Record Review with Kevin Bryan

Kevin Bryan returns to cast his eye over some of the latest music releases.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens - The Laughing Apple (Decca). The wheel seems to have turned full circle for Cat Stevens as the veteran acoustic balladeer’s endless spiritual quest finds him revisiting a string of songs which were penned during his early years as a performer half a century ago, including several haunting ditties which are now appearing on record for the very first time. This beguiling collection also reunites Yusuf with his old guitar playing sidekick Alun Davies and producer Paul Samwell-Smith and the three men are entitled to feel justifiably proud of their efforts here as they roll back the years to deliver melodic gems such as Blackness of the Night, Northern Wind and The Laughing Apple itself.

The Texas Gentlemen - TX Jelly (New West Records). This loose knit outfit’s undiluted passion for American roots music permeates every note and nuance of TX Jelly, a splendid piece of work which was recorded live in the space of just four days at the legendary FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. These gifted musicians have paid their dues in no uncertain fashion as the backing band for critically acclaimed luminaries such as Joe Ely and Terry Allen, and The Texas Gentlemen’s debut album is liberally peppered with highly listenable ditties such as Habbie Doobie, Bondurant Woman and their energised revamp of Johnny Kidd’s 1960 chart-topper, Shakin’ All Over.

Levi Roots presents Reggae Reggae Hits (Union Square/BMG). The contents of this undemanding 3-CD anthology don’t spring too many surprises on the unwary listener as it serves up 60 hits and obscurities from the reggae archives for your delectation. The earlier offerings are particularly impressive, including some choice extracts from the back catalogues of Jimmy Cliff, The Upsetters and the great Desmond Dekker, whose infectious contributions include It Mek, 007 and his classic 1969 single, Israelites.

Sparks - Hippopotamus (BMG). Ron and Russell Mael should be congratulated for keeping the Sparks brand alive well over four decades after making their all important commercial breakthrough with hits such as This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us and Amateur Hour. The Californian brothers continue to mine a rich vein of quirkily memorable pop as they unveil their 23rd studio album, with the long awaited follow up to 2009’s The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman showcasing lyrically and musically compelling ditties such as Probably Nothing, Giddy Giddy and What The Hell Is It This Time?

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