Album Selection for October

Barbara Dickson       Time Is Going Faster            Chariot           Out Now

Over a year in the making, Barbara Dickson’s new album reflects the care that has been put into it over that period of time. Nick Holland’s production puts a shimmer of gloss over proceedings, and brings out the best of the material underneath.

Strong material, too, from exquisite treatments of the traditional Barbara Allen and Lament of the Three Marys, Hamish Henderson’s Ballad of the Speaking Heart and Icelandic song Heyr Himna Smidur to three new songs by Barbara herself.

Time Is Going Faster, Where Shadows Meet the Light and Goodnight, I’m Going Home prove to be stand outs in an album filled with strong material and serve to make you wonder why she hasn’t written more in recent years. Add to those Tell Me It’s Not True, which she originally recorded for Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, Gerry Rafferty’s Look Over the Hill and the Incredible String Band’s Good As Gone, and you have a pretty much faultless line up.

In addition to producing the album, Nick Holland adds keyboards, and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley, bassist Brad Lang and drummer Russell Field provide impeccable backing. Quality all the way.

Esbe                Saqqara                      New Cat                     Out Now

Esbe is a composer, producer, and vocalist from London. Her music is an eclectic blend of influences that range from her pure classical roots to contemporary, world music and film scoring. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, where she gained an LRAM and won the prestigious ‘Julian Bream Prize for Guitar’ her concert career as a classical guitarist has been brought to a close with the onset of Focal Dystonia.

This has not prevented her from composing and recording music in her London studio, and she draws on her North African and Eastern European roots to great effect to produce a series of albums with a broad palette of sound while retaining her highly individual style.

Saqqara, her fifth studio album, has, as its title suggests (Saqqara is the oldest necropolis pyramid) been largely inspired by Egypt and her memories of travelling down the Aswan. Unable to travel in these days of Covid, she has created this impressive album based on those memories of her trip.

Her lyrics are in English, but the music carries strong influences of the area, and perhaps the times too, that she wishes to recreate. Something she manages, to these ears, remarkably well, although I’m sure she would not baulk at the suggestion that there is a degree of romanticism involved.

Samples of crickets, birds and thunder are woven into My Love Knows No Bounds; there’s an Indian influence at play in Qawaali Dance; but the whole is an evocation of the timelessness of a desert landscape.

Looking out the window at the rain as I write this, I’m thinking that Saqqara is ideal listening for our times. So I’m going to sign off now, close my eyes, and dream of travels past and travels yet to come.

Bette Smith                The Good The Bad and The Bette              Ruf                 Out Now

Bette Smith traces elements of her “life-affirming” new album The Good, The Bad & The Bette to her childhood in rough Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Musically, it connects to the gospel music she heard in church and the soul music on the street corners.

Daughter of a church choir director, she’s been singing since she was five years old. Her debut album Jetlagger got rave reviews, Billboard likening her to Betty Davis and Berry Wright, and her international reputation was assured after a celebrated appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

For her new album, Wright has enlisted Drive-By Truckers’ Matt Patton and drummer Bronson Tew as producers at Dial Back Sound in Water Valley, MS. Patton in turn enlisted guests North Mississippi Allstar Luther Dickinson (guitar on “Signs and Wonders”) and fellow DBT member Patterson Hood (vocals on “Everybody Needs Love”) to join him on the new album.

There’s a powerful collection of very personal songs here, with subject matter that varies from a farewell to her mother on Whistle Stop to her love for her dog (I Wanna Be Your) Human.

Along with Signs and Wonders, standout tracks I’m a Sinner, Everybody Needs Love and I Felt It Too lift this album a notch above your standard Southern soul and blues fare, and Don’t Skip Out on Me provides a wonderfully soulful finale.

Jim Welsh

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