Released 6 months after Aladdin Sane, David Bowie released the covers album Pin-Ups as a stop gap release for the record label. The album is mostly glammed up versions of R&B hits released in the 60s while Bowie was a teenager. On “See Emily Play” (Pink Floyd), Bowie and The Spiders from Mars (minus drummer Mick Woodmansey) add 90 seconds of psychedelia at the end. Of the two tracks originally by The Who, “I Can’t Explain” is the better one that Bowie turns into a slower, sleazy love song. “Sorrow” (The Merseys) is another highlight. The easy, laidback beat adds strings and horns as Bowie turns in a very good vocal performance.
The two tracks that sound the most like original Bowie songs is “Friday On My Mind” (The Easybeats) and The Kinks’ “Where Have All the Good Times Gone”. While Pin-Ups mostly feels like a quick, dashed off recording, it does open the listener to several tracks that may have been forgotten. In the age of streaming, downloading the originals would make for a cracking compilation playlist.
Belle and Sebastian have quickly followed up their 2022 release, A Bit of Previous with Late Developers released just 7 months later. “Juliet Naked” comes in immediately as the music starts. The band sound really confident, far away from awkward teenage glances as Stuart Murdoch sings of “prayers and pills, dusty nights in quivering hotels”. The sound immediately shifts on “Give a Little Time” where Sarah Martin takes over the vocals with chirpy handclaps and talk that “these are the best days”.
Martin takes over the vocals again on the funky “When You’re Not With Me” before the Passion Pit like synth track, “I Don’t Know What You See In Me”. The confidence of earlier songs disappear where Murdoch questions whether he is good enough. Martin and Murdoch then share vocal duties on the 60s folk sound of “Will I Tell You a Secret”. The album closes with the title track that adds horns and has a bit of a jam feel to start, nice keyboards and a bit of drumming.
Late Developers has a modern flair but includes what has always made Belle and Sebastian a cult favourite, including the album cover. Sarah Martin shines whenever she steps up to the mic. Stuart Murdoch adds several classic B&S lyrics like the “I wish I could be content with the football scores” line on “When We Were Very Young”. Cementing his nerdy/cool outsider status even into his 50s. Late Developers is a full band effort that rivals some of their music from the early 2000s.
The second in a trilogy of albums, And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow follows up the excellent Titanic Rising. Hearts Aglow has the feel of a singer-songwriter album from the 70s. “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” embodies this 70s esthetic, a touch of soulfulness that soothes as it drifts along. Natalie Laura Mering’s voice is strikingly beautiful, it is well showcased on the minimalist “God Turn Me Into A Flower”. “Hearts Aglow” is highlighted with a Wurlitzer as the soundscape swoops.
“Children Of The Empire” has a brighter sound, with snappy finger snapping in the chorus, it’s a bit more attention grabbing than some of other tracks. A couple instrumentals appear on the second half including the watery sounds of “In Holy Flux”. Working with a few different arrangers/producers including Jonathan Rado, all of …Hearts Aglow is quite lovely but often does not really grab the listeners attention as it moves along. Under the beauty there is often not much there… there.
Released just over 55 years ago, Bob Dylan more or less keeps his extraordinary string of albums going with the country tinged John Wesley Harding. The album cuts back on Dylan’s epic songs and instead sees most tracks clocking in at the 3-minute mark. The title track has a great bit of drumming from Kenneth A. Buttrey. Along with Charlie McCoy on bass, the album has a minimal feel than the last few records Dylan had released with just “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” stretching out over 11 verses. The haunting, “As I went Out One Morning” where the protagonist gets taken by the arm by a woman in chains is more typical of the songs Dylan released here.
The most famous song on the album is the original version of “All Along the Watch Tower”, later made more popular by Jimi Hendrix’s stunning version. The driving acoustic guitar and impassioned vocal are as powerful as the lyric, “there are many here among us/Who feel that life is but a joke”. “Down Along the Cove” sees Dylan move to piano on a jaunty track before the pedal steel guitar of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” closes out the set.
This set of Dylan songs does not quite reach the heights of his mid 60s period albums. The cracked vocals on “Drifter’s Escape” and the bluesy “Dear Landlord” are fine songs that feel like a more laid back Dylan. In all, this makes John Wesley Harding a little less awe inspiring than what listeners had become used to but one in which Dylan stays ahead of most in the musical pack of that time.
For the first time in 13 years, singer-song writer/producer Ian Broudie has resurrected the Lightning Seeds band name. See You In The Stars contains 10 songs coming in at just over 30 minutes, most of which are perfect little pop nuggets. The jangly acoustic driven “Great To Be Alive” is an uplifting track co-written with James Skelly from The Coral. The pair also collaborate on “Live To Love You” that adds female vocals for colour with the energy coming from the drums.
“Time is flying, dreams are dying” appears on “Emily Smiles” that Broudie co-wrote with the recently deceased Terry Hall. “Permanent Danger” is more introspective as the singer states, “somedays I think I am on my own”, the closing title track has Broudie in a deeper, mature voice on a song that sounds like vintage Lightning Seeds. At 64 years old, Ian Broudie has released ever more clever pop music that doesn’t go too deep but always stays on the right side of twee.