Albums of the week: From Rami Basisah to The Van Pelt
This week’s music highlights include Syrian refugee Rami Basisah and his debut album, as well as the Zac Brown Band and Justin Currie’s highly-anticipated new offering.
RAMI BASISAH — MY JOURNEY
This 21-year-old Syrian refugee offers a heartbreaking debut album, two years after he fled the war-torn city of Homs across eight countries with his violin on his back and being housed in Germany. The moving Elegy Of A Lost Nation sears through the soul with despair sadly associated with Rami Basisah’s homeland in recent years. His mix of traditional Arabian music and classical versions of newer tracks including OneRepublic’s Counting Stars is led by an Arabic-influenced version of the European Union’s official national anthem, Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, Anthem For Europe. At a time when the EU is described as being plunged into crisis, this young violinist, alongside producers James Morgan and Juliette Pochin, provides an alternative argument. One of cultures clashing not in fear or hatred, but in hope, freedom and blossoming creativity.
ZAC BROWN BAND — WELCOME HOME
Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing, sings Brown on his seventh album, but it is difficult to take him seriously. Welcome Home is sentimental and slickly produced, but overall a bit synthetic: the sort of radio-friendly country music that outsells even the biggest MTV hotshots in the US but often fails to translate elsewhere. The tracks hit all the usual touchstones: whiskey and women (Real Thing, Start Over) noble father figures (My Old Man) and of course the all-powerful US of A (Roots). Hokey stuff, but it will certainly be a treat for the fans who’ve led him to countless record sales and dozens of Grammy nominations in the States. The unconverted, however, may find they feel like bystanders at a stranger’s hoedown.
THE VAN PELT — SULTANS OF SENTIMENT
If the question was, what would it sound like if the squeaky voiced teenager from The Simpsons sang over a sitar riff? Sultans Of Sentiment is your answer. Every lyric is spoken until track two, in a familiar New York patter, then vocalist Chris Leo lets loose with all the screaming. The music is well wrought, and still stands up 20 years after its initial release. Yamato is a fine song, with a Pixies-ish backing track underneath the Emo post-hardcore posturing. If you enjoyed it the first time around, you will enjoy it again, and If you like earnest lyrics shouted over clean guitars, this album is for you.
JOSEPH PARSONS — THE FIELD THE FOREST
The Field The Forest is a double EP from veteran singer-songwriter Joseph Parsons which aims to show, quite literally, the two sides of his art. The Field, all lilting lapsteels and lonely hearts, is an accomplished and inoffensive taste of country-tinged soft-rock. Yet the difference found in The Forest is immediately apparent on flipping the disc. Where The Field’s closer Fragile Moon is a soothing country ballad of troubled love, The Forest has a darker, heavier tone from the outset. Scream is full of guitars which do exactly that, and wouldn’t be out of place on an early Elbow album. The pace, however, does not last. Parsons cannot quite pull himself away from the country stylings which is his oeuvre and while Baying owes an awful lot to the sound of Radiohead’s OK Computer, we’re comfortably back in the square-dancing middle ground by The Forest’s second half, just with a bit more distortion. For all its claims of adventure, it is hard to fight the feeling that The Field The Forest is a record that promises more than it delivers.
JUSTIN CURRIE — THIS IS MY KINGDOM NOW
Almost 35 years since forming Del Amitri in Glasgow in 1983, Justin Currie shows he still has the chops to churn it out with his fourth solo album, This Is My Kingdom Now. The title is fitting for a man who found his groove long ago: there are few surprises in this well-trodden land lined by acoustic guitars. But, like any professional, he manages to throw just enough curveballs to keep things interesting. Wailing synths give opener My Name Is God an edge and keys shimmer in the background of Fallen Trees. The stuttering time signature of the title track is enough to make the listener double take, but before long he is back in a safe centreground, telling the pithy stories that have become his hallmark. Currie’s accomplishment on both guitar and piano give This Is My Kingdom Now enough variety to make it interesting, but the record is more likely to please die-hard fans than win him new devotees.