Album reviews: Paloma Faith | Dame Shirley Bassey | Barbara Dickson | Adam Stafford
Paloma Faith has retooled her music for the present time but something essential has been lost in the process, and her new album lacks the stamp of authority of a singular artist. Reviews by Fiona Shepherd
Paloma Faith: Infinite Things (RCA) **
Dame Shirley Bassey: I Owe It All to You (Decca) ***
Barbara Dickson: Time Is Going Faster (Chariot Records) ****
Adam Stafford: Diamonds of a Horse Famine (Song, by Toad) ***
In recent years – arguably since becoming a parent – Paloma Faith has become more vocal about the things that matter to her, adding an empathetic social conscience to her public profile, alongside the big voice, quirky attitude and sculptural costumes which have been her hallmark to date.
She is not alone in retooling her music for the present time, benching some of the more upbeat tunes which were to have featured on her fifth album for realistic reflections on relationships in and beyond lockdown, with both steely single Better Than This and Living with a Stranger charting the challenges which come with the ebb and flow of feelings.
But she can only hold her extrovert tendencies in check for so long and the mid-paced AOR title track has her metaphorically punching the air on the chorus as slick strings push the mood upwards.
Elsewhere, Faith dons the lycra and makes like an 80s diva on Supernatural, goes to town on middle of the road power ballad If Loving You Was Easy and fails to curb her affected vocal excesses on the slick electro pop track Monster, her coded criticism of the morality of the music business.
Disco strings leap around on I’d Die For You and there is also room for the twinkling Princely pop number Beautiful & Damned, contemporary country-tinged Me Time and standard issue inspirational anthem Gold, written by Sigrid. Collectively though, Infinite Strings lacks the stamp of authority of a singular artist.
No such worries from Dame Shirley Bassey who cleaves to her signature dramarama on I Owe It All to You, billed as her grand finale capping 70 years in showbiz. Now is not the time to be breaking new ground, so the collection is all lush strings, old school swing, luvvie standards and a title track tribute to her fans with lyrics by Don Black.
She takes her time with the barnstorming Maybe This Time, giving her space to flex her idiosyncratic phrasing, and has all the necessary gravitas to deliver Beyonce’s mawkish I Was Here with sage authority.
She calls for some r-e-s-p-e-c-t on the vampish symphonic rhythm’n’blues of Look But Don’t Touch, delivers a glorious melodramatic rendition of Adagio, a power ballad originally recorded by Belgian singer Lara Fabian, and bows out with the grand emotion of the John Miles epic Music.
Barbara Dickson also sticks to what she knows on her new album – and what she knows is varied and always worth hearing, be it revisiting one of her definitive roles with a new rendition of Tell Me It’s Not True from Blood Brothers, interpreting her peers Gerry Rafferty and Incredible String Band with emotion and integrity or throwing in a couple of curveballs such as the devotional mysticism of ancient Icelandic hymn Heyr Himna Smiður (“Hear, Smith of Heavens”) or a prog folk spin on Hamish Henderson’s The Ballad of the Speaking Heart.
Time Is Going Faster is also notable for the presence of three Dickson originals, her first new writing in years, taking in the simple acumen of the title track, the graceful, watchful Goodnight, I’m Going Home and the cautious optimism of Where Shadows Meet the Light.
Like many during lockdown, Falkirk polymath Adam Stafford has done some decluttering, discovering in the process an old notebook of lyrics and observations which in turn sent him back to archive demos and a cold case-style examination of his musical past.
Diamonds of a Horse Famine is overall not an easy listen but there are pickings here for fans of dark humour, spectral blues, dexterous acoustic guitar, scratchy woodwind and songs about the male menopause.
Christmas in Puebla (Delphian) *****
Historically, Christmas in the Mexican city of Puebla has been quite the foot-tapping affair, and this was particularly the case in the 17th century, when Spanish-born Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla was in charge of music at its cathedral. The evidence is vividly illustrated in this upbeat compilation by Patrick Allies and his Siglo de Oro ensemble of musical crosscurrents designed to reenact the musical menu at a typical liturgical Christmas celebration of the time. Padilla’s own music is a sensuous blend of meaty European polyphony (the interspersed presence of his Missa Joseph fili David) and catchy villancicos that are a fizzy cocktail of Mexican, Afro-Hispanic and Portuguese influences guaranteed to get you dancing in the aisles, as are the vibrant vocal and instrumental performances, which also include music by Padilla’s Mexican-born cathedral colleagues, Juan García de Zéspedes and Francisco de Vidales. With Palestrina and functional plainsong also thrown in, it’s a head-spinning clash of cultures. Ken Walton
Keith Jarrett: Budapest Concert (ECM) *****
This latest and possibly last live album of pianist Keith Jarrett’s intensely improvisational solo concert sets was recorded in Budapest in 2016, before the strokes which seem, heartbreakingly, to have curtailed his career. This double CD features 12 untitled parts followed by two encores, with Jarrett shifting between intense and at times inconclusive keyboard questing, such as the churning 15-minute opening improvisation, and some glowingly melodic meditations. Jarrett progresses through nimble, at times faintly eastern-sounding flurries over sonorous sustained chords in Part III, the sullen boogie roll of Part IV, the yearningly balladic Part V, or the winsome grace of VII. Part XII, subtitled “Blues,” is indeed an honest-to-goodness, rollicking example, before the encores – hauntingly rendered covers of It’s a Lonesome Old Town and Answer Me My Love – find him in contemplative but richly lyrical form, as acknowledged ecstatically by the audience. Jim Gilchrist
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