New CD releases: Jake Shears, Tom Baxter and Jason Mraz
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
JAKE SHEARS Jake Shears ★★★★✩ (Absolute)
IN the wake of Mamma Mia! 2 the charts might just be ready, once more, for the sort of big, show-stopping, pop that dominated the airwaves during the 1970s and early 1980s. If so, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears has it covered.
His first solo album is a rollickingly theatrical romp with rolling bar-room piano, oompah brass and soaring strings. But it is sweetened, as ever, by sublime tunes and some very sassy lyrics: “You say I got a dirty face but I’m sharper than a razor-blade,” he croons on the hilarious Big Bushy Mustache.
Apparently influenced by The Bee Gees at their most early and thoughtful – as is clearly demonstrated on the lush, falsetto-sung, Everything I’ll Ever Need – 39-year-old Shears never loses sight of the fun that makes the Scissor Sisters themselves so irresistible. On Sad Song Backwards, in which a love affair is played in reverse, he gets the bitter-sweet balance just right.
TOM BAXTER The Other Side Of Blue ★★★★✩ (Sylvan Records)
An Ipswich-born singer-songwriter and the son of two folk performers, Tom Baxter has a uniquely sad elegiac sound that is completely mesmerising. He sings with the gentle precision of Paul Simon and picks out extraordinary little acoustic patterns on his guitar, much like his hero, the folk pioneer Davey Graham (celebrated here in a song).
The title track, which opens the album, charts the gradual heartbreak of realising a partner has changed and moved on while For Crying Out Loud, buoyed by some superb guitar flourishes, is equally moving.
This is his first album in 10 years, his previous songs having been admired and recorded by everyone from Rufus Wainwright to Shirley Bassey, and he tours it from September to November. Don’t miss him.
JASON MRAZ Know ★★✩✩✩ (Atlantic)
A committed social activist, who only eats raw vegan food, Mraz was never going to return with an album of edgy death-metal. But his first release in four years, following a spell in the Broadway show Waitress, is lightweight pop in the extreme.
A duet with Meghan Trainor is mildly diverting. But he has a rich, warm voice so mannered that Better With You sounds like “better with Hugh”. Such childish amusement is as good as it gets…
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