Albums round-up: Sweet Talker by Jessie J; Heartleap by Vashti Bunyan; The Brooklyn Rider Almanac by Brooklyn Rider

Sweet Talker by Jessie J
Sweet Talker by Jessie J
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Two Jessie J lyrics encapsulate her third album. “I’m-a do it like it ain’t been done” she declares stridently in the opening track. “You ain’t seen he best of me/I’m still working on my masterpiece” she adds, perhaps more tellingly, later on.

Sweet Talker’s production is coated with several layers of gloss, and guests such as Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj have presumably been drafted in to woo the all-important American market. Choruses are big – in the case of Fire and the chart-topper Bang Bang enormously so – and Jessie delivers every note with considerable drama.

Ultimately it makes for exhausting listening. You long for an ounce of restraint or at least a little frivolity to puncture the grandiosity of it all. Sadly all we get is a power ballad to warp things up.

Admittedly, Sweet Talker does have better songs on it than her best forgotten second album Alive, not least Seal Me With a Kiss featuring the ever dependable rap troupe De La Soul (reprising a portion of their 1989 hit My Myself and I). It is, however, no masterpiece.

There’s no place for grandstanding on Vashti Bunyan’s first album in nine years – and only her third longplayer in nearly half a century. Instead the jumping stag on its cover is a gentle pun on the record’s title.

As ever with the singer beloved by ‘freak folkies’ such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, her vocals are as fragile and understated as the her songs themselves.

Where Bunyan’s previous albums were produced and arranged by others – Joe Boyd and Robert Kirby in the case of Just Another Day from 1970, the composer Max Richter helmed Lookaftering – here she has taken the reins herself.

“I wanted to emrge from the shadow of others and stand out in the open,” she explained.

Hence Heartleap has the intimacy of a home recording. There’s little adornment – Bunyan composed the gorgeous keyboard melody of Blue Shed by piecing together single notes and one-handed takes. Yet her painstaking DIY approach has paid dividends.

If Heartleap is, as she has apparently suggested, to be her last record, it is also her best.

New York-based string quartet Brooklyn Rider have been much feted for their work over the past decade. The American composer Philip Glass chose the ensemble – violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, viola player Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen – to premiere his Bent suite.

Their thirst for embracing unusual and contemporary work outside the classical canon here extends to 15 new pieces, each inspired by an artistic muse – among them the painter Keith Haring, the writer William Faulkner and the godfather of funk, James Brown.

The quartet’s performances are by turns rich and lyrical or daring and inventive. Rhythms are often complex, with shifting moods.

Fans of the similarly adventurous Kronos Quartet will find much to enjoy in this Almanac.

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