tonight has echoes of Springsteen. Most intriguing of all are Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse), celebrating the native American warrior and the closing ballad Life that brings the curtain down on the set as it has done live. You’ll be bellowing for more. [Reviewed by Simon]
Staff Benda Bilili – Bouger Le Monde (Crammed Discs)
The rise and rise of Staff Benda Bilili is one of music’s most remarkable stories. The band of buskers were formed in Kinshasa, the ruined capital of The Democratic Republic Of Congo (formerly Zaire), by several polio sufferers who would sit in their customised wheelchairs, play homemade guitars and busk.
Joined by several able-bodied youths who helped push the musicians around Kinshasa, Staff Benda Bilili took definite shape as these youths began filling out the sound. Spotted by a Belgian documentary maker, the band have now toured the world, starred in an acclaimed film and scored a hit with their debut album.
Bouger Le Monde is the follow-up album and finds the band in very confident form. Touring has tightened their sound and on tunes like Tangu I Fueni and Sopeka they perform with a remarkable warmth and dynamic. The instrumental interplay is superb while the voices are strong and melodic. The mood is one of great optimism – having overcome poverty, war and disability, Staff Benda Bilili celebrate being alive. This lovely album should have provided the soundtrack to London’s Paralympics.
[Reviewed by Garth Cartwright]
Megson – When I Was A Lad… (EDJ Records)
Husband and wife duo Stu and Debs have made great virtue of their Teesside heritage, mining both the region’s folk traditions and their own connections to their own native North East, albeit now seen from a distance. Through a series of award-nominated albums, you can also, to some extent, map their personal journey as a couple, with their hopes, dreams and fears charted through stories whether newly penned, or plucked from history.
It’s no surprise therefore that their response to the joys of parenthood is to once again turn to song. Proudly billed as A Collection Of Children’s Folk Songs, When I Was A Lad is thus an essential purchase for all folk fans with kids and for those of us whose offspring have fledged, or indeed for those without, it’s still a mighty fine listen. Beautifully put together as you’d expect from a musician known for his excellent production work and sung with trademark close harmony, it’s a gleeful cuddle of a record with just a soupcon of wistful misty eye. A couple of originals in All The Shops Have Fallen Down and Baby & The Band are quite, quite brilliant amidst some familiar (and some less well known) children’s songs, Dance To Your Daddy included, naturally. [Reviewed by Simon]