Kevin Bryan’s record review - 1st January

In his latest weekly music review, Kevin Bryan gives us his thoughts on the latest album reviews.

Gentle Giant, “Giant Steps” (Talking Elephant TECD 209)- This fascinating anthology first saw the light of day in 1975, capturing the highlights of Gentle Giant’s vinyl output during their first five years together. The band’s arcane and experimental version of prog rock drew on influences from such diverse sources as folk , jazz and classical music and was always going to be something of an acquired taste, although the quintet did bequeath several excellent albums to posterity during their creative heyday. “Nothing At All,” “Alucard” and “Giant” capture the essence of Giant’s complex and unsettling sound.

Tori Amos,”Gold Dust” (D.G. 479 0551)- This plushly orchestrated offering finds maverick tunesmith Tori Amos re-visiting some choice extracts from her sizeable repertoire alongside Jules Buckley and the Netherlands based Metropole Orkest. She may have been described as a “feral Kate Bush” in the past,but there’s nothing particularly feral about “Gold Dust,” which serves up thoughtful but relatively unchallenging new versions of melodic gems such as “Star of Wonder,” “Winter” and “Silent All These Years.” These newly minted reworkings may not deviate too radically from the originals but they do certainly provide an enjoyable introduction to the quirky delights of Tori’s highly acclaimed back catalogue.

Matraca Berg,”Love’s Truck Stop” (Proper PRPCD 107)- Matraca Berg is probably better known as a songwriter than as a performer in her own right, with three Grammy nominations to her credit in a career spanning more than two decades. The Nashville based singer’s new Proper CD boasts vocal back-up from luminaries such as Kim Carnes,Gretchen Peters and Emmylou Harris and boasts some fine examples of the bittersweet country balladry which has become Berg’s trademark,including touching narratives such as “Sad Magnolia,” “We’re Already Gone” and “Waiting On A Slow Train.”

Old Crow Medicine Show, “Carry Me Back” (Atco/Decca)- This excellent string band present the music of America’s rural south with a virtuosic charm which first captured the hearts of bluegrass devotees on both sides of the Atlantic when they made their album debut in 2004 with the eponymously titled “O.C.M.S.” Roots music has rarely sounded more authentic and affecting since the golden days of The Band, and newcomers to the sextet’s drumless acoustic sound would be well advised to lend an ear to timeless tracks such as”Carry Me Back To Virginia,” “Ain’t It Enough” and “Ways of Man.”

Memphis Slim,”Rockin’ The House” (Fantastic Voyage FVDD151)-Prolific blues pianist Memphis Slim is the subject of this fine new anthology from Fantastic Voyage. The 2 CD set draws on 50 essential recordings from the period between 1946 and his permanent departure for France in 1962,a turbulent phase in Slim’s career which found him hopping from record label to record label with alarming regularity. The quality of his musical output remained consistently high throughout these years however, and compiler Neil Slaven has unearthed a string of riveting archive gems led by “Nobody Loves Me,” “Messin’ Around” and “Lend Me Your Love.”