Scottish Daily Mail

Welcome chip off the Oldfield block

MIKE OLDFIELD: Return To Ommadawn (Virgin EMI) Verdict: Fans’ favourite updated ★★★✩✩ FLO MORRISSEY & MATTHEW E. WHITE: Gentlewoma­n, Ruby Man (Glassnote) Verdict: Unlikely couple hit the mark ★★★★✩

- Adrian by Thrills

THe past decade has seen Mike Oldfield appear in the opening ceremony for the London Olympics, cut a collection of regular rock songs and premiere his first classical piece in the evocative Music Of The Spheres.

For all that, he keeps getting pulled back to the albums that he made in the early Seventies, and it’s easy to see why: Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn sprang from an era when rock music was taking itself a little too seriously, but they were startling, innovative records.

Oldfield, 63, is about to embark on a mind-boggling fourth incarnatio­n of Tubular Bells, the album that launched Richard Branson’s Virgin empire 44 years ago.

But, for now, his focus is on this restoratio­n of another sprawling, two-piece suite, Ommadawn.

The original, which reached number four in the charts in 1975, was largely acoustic. Made in the reclusive multi-instrument­alist’s home studio in the Welsh hills, it relied on traditiona­l instrument­s — Greek bouzouki, American banjo, African drums and Celtic pipes. ‘Looking on social media, my first three albums are still everybody’s favourites 40 years on — Ommadawn even more so than Tubular Bells,’ says Mike. ‘It was a genuine piece of music, spontaneou­s rather than produced.’ This sequel was created in another home studio, this time in the Bahamas, reflecting how Oldfield’s life has changed in the past four decades.

Thanks to some tasteful electric guitar, it has greater fluency and polish than the original, but generally stays faithful to the acoustic, largely instrument­al blueprint.

Its homely, hand-crafted nature is key. With its two movements lasting 21 minutes apiece, it is designed as a convention­al, two-sided LP (its vinyl release comes with a Seventies-style gatefold sleeve). Oldfield, who plays guitar, mandolin, bass, ukulele and penny whistle here, uses an old-fashioned, wind-up metronome to help him keep time. Like its forerunner, the album draws much of its emotional power from personal tragedy and upheaval. In 1975, Oldfield was reeling from the sudden death of his mother Maureen. Last year, he lost his father Raymond, 93, while his son Dougal, 33, died from natural causes in 2015. His third marriage, to French horse breeder Fanny Vandekerck­hove, ended in 2014.

The first half sets a suitably reflective tone. The music ebbs and flows in time-honoured fashion, with motifs developing into repetitive sequences in the style of Tubular Bells. A flamen coinfluenc­ed passage of guitar reiterates Oldfield’s technical skill.

On THe downside, the melodic refrains lack the indelible stamp of his best work, and there is also a tedious percussive break. The second half is punctuated by more immaculate guitar. Oldfield harks back to the 1975 recording by sampling some choral vocals and cutting them up to produce fresh patterns.

There is also a fleeting reference to his top-five single On Horseback, but the song is not granted the full reprise it deserves.

Its inclusion might have made this album more inviting to fans beyond those who implored him to release it via an internet campaign. As it is, Return To Ommadawn, while superbly played, is unlikely to attract many new converts.

AT FIRST glance, Gentlewoma­n, Ruby Man gives the impression of being one of those beauty-and-the-beast collaborat­ions that pairs a delicate female voice with a roaring male rocker — a ploy that worked a treat for Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.

But London folk singer Flo Morrissey, 22, and beardy American guitarist and producer Matthew e. White, 34, have come up with something different: an eclectic set of covers that is soulful and expansive where so many similar efforts are cool and stripped-back.

The unlikely duo met at a tribute concert for the late country singer Lee Hazlewood, and there is a touch of the latter’s work with nancy Sinatra to their dreamy version of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne.

elsewhere, their imaginativ­e duets include rapper Frank Ocean’s Thinkin ’Bout You and Kyle Field’s funky but mellow Look At What The Light Did now. They use Frankie Valli’s disco standard Grease to pay a clever homage to Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand The Rain.

Their version of Roy Ayers’ everybody Loves The Sunshine deviates little from the original. But, like the rest of this unheralded release, it’s a hazy delight — the first musical surprise of 2017.

 ??  ?? Guitar man: Mike Oldfield has reworked a true fan favourite
Guitar man: Mike Oldfield has reworked a true fan favourite
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