BRYAN FERRY: Royal Albert Hall 2020
Verdict: Polished live souvenir
VALERIE JUNE: The Moon And Stars: Prescription For Dreamers
Verdict: Perfect Cure
When Bryan Ferry and his band played at the Royal Albert Hall in March 2020, none of those in attendance could have foreseen that the triumphant climax of his UK tour would spell the end of normal live music for the year ahead.
The famous old London venue turned 150 on Monday, but the second of Ferry’s two nights was the last full-capacity show in the hall before closing.
Those performances are now commemorated on an excellent live album, with proceeds going to the singer’s inactive touring musicians and away crew.
The performances of Bryan Ferry and his band at the Royal Albert Hall in March 2020 are now commemorated on an excellent live album.
Available from Ferry’s website (bryanferry.com) on CD (£ 15), double vinyl (£ 35) and digital, it’s a perfect addition to last year’s Live At The Royal Albert Hall 1974, which featured his first solo tour.
That album focused on 1960s pop covers, with Bryan putting his own spin on hits from the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and Smokey Robinson. This one leans more heavily on his Roxy Music material (12 of the 18 tracks), and to Ferry’s credit that no songs show up on either album.
He delves with taste into Roxy’s groundbreaking early 1970s albums. Interior designer Nicky Haslam once said that unlike most rock stars, the stylish singer was more likely to redecorate a hotel room than throw it away.
And Ferry manages his Roxy legacy – an intoxicating cocktail of Hollywood glamor, 1950s revivalism and art rock – with respect and a keen ear for detail.
The Thrill Of It All, one of three songs here from Country Life from 1974, is greeted with a wave of applause before the rousing grooves drown out the din of the crowd.
The Bogus Man, from 1973’s For Your Pleasure, is a futuristic jazz rock song that maintains its power to surprise almost five decades after it was first recorded.
Roxy’s smoother later hits – Dance Away, Avalon, and Same Old Scene – hold up well too, though the excitement dips a bit with lesser-known solo efforts like Hiroshima and a slow Your Painted Smile.
The mood picks up on two Dylan covers, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right and Make You Feel My Love, both accompanied by Ferry’s melodic harmonica.
Like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who covered Dylan on the Grammy-winning lockdown album All The Good Times, he sings these songs as well as the man himself.
He ends by returning to Roxy’s golden age. Street Life is remarkably faithful to the studio original. The same goes for Virginia Plain, albeit with more elaborate backing vocals than on the original 1972 single. Editions Of You adds a rocking finale.
Time has not dampened Ferry’s flair. And since many of this year’s big concerts are being moved to 2022, it’s a reminder of the nights out we still miss.
Getting the Bob Dylan seal of approval is the ultimate accolade for any budding songwriter. For Valerie June, the thumbs up came four years ago, when Dylan said in an interview on his website that she was an artist he truly admired.
That endorsement came on the back of the Tennessee-raised singer’s second major album, The Order Of Time, from 2017. If Bob liked it, it’s a good bet he’ll be impressed by the sequel.
Despite its cumbersome title, The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers is mesmerizing – an LP imbued with a sense of wonder that could shape June’s career.
The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers by Valerie June is enchanting
The 39-year-old is considered a down-home folk artist, country singer and new-age hippie. Her foundations are gospel (she sang in church) and soul (her father was a promoter who gave performances by Bobby Womack and Prince).
She once made a record with blues rocker Dan Auerbach (from The Black Keys) and described her sound as ‘organic moonshine roots music’.
The Moon And Stars, out on Fantasy Records, takes her somewhere else entirely. Almost symphonic in design, it is a concept album about bruised romance and high expectations.
Sung in a signature Southern twang, it blends old-school soul, cosmic pop and R&B. Producer Jack Splash, who has worked with Alicia Keys in the past, adds shine without softening the album’s free spirit.
It’s a perfect record for latching ease. There are quiet interludes and a field shot of mockingbirds singing in front of a window during quarantine. But the occasional meander is offset by grating soul numbers that convey the feeling that life will get better once we allow ourselves to dream again.
The LP starts with a three-song rhapsodic suite.
Stay opens with bluesy, bar-room piano before building something bigger thanks to Tennessee stalwart Lester Snell’s elegant strings and flute arrangement.
This culminates in a short instrumental ‘meditation’ before June toasts a failed love affair that culminated in a lasting friendship on the jazzy You And I.
The centerpiece is Call Me A Fool, an emotional duet with Carla Thomas. Memphis soul queen Carla sang the classic Tramp with Otis Redding, 24 years old in 1967. Her presence here links the past of American music with the vibrant present: her soft backing vocals are a perfect match for June’s raw and powerful voice.
Acoustic love track Fallin ‘brings another flurry of yearning introspection -‘ dancing on the devil’s door, back again and wanting more ‘- before the album goes into overdrive on a series of songs that accentuate the power of positive thinking.
Among them are the pulsating Motown pastiche Smile and the otherworldly Within You, built around the glitchy drum loops of contemporary R&B.
“I wanted to add modern elements to the band-in-the-room approach I’ve taken in the past,” says Valerie, who is now based in New York City.
‘I don’t make music to get a prize or to win someone’s love. Because dreaming keeps me curious. ‘She certainly appeals to the imagination here.
Taylor returns to the old country
Taylor Swift has delved into the vaults to discover six previously unreleased tracks from the same era
Ahead of this month’s revamped version of her 2008 album Fearless, Taylor Swift has plunged into the vault to discover six previously unreleased tracks from the same era.
The first to emerge is You All Over Me, a mid-tempo ballad that sees her complain about the ‘wasted time’ while trying to get over an old flame.
With Maren Morris in the backing vocals, the song takes Taylor back to her country roots, although the presence of new collaborator Aaron Dessner, who plays guitar and subtle synths, adds a contemporary veneer in harmony with her recent folk rock LPs Folklore and Evermore. .
An earlier single, Love Story’s new recording in February, deviated only marginally from the 2008 original. Swift plans to re-create her first six albums after selling the master recordings in 2019.
And Paul McCartney has dropped yet another sneak peek for a new edition of last year’s ‘rockdown’ solo McCartney III, with American misfit Beck putting on the table a funky version of the Find My Way album track.
Beck gives the song an infectious dance floor makeover, sings with Macca and adds an 80s club feel reminiscent of Tom Tom Club.
The release follows last month’s R&B update of Florida singer Dominic Fike’s acoustic ballad The Kiss Of Venus. The McCartney III Imagined album, out April 16, also features St Vincent, Phoebe Bridgers, Josh Homme – and Idris Elba.