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DECEMBER ALBUMS | MUSIC REVIEW

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BEANS ON TOAST ***** 

Cushty (Xtra Mile)

Beans On Toast – aka Essex folk singer Jay McAllister – covers, in poetic fashion, a wide range of subjects from mobile phone usage and fake news, to fracking, artificial intelligence and oak trees in Sherwood Forest. Open Door Policy begins with the announcement “The world is dying” but the album isn’t all doom and gloom: Beans is an optimist who just tells it like it is. Tunes are jolly, lyrics are clever and there is plenty of wit. Interesting and catchy. LN

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BRUCE FOXTON & RUSSELL HASTINGS ****

From The Jam Live! (Basstone)  

Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings actually do a good job of performing this live collection of hits, which includes Going Underground, That’s Entertainment, and The Butterfly Collector. The duo recapture the distinctive Jam vibe and these 12 iconic songs sound as fresh today as they did when they were first released. After the initial scrutiny of opening track In The City, Paul Weller’s absence isn’t as noticeable as you’d think. The public wants what the public gets… LN

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY ****

No Cross No Crown (Nuclear Blast)

Marking the first release since Pepper Keenan rejoined the band, Corrosion Of Conformity’s new offering oozes the legendary vocalist/guitarist’s energy. After globetrotting with Down for over a decade, the sound of CoC has no doubt suffered in his absence and this album is a testament to this. While it may not be Deliverance, No Cross No Crown flaunts some killer tracks, leaving you feeling as if no time has passed since the four core band members last released an album together. AP

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THE ESKIES ****

And Don’t Spare The Horses (Parochial Dancehall)

The Eskies pull off the ‘difficult second album’ with a confident swagger that rides the many roads of their varied influences. And Don’t Spare The Horses builds on the energetic live sound of their gypsy folk debut, taking their audience to new places without any fear of losing them on the way. The Eskies comfortably blend vaudeville, sea shanties, blues and rock without ever compromising the overall feel and sound of a folk album. Sit deep in the saddle and enjoy the journey. JPD

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FELA KUTI *****

Box Set #4 Curated By Erykah Badu (Knitting Factory)

It’s that time again when I get to talk about a huge and beautiful vinyl box set of some old legend or other but start off by admitting that I’ve not actually been sent the box, just some pictures of it and a stack-o MP3s, because clearly no-one’s gonna sling me a £100 coffee table artefact in exchange for this kind of review space in this publication. Just in case there are some Fela Kuti audiophiles reading desperate to know how the remasters compare to the originals through top-end equipment. Sadly, you’re looking at a dude impossibly grateful to dive into three or so hours of this brilliant, firey, drilled, loose, rocking, raging, continent-changing music, even if you can probably hear it all online or whatever. You don’t need a Fela Kuti biog, ‘least not from me, but here’s the basics about Box Set #4: it has seven LPs originally released between 1976 (Yellow Fever) and 1992 (Underground System, Fela’s last album proper before his death in 1997). Truthtelling soul mama Erykah Badu compiled this one – Brian Eno, Fela’s old drummer Ginger Baker and ?uestlove from The Roots did the three before – and wrote some very amusing sleevenotes. Her favourite release, 1980’s Coffin For Head Of State (oh yeah, should list the remainder: 1977’s No Agreement and J.J.D., 1979’s V.I.P. and 1984’s Army Arrangement, which has had all the purportedly horrible studio touches of original engineer Bill Laswell erased), is one of the most extraordinary and fearless political statements ever set to music. NG

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FRANK TURNER ****

Songbook (Xtra Mile)

Songbook opens in a quiet folksy fashion but this sense of security is shattered a minute later when the punk rock kicks in. This best-of album has 28 of the biggest tracks from Turner’s career plus a brand new song, There She Is. Despite the presence of 10 reworked versions, which are not that dissimilar to the originals and leave you wondering why he bothered, Frank is at his best when he’s running at full pelt, and it’s great fun trying to keep up. LN

JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES **

The Horse And Other Weird Tales (Svart)

Doors-y organs, hyperactive basslines and whinnying, ululating vocals combine to create… a bit of a racket, to be honest. Without wishing to disparage Jess And The Ancient Ones’ obvious ambition for their sixties-influenced sound, the priniciple reason their third album falters is that it never really nails down what it wants to be: Soul? Goth rock? Blues? It ends up a bit of a fudge of all of the above and more. The artwork’s cool, for what that’s worth. HR

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MIKE DUNN ***

My House From All Angles (MoreaboutMusic)

Finding most of its success in ph-unky hip-house vibes, Acid Rush – the first track on the first Mike Dunn album in 27 years – sets the tone with open high-hats and traditional Chi-house synths, which continues throughout. Sultry vocals create a strange atmosphere and elements of garage seep through on DJ Beat That Shhh and The Frontier, which brings a subtle sense of variety. Although Mike Dunn may not tackle all the Angles, as suggested, there is comfort in getting what is expected. CP

MORRISSEY ****

Low In High School (Etienne)

The 11th solo Morrissey record will not disappoint die-hard Moz fans. Although in recent years it’s been easy to write off Morrissey with the several questionable remarks he has made, listening to this record washes away any political stances he may hold. Tracks like Spent The Day In Bed, All The Young People Must Fall In Love and When You Open Your Legs really elevates the album. This record is exactly what any Morrissey fan could hope for. JM

NILS ØKLAND BAND ****

Lysning (Hubro)

This Økland character plays the Hardanger fiddle, which relates to the trad music of a specific region of Norway, and has done so on dozens of releases before I caught wind of him. And, on the evidence of Lysning, he wields a matchless lyrical beauty. Skirting around the improv and jazz tags – his last few releases were on the ECM label – Økland plus band retain the drones and discordance that teems in all nations’ folk music, the fiddle parts carrying a rollicking, reeling feel even when arrangements are sparse and eerie. NG

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NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS ***

Who Built The Moon? (Sour Mash)

Great timing for this album release, what with all this back and forth with Noel Gallagher’s darling brother Liam and both albums released within a few months. Nonetheless, for me Noel comes in second best in the sibling battle. Who Built The Moon? goes for an experimental sound overall, She Taught Me How To Fly sounding surprisingly psychedelic and only Black And White Sunshine and The Man Who Built The Moon the only songs with that trademark Noel sound. OS

NO THEE NO ESS  ****

California (Folkwit)

Album five from Cardiff song-writing duo Andy Fung and Paul Batenbough recalls the familiar blend of dishevelled psychedelia and breezy harmonies found in their previous work and aligns them even closer with Americana and the free-spirited folk of the 60s. Songs range from the bizarre retro-futuristic fuzz of 1960 Alpha to the messy beauty of Plainsong; sometimes it feels like production was an afterthought, but it may very well be intentionally carefree and you certainly get the same wistful feeling from listening to it. CPI

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PALOMA FAITH ***
The Architect (RCA)

With a team of collaborators and songwriters on board for album number four, Paloma Faith maintains her position of ‘more interesting than Duffy but less polished than Winehouse’. I’ll Be Gentle, a soaring duet with John Legend, is followed by a needless aside featuring left-wing poster boy Owen Jones before breaking into a trio of her best work to date (including the Sia-penned Warrior). A bumpy ride in places, but one that ultimately gets you to your destination in one piece. BG

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RUFUS MUFASA ****
Fur Coats From The Lion’s Den (Dope Biscuits)

This debut from Pontypridd-via-Ammanford rapper Rufus Mufasa started life as a project of hip-hop group Dope Biscuits but has morphed into a solo outing. The songs are inspired by her growing family but also act as a poignant tribute to her late friend and former Dope Biscuits comrade DJ Brave Toaster, who passed away in 2015. Shadow Boxing and Gwastraff Amser are highlights of a record which manages to encompass reggae, blues and jazz as well as Mufasa’s trademark hip-hop. BG

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SECRET SHINE ***

There Is Only Now (Saint Marie)

These Bristolians were once signed to top indiepoppers Sarah Records but made textured, swelling shoegaze in My Bloody Valentine’s early 90s slipstream. Secret Shine split in 1996 and reformed in 2004, so their second phase has lasted much longer than the first; There Is Only Now is an impressively textbook example of their genre. Songs are tangibly structured but with every sound fed through a large effects unit, Kathryn Smith singing about nothing too vital to decipher if the titles are any indicator. NG

SHOPPING ****

The Official Body (FatCat)

The title of Shopping’s third LP refers to the way that body image is socially and culturally conditioned, and songs like Control Yourself underline a preoccupation with identity politics, self-definition and self-determination. But The Official Body wears the weightiness of its subject matter lightly: its 10 so-lean-they’re-positively-skinny post-punk-funk tracks are over in a shade over half an hour and The Hype lives up to its pre-release billing as “a party song”, urging you to move your feet as well as stop believing everything you read. BW

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TARJA **

From Spirits And Ghosts (Score For A Dark Christmas) (earMUSIC)

That’s Tarja Turunen, who used to be in Nightwish before leaving under some sort of cloud, and continues to be very popular in Finland (generally) and in Europe (among fortysomething symphonic metal fans with ponytails). Accordingly, she has recorded an album of traditional Christmas songs. Gotta be honest, I was really holding out for the big beefy metal riffs rather than just a slightly ersatz orchestral backing, although the final minute of Amazing Grace is so bombastic I thought I was having a heart attack. NG

U2 ****

Songs Of Experience (Island)

From the first song Love Is All We Have Left, themes of love, mortality and defiance are explored over 13 songs that are generally catchier than what was on Songs Of Innocence. There are many moments here that match that Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby goosebump brilliance. …Experience is an empowering album, the aural equivalent of both a tranquiliser and a sledgehammer to help us deal with these extremely troubled times. DN

VAN MORRISON ****

Versatile (Caroline)

It’s a curious title. Morrison’s last album covered rhythm and blues, now it’s jazz standards and pop classics. But simply singing in different styles doesn’t make you versatile. Van The Man delivers everything like Van The Man always has and he’s pretty uncompromising in his thick-voiced renditions of I Get A Kick Out Of You and Unchained Melody. He sounds far, far better when revealing his excellent new material and letting his brilliant band play with plenty of space and the subtlety he sometimes lacks. JPD

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