It must be somewhat daunting to be Sir Paul McCartney, making his 16th album and trying to remain musically relevant while his mammoth musical career looms over him.
True to form, the aptly entitled New, Macca has again come up jovial, writing and playing his arse off. McCartney used four different producers on the album and it's in part due to their flair the album has the legs that it does. There truly is something for every fan of the man here, from sincere, late-period Beatles-style mid-tempo charmers to Wings-informed rockers and just about everything in between, all of the calibre that has kept him from being relegated to the dust bin of SSRq60s-vintage has-beens.
McCartney doesn't actually break any new ground here, but he sure does make it sound like he's having a genuinely good time. The guitar-driven Save Us opens the set with a memorable riff and from there on out, it's one fantastic song after another, each a standout in its own approach. The use of mellotron in Queenie Eye hearkens back to the Fab days of yore without sounding cloying. Early Days will appeal to those of a certain age who are fond of this artist's frequent trips down memory lane, whether the lyrics are a true story or not.
The melodies are outstanding, and since McCartney has written so many celebrated hooks over the years, it's hard to believe his musical tackle box can still provide such riches. As the man says in the liner notes, "We don't work music -- we play it!" That works for us. HHHHH
Download this: I Can Bet
-- Jeff Monk
J. Roddy Walston & the Business
Essential Tremors (ATO)
Once you've wrapped your ears completely around the sixth full-lengther from Cleveland, Tenn., quartet J. Roddy Walston & the Business, you'll realize their list of musical influences includes venerable talents such as T. Rex, Leon Russell, Led Zeppelin and Harry Nilsson. Opening track Heavy Bells doesn't set the album's tone well --Walston comes across as more of screamer on this short intro track -- but after that, the band, with Walston toning down the howl, makes a kind of engagingly rowdy rock SSRqn' roll that maintains its juiciness.
Black Light is unadulterated T.Rex-tasy with its clockwork tambourine punch and oom-flap drumbeat, uncomplicated repeating guitar riff and Walston's homage to Marc Bolan via his urgent, mock-sexy vocals. Sweat Shock channels Led Zeppelin circa Presence and practically sounds like a tribute song, minus an archetypal choked Jimmy Page guitar solo. It works.
The band can get its ballad on as well. Walston comes from a country and gospel background, so when he gets behind the soulful sweetness of Nobody Knows and the strummy, steel guitar-filigreed vibe of Boys Can Never Tell, it comes from a place that sounds beguilingly genuine.
Few albums these days bear up under much scrutiny and repeated exposure and even fewer could accurately call themselves "essential." ET surely is the business. HHH1/2
Download this: Same Days
-- Jeff Monk
Denise Djokic and David Jalbert (Atma)
If you only buy one album this year, this should be the one. The superb pair of Canadian artists, cellist Denise Djokic and pianist David Jalbert, have crafted a beautiful and cohesive album of Rachmaninov and Chopin cello sonatas.
Rachmaninov's Sonata for cello and piano in G minor, which Jalbert himself described as "the single best piece" for this instrumentation, gives equal billing to both musicians. Djokic's signature flow, modest use of vibrato and passionate playing are perfectly suited to the work. Each part sings eloquently, often in response to one another. Jalbert's alternately bubbly rippling and stately declarations in the allegro molto are a perfect foil for Djokic's smooth-bowed lyricism.
The highlight of Chopin's Sonata for cello and piano in G minor is the bittersweet largo, an ode literally sung on the cello and echoed fluently on piano. It gives the sensation of deep breathing. The duo plumbs the depths of Chopin's most inward emotions.
Rachmaninov's ultra-romantic Vocalise caps off the recording, sweeping you away in a visceral and intuitive reading. This is an album with which you can sit back, close your eyes and immerse yourself.
Denise Djokic plays with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 25 and 26. HHHHH
Download this: Sonata for cello and piano in G minor
-- Gwenda Nemerofsky
Mirror of the Mind (Death Defying Records)
Pianist Earl MacDonald has chosen non-traditional instrumentation -- piano, cello, saxophones and percussion -- for his new album with his chamber jazz band, the Creative Opportunity Workshop.
The former Winnipegger, director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut, wrote 10 of the dozen songs here, giving a nod to Lennon/McCartney with Blackbird and Johnny Mandel with I Never Told You.
This project is a departure for MacDonald, who draws on classical, pop and progressive jazz influences. The pianist makes great use of the cello, and he and cellist Christopher Hoffman perform a dark duet to introduce MacDonald's A Priori Perception.
Where Thinking Leaves Off, an avant garde-style piece that includes strained laughter from band members seems out of place among the other, more engaging tunes.
The band -- which includes Kris Allen on alto, soprano and tenor saxophones and Rogerio Boccato on percussion -- does a great job on Blackbird, a favourite Beatles' cover for jazz musicians, and on MacDonald compositions like Miles Apart, the title track and Bottom Feeders.
MacDonald has taken an interesting new tack with compelling material and a good band. HHH 1/2
Download this: Bottom Feeders
-- Chris Smith
This Week's Singles
Walking On Air (Capitol)
With her highly anticipated Prism album set to drop next week, and fresh off an appearance on SNL, the Katy Perry hype machine is kicking into overdrive. Her latest single is a brilliantly breezy SSRq90s throwback in the style of Crystal Waters or CeCe Peniston complete with a bouncy piano line and some soaring, C+C Music Factory-like backup vocals. HHH 1/2
Pitbull feat. Ke$ha
Apparently inspired by Avicii's country-techno hit Wake Me Up, this dippy ode to lumberjacks is about as close to pure stupidity as you can get. This song is a perfect example as to why some people view dance music as disposable and completely devoid of talent. If you can envision Cotton Eyed Joe with a harmonica instead of a fiddle, and an even more absolutely grating chorus courtesy of Ke$ha, you'll have the gist of it. H
Afrojack feat. Spree Wilson
The Spark (Universal)
Powerhouse Dutch producer Afrojack returns with another brisk dance number loaded with optimistic lyrics and welcoming, energizing synths that would sound equally at home in the club or in a Mitsubishi commercial. It's no Take Over Control, but it's solid enough. HHH
-- reviewed by Steve Adams