May Music Review (part 1) – Mystery Jets, Jack White and Sweet Billy Pilgrim

This is more like it! After a year when I’ve felt that even my favourite new albums have been good in a somewhat predictable and comfortable way, and nothing has really moved me, suddenly this month the inspiration has returned!

We’ve got so much to cover there’ll be a part 1 today and part 2 tomorrow. So today, three fairly established artists.

Firstly, and on a slightly disappointing note, the Mystery Jets with Radlands. I love the MJs as we’ll call them. Their last album was one of my top 5 of 2010, full of great tunes, life and energy. And Redlands starts like its going to surpass that – the first four tracks are excellent, a slightly more Maccabees like indie feel compared to the pop rock of their last , but things then tail off. This was recorded in the US and is supposedly their Americana album, but after the great opening salvo, while still enjoyable, it feels like a step backwards. Too many of the later tracks are soporific, pleasant sub-Jayhawks stuff. So 9/10 for the first four tracks, 7 /10 for the rest.

Here's the best track on the album.

 

Now we come on to the really exciting stuff. Jack White claims Blunderbuss is his first solo album – technically true after the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and Dead Weather, not to mention his recording work with Karen Elson (his ex-wife) and Loretta Lynn.

Compared to his previous work, the sound here is closest to early White Stripes, but with a thrillingly eccentric air to it; on some tracks, Abba-like piano arpeggios chime away while Jack shrieks and blasts his guitar in the foreground. But it’s great! The songwriting is confident, tunes abound, as does excellent guitar work. There isn’t a weak track; for me, even the best White Stripes albums (White Blood Cells and Elephant) had a couple of irritating tracks; nothing here jars. If you’re a fan already, you’ll love it; if you haven’t been, give it a listen. 9/10.

Now, something perhaps even better? I’m wavering around the 9.5/10 mark for Sweet Billy Pilgrim with Crown and Treaty. SBP were short listed for the Mercury Music Prize in 2009 for the brilliant Twice Born Men. Could this live up to its predecessor? Yes, without a doubt.

In fact, it is a more consistently excellent album, with some stand out tracks but nothing that is less than very good. Tim Elsenburg, who is very much the driving force, has a knack of writing songs that can sound quite unstructured, but then he suddenly conjures a stunning melody that pulls everything together. When I saw then recently live, with my namesake musical friend, we were singing along to Kracklite by the second chorus. (“Yeah...just another way to be forgotten, strike a match and throw it into the dark..).”

Yet it’s not even the best track on the album; Joyful Reunion and Brugada, are just superb, clever, yet hugely enjoyable songs. The lyrics are worth a listen too; the style covers rock, folk, a touch of jazz and blues, and if you had to make a comparison, it would be Elbow at their best. Unfortunately, Elsenburg does not have Guy Garvey’s warmth and outgoing personality as a performer, which is maybe what is stopping them being huge. But another Mercury nomination should be a formality, and this deserves to move them into the Premiership of rock. What the heck – let’s give them 9.5/10.

And more delights to come tomorrow…

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