Music Reviews: Eve’s Perspective On The Safety Of Candlelight And Razorblades

April 22, 2015

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Shawn Phillips: Perspective                                                                 6

Wayne Hussey: Songs Of Candlelight And Razorblades                   6

The Wisers: It’s Safe I’m Not Here                                                       7.5

Angelique Kidjo: Eve                                                                             6

 

This is Shawn Phillips’ 23rd album, released in South Africa (where the Texan now lives, gleefully adopted by a foster audience) fully 50 years after his first one, and he has made little, if any, concession tto modern musical tastes and trends. He’s also stuck to retro practice in terms of the structure of Perspective. It’s a double album, for one thing, and the songs tend to sprawl, with Phillips presenting his lyrical ideas and melodies in cycles until he’s finished telling the story he wants to tell.

There are unexpected – given his history, not his politics – twists from time to time, though, including the song America, in which the singer-songwriter rails against his former homeland: “America, they’re taking your liberty; America, they’re cramping your style; America, dying cause of apathy; America, they treat you like a child.”

That protest edge – so often an obvious facet of authentic folk music – is evident elsewhere as well, and not always on so epic a scale as the above example. Radio sees Phillips – who’s appeared on tracks with Donovan and The Beatles, for crying out loud – asking the rhetorical question: “Why should I write a melody that’ll bring you joy and make you free [when] you can be sure you’ll never know, or hear it on the radio.”

For a modern audience, the rambling nature of this project will present a challenge to short attention spans and the tendency to turn music on for entertainment purposes alone, rather than enjoying it for its capacity to incite contemplation and free thought.

Phillips is not going to change his approach to suit those who can’t keep up with him, but that commendable attitude is likely to see him continue to inhabit the fringes, as he has since the Sixties.

 

It makes a certain sort of sense that an artist who was something of a goth icon will, as he gets older, morph into something akin to an alternative Leonard Cohen. That seems to be the territory former The Mission frontman Wayne Hussey is aiming for in the opening track of his second solo album Songs Of Candelight And Razorblades.

That song, Madam G, with lyrics about scarlet sheets and an arrangement that features clarinet and double bass, trumps Fifty Shades Of Grey for erotic subtext, and features a touch of the unsolicited regret that the bestselling book and film don’t seem to acknowledge as part of the experience they’re built around.

Nothing Left Behind Us returns to more familiar ground, it’s stripped-down acoustic foundation adding a pleasant lightness of touch and making acolytes such as South Africa’s Absinthe shiver a little in anticipation of a custom-made addition to future sets. Hussey makes no bones about his fondness for elegant pessimism, with JK Angel Of Death (1928-2011) and Swan Song (Lament) delivering agreeable angst in both title and tone. Wasting Away, with its touch of gospel backing and a slow dynamic build, is not a million miles away from Joshua Tree-era U2. First single Wither On The Vine does, for the first third or so, make concessions to radio-friendliness, reverting to the synthesiser-led Eighties sound of The Mission.

This collection marks a worthwhile return for a popular cult figure, but it’s no game changer (and a second disc containing instrumental versions of the songs on Disc One probably underlines that perspective rather than providing and argument against it).

 

Calgary, Canada quartet The Wisers create the sort of full-blooded, gritty garage rock that’s been pushed to the fringes somewhat by ProTools layering and endless effects. It’s Safe I’m Not Here recalls Jet, Rocks-era Primal Scream and even early Rolling Stones. The fist-pumping thrill of a bunch of talented mates making an enthusiastic noise is augmented by some songwriting nous that are revealed in greater clarity each time the album is played.

Album opener and first single Get Low lays out The Wisers’ stall, all jangly old-school R&B guitars, strong simple melodies and anthemic chorus. Outsider continues in similar vein, throwing in a Led Zeppelin-style intro riff for good measure and The Devil’s In The Suburbs refines matters slightly, bar a chorus in which singer Chad Thomas channels Zack de la Rocha.

There’s more in that (impressive) vein elsewhere, but too much of a good thing might have had an adverse effect on the overall impression the album makes. Happily, then, the band prove they are able to mix melancholy with muscle, with Miles being a radio-friendly ballad likely to make it onto hundreds of mixtapes made by love-lorn youngsters, should The Wisers commercial reach expand as far as it deserves to.

 

Angelique Kidjo has achieved an immense amount musically over the last couple of decades, collaborating with dozens of high-profile artists around the world and racking up countless awards for her work (including her second Grammy – for this collection). She’s also established a reputation as an activist for, among other things, human rights, and her work in this area enjoys similar profile to her music.

This can affect the way her songs are consumed – it’s easy to be so aware of her pervasive brand that hearing something fresh in this group of new compositions is difficult. Kidjo’s default setting is an upbeat, energetic, cheerful sound with multiple backing singers adding to her already strident vocals – necessary to compete with the banks of percussion, keyboards, guitar, bass and other instruments.

There are more collaborations here, including Asa on the title track and Dr John (whose piano solo on Kulumbu is one of the album highlights). At 16 tracks, Eve feels a touch long for a single-sitting listen, but it’s difficult to deny the undeniable soul of the music for long.

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