With two four-hour drives a week during the latter part of this year, I’ve had plenty of time to listen to music. 5 am at Sutton Scotney can be a surprisingly evocative time and place, and some of the most engrossing listens have with been older material that seems to suit the dark, early mornings. Laura Nyro’s 1970 Christmas and the Beads of Sweat springs to mind (Caroline doesn’t allow me to listen to that one in the house) and lately some vintage Van Morrison live recordings courtesy of EzTorrent. But, to ward off accusations of old fart-dom, it seems more appropriate to restrict the annual recommendations to music from the present millennium.
|Eliza Carthy Rough Music.
On a first listen this is less attention-grabbing than Eliza’s previous release, Anglicana. But having seen several of The Ratcatcher’s flabbergasting virtuoso live performances this year, you realise that it captures a band at the peak of ensemble playing. Eliza, Jon Boden and Ben Ivitsky’s fiddles combine in almost Bach-like counterpoint at times. And Maid On The Shore has been the J-M.org car journey singalong anthem of 2005.
|Nick Cave Abbatoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus.
Nick released this prodigious double in 2004, but I only discovered it early this year. Abbatoir Blues is a triumph of full-blooded rock’n’poetry, with Cave haranguing about Nabokov, Larkin and Johnny Thunders on There She Goes, My Beautiful World to a backing of guitars, drums and electric bouzouki. Channel 4 showed a late-night excerpt from his show at Brixton Academy, where he was equal parts menace and sex, striding the stage while the girls in the front row slavered. The Lyre of Orpheus is quieter and marginally less interesting, but still makes up a quality double set.
|Chris Wood The Lark Descending.
Many enjoyable albums emerged this year, but a single great one. Chris Wood is dour, weighty and morose, with a warm heart, slowly yielded. In other words perfectly English. The eight songs — a mix of trad. and original — are expertly crafted, yet at the same time, seem to emerge from nature, like fine sculpted oak. One In A Million is a modern-day folk song that could last as long as Lord Bateman. “She was shapely as a mermaid and her lips were red and wet, and her eyes as bright as herrings flashing in the net.”
|Thione Seck Orientation.
Thione Seck is the Senegalese former vocalist of Orchestra Baobab, and has always stood in the shadow of his immensely more successful compatriot Youssou N’dour. The fates seemed to conspire against him again, when this masterful tribute to Sufism — a branch of Islam that celebrates music and love, rather than subjugation and ordeal — sat, unreleased, on the shelf for three years while Youssou released the very similar Egypt. I’m delighted that this one is now receiving the acclaim it deserves, with a nomination for the Radio 3 World Music Album of the Year. It’s elaborately arranged by Frenchman, Fran’ois Br’ant (who produced Salif Keita’s breakthrough Soro), with copious strings and occasional vocal guests, to fuse the best of Bollywood, Egypt and West Africa.
|Chango Spasiuk Tarafero De Mis Pagos.
You’d not be wrong to suspect I enjoy recommending obscurities, so this Argentinian accordionist with a Ukranian Jewish heritage is right up my street! Late one evening at WOMAD this year, tired and engaged in conversation with friends, his performance gradually seeped into my consciousness and drew me in. Checking out this CD, I found it delightful. Not the tango you might expect, but a more fruity laid-back jazzy klezmer feel.