James Rhodes Bullets & Lullabies Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

An overwhelmingly accessible package that screams mass market youth appeal.

Charlotte Gardner 2010

Bullets & Lullabies is a two-CD album that allows you to pick the disc to suit your mood. Disc one features fast and furious "Bullets", whilst the second disc of "Lullabies" is the gentler option. According to Rhodes, the album could have just as easily been called "Uppers and Downers" or "Cocaine and Benzos", a statement which pretty much sums him up.

Rhodes burst onto the music scene at the end of 2008 with his debut album, Razor Blades, Little Pills and Big Pianos. It was a racy title for what was a serious classical programme of works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Moszkowski. It's a similar dichotomy when you see him onstage – a floppy-haired, skinny-jeaned and t-shirted figure, enthusiastically describing his feelings about the music with the aid of a few sex-themed jokes. However, when he starts to play, it's an intensely classical programme with not a whiff of a crossover number. No wonder Warner Bros. Records have just snapped him up as their first ever classical musician. It's proper classical music, but in an overwhelmingly accessible package that screams mass market youth appeal.

So, on to Bullets & Lullabies, and it's the Lullabies that are more successful than the Bullets. With the latter, the passages of lightning-fast runs sometimes feel out of control, morphing into a sort of high-end fisticuffs between Rhodes and the music, as the one battles for supremacy over the other. The chief weapon in Rhodes' arsenal, other than sheer passion, is the pedal, and its heavy use occasionally renders passages a wash of loud noise. It's particularly noticeable in Ginzburg's arrangement of Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King, and in Blumenfeld's Etude for the Left Hand, Op.36. However, once on to the Lullabies and away from the finger pyrotechnics, Rhodes is on firmer ground. Mily Balakirev's arrangement of the "Romanza" from Chopin's E minor Piano Concerto is a high point, playing to Rhodes' talents for making a melodic line sing, and for deftly defined ornamentation.

To a certain extent, it doesn't matter that this isn't the best piano playing in the world. It's a nice programme of works, snappily packaged. To that end, it's immensely appealing. Buy this for the classical-shy, although perhaps not for Alfred Brendel fans.

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