Mary Lorson & Saint Low/
[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
LISTENING TO Juggernaut Rides '89-'98 (Castle)****, I have to wonder what more the under-regarded Swervedriver could have done to make a go of it. They were signed to Creation Records at the peak of its clout and credibility. They had an exhilarating sound - thunderous, streamlined rock, with melody and harmony criss-crossing through it like seams in a goldmine. Their best tracks - The Other Jesus, Rave Down - are enough to make you grin with pleasure, and this two-disc retrospective never drags. Ideally, you'd play it while steering full-tilt along heat-blistered tarmac. My only complaint is the omission of Feel So Real and the long-form, almost bebop version of Never Lose That Feeling/Never Learn.
Mary Lorson & Saint Low may find their roots in alt.country, but they deserve their own tag - alt.carpenters, maybe. The delicate and charming Realistic (Cooking Vinyl)**** is coloured with the soft jazz tinge that's fearsomely popular today, yet it's a world away from the plastic dinner-party music of Norah Jones or Jamie Cullum. Easy on the ear needn't mean mannered and soulless. Both Lorson's songs and her voice are appealing and sweetly unsentimental. Her unfancy but neat piano work guides an album which - while it could discreetly brush past in the background - generously rewards close attention.
Another singer whose presence quietly defies drippy fads is Eliza Carthy, a leading figure in the English folk revival. Rough Music (Topic)*** takes it name from the endearing tradition of mob justice that nowadays drives paediatricians from their practices; but it's also a reminder that Merlot and scented candles were none too common in old Albion. This is folk with backbone, and a bracing severity. The first half makes a refreshing mix of heritage and modernity - particularly Carthy's reading of Billy Bragg's King James Version. The second sounds too rigorously “authentic” for my taste.
I have a sneaking regard for techno survivors Autechre, simply due to their wilful and relentless experimentalism. Those who enjoy the sounds of pinball machines, looped and sequenced into eight-minute segments, will be delighted with Untilted (Warp)**. Others will find themselves checking that their CD player hasn't jammed. Of course, real Autechre fans wouldn't be caught using anything so archaic as a CD player. Autechre seem motivated by the same disregard for all conventional axioms of music and rhythm that characterises the soundtracks of animated cartoons. Perhaps, in a former Eastern Bloc nation, some avant-garde Tex Avery is even now dropping asymmetric anvils on a cubist cat to the whirring, scrambled accompaniment of Augmatic Disport. If not, he should be.
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