Ian Sinclair reviews the latest from Dear Reader, Townes Van Zandt and Ralph Towner
Dear Reader Day Fever (City Slang)
RECORDED in San Francisco, this is the fifth album by Dear Reader — South African singer-songwriter Cherilyn MacNeil — following her politically infused 2013 record Rivonia. Like her previous work, it’s an impressive mix of orchestral indie music, all dubbed to tape by analog enthusiast John Vanderslice.
Joanna Newsom is a key influence, especially on MacNeil’s fairy-tale vocals on tracks like So Petty So Pathetic. The grandiose ambition and attitude of critics favourite Sufjan Stevens also seems an important touchstone.
Opener Oh, The Sky! tells of MacNeil’s trip to visit her elderly grandmother in a retirement home, while the set closes with The Run, a song about MacNeil “having a moment” while jogging through a park near her Berlin home.
Full of interesting instrumentation and intriguing, personal lyrics, the album feels somewhat disjointed — a mishmash of random songs rather than a cohesive, engrossing artistic statement.
Townes Van Zandt Flyin’ Shoes/Texas Rain (Charly)
TOWNES VAN ZANDT is “the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that,” his fellow US singer-songwriter Steve Earle once said.
These two reissued albums go some way to explaining why the late Texan troubadour remains a country legend for many.
First released in 1978, Flyin’ Shoes is considered one of Van Zandt’s strongest sets, with the vulnerable No Place to Fall and the title song, a tired piano-led ballad, particular highlights.
Texas Rain found Van Zandt recording his best-known songs with country royalty including Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Dough Sahm in the early 1990s.
The spooky Waiting Around To Die is as great as ever, as is Pancho and Lefty, sung here in two languages.
A real pleasure, these records are a great introduction to the enigmatic songwriter.
Ralph Towner My Foolish Heart (ECM Records)
ACCORDING to 76-year old American jazz guitarist Ralph Towner, the popular standard My Foolish Heart has “had an immeasurable impact” on his musical life.
Citing Bill Evans’s take on Waltz for Debby as the seminal version, Towner revisits the song on his latest album, otherwise made up of original compositions.
It’s a beautiful solo set of instrumental pieces, with the maestro playing classical and 12-string guitars.
The wild intensity and vision of his extraordinary ’70s albums like Diary and Solstice is replaced by gentler, contemplative playing, giving the music and listener space to breathe.
The tracks are relatively short, with four coming in at under two minutes, perhaps a product of his advancing age.
The quick-stepping Dolomiti Dance is exquisite, while Blue As In Bley is a tribute to Canadian pianist Paul Bley, who died just before recording began.