GordGord Downie, the Sadies and the Conquering Sun
Gord Downie, the Sadies and the Conquering Sun (Arts & Crafts)
For most of their career, Canadian twang-rockers the Sadies have effectively and purposefully defied musical convention to very positive effect. Whether working with soul and punk legends or hot-rodding soundtrack tribute albums, these dudes see no restrictions when taking their adventurous psychedelic/country/surf music to new heights.
Further testament comes in the form of this interesting collaboration with Tragically Hip-ster Gord Downie. One wouldn't think, based on past connections, that the Sadies would find much common ground with the lyrically obtuse Canuck rock bellower, yet this short 10-tracker is rock solid. Downie sounds like he usually does -- like a cross between Michael Stipe, Fred Schneider and a dying reindeer -- but with the wild psychedelic twangulations of the Sadies backing his play, the album has value. The title track is a boiling rocker that wouldn't sound out of context in a contemporary Hip set and by the time you reach the mid-point of the album (It Didn't Start To Break My Heart Until This Afternoon) there is a fiery passion that really cooks.
A must-hear for Hip and Sadies fans. 3 1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: It Didn't Start...
-- Jeff Monk
A Tribute to Bob Dylan in the 80s, Volume One (ATO)
The Bob Dylan industry has never been more lucrative, and the latest attempt to target his seemingly insatiable fans is this 17-song set of covers (seven bonus songs come with the iTunes album download) of Dylan's 1980s material.
Artists well known to modern indie-rock audiences, such as Deer Tick, Blitzen Trapper and Glen Hansard, tackle a wide variety of genres from Dylan's gospel phase of the early '80s to his days with the Traveling Wilburys to the odd nursery rhyme-themed songs from Under the Red Sky that wound up the decade.
It wasn't Dylan's greatest decade, musically, but this album shakes the dust off some forgotten favourites. Langhorne Slim & the Law kick it off in style with a rocking Got My Mind Made Up from Dylan's Knocked Out Loaded 1986 recording and Bonnie (Prince) Billie teams up with Dawn Landes for an ultra-folky version of 1985's Dark Eyes. Hansard ditches the backup singers, but keeps the Christian message on Pressing On, proving there's memorable material when Dylan abandoned his hits in favour of God.
Some of it doesn't work though, naturally. Every Grain of Sand, for example, has some of Dylan's greatest lyrics, but Marco Beneveto leaves them out in a sappy instrumental. 3 1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Pressing On
-- Alan Small
The Hold Steady
Teeth Dreams (Razor & Tie)
The prevailing school of thought is the Hold Steady may never again reach the heights of its first four albums.
It's true the band was thrown for a loop by the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, but it's also not 2005 anymore, kids. Craig Finn and co. can't be expected to be Pied Pipers to Holly and Gideon and their little hood rat friends forever, can they?
Well... if Teeth Dreams is any indication, the answer is yes and no.
First cut I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You is ostensibly about a guy taking a new-ish girlfriend back to Minneapolis where "there's a side of this city I didn't want you to see," but it also seems a tacit acknowledgement of the Hold Steady's past -- a nod to the visceral world Finn and his band created, but which they now see through older, if not wiser, eyes.
The nine other songs on the record tread similar, familiar ground, conjuring images of world-weary types bonded together by life's hopes, failures, dreams and losses.
Sonically, the group seems reawakened by the addition of guitarist Steve Selvidge, whose chops both complement Tad Kubler and subsequently push both to play better. This is a dense guitar-rock album, so playing it loud on a big home system is probably the best approach. Ultimately, these songs are meant to be rocked out and shouted along to. 3 1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You; Ambassador
Modern Thunder (Feel Up Records)
Released independently in Canada last August, Modern Thunder is being relaunched April 22 as the first album from New York City label Feel Up Records, a boutique imprint founded by Major Lazer's Jillionaire.
Whether or not signing to a U.S. label affords this Winnipeg/Toronto quintet greater exposure (and we hope it does), the simple fact is that Modern Thunder makes a beautiful noise.
Winnipeg's Williams brothers (MC Odario and DJ Ofield) and their bandmates Warren Bray (bass), Alister Johnson (keys) and TJ Garcia (drums) have long said they create "organic hip hop" by incorporating rap's electronic tools with the real grooves of live music.
From the opening cut, a horn-fuelled head-bobber called Lion Head, it's clear that GA has refined its sonic vision. Not only does the group touch on all its stated influences, from classic soul and R&B to dub to jazz and melodic pop, it creates 13 memorable songs that speak to each idiom while hanging together as a grooving, cohesive whole.
Highlights include last summer's buzz track, The Great Rhyme Dropper, featuring Shad; Gorgeous Jane, a funky shimmy with a classic R&B chorus from TAWLST; Howl Like Wolves, a finger-snapping jam that should never really end; and a pair of guest vocal spots -- Chic Gamine's Andrina Turenne does her sultry best on Modern Day Fool while Amanda Balsys brings an Austra-meets-Annie-Lennox vibe to Heart the Lonely Hunter.
Enough of me, though. Just go buy the damned thing. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Howl Like Wolves; The Great Rhyme Dropper
-- John Kendle
THIS WEEK'S SINGLES
ALICIA KEYS FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR
It's On Again (Columbia)
Taken from the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man 2 soundtrack and produced by Pharrell, It's On Again almost feels like two separate songs. Kendrick kicks things off rather aggressively with a rap that sounds like a lost Mama Said Knock You Out verse, before there's a fairly dramatic shift in tone with Alicia's much smoother, sweepingly cinematic portion. Decent, although perhaps somewhat confusing. 3 stars
JENNIFER HUDSON FEAT. TIMBALAND
Walk It Out (RCA)
Allegedly from her upcoming as-yet-untitled third album, Jennifer Hudson is mesmerizing on this sexy slow burner featuring some very classic, very chunky Timbaland beats that slink along seductively between sporadic spasms. Definite make-out music. 3 1/2
OWL CITY FEAT. LINDSEY STIRLING
Beautiful Times (Republic)
Owl City has delivered plenty of pablum rhymes over the years, and his latest is no exception -- "a slow-motion wave on the ocean stirs my emotion" is almost laughable. That said, Beautiful Times is a pleasant, inoffensive piece of electro-pop that you can imagine being played over the closing credits of coming-of-age teen movie. 3 stars
-- reviewed by