Archive | November, 2013

Rebecca Ferguson, Susanna And Ensemble Neon and Archie Shepp: New albums we’ve rated

29 Nov


Rebecca Ferguson: Freedom
3 star rating
It’s hard not to be struck by the quality of Rebecca Ferguson’s voice: smoky, steeped in emotion and somehow more seasoned than her years. It also surpasses the safe retro-soul productions on the follow-up to her well-received 2011 debut album Heaven. Ferguson exudes power and grace on numbers such as I Hope but these songs are stuffed with over-worn romantic metaphors and even a smooth cameo from John Legend feels predictable. Freedom’s title track is a rather subdued finale. Ferguson is presented as a showgirl-next-door but she sings like she has the guts to be much more.

Susanna and Ensemble Neon: The Forester
3 star rating
Norwegian Susanna Wallumrød works in an intriguing variety of genres, including electronica, ambient jazz and early music. She’s best known for her coma-paced versions of unlikely songs (Joy Division, Thin Lizzy, Dolly Parton) with her electro-acoustic Magical Orchestra. This project places her…

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Once Upon a Christmas goes interactive in London’s Covent Garden

28 Nov


Quite a lot is expected of anyone who signs up for this ‘theatrical adventure in Covent Garden’.

Your mission is to save Christmas, no less. After you’ve downed a test tube’s worth of ‘Elfaseltzer’, an angry elf with a phone-slamming habit gives you to understand that, without your help, Prince Charming and Cinderella won’t wed, Pantoland itself will self-destruct and all our beloved end-of-year festivities will be cancelled.

The ‘documentary theatre company’ Look Left Look Right specialises in immersive, site-specific productions and won a Fringe First for You Once Said Yes, which carried audience members under the skin and through the hidden alleyways of Edinburgh.

This is – perhaps inevitably, given the panto backdrop – a much more glittery and superficial affair. There’s nice character work to enjoy as you make your way in pairs around Covent Garden and modern comms are smartly deployed so you get to tweet and…

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Jez Butterworth’s Mojo has some fine comic sequences but the gags undercut its power

14 Nov


These days, Jez Butterworth splits his time between writing for the theatre and working on screenplays. His love of films is already very much in evidence in his breakthrough stage comedy, Mojo, which is set at the moment that rock’n’roll began to sweep the country in the 1950s.

It’s frequently bracketed with Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels – both are London gangland capers and appeared within a few years of each other in the 1990s.

But in Ian Rickson’s revival, it is the play’s debt to post-war Hollywood westerns and B-movies that emerges most clearly as the staff of the Atlantic Club in Soho batten down the hatches in preparation for an onslaught from their enemies following the murder of their boss, Ezra.

There are some fine, not to mention gruesome, comic sequences in Rickson’s starry production. Daniel Mays and Rupert Grint make a splendid double act as…

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Album reviews: Psapp, Ralph Myerz and Black Hearted Brother

14 Nov


Psapp marry junkyard breakbeats with mournful vocals, Ralph Myerz proves Julie Burchill had a point and Slowdive’s Neil Halstead joins Mark Van Hoen and Nick Holton

Psapp – What Makes Us Glow
4 star rating

This London-based duo have patented a peculiar brand of music that might be described as toytronica – delicate electronic music based around samples of Fisher-Price toys and household detritus.

On Wet Salt they assemble a bossa nova rhythm with what sounds like cutlery and ticking clocks; The Cruel, The Kind & The Bad is a terrifying Brechtian waltz (probably) made from kazoos and cardboard boxes; and That’s The Spirit might have been built with rubber bands and dripping taps.

All the time, these junkyard breakbeats are overlaid with cheap-sounding organs, glockenspiels, ukuleles and toy pianos.

It could sound daft and whimsical but for vocalist Galia Durant, whose beautifully blank voice and mournful lyrics miraculously remove any hint of…

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Ane Brun: I like looking through dictionaries while writing lyrics

7 Nov


‘As a musician, I really want to do my own thing – I want to go into that introverted place where I’m just me,’ says Ane Brun.

Introverted is certainly a good word to describe the Norwegian singer/songwriter’s magical, pared-down indie-folk, with its delicate, melancholy beauty born of long Scandinavian winters. ‘The music would sound different if I lived in California,’ she laughs.

Brun has spent most of 2013 in retrospective mode, celebrating ten years as a recording artist. In May, she released the 32-track Songs 2003-2013, and followed it last month with Rarities, a collection of hard-to-find and previously unreleased material.

Now she is about to visit Britain as part of her anniversary tour. ‘We’re trying to play music from my whole career but update the sound,’ she says. ‘I play most of the songs people want to hear. I do the hits in my world.’

Brun will be…

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Home is a handsome revival at Arcola

5 Nov


‘So rare, these days, to meet someone to whom one can actually talk,’ Jack tells his friend Harry as they chat in a courtyard. ‘One meets people. But very little communication actually takes place.’

The implication is that their dialogue by contrast is full of meaning and feeling. But you soon realise their exchanges consist of poetic non sequiturs that are almost entirely lacking in sense. The more they talk about their wives and the careers they would have liked to pursue, the more you become convinced they are actually delusional inmates in some large care home.

Things begin on a reserved note in Amelia Sears’s handsomely acted revival. The gentle banter between Harry (Jack Shepherd) and Jack (Paul Copley) occasionally dips into schoolboy naughtiness but no more. The arrival of two women, Kathleen (Linda Broughton) and Marjorie (Tessa Peake-Jones), brings an edge of coarseness to the proceedings. The incursions…

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