Albums of the Week: Song To A Refugee, Shiver, Charles Ives - Complete Symphonies
New releases from Diana Jones, Jónsi and Gustavo Dudamel
This week’s three releases include Diana Jones’s beautiful new album, Jónsi’s first full-length solo record in a decade and Gustavo Dudamel’s recordings of Charles Ives’s symphonies with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Diana Jones: Song To A Refugee
The US folk revival that began in the 1940s “had as its figurehead a refugee”, said Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the FT. In his Dust Bowl Ballads, Woody Guthrie sang of being an “Okie” who joined the mass migration from poverty-stricken Oklahoma, in search of work and opportunity in California. On her beautiful new album, Diana Jones draws on that tradition to sing about modern-day refugees, with music rooted in acoustic guitars and mandolins, and a style influenced by the old-time sounds of Appalachian country music.
Many of the album’s cameos are drawn from the US-Mexico border, said Neil Spencer in The Observer, where the two young brothers in the song Where We Are “flounder in a chain-link cell”. But the album also takes in other parts of the world. The Sea Is My Mother describes a perilous Mediterranean crossing, while on We Believe You, Jones is joined by Steve Earle, Richard Thompson and Peggy Seeger to “testify on behalf of asylum seekers”. Powerful and poetic, tender but “unflinching”, this is “a record for our times”.
Proper Records £11
This is the Sigur Rós singer’s first full-length solo release in a decade, said Dan Cairns in The Sunday Times – and the album could have been titled Shimmer, rather than Shiver, so “alluring and mesmerising are the surfaces and background textures that dance, refract and twist throughout its 11 tracks”. Producer A.G. Cook is on “inventive form here, providing electronic soundscapes that alternately cushion and gnaw at Jónsi’s beatific vocals and often contrastingly savage lyrics”.
Thirty-year-old Cook is Charli XCX’s creative director and “a master of glitchy, peculiarly skewed modern pop”, said Jude Rogers in The Observer. It feels as though the producer has encouraged Jónsi (“the indie boy Enya”) to strip each song to its “bare bones and add stranger, steelier muscles”. The results include edgy, ethereal fare such as Cannibal, on which the Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser “guests delicately”; the thrilling “metallic scrape” of Swill and Wildeye; a “skittish, robotic” choir on Hold; and Salt Licorice, featuring Robyn and also synth melodies. “More of this, please.”
Gustavo Dudamel, Los Angeles Philharmonic: Charles Ives - Complete Symphonies
Charles Ives (1874-1954) was the “ultimate American maverick”, said Richard Fairman in the FT. His four symphonies are “unique and wildly disparate confections, which have struggled to get the attention they deserve”. But Gustavo Dudamel’s recordings, made live in Los Angeles in February and now available as a digital-only release, make a compelling case for Ives’s greatness. If in doubt, try the “Comedy” movement of Symphony No. 4, in which dozens of American popular tunes and hymns “pile one on top of another in a riotous cacophony”. It’s an “exhilarating, multi-layered, musical dream”.
Dudamel proves a “very fine Ives interpreter”, said Andrew Clements in The Guardian. In the Fourth Symphony, with the Los Angeles Master Chorale supplying the off-stage choir, he “magnificently” captures the work’s “complexity and transcendental ambition, with every detail – blurs of quarter-tones, patchworks of quotes, and moments of jaw-dropping immensity – brought into sharp focus. It’s a glorious achievement.”