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James Elkington: Wintres Woma (Paradise of Bachelors)
HAVING collaborated with a bevy of artists including Jeff Tweedy, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn and Joan Shelley, Wintres Woma is Englishman-in-Chicago James Elkington’s debut solo record.
Recorded in Wilco’s Loft studio and taking its name from the old English phrase for “the sound of winter,” the album is a revelatory and accomplished set of folky compositions that sound like they were unearthed from the mystical depths of British history.
Elkington’s guitar work is stunning on tracks like the tale of teenage excess Greatness Yet to Come and the nimble Make It Up, where his wistful Nick Drake-style vocals overlay his skilled fingerpicking.
The cello-inflected Wading the Vipers and instrumental interlude The Parting Glass are reminiscent of the work of folk legend Nic Jones.
This a modern masterpiece — file next to label-mate Jake Xerxes Fussell and fellow Windy City resident Ryley Walker.
Ani DiFranco: Binary (Righteous Babe)
BINARY is a welcome return for prolific, politically progressive US singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco — amazingly, this is her 20th studio album since her 1990 debut.
Once again the backbone of her now trademark funky jazz-soul sound is created by her longtime and hugely talented touring backing band, bassist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Terence Higgins.
There are some cracking tunes here, from the roaming rock of Terrifying Sight to the experimental spookiness of Fizzing, which features Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.
The current state of her nation informs the nonviolence-championing Pacifist Lament (“If I had a school/I would teach Gandhi and Dr King and Aung San Suu Kyi”) and Play God, a denouncement of those trying to weaken reproductive rights.
If one sidesteps Delayed Gratification — a pretty sickening tribute to drone-bombing President Obama — this is another fascinating instalment in the career of one of the US’s greatest popular artists.
Fit and the Conniptions: Old Blue Witch (Self-released)
LONDON-BASED singer-songwriter Wayne Myers has been recording as Fit and the Conniptions since 2005 and Old Blue Witch is his fourth album.
Assisted by Duncan Menzies on fiddle, viola and tin whistle and Holly Mallett on drums, Myers kicks up an impressive folk-blues storm that brings to mind The Wave Pictures and Rory McLeod.
Politics are front and centre, with the moving tribute Bob Crow (“I dreamed I saw Bob Crow last night…”) and the Leon Rosselson-sounding What Kelly Knew, which questions the circumstances surrounding the death of ex-UN weapons inspector David Kelly in 2003.
The title song — complete with its gendered slur — concerns the death of “widow-making poll-taxer” Margaret Thatcher and it’s an angry response to her legacy in the continuing closure of hospitals and libraries.
Full of dry wit and tight, occasionally verging on funky, instrumentation, Old Blue Witch has an enticing ’80s/early ’90s DIY aesthetic.
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