Acoustic Sessions The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (Chimera Music)
The "beautiful boy" born to John and Yoko has made a beautiful record. The Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger consists of Sean Lennon and paramour Charlotte Kemp Muhl, and together they make thoughtful, pretty music - acoustic music, as the album title suggests, all jaunty chansons, wordy sixties folk-pop and peppermint-scented light-psychedelia, some of it blissful and some of it rainier. Lyrics are whimsical. Instrumentation is delicately done, as if arranged by an artful florist. And if Beatle-y comparisons must be made, it's Paul McCartney's Michelle or George Harrison's sprightly slide-guitar that would come to mind. One suspects the most influential hand-me-down from Lennon senior was the forgotten stash of acid tabs tucked away in that big white piano.
And so, fantastical imagery abounds - these two cloud-reading unicorn-riders follow where love goes on the album-opening Lavender Road, a lilting French-pop number with Lennon and the breathy Kemp Muhl sharing cuddling, breezy harmonies. "Here we go, pulling up the curtains in the magic show/ heroes and ghosts sit in the front row."
The album charms like a countryside circus. You wonder if the Hendersons will all be there, late of Pablo Fanque's fair - what a scene, you bet.
Both Lennon (a quirky heir) and Kemp Muhl (a quirky model) are billed as multi-instrumentalists and co-writers. Who knows where one starts and the other begins - the affair is one of acoustic guitars, with a gentle layering of shakers, cellos, banjos and accordions here and there. The six-string business is civil and tasteful.
Lyrics, as you would imagine from a duo with such an overthought moniker, are highly considered. Exhibit A, from the finger-picked and melodica-brooding Shroedinger's Cat: "From Socrates to Aristotle, man's greatest thoughts and deeds/ mere love notes in cheap beer bottles, floating out to sea." The couple that couplets together, and all that.
Lennon and Kemp Muhl are not above clichés, but their employment is not done lazily. Also from Shroedinger's Cat: "Like a tree that falls alone, in the woods without a sound/ Can't be sure that I exist, when you are not around." Sweet, right?
The album's more tuneful second half devotes itself to futuristic themes. The lysergic folk-pop duet of Dark Matter is all dark vibraphones and ground-control-to-Major-Tom vibe. The scrapyard protagonist of Robot Boy - he is composed of paper clips, refrigerator parts and microchips, with a heart of rubber bands and plastic toys - survives a flood to find someone of his own kind.
It's hard to say what the future holds for Lennon and Kemp Muhl, who told Vanity Fair their musical relationship was "like meta-lovemaking." Lennon, 35, has been something of a musical drifter, and the duo's next album, tentatively titled Victorian Cyborg, is an electric one. "We don't want to be huge pop stars," Lennon said in the same Vanity Fair piece. "We just want to be the artists we want to be, without limitations."
On Acoustic Sessions that freedom is not only evident, it is enviable.
OTHER NEW RELEASES THIS WEEK
Page One Steven Page (Universal)
Devotees of the Barenaked Ladies must feel like the children of divorced parents, their upset over the split softened by the consolation of two Christmases. The first gift arrived this summer with an album from the Page-less BNL, and now comes another present, the solo debut of former BNL co-front man Steven Page. The album's title, Page One, suggests a new beginning, and yet the winking singer-songwriter pop sounds more like classic Ladies than even the current BNL. The Beatle-ish Over Joy is an upbeat ode to melancholia and the sixties-styled She's Trying to Save Me is more fun than a barrel of the Monkees. The album's closer, The Chorus Girl, is a multi-meaning slow dance that addresses Page's new, less-exciting status - "There'll be no waiting limos/ No cocaine and discos" - while pledging faithfulness to girl and song. For BNL fans, this package is not only worth ripping open, it might be exactly what they were hoping for. Brad Wheeler
The Union Elton John and Leon Russell (Universal)
This is a (re)union between a mad dog and an Englishman that comes decades too late. Elton John resurrects the white-bearded, southern-fried fellow pianist Leon Russell for a well-intentioned session involving producer T Bone Burnett, two Steinways and four hands but not much in the way of songs. Album-opener If It Wasn't For Bad is more a bouncy homage to Billy Joel than a celebration of Russell, and the material, on the whole - some of it written by John and Bernie Taupin - rarely crackles. Sure, the Band-inspired Civil War ballad Gone to Shiloh, with a cameo from Neil Young, is a keeper. Elsewhere though, the get-back honky cat John is out of place, trying to drink whisky from a bottle of wine. Brad Wheeler
Cinema Paradiso Paul Potts, tenor City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (RCA)
The TV Idol phenomenon reached its apogee in 2007 with phone salesman Paul Potts's triumphant audition for Britain's Got Talent. When Potts lifted his round, courageous face to the lights and sang Puccini's Nessun Dorma, his unprepossessing figure tapped into the frog-that-is-a-prince archetype these shows were designed to exploit. Potts's third CD, of hits from movie soundtracks, follows its predecessors in cultivating the sentimental intersection of pop music and Italian opera. (Pavarotti did it, with his superior voice, in Ti adoro; Andrea Bocelli does it, too.) Italian texts reinforce the connection: Somewhere My Love, from Dr. Zhivago, becomes Dove non so, for instance, and even when Potts sings in English, he affects a slight "Italian" accent. His true-pitched but not especially refined tenor won't put real opera singers out of work, but he's chosen his repertoire well: Potts does a decent imitation of Jose Carreras singing Maria from West Side Story; What a Wonderful World, immortalized by Louis Armstrong, rings true as personal history; and, unmistakably, his heart's in his voice. Elissa Poole
The Sun Comes Out Shakira (Sony Music Latin)
Down in the United States, this was released as Sale el Sol, no doubt to ensure it isn't mistaken for an Anglo-oriented effort like She Wolf or Laundry Service. Funny thing is, this album is every bit as cosmopolitan, from the club-friendly beats driving Addicted to You to the no-need-for-translation sentiment of Loca. But then, Shakira's approach has always been essentially transnational, equally at home with the accordion and trumpet spice of Gordita, the Afro-Caribbean punch of Rabiosa and the sunny, California pop sheen of Mariposas. The Sun also has two versions of Waka Waka, for those who didn't hear it enough during the World Cup. J.D. Considine