Jools Holland shares Piano, Neil Young is back with Peace Trail, and Thom Hell presents Happy Rabbit. We round up the best of the week’s releases.
It’s Jools Holland’s five decade-long love affair with the piano that is the focus of his latest record, the straightforwardly named Piano. An instrumental album, its tone shifts from jaunty and robust, to classical, funky, jazz-drenched and even includes a delicate, tinkling reinterpretation of prog rock (Eruption). Most intriguingly, it starts with May, a duet between Jools and a load of real-life chirping birds, co-written with Sting. Sweet and richly layered, it’s actually quite magical when the birds begin their tweeting. Dorothy romantically swirls with old-school glamour, while Christabel succumbs to sinister plonking. This promises solid background music, but Piano is unfortunately unlikely to hold your full attention.
Ella Walker: 6/10
Now 71, Neil Young has been releasing albums at the rate of knots in recent years, but, sadly, quantity has not often been matched with quality. The Canadian’s recent efforts have been largely disappointing, and Peace Trail is similarly underwhelming. For a man quite rightly revered for seminal albums such as Tonight’s The Night, After The Gold Rush, Harvest and On The Beach, Peace Trail sounds a right mess. Things start promisingly enough with the title track, but degenerate rapidly with the turgid My Pledge and the ludicrously titled Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders, which is as awful as its title suggests. The music and lyrics sound cobbled together on a whim, which makes it all the more disappointing from the man who wrote classics such as Like A Hurricane and Cinnamon Girl in his heyday. Let’s hope his next album heralds a much-needed return to form.
Kim Mayo: 4/10
Just in time for the party season comes this two-disc (and three-LP green vinyl) retrospective of the eclectic Brighton record label. From the heavy beats of Feature Cast to the funky Black Grass, and the soul-inflected Husky Rescue and even the indie onslaught of The Ripps, Catskills artists specialise in tunes that aim directly for the hips. Only the most intently Scroogish of listeners could fail to get their feet-tapping at some point during these 25 tracks (and for those already on board there are a couple of bonus tracks from Husky Rescue and breakout hit-makers Pepe Deluxe). Everyone else is almost guaranteed to want to hunt down every available release by this entertainingly offbeat label.
James Robinson: 9/10
New documentary I Am Bolt, which delves into the life of world record-winning sprinter and all-round legend, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, was released at the end of November. While the soundtrack hasn’t got all the feels the film does, it’s not too shabby either, featuring the likes of Nas, Sean Paul, Major Lazer and Toots And The Maytals. As with any soundtrack, you miss the accompanying video, but this is totally pumped, pulsing with drums and electronic beats that kickstart your muscles. Sean Paul’s Crick Neck (feat Chi Ching Ching) will really get you going, while Damian Marley’s Everybody Wants To Be Somebody chills everything back out. Put it on during your next run and you’ll feel like you’re flying.
Ella Walker: 7/10
Prolific Norwegian singer-songwriter Thom Hell returns with his eighth studio album in 12 years and seems to take us on a time travel adventure. Happy Rabbit is a lush string-laden affair without feeling over-produced, and has a distinctly retro feel in places. Several tracks see him channel those other prolific producers of music and lyrics, Messrs Lennon and McCartney, especially during their mid-to-late Beatles career, without necessarily reaching their heights. When I Was A Child could certainly be called Beatles-esque, while other tracks’ arrangements seem to be influenced by the late Sixties and early Seventies. At times this works, at others it doesn’t.
David Wilcock: 6/10