Albums of the week: Daniel Knox, Van Morrison and Jacob Collier

H.P. Johnson Presents

Daniel Knox - Chasescene

(H.P. Johnson Presents)

*****

()

Daniel Knox learned how to play music in public, at night. Back in the Nineties, freshly dropped out of film school, he would drift in and out of luxe hotels in downtown Chicago, find a piano in the basement and experiment until the staff kicked him out. He continues to work as a cinema projectionist (and occasional organist) in his native city, and still spends a lot of time wandering in the darkest hours as his deadpan Instagram feed attests: discarded unicorn horns; frozen hot-dog stands; pretty reflections in the asphalt.

That’s how his music sounds too. “I try to reach for you but always/I haunt the corners and the hallways/I’m always late for my applause/I try to reach you with my claws …”

Chasescene is Knox’s fourth album and the one that ought to expand his cult beyond Chicago (David Lynch, Rufus Wainwright and Jarvis Cocker were all early converts). The production is old Hollywood by way of Weimar Berlin: tipsy pianos, swooning strings and debonair melodies.

Knox’s baritone is supple and graceful, but it rarely provides comfort. The title track is a lovelorn murder ballad. On the country-tinger Leftovers, he displays some of the vituperative wit of a Father John Misty or John Grant: “Getting tired of this musicless dance/Why don’t you put your hand down my pants?” But it’s the murmured, melancholy afterthought that lifts the song: “And then we will be going somewhere… stranger.”

At other moments he is content to play cinematographer: Nina Nastasia sounds like a doomed Disney witch on The Poisoner; Cocker lends his seedy whisper to Capitol; the instrumental waltz that opens the album really deserves its own Netflix series. A warm tinkle of chandeliers before you’re thrown out into the elements.

by Richard Godwin

Van Morrison - The Prophet Speaks

(Caroline International)

***

()

At 73, Van Morrison has been shaming younger artists with his work rate. But with a fourth album in just over 12 months, that prolific output is starting to look a little mercenary. At least the fans shelling out for The Prophet Speaks will find moments of Van the Man’s magic. Alongside a formidable blues band, he produces bursts of soulful scatting on a record of personal favourites by Sam Cooke, Solomon Burke and John Lee Hooker, as well as half a dozen new tunes. Compared to the majesty of Astral Weeks, released almost exactly 50 years ago, it’s a ragtag collection that’s unlikely to appeal beyond true believers. They shouldn’t have long to wait for his 41st album.

by Andre Paine

LP- Heart to Mouth

(BMG)

****

()

New York’s Laura Pergolizzi (LP, for short) may have just penned her most honest album to date with her fifth outing. “When I get on the mic and start doing melodies, I can feel that direct line from my heart to my mouth,” she says. Confessional songs they certainly are, exemplified by the touching Recovery, with stripped-back piano and stark lyrics, about a broken relationship and addiction.

Channelling a blend of arty pop-rock, she lays bare a struggling soul on Stevie Nicks-inspired Dreamcatcher and dreamy electropop earworm Girls Go Wild. She’s written for everyone from Rihanna to Cher and her vocals are compared to others (Gwen Stefani, usually). Yet Heart to Mouth feels like Pergolizzi’s moment to be recognised as a powerful artist in her own right.

by Elizabeth Aubrey

Moonlight Benjamin - Siltane

(Ma Case)

****

()

Haiti’s Moonlight Benjamin generates one powerful sound. Memwa’n, the arresting opening track, is hollered over jangling guitars and drums, her voice sailing over the turbulence. Her mother died giving birth to her in Port au Prince, she was raised in an orphanage and is now based in France. Benjamin’s style’s been called “voodoo rock ’n’ roll” and she sings in creole and occasionally French.

Not all songs match the opening but the electric guitar (Matthis Pascaud) and rumba rhythms of Port au Prince are striking, as is Met Agwe. Given the urgency of her vocals it’s a shame the lyrics aren’t translated.

by Simon Broughton

Jessica Radcliffe - Remembrance

(Ubuntu Music)

****

()

There is Kickstarter, and then there are television quiz shows. Part of a team that beat the Chaser on ITV’s The Chase, London-based vocalist and composer Jessica Radcliffe poured her winnings into recording this remarkable project, a portrayal of the impact of the First World War. Flanked by a spirited band on reeds, keys, bass and drums, she draws on an array of influences to reanimate the likes of Dulce et Decorum Est by war poet Wilfrid Owen, and offer fresh originals including I Would Rather Be A Rebel, a tribute to the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Charismatic singing, speaking or vocalising without words — as she does on The Last Post — Radcliffe is a talent to watch.

by Jane Cornwell

Jacob Collier - Djesse Vol. 1

(Decca)

****

()

Londoner Jacob Collier is yet another musician discovered through his YouTube cover versions but his were genuinely special — split-screen films in which he reworked songs, played every instrument and sang every layer. His debut album was recorded in his bedroom, maintaining that homemade feel. The follow-up is more ambitious. This is the first of four collections due out soon, backed by the sounds of Jules Buckley’s Metropole Orkest and featuring everyone from Laura Mvula to Moroccan Gnawa musician Hamid El Kasri. He still has a winning way with a cover, jazzing up Lionel Richie and The Police here, while originals range from sparkling show-tunes to Princey electrofunk. It’s anyone’s guess what the next instalment will be like.by

by David Smyth

More about: | album reviews