ADRIAN THRILLS: Smooth as silk… and sharp as a knife

ADRIAN THRILLS: Smooth as silk… and sharp as a knife

SILK SONIC: An Evening With Silk Sonic (Atlantic)

Rating:

Verdict: Sleek and soulful

COURTNEY BARNETT: Things Take Time, Take Time (Marathon)

Rating:

Verdict: Eloquent indie rock

KATIE MELUA: Acoustic Album No.8 (BMG)

Rating:

Verdict: Katie goes back to basics

When the nominations for next year’s BRITs were announced last weekend, the focus was firmly on the heavy hitters, like Adele and Ed Sheeran, and the British rap of Little Simz and Dave — all of whom are up for four awards.

Sneaking in, almost unnoticed, further down the card was a U.S. act which has just released an album that’s one of 2021’s unsung gems.

Silk Sonic — who will battle it out with Abba for the best international group prize in February — marks a welcome return for Bruno Mars, who has already chalked up five No 1 singles in the UK, including the Mark Ronson collaboration Uptown Funk.

Silk Sonic — who will battle it out with Abba for the best international group prize in February — marks a welcome return for Bruno Mars

This time, he’s back as one half of a soul duo, teaming up with Californian singer and drummer Anderson .Paak.

Their debut, An Evening With Silk Sonic, is unlikely to give Adele or Sheeran a run for their money in the UK charts.

But for lovers of 1970s soul harmony groups like The Delfonics and The Stylistics — and fans of 1980s funk — it’s well worth a listen.

Originally due out next year, its release was brought forward as the duo took off spectacularly in the States.

Their debut, An Evening With Silk Sonic, is unlikely to give Adele or Sheeran a run for their money in the UK charts

Mars is the better known of the pair over here, but this isn’t just the Bruno show.

His new partner (who added a full-stop to his surname to emphasise his obsession with detail) shares lead vocals throughout and adds old-school, Motown drums.

Having first met when they toured together in 2017, they are a double act in the truest sense.

There are plenty of nods to vintage R&B. The electric sitar on After Last Night is a throwback to such 1970s soul hits as Freda Payne’s Band Of Gold and The Stylistics’ You Make Me Feel Brand New.

Leave The Door Open, already a chart-topping single in America, features a reference to Michael Jackson’s Bad, with Bruno ad-libbing a few Jacko-like cries of ‘shamone!’.

Fly As Me is a tightly played retro-funk number. There are cameos, too, from storied funk musician Bootsy Collins, who introduces the group — and announces himself as ‘the blaster of the universe’ — as a compere at the start of the album.

He crops up elsewhere, too, stitching these carefully-sequenced songs together with spoken word asides that help to create the feel of an intimate club show.

Silk Sonic are sometimes too preoccupied with authenticity. They recorded on analogue equipment to meticulously replicate the sounds of the 1970s and 1980s

Silk Sonic are sometimes too preoccupied with authenticity. They recorded on analogue equipment to meticulously replicate the sounds of the 1970s and 1980s.

Luckily, their lyrics — about high-rolling romance, gold-digging lovers and the thrills and spills of Las Vegas casinos — are delivered with a knowing nod that steers them clear of pastiche.

Their overriding aim, in reviving the largely forgotten art of the soul harmony group, was to make a feel-good record to bring people together, and An Evening With Silk Sonic does just that.

If they eventually get to play UK shows, a British breakthrough will surely follow their Stateside success.

Another excellent record that has gone under the radar in pop’s pre-Christmas flurry is the third album by Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett

Another excellent record that has gone under the radar in pop’s pre-Christmas flurry is the third album by Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett. On first listen, Things Take Time, Take Time sounds like a typically self-absorbed lockdown dispatch.

Barnett, 34, sings of gazing at stray dogs from the window of her Melbourne flat, on Rae Street, and about her regret at a lovers’ tiff, on Before You Gotta Go. Her unshowy indie-rock is adorned with jangling guitars and the drums of co-producer Stella Mozgawa, of all-girl band Warpaint. No major surprises there.

But she has the ability to elevate everyday details into something greater than the sum of their parts. She made this album in the wake of a big romantic breakup, and her meditative songs — and droll humour — make for an eloquent journey through heartache and healing.

Refusing to wallow in self-pity, she extols the virtues of positive thought on brisk country-rocker Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To, and offers tough love to a friend in need on the deadpan Take It Day By Day: ‘Don’t stick that knife in the toaster, baby/Life is like a roller coaster.’

The latter is one of several songs that owe something to Lou Reed, with If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight sounding like an out-take from one of Lou’s albums with The Velvet Underground.

But Barnett is ultimately her own woman. ‘Take your broken heart and turn it into art,’ she sang on 2018’s Tell Me How You Really Feel and it’s a maxim that’s serving her well.

Unable to tour in lockdown, Katie Melua posted acoustic performances online from her London home — a move that has prompted her to re-work her 2020 release, Album No. 8

The new takes simplify things. The windswept, cinematic stylings of English Manner are replaced by smooth Spanish guitar

Unable to tour in lockdown, Katie Melua posted acoustic performances online from her London home — a move that has prompted her to re-work her 2020 release, Album No. 8, with greater intimacy. Originally made with a philharmonic orchestra and film composer Leo Abrahams, it’s now been taken back to basics.

Melua’s earlier version was made as her marriage to Superbike racer James Toseland was ending, and it used rich, elegant arrangements to dissect her heartbreak. On Airtime, she repudiated romantic preconceptions about love. Heading Home and Leaving The Mountain were inspired by her birthplace in the former Soviet state of Georgia.

The new takes simplify things. The windswept, cinematic stylings of English Manner are replaced by smooth Spanish guitar. Violinist Simon Goff accompanies Katie on Remind Me To Forget. The original album, while rooted in personal anguish, was dispassionate. This new version feels raw.

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