Various Artists – The Beck Song Reader (Capitol)
This collection of 20 songs, all written by Beck, was originally released as a book of sheet music, allowing anyone to play the songs in a manner they chose. A lovely idea, except for those of us whose musical ability is somehow smaller than our complete inability to read sheet music in the first place. Step in a group of notable luminaries of popular music to provide their own interpretations of the Beck scores. The result is a disparate collection where Jack White sounds like Jack White, Jarvis Cocker sounds like Jarvis Cocker, and Sparks sound actually quite like Beck, but also just like Sparks. Check out Beck’s contribution here.
Richard Thompson – Acoustic Classics (Beeswing Records)
A summary of a career rather than a Greatest Hits per se, this collection takes tracks from the 40 year career of the venerable star and gives them a new, acoustic, life. Created due to a lack of adequate recordings of his growing habit for playing acoustic shows, these are newly recorded works that showcase Thompson’s fantastic skills with a guitar as well as his songwriting prowess. Taking in Americana, hints of Country and Jazz, as well as Blues Rock, and Folk if you haven’t heard Richard Thompson before, there are worse places to start. Check out the classic ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightening’ here.
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager (Warner Bros.)
Having started out as one half of Rilo Kiley, and subsequently released albums under her own name and with collaborators, Jenny Lewis has become a master at crafting Indie Pop with a distinct sense of fun. Her latest, mainly acoustic, album is filled with harmonised vocals and lyrical themes featuring a tongue firmly in cheek. Of particular note is the charm of Lewis’ sing-along choruses, the likes of which many other Indie acts seem to have given up on in recent times. Check out the video for ‘Just One of the Guys’ to see what we mean.
BANKS – Goddess (Good Years)
The long awaited debut from the much hyped BANKS, who came 3rd in the BBCs ‘Sound Of 2014’ list, is now with us. Squeezing into a singular gap between Indie Pop, R&B, and creeping Downtempo bass beats, Goddess is as good a Pop album as any to kick start the second half of the year. While BANKS’ vocals, and heartfelt personal lyrics, push that modern R&B sound, Lil Silva’s production keeps the mood deep and slow, but rarely heavy. While BANKS may be a rising star, it’s those beats that’ll ensure she burns bright for a good while yet. Check out ‘Begging for Thread’ here.
James Yorkston – The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society (Domino)
The long established man from the East Neuk of Fife Folk scene has teamed up with some of his closest local companions (The Pictish Trail, KT Tunstall) to record an album reflecting on life so far and those closest to home. Relying heavily on acoustic guitar and the harmonised vocals of Yorkston and his friends, these are simple and straight up Folk tunes that showcase emotion at every turn. ‘Broken Wave (A Blues for Doogie) shows this wonderfully as simple fingerpicked arpeggios turn into a delicate fiddle break. The sublime production, by Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, is intimate enough to hear the squeak of fingers on strings – you can almost smell the logs burning in the grate. Check out ‘Fellow Man’ here.
Red Snapper – Hyena (Lo Recordings)
After completing the soundtrack to the re-release of the cult ‘70s Senagalese film ‘Touki Bouki’, the folks from this long running Acid Jazz group realised there was more to be done with the Afro Funk inspired sounds they had created. Now being released as their 8th standalone album, Hyena is a sparser affair than previous records. However, their well known organic and instrumental approach that relies on groove and rhythm has not been dispensed with, with horns, double bass and looping drums still very much the focus. To be able to sound like themselves yet to be exploring new sounds is a credit to the musicianship on show. Check out the Auntie Flo remix of ‘Village Tap’ here.
Wildest Dreams – Wildest Dreams (Smalltown Supersound)
Squalling psychedelic guitar, hints at Soul and classic R&B, pounding drums all hi-hat and snares, and spat out chunks of Hammond organ; this is Garage Rock from a man who knows how to string together a groove. That man is more commonly known as DJ Harvey, more familiar from his work remixing House and Disco but who started out as a drummer in Punk bands, and whose deft touch with texture and melodic interplay underpins this album. And what an album it is. Coming in somewhere between the 13th Floor Elevators and Steppenwolf, it’s potentially Rock album of the year. Check out ‘Last Ride’ here.
Very Tall Stories – Open Eyes (BBE)
First released last year, and now re-released with added Instrumental cuts, Open Eyes is a relaxed and downtempo album of Soul-based grooves. Tom Everett’s vocals are laid back yet bristle with purpose, giving a sense of strength for the open percussion to play off. Influences of Jazz and Hip Hop skip throughout this record, while ‘Push Me Pull You’ takes on Dub, complete with staccato stabs. Elsewhere, ‘Dig It’ has Balearic vibes, descending into a loungey nonchalance, that will make it perfect listening for the last of the warm evenings of the year. Check out the video for ‘Thinking of You’ here.