Yisa Yu charms;John Mayer's vanilla new album; and pianist Steven Spooner shows solid technique

China's Yisa Yu ventured into singer-songwriter territory on a handful of songs in her last album, Warm Water (2014).

So it is disappointing to find that she has completely relinquished composing and lyric-writing duties to others on her fifth album.

The good news is that her crystalline voice is as lovely as ever and there are a couple of noteworthy tracks here - opening number Revert flows as gently as water in a lazy brook, while Solitude Again is a dramatic ballad which Yu navigates with aplomb.

Elevator is a slice-of-life track that touches on the ups and downs of urban romances. With a light touch, Yu sings the observant lyrics by singer-songwriter Jin Wenqi: "A newly married couple has moved in on the seventh floor/We met yesterday in the lift/He didn't hear her sighing."

  • ASIAN POP

  • 00:00

    Yisa Yu

    Rock Records

    3.5/5 stars

Maybe she could take things to the next level with a return to songwriting on her next record.

Boon Chan


On the track Changing, Mayer sings, "I am not done changing", but this is hardly convincing considering there is little that is exploratory about his latest album.

  • ROCK

  • THE SEARCH FOR EVERYTHING

    John Mayer

    Capitol

    2.5/5 stars

Seven albums in, the singer-songwriter seems to be resting on his laurels,ensconed in a soft-rock rut.

Even the funk that runs through the album like a leitmotif isn't enough to save it from being a largely vanilla effort.

The recurring theme of never quite getting over an old flame is obvious. Moving On And Getting Over ("Cause you've been gone, I'm growing older, but I still can't seem to get you off my mind") puts it in plain sight.

Then there is the groovy Still Feel Like Your Man. The typical Mayer arrogance is never too far off as he starts off the track by singing that the prettiest girl in the room wants him. But a particularly sad line tells a different story: "I still keep your shampoo in my shower, in case you wanna wash your hair, and I know that you probably found yourself someone somewhere, but I do not really care."

Thankfully the sexy, trademark Mayer guitar licks are still present on certain tracks including Changing, and a big guitar solo on Helpless.

For a comeback album, his first since 2013's Paradise Valley, it is largely a lacklustre effort for the modern-day guitar aficionado.

Anjali Raguraman


American pianist Steven Spooner, professor of piano at the University of Kansas, was largely trained in the Russian school of piano-playing.

  • CLASSICAL

  • DEDICATIONS

    Steven Spooner, Piano

    A Life Of Music Records

    (15 CDs + 1 DVD)

    4.5/5 stars

Having studied in Moscow and Tblisi (Georgia), the repertoire he presents in this handy box-set mirrors those favoured by his idols, namely Sviatoslav Richter (represented by eight CDs), Vladimir Horowitz (three CDs), Emil Gilels and Van Cliburn (who himself was taught by a Russian).

He does not slavishly copy their styles. Instead he summons their collective spirits, allied with playing informed by his schooling, which emphasises interpretive rigour and solid technique.

Alongside heavyweight works such as Liszt's Sonata In B Minor, Schubert's Sonata In B Flat Major and song cycle Winterreise (with baritone Chris Thompson), Brahms' Piano Quintet (with the Borromeo Quartet) and Debussy's Preludes Book 1 (3 performances), one will also find rarities and gems.

His teacher, the Georgian pianist Nodar Gabunia's A Pupil's Diary, Schnittke's rarely heard Piano Concerto and American Mohammed Fairouz's Second Sonata are well worth several listens, while Arensky's Elegie In G Minor is a melody to die for.

Spooner's own improvisations of gospel hymns and Concert Etudes in the styles of Martha Argerich, Keith Jarrett and Horowitz make perfect encores.

In lieu of printed programme notes, he supplies audio commentaries at the end of each disc that are insightful and personal.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe