Album reviews: Richard Hawley, Damon Albarn and Father John Misty

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Richard Hawley

Standing At The Sky’s Edge

For years a balladeer in a 60s vein – a sort of cross between Roy Orbison and Scott Walker – Richard Hawley took a left turn with his last album, the experimental Truelove’s Gutter, which featured such instruments as waterphone, cristal baschet and Tibetan singing bowls. Standing at the Sky’s Edge is another diversion – into full-on psychedelia, with snarling guitars, Indian strings, and phased, echo-laden vocals that implore the listener to “leave your body behind”. As a bold artistic statement, it’s worthy of considerable applause.

Damon Albarn

Dr Dee

Inspired by the life of John Dee, mathematician, polymath and advisor to Elizabeth I, it’s no surprise that the new album from Blur frontman Damon Albarn is a curious yet fascinating affair.

The bucolic sounds of rain, birdsong and church bells that open the album quickly give way to glowering strings and organ, before the Wicker Man weirdness of Apple Carts sets the tone for an album of, in Albarn’s own words “strange pastoral folk”. Utilising sounds – harmonium, harpsicord, recorder, strings, choirs – and styles – hymns, madrigals, folk song – that resonate with Englishness, Albarn has crafted an album that is often lovely, and always interesting.

Tied to a stage show, it sometimes veers too far into music theatre territory, like on the annoying Watching The Fire That Waltzed Away, but the two minutes of choral bliss that is Tree Of Life easily make up for this.

As ever, Albarn’s voice is the fly in the ointment. He can do defeated melancholy just fine, but anything else and the music has to be really powerful to counteract his charmless delivery. Fortunately, it often is.

Father John Misty

Fear Fun

“I didn’t want any alter-egos, any vagaries, fantasy, escapism, any over-wrought sentimentality. I like humour and sex and mischief,” says Josh Tillman, one-time drummer with Seattle folk-rock band Fleet Foxes. Thus we have this album, a frank, morbidly humorous and sometimes excoriating record written in Laurel Canyon. The influences are Dylan, Waylon Jennings and, in songs such as Only Son of the Ladiesman and Funtimes in Babylon, the sarcastic wit of Loudon Wainwright III. It’s punchier than his old band but no less melodic. The rocky Hollywood Forever Cemetery Blues is its scruffy calling card.

Scott Caizley.

Scott Caizley: From Leeds couuncil estate to classical pianist