By BRUCE DENNILL
Ben Haenow: Ben Haenow
Prince: 4 Ever
WorshipMob: Carry The Fire
Guy Buttery: Guy Buttery
X-Factor winner Ben Haenow’s debut album is a fine showcase for his blue-eyed soul voice, songwriting and performance nous. His debut single was One Republic tune Something I Need – a song by a group with an expert grasp of pop appeal – and the opening song on this album, Second Hand Heart, is a duet with Kelly Clarkson, an artist with both proven chart appeal and artistic integrity. All Yours sees Haenow letting rip vocally in the chorus, while Lions sees the singer-songwriter sonically emulating fellow Englishman James Blunt to some degree. He also channels similarly gravel-voiced James Morrison on the ballad Make It Back To Me. All of this underpins a consistently solid grasp of all the facets of what makes a song strong in terms of radio play and chart attractiveness, which will serve Haenow and his fans well as his career develops. The singer has apparently split from the label that supported the release of this debut, but the foundation built here should support any number of interesting releases and collaborations going forward.
A collection of 40 songs from the late and hugely influential singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, 4 Ever is, for a couple of generations of listeners, a reminder of just how much a part of the soundtrack of their lives Prince’s music was. The start of the first disc underlines his formidable influence as a hitmaker, grouping 1999, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry and Raspberry Beret together. However, though there regular highlights throughout the rest of the compilation – Purple Rain closes disc one, and Kiss, Sign O’ The Times, Cream, Diamonds And Pearls and Nothing Compares 2 U are scattered throughout the second half – there are also long, slightly disconcerting periods where the songs don’t match anything near that standard and simply don’t offer the emotional collection that the chart-toppers do. And because there are, in a tracklisting this long, relatively more of the – and it feels strange to say this – filler tracks, 4 Ever as a whole doesn’t match the expectations you’d expect of a retrospective of so glittering a career. There are still the other landmark facets of Prince’s output to consider, including his production and arrangement ideas, vocal range, penchant for over-sharing where his sexual tastes were concerned and the general flamboyance that marked his every move, and in this sense, the completist nature of this collection is interesting. Previously unreleased track Moonbeam Levels is not bad, though there is certainly a nostalgia factor involved in judging its merits, as it’s certainly not up there with Prince’s best work. On balance, this compilation falls slightly between two stools – it’s not fresh enough to draw in long-term facts who likely have all the albums anyway, and it meanders too much for those wanting an undistilled best-of option.
At 73 minutes for its 12 songs, Carry The Fire doesn’t try to play in the traditional worship album space, where songs are, at least to some degree, consciously constructed to appeal to both planners of congregational worship (simplicity and brevity being a desirable trait when a roomful of non-musicians are expected to sing along) and radio playlist compilers. Instead, this music is more the result of the time spent together by a number of worship leaders, musicians and other Christians, developing ideas, collaborating and worshiping together. It’s an approach that won’t work forever, with many listeners potentially tiring of arrangements that go on more than traditional structures would deem necessary. Opener Satisfy works because the emotion involved is viscerally raw, with the relative lack of formality allowing for that openness. Love Outran Me, as well as being a beautiful poetic concept, has some gentle hooks an enjoyable flowing melody. The medley of Hillsong United’s Oceans and this collective’s Nothing But The Blood is soothing, a marker for an album that is, for the most part, well-made but short on attention-grabbing moments.
Guy Buttery is one of the most affable, friendly people you’ll ever meet, so it seems fitting that one of the themes of his latest collection is collaboration. Unsurprisingly for a musician with his reputation, the fingerstyle guitarist is able to attract some very talented session players to help him add colour to his compositions. Close friend and fellow acoustic stringed instrument virtuoso Nibs van der Spuy appears on a number of tracks, with Gareth Gale providing the bulk of the percussion and other exciting guest including Chris Letcher (Wurlitzer and organ on Floop); Dan Patlansky (electric guitar on To Goulimine); Will Ackerman (acoustic guitars on A Piece For Rudolf Fritsch) and Vusi Mahlasela (vocals on Werner Meets Egberto In Manaus and The Upper Reaches). As The song titles suggest, Buttery’s approach remains as eclectic and nonconformist as ever, with the pieces each having distinct personalities and moods that override the need to box them into a genre. That’s just as well, too, with jazz, world music and New Age being just three of the terms a listener could accurately use to describe just about any tune on the album. What is interesting – and possibly frustrating for connoisseurs of Buttery’s playing in particular – is that the offerings from the many guests often mean that the compositions are quite layered, sometime to the degree that some of the detail of what Buttery himself is doing is somewhat obscured. From this perspective, Sleep Deprivation is a standout track, featuring only Gale’s drums as backing for Buttery’s guitar work, and thus being a much more intimate showcase for his intricate, fast-fingered fretwork and the complexity of his writing. Later, Verbosity repeats the trick with Gale and the album closes with ¾ In The Morning, in which Buttery is accompanied only by the eloquent upright base playing of Shane Cooper, another effective partnership. Floop is relatively mainstream, though it’s safe to say that not much smooth jazz of this style features an mbira (thumb piano), much less a skilful solo on that instrument. Interestingly, though a first listen may challenge given the density of ideas, unpacking those on successive spins becomes part of the allure of the collection, with there being something gently affecting to connect with in each tune.