On her last album, Amit 2 (2015), Taiwanese singer A-mei seethed and snarled. For example, she let it rip on Matriarchy: "Men proclaim themselves kings while women have to bear the weight of the world."
As though in deliberate contrast, Story Thief is quieter and less confrontational. The singer is more concerned with matters of the heart and the pared-down arrangements place the focus on her voice and naked feelings. It is the ballads which shine here as she works with top collaborators such as Jay Chou and JJ Lin.
The opening title track, penned by Taiwanese singer-songwriter Eve Ai, has A-mei ruminating on a failed relationship: "When you left that day, I stopped telling stories/ Stopped weaving transitions, no need to fret about an ending."
There is no chorus with an obvious hook here, but the melody sneaks up on you and the honesty of the emotions draws one in.
On the ballad A Bad Good Guy, with lyrics by Singapore's Xiaohan, A-mei acknowledges: "Whose heart hasn't been damaged, hasn't been trapped/Grateful to have survived, that's enough to be real/Not much innocence left in life/I'm willing to wait again for a bad good guy."
Full Name, composed by Mandopop king Chou, narrates a poignant tale of unrequited love. A loss of intimacy is conveyed by a telling little detail: "When you mention me again, it's already by my full name."
This is the sound of someone a little rueful, a little older and wiser, and yet still clinging to hope.
A handful of tracks take a different tack, including the synth number Withdrawal, which presents another aspect of relationships - desperate desire: "Want to breathe you in deeply/Dig my nails into your flesh."
Story Thief, it turns out, is a pop album for adults.
THE SAVORY COLLECTION: VOL 4 - BOBBY HACKETT AND FRIENDS
National Jazz Museum of Harlem
Cornetist Bobby Hackett is, as the title suggests, the star of this latest volume in the series of bootleg recordings being reissued at a steady pace by the National Jazz Museum of Harlem.
His sweet, round tones, influenced by the early swing of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke, are radio-friendly jazz at its chart-climbing best. He is teamed here in quartet and swing band settings with bandleaders including clarinetist Joe Marsala, pianist Teddy Wilson and trombonist Glenn Miller.
The issues plaguing earlier volumes in the series persist - crackles, pops and hisses due to the nature of these tracks, bootlegged by sound engineer William Alcott Savory from radio broadcasts. But these are minor irritants in the bigger picture as this volume contains gems.
The three 1939 live tracks from Wilson's 13-piece orchestra are worth the price of admission. This orchestra featured a muscular, melodic brass section boosted by saxophonist Ben Webster and trumpeters Doc Cheatham and Shorty Baker.
Also astonishing are the two Jack Teagarden tracks, with one, Jeepers Creepers, featuring composer Johnny Mercer in a rare vocal appearance alongside Teagarden and scat-singer Leo Watson.
You know the quality of the tracks is something when even Miller's crowd-pleasing signatures Tuxedo Junction and In The Mood sound like afterthoughts at the end of the album. A very happy swing album perfect for setting the bubblegum tone for a new year.
Ong Sor Fern
20TH CENTURY CLASSICS
SZYMANOWSKI & KARLOWICZ VIOLIN CONCERTOS
Tasmin Little, violin
BBC Symphony Edward Gardner
Some 16 years separate the two violin concertos by Polish nationalist composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), but when heard one after the other, they sound like contiguous movements of a mega-concerto that plays for some 45 minutes.
The First Violin Concerto (1916) is so ethereally beautiful that its neglect in concert halls is perplexing.
The outsized demands for the soloist, both technical and expressive, are likely the reason. Its rhapsodic nature and dynamic shifts from impressionistic dreaminess to boisterous drama make it an exciting listen.
The Second Violin Concerto (1932-33) that follows is more compact, using gritty folk music elements in its two movements linked by a cadenza.
The Violin Concerto In A major (1902) by the short-lived Mieczyslaw Karlowicz (1876-1909, killed in an avalanche while mountaineering) comes from a different era.
Its spirit is closer to the effusive Romanticism of Wieniawski, Bruch and Glazunov, with the requisite fireworks to match.
All three concertos receive gorgeous performances by British violinist Tasmin Little that go to the heart of the music - the perfumed decadence of Szymanowski and the showmanship of Karlowicz.
Every detail is captured by Edward Gardner's excellent BBC Symphony Orchestra. A must-listen for violin lovers.
Chang Tou Liang