Album reviews: new offerings from Ben Caplan, Harry Connick Jr, Rudimental and The Dears
Caplan sounds just like he looks (that’s a good thing); and Connick Jr makes a foray into the world of polished pop
Birds With Broken Wings
Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, the mightily bearded Canadian folk/roots musician Ben Caplan has the rasping voice and piano thumping skills to match his impressive facial fuzz. Sounding like Tom Waits throwing back bourbon with Leonard Cohen and the devil himself, Caplan’s debut, In the Time of the Great Remembering, bore strong influences of European gypsy folk, and lusted wildly for booze, blues and bruised souls. For the follow up, Birds With Broken Wings, Caplan’s faithful backing band, The Casual Smokers, were joined by a diverse group of fellow musicians, bringing new sounds (darbouka, cimbalom) and colours to Caplan’s rousing and romantic tales. The stomping title track, a frenetic tune about taking (not necessarily good) ideas through to their fullest potential, sees Caplan growling about wanting that “hopeless dream depression” and “incurable cancers”, while on I Got Me a Woman he gleefully bleeds the blues. Now replete with lush orchestration, live favourite 40 Days & 40 Nights finally makes it on to tape with an angelic backing choral that perfectly captures the raw passion of Caplan’s raging bar room performances.
Harry Connick Jr
That Would Be Me
Once touted as the successor to Ol’ Blue Eyes, big-band jazz vocalist Harry Connick Jr is now known as much for his American Idol moonlighting as for the more than 28 million albums that he’s sold. However, watching all those pop wannabes week after week has certainly rubbed off on Connick Jr. That Would Be Me sees the smooth retro crooner taking a step out of his jazzy comfort zone and dipping his toes into the world of polished pop. “It definitely goes places that I don’t usually go, but it feels very natural to me,” Connick Jr has said of his new direction. Co-produced by Butch Walker (Pink) and Eg White (Adele, Sam Smith), the album’s lead single (I Do) Like We Do is a chilled-out acoustic strum that swings so politely it would struggle to knock Jack Johnson off his surfboard. On (I Like It When You) Smile, Connick Jr channels his inner Pharrell in a blatant attempt to produce this year’s Happy. All upbeat and funky, it even has the rousing gospel chorus to make you, well, smile and be happy.
We The Generation
Topping the UK charts in 2013 with their sunny debut album Home, English drum’n’bass act Rudimental sought the warmer vibes of Jamaica’s Geejam Studios for the follow-up, We the Generation. The Hackney foursome wisely stick to their winning formula of banging club rhythms and guest pop vocalists, including Ed Sheeran on Bloodstream. A frenetic remix of Sheeran’s original track which featured on his album X, it now buzzes with a torrent of drum beats, the singer’s loved-up request to “tell me when it kicks in” sounding as apt for Rudimental’s raging rhythms as it does for Sheeran’s druggy holiday experience. Lianne La Havas adds her soulful tones to the lazy jazz lilt of Needn’t Speak, while Anne-Marie and emcee Dizzee Rascal show up for the full-on club track Love Ain’t Just a Word. The biggest voice on the album is the late R&B legend Bobby Womack’s: New Day pitches him against a blues soul groove and a modern EDM flow of beats.
Time Infinity Vol 1
Critically lauded in much the same way as fellow Montrealers Arcade Fire, indie baroque poppers The Dears have always flown under the radar of mainstream success. With an ever-evolving line-up and a sound of lush cinematic melodrama, you get the impression that’s just the way that founding members Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak like it. Four years on from their Polaris Music Prize-nominated album, Degeneration Street, The Dears’ sixth album, Time Infinity Vol 1, will be quickly followed next year by their seventh, Vol 2, which according to keyboardist Yanchak “is a little darker”. That’s not to say that Vol 1 is a happy-go-lucky affair – The Dears don’t have it in them to do light and fluffy. The first single, I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall, finds Lightburn asking “Whose side are you on?” over waves of crashing cymbals. It’s an album full of sweeping orchestral landscapes, notably Hell Hath Frozen in Your Eyes; on the brassy closer Onward and Downward, Yanchak kindly reminds us that “in the end, we will die alone”.