Who? The Burns Unit
Title: Side Show
Label: Proper Music
Tell me more: A super-dooper Scottish supergroup featuring Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock, Future Pilot AKA, King Creosote and other artists that may or may not be known south of Coldstream.
The Lowdown: This eight-piece came together at Burnsong in rural Scotland in 2006, which is, I gather, a showcase for diverse talents to come together and bash and clash and see what comes out at the end. Nothing to do with Rabbie Burns it appears and the album features ten original tracks. Given that the backgrounds of the Unit are folk, alt-country, rap and a band that can best be described as indie-Indian there is a fascinating breadth of ideas and sounds on Side Show. There is the Kate Bush-esque Sorrys, featuring the enchanting vocals of Emma Pollock, the campfire niceties of You Need Me To Need This and the emotionally, and politically, charged Send Them Kids To War. With such a range it almost feels like a compilation.
Anything else? How many bands can claim that their formal debut appearance on stage played to a sold-out crowd of 1200?
Who? Natacha Atlas
Label: World Village
Tell me more: Atlas traverses borders with roots or residencies in North Africa, London and Belgium and she blends her Middle Eastern heritage with the sounds of the west. Mounqaliba is inspired by the poems of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore and, in addition to original works, contains covers of Francoise Hardy and Nick Drake songs.
The Lowdown: Among the tracks I would like played at my funeral is Chariots, by Transglobal Underground, not for any thematic reasoning but purely because it is one of the most endearing and atmospheric tracks ever recorded, with Atlas providing it with her majestic voice. Mounqaliba is written almost entirely by Atlas and Samy Bishai, who grew up in Egypt, the orchestral players are Turkish and Atlas sings in Arabic, with interludes in French on Francoise Hardy’s La Nuit Est Sur La Ville and English on Nick Drake’s River Man. Atlas moves easily through the languages, adding beauty and grace to the non-Arabic tracks while adding some bite when she sings in Arabic. It would be difficult to pigeon-hole this album as World, something Putamayo would make a compilation out of, but like Transglobal Underground, or Temple of Sound, this is an album that reflects the sound, sights and feel of the modern world.
Anything else? In 2001, she was appointed by former Irish President Mary Robinson as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Conference Against Racism.
Who? Stars and Sons
Title: Good Morning Mother
Label: Twice Burnt Records
Tell me more: England’s new white hope, an over-excited Q magazine writer has gone as far as describing them as “the next big thing.” A little premature perhaps considering they had a single out in 2008, and one to herald this, their debut.
The Lowdown: In the UK’s fast-flowing, eat-em-and-shit-em, music scene, you need something to stand out. Doing 30 gigs in a week, including places like Bristol Prison, will get half-page spreads in The Sun. Judging by the reviews they can cut it on record too. In The Ocean, that debut from two years ago, is a rousing, zany, family and student-friendly single; Drop and Roll is a more mellow accompaniment with keyboards and a captivating chorus and there’s many swings and roundabouts on the bright and breezy Untested, Untried. It’s poppy, catchy and inoffensive but also seems like many ideas are rehashed and that they rely too much on enthusiasm and a carefree attitude, which is perfectly acceptable but may not be enough to fuel them beyond or even to a second album.
Anything else? Founder Mike Lord is a former bin-man and classical music graduate who has a love of musicals. This may explain much of the contents of Good Morning Mother.
Who? Trinity Roots
Title: Music Is Choice
Label: The Label
Tell me more: Before signing off in 2005, Warren Maxwell, Riki Gooch and Rio Hunuki-Hemopo, released two albums that sold extremely well in New Zealand despite not being bothered by advertising or mass radio play. Music Is Choice features tracks from two concerts at the Wellington Town Hall, from August 2004, and six months later, which was their farewell gig. A second disk features a 71-minute documentary on the band and various bits and pieces.
The Lowdown: Trinity Roots come from the same musical whanau as Salmonella Dub, Cornerstone Roots or Fat Freddys Drop, a select group of New Zealand bands that take the essence, and heart, of reggae and provide it with funk and soul. It is a beautiful, measured sound, wonderful for a leisured day in the garden or in the park, or while ironing the shirts. As a live show, it would appear Trinity Roots had it all and this album captures them at their peak. But while this may be a retro album, and one with some fantastic extras, they’re not a footnote of history, as they play around the country next month after reforming recently.
Anything else? The artwork you see is the cover, folded out. The segment on the bottom right is what you’ll see in the shop.