Rock, May 2019

hfnalbum.pngJames Morrison
You're Stronger Than You Know
Stanley Park Records SPM0010CD

With two No1 albums, five Top 10 singles and 7m sales, James Morrison has done OK so far. He's been a tad more low profile in recent years because his fourth album, 2015's Higher Than Here, didn't match the success of his first three. The album kicks off with 'My Love Goes On', a mid-tempo soulful workout which intelligently pairs him with Joss Stone, whose vocal style nicely complements his. You'd never know that – following the breakup with his long-term partner Gill – he experienced a period of self-doubt that made it impossible for him to write songs, because the songs here can stand with his best work, and his singing resonates with the inspiration he has always drawn from legends like Stevie Wonder and Al Green. JBk


Jansen JANSEN103CD

This Oslo band attracted so much acclaim with last year's debut album that it seemed unlikely they could match it second time out. Wrong! Drama is near-perfect, matching immaculate musicianship with catchy pop tunes whose lyrics explore the intimate human drama of interpersonal relationships. Vocals are shared between Sigrid Tase and Preben Saelid Andersen, suggesting different gender perspectives, not to mention enabling gorgeous close harmonies when they sing together. The whole album simply aches with emotional intensity. The standout 'Dancing Like This' deserves to be a huge hit but may be too subtle for the charts. JBk


Josefin Öhrn And The Liberation
Sacred Dreams
Rocket Recordings Launch162

Ms Öhrn is an acclaimed Swedish chanteuse who lives in London and writes songs with producer and composer Frederik Joelson. The music they make is described in their PR blurb as 'reverb drenched space-rock and retro centric electronics' which, says the band, is influenced by English '90s electro-poppers Stereolab and Broadcast. But to me they have more in common with the Velvet Underground. Their song 'Hey Little Boy', for example, would fit perfectly into the third Velvets album, and Josefin's languid semi-spoken vocal delivery is very reminiscent of VU's original vocalist Nico. It's all pleasantly soporific, but not particularly inspiring. JBk


Ishmael Ensemble
A State Of Flow
Severn Songs Records SEVS04

We're in ambient-electronic-jazz territory here, with the debut album by Bristol-based Pete Cunningham (aka Ishmael). The aim with this album, as with his previous work, is to create movies in sound, representing the landscape and spirit of his home city. Much of the album is supremely chilled, and there are occasional beautiful vocals from Holysseus Fly and Yama Warashi, but trip-hop beats permeate several tracks, making them eminently danceable in a laid-back way. Cunningham's main instrument is the saxophone, yes, but his admirable self-restraint gives his collaborators space to shine, making this more of an electronic drift than a jazzy improv. JBk