Rock, April 2023

hfnalbum.pngUnthank : Smith
Nowhere And Everywhere
Billingham BRUS 004CD; LP: BRUS 004V

A collaboration between indie rocker Paul Smith of Maximo Park and folk singer Rachel Unthank might seem unlikely, but they both hail from the North East and share a fascination for the region's history and music. Their debut album has an expansive, cool, rather bleak sound, with Smith's guitar and Unthank's cello and harmonium augmented by clarinet and subtle drums. Their voices sound magical together on the sinister trad song 'Captain Bover', about a Tyneside press gang leader, Smith's 'What Maks Makems', about the shipbuilding tradition of Wearside, and a cover of Lal Waterson's exultantly drunk 'Red Wine Promises'. The way they weave these ancient and modern strands together so deftly… MB


Gaz Coombes
Turn The Car Around
Hot Fruit/Virgin HF015CD; LP: HF015LP

In the '90s, Gaz Coombes wrote knockabout songs such as 'Alright' and 'Caught By The Fuzz' for Britpop trio Supergrass. But as a solo artist, maturity suits him well. Turn The Car Around is a vivid recording, particularly the 'live' drum sound, with keyboards and Coombes' own incisive guitar adding colour. The tunes are uniformly strong. The funky lope of 'Feel Loop (Lizard Dream)' spirals into an unexpected chorus and 'Long Live The Strange' is an exuberant celebration of youth and music, with Coombes singing, 'When I'm in a room full of misfits/It feels right'. And the anthemic choruses of the closing 'Dance On' glow with positivity. MB


Anna B Savage
City Slang SLANG50470; LP: SLANG50470LP

There's a lot of distilled sorrow and confusion in Anna B Savage's songs. On the intense 'The Ghost' she attempts to separate herself from an old flame, while mobile drum patterns, bass and keyboards interlock with her guitar lines. There are also flashes of humour on 'Pavlov's Dog', with, 'I'm watching, I'm waiting, I'm salivating'. The songs were completed in the studio and some sound a tad sketchy, with similar cadences, but she draws the listener into these narratives with an irresistible voice that reminds of both the art rock poise of Jenny Hval – with whom she has toured – and the warmer tones of Joan Armatrading. Quite a combination. MB


Belle And Sebastian
Late Developers
Matador OLE1896CD; LP: OLE1896LP

Nearly three decades into their career, Scottish collective Belle And Sebastian are currently in a hot spell, releasing their second album in eight months. This is a fresh-sounding collection of superior story-based songwriting, shot through with acute observations to arrangements of keyboards, strings, flute, brass and synths. 'I wish I could be content with the football scores' sighs Stuart Murdoch, as the disenchanted protagonist on the sardonically humorous, 'When We Were Very Young'. They sound energised on the raw, guitar-driven power pop of 'Juliet Naked' and Murdoch stretches his vocal cords on the soulful, 1960s pop-influenced 'The Evening Star'. MB