Janis: Little Girl Blue (DVD)

Joplin Pearl cover The 27 Club is a select few. Jimi Hendrix died at that age just weeks before Janis Joplin; Brian Jones and Jim Morrison in the same era; Kurt Cobain much later, and the appropriately-named Amy Winehouse more recently. Most of these died because of drug or alcohol abuse.

But was it actually the substances that killed them, or something deeper down?

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Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers

Corinne Bailey Rae

If you told Bailey Rae, just before she won the BBC’s Sound of 2006, what the next decade would bring, she may not have believed you: only the fourth woman to have a first album début at number one in the UK album charts; the death of her husband two years later; a raft of awards and nominations; performing at the White House and with Stevie Wonder.

Label: Virgin EMI
Time: 12 tracks /55 mins

After the playful soulfulness of her first disc and the tragedy of her second, this third release is infused with joy. She has married long-time collaborator, Steve Brown, and the relief, love and hope of new beginnings glows through nearly every lyric.

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Dave Bainbridge: His Iona Story

Bainbridge liveIona’s story is as fluid and mystical as the band’s blend of prog, Celtic, folk and jazz. It started with a few session musicians and produced songs that have changed people’s lives.

When the project began, founding guitarist and keys player Dave Bainbridge had no idea how big it would become. After playing for other people, he thought it time to put out some of his own material.

“My plan was to record an album as cheaply as possible (as I had no record company interest) and make 100 copies on cassette,” he recalled. “I even started to make a list of people I thought might buy it! That was the sum total of my vision, but God had other plans!

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Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop – Love Letter for Fire

 

Sam Beam and Jesca HoopIf Beam and Hoop sounds like a gymnastics event, it is the songwriting that stretches and flexes on this fluid performance. Fans of both should be thrilled.
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Afro-Celt Sound System – The Source

ACSS

There are few bands whose names are as appropriate as Afro Celt Sound System. It feels a bit tacky to do so, but you could describe them crudely as ‘Riverdance on safari’, so well do they blend the Celtic and African roots of their sound.

What pulls this first release in ten years so powerfully together is the rhythmic drive of both cultures. There is real energy here, but that is just the motor. The styling on top is equally exciting. Layer upon layer of lush, interwoven textures give this collection the feeling that you could play it for months on end and still be getting to know it better.

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Nick Page Experiences the Dark Night of the Shed

Nick page

When I had a monthly review slot on BBC Oxford’s Sunday Breakfast, Nick Page was the man to come in and round the show off, because his combined wit and wisdom had huge appeal. There is plenty of both here as he tackles the mid-life crisis.

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Format: Hardback, 220 pages

While Page would probably shudder at being labelled a brand, for those who have read him, his books ooze appeal like pine trees ooze sap. Among family, friends (and the couple who visited us for the first time this week and saw this book in the lounge) he is universally respected and enjoyed.

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Songs of Separation

Songs of Separation artists

“Songs of Separation” isn’t really about separation, admits  project creator Jenny Hill in the liner notes to this feast of female folk artists, explaining that it really looks across borders “to remind us that we’re all so much more connected than we seem.”

4 Stars
Label: Navigator Records
Time: 12 tracks / 56 mins

Effectively a protest directed at the Scottish Independence lobby, it features five English and five Scottish musicians – including leading lights like Eliza Carthy and Karine Polwart, together with Moulettes collaborator Kate Young and Mary MacMaster – working together during a week on the island of Eigg to arrange and record this dozen songs.

(I say, “working together,” but Carthy’s track could just as well have been taken off a solo album.)

Separation is used very loosely, and not just geographically, the songs also dealing with such issues as death, the loss of home, the gap between rich and poor, and the disconnect between human beings and the living world. It only appears inside the packaging, but the project is sub-titled ‘Reflections on the Parting of Ways.’

There is tremendous variety here, all within folk traditions, with traditional Gaelic songs, a touch of music hall on “London Lights” and two à capella tracks, recorded in a cave. When you get such a creative bunch of artists together, the result is often an impressive richness of detail. That is shown here, from the recording of the corncrake that opens the disc to the amalgamation of tunes in “Over the Border,” the history encoded in several of the songs, and the depth to which the concept is explored in many of the lyrics.

The outright highlight for me is the very Gaelic-structured “Sad Am I,” with a compelling rhythm, memorable tune and the inventive use of backing vocals.

But not far behind, with its short, wordless refrain, is a colourful account of “Echo Mocks the Corncrake”. “Poor Man’s Lamentation” has one of the strongest tunes.  The fiddle-fuelled “Over the Border” medley would have made a great finale, but that honour goes to the reflective, banjo-led “The Road Less Travelled.”

With these artists, the playing and singing will always be of the highest order, but the project (more about it here) works well as a whole and is highly recommended to folk-lovers.

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Philip Yancey on Prayer

IPhilip Yancey

In the business world, inventors can make a fortune by giving shape to simple ideas that affect nearly everyone, such as the tetra-pak milk carton and cats’ eyes in the road.

The millions-selling author Philip Yancey does a similar thing in the world of literature. He explains, “I choose a topic that I don’t feel good about, that I have a lot of questions about, rather than something I feel like I am an expert in.” It just happens that his questions are often ours too, and we lap up his books.

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Arvo Pärt – Musica Selecta

Arvo Part Musica Selecta

This meditative and quietly transcendent release is a landmark recording to celebrate this significant composer’s 80th birthday.

4.5 Stars
Label: ECM
Time: 19 tracks / 141 mins

Arvo Pärt must one of the top few most influential modern classical composers and this collection has been compiled to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Although missing the classic “Spiegel im Spiegel,” Musica Selecta would undoubtedly overlap with a greatest hits volume (“Fratres,” played by pianist Keith Jarrett alongside violinist Gideon Kramer, and “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten” would form its bedrock) but this is more of a singular celebration. Producer Manfred Eicher refers to it as a “personal… sequence. Each episode offers an insight into our shared journey.”

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Wim Wenders – The Salt of the Earth (Blu-ray)

Wenders, Salgado, Salt of the EarthWim Wenders’ excellent biopic of photographer Sebastiäo Salgado is punctuated with  images so arresting that they make you wish the terms ‘breathtaking’ and ‘stunning’ were not so over-used.

Distributor: Artificial Eye
Duration: 114 minutes + bonus features

Who better to direct a film about the life and work of a photographer, than Wim Wenders, an arthouse filmmaker who has recently preferred to take photographs?

Wenders was originally struck by the work of Sebastiäo Salgado, when he came across a Bosch-like image of gold miners and a haunting, dignified portrait of a blind Tuareg woman, which he still has above his desk, and which often brings him to tears.

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