Education, Education, Education & War
A DECADE after Britpop peaked, a bubble of hope formed around new indie bands Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park and The Cribs. It has deflated a little bit every year since.
However, this fifth album from the Leeds quintet does more to put them back on track than singer Ricky Wilson's primetime role as a judge on The Voice UK. For a start, there's some fire in the belly of Wilson's lyrics again, as he takes the masses' side in the battle of austerity Britain and makes his contribution to the First World War centenary.
There has occasionally been a spark of punk in Kaiser Chiefs' make-up when it's not being extinguished by arena-sized singalong anthems, and it's rekindled here, particularly in The Factory Gates and Cannons (and particularly if "spark of punk" means "echoes of TV Smith").
Fans worried by the departure just over a year ago of drummer and songwriter Nick Hodgson can rest easy, as this new release contains at least three songs that will become pillars on which to hang a live set list: the aforementioned Factory Gates; Bows & Arrows, with a chorus that just keeps on giving; and My Life, on which the souped-up engine of Vijay Mistry's drums pretty much laps Hodgson's efforts on the last couple of albums.
THERE are probably few folk who have felt that what was missing from their musical firmament was a female equivalent of Aidan Moffat.
But those imaginative souls have their prayers answered in the third track on the fifth album by Jerusalem-born Avital Raz, which is entitled The Edinburgh Surprise, in which she narrates a tale - one possibly more true than anything that Moffat has penned - of a drunken sexual encounter in the Scottish capital in the most explicit of terms, with a twist in the tail (sic). It is likely to be one of the most compelling things you hear all year.
There is much more to The Believer than that, however.
Raz, who has also imbibed the vocals of Ofra Haza in her homeland, learned Indian singing in the subcontinent and lived in Berlin before coming to rest currently in north-west England. She recorded this set in cellist Pete Harvey's Pumpkinfield studio in Perth, with contributions from percussionist Dave Pratt and, on one track, guitarist Amos Ungar.
It is a wonderful musical journey that will appeal musically to fans of female experimentialists from Bjork to Ela Orleans and lyrically to those who admire Emmy the Great or the former Arab Strap chap.
The Robert Cray Band
In My Soul
THE title is something of a giveaway in this, the blues-soul guitarist's 17th studio album of his 40-year-long career.
In My Soul has an unmistakable sheen of the kind of R'n'B admired by anyone familiar with the output of the Stax and Chess labels between the 1950s and the early 1970s.
Two tracks in, there's an irresistible cover of Otis Redding's Nobody's Fault But Mine, complete with horn section and Cray's needle-sharp guitar work.
Your Good Thing (Is About to End), Lou Rawls's hit from 1969 (when Cray was still in his mid-teens) gets an impassioned cover and a stinging guitar outro.
Bobby Bland's hit, Deep In My Soul, more or less gives the album its title track. There's even an instrumental, Hip Tight Onions, which nods in the direction of Booker T.
Of the originals, Hold On is a late-night sort of song in which a man wearily counts the highway signs as he makes his way back home to his woman after a particularly stressful day; What Would You Say is a plea for a better world; and the bonus track, Pillow, with its intriguing electric sitar sound, is gorgeous. Cray, who plays Edinburgh's Queen's Hall on May 17, has delivered an assured album that rewards repeated listenings.
Barbara Dickson and Rab Noakes
THE only real deficiency in this six-track sampler of the music to be heard on the tour that the two veterans of Scotland's 1960s folk scene set off on this Friday is that it fails to include a cover of the Peaches & Herb hit from 1979 that gives it its title.
With an admirably punk-rock aesthetic, if more regard for pace and sonic quality, Dickson and Noakes recorded this 20 minutes of music in a single afternoon at the home studio of John Cavanagh in Glasgow's leafy Muirend.
With Dickson now reclaimed from the world of musical theatre, and Noakes enjoying an Indian summer as a performer after life as an independent media mogul, they can take their rightful place as our GP and Emmylou.
That inspiration is audible in opener Do Right Woman, with Dickson employing just the right level of vocal vibrato, while the Everlys supply the lovely closer, Sleepless Nights.
In between, the duo swap lead vocals and harmony duties, with Noakes having the tune in a remarkable reading of Que Sera Sera that rescues it from clubland cheese with moving profundity. Catch them in Falkirk and Pitlochry next week, Milngavie next month, or Skye, Stirling, Kelso and Shetland in June.