Fun on Earth (UMusic)
Roger Taylor, former member of Queen and post-classic rock band the Cross, has existed outside the mainstream music world since those heady days of fabulous Freddie Mercury and the success of the group he will forever be linked with.
If you have ever loved this guy for any of his work outside of "that" band, then his fifth solo outing needs to be in your collection. Taylor offers the kind of songwriting that has broad appeal -- he can rock one minute (I Am the Drummer In a Rock n' Roll Band, One Night Stand) or sweetly sing about love and life the next. And it all feels genuine. The mix of elements is the most pleasing aspect of the album and the creative side of the former skins basher comes through -- we are reminded that he had a hand in writing some of Queen's well-remembered hits.
Taylor uses his four-octave voice to great effect. Coupled with his earnest lyrics it comes out sounding better than you would think, considering he doesn't really need to do anything but live in castles for the rest of his life. His band, especially guitarist Jason Falloon, doesn't rely on musical clichés and the sum total puts this bit of serious fun solidly in the win column. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: I Am the Drummer in a Rock n' Roll Band
-- Jeff Monk
Mainstream vocal-competition programs from American Idol to The Voice regularly host contestants singing Nina Simone's haughtiest blues, and it takes someone with Simone-level confrontational crankiness to attempt her most stirring material. Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart fits that bill, a 21st-century avatar of noise-pop and experimentalism whose voice and music are of a drama comparable to Simone's.
Stewart brings in several avant-jazz heavies on Nina, mightily benefiting his voice and choice of Simone songs. Musicians on the album include drummer/arranger Ches Smith, accordionist Andrea Parkins, saxophonist Tim Berne, bassist Tony Malaby and guitarist Mary Halvorson.
The mixed bag of mood musics find Xiu Xiu touching on film-noirish sleaze (Don't Explain), passionate pleadings (Just Say I Love Him), jerky Afro-funk (See Line Woman), to soft balladry (Wild is the Wind). Stewart's voice is inconsolable and majestic in the blistering Don't Smoke in Bed. The angst of Four Women and the soft, agonizing beauty of The Other Woman, are bittersweet icing on the cake. ***1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Don't Smoke in Bed
-- A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Brooklyn Side (Bloodshot)
Falling somewhere between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Merle Haggard is not a formula for popular success, but that too-rock-for-country, too-country-for-rock approach is part of the charm of the Bottle Rockets, who at their best tell sharp-witted stories of working-class life without a trace of condescension or irony.
The Missouri band was certainly at its best on its first two albums, from 1993 and 1994, back in print on this two-disc set.
The self-titled debut established singer-guitarist Brian Henneman, a former roadie for Uncle Tupelo, as a refreshingly unaffected songwriting voice that, to this listener, holds much more appeal than those of Tupelo's celebrated Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. Is there a more plaintively devastating song than Kerosene? With The Brooklyn Side, the Bottle Rockets delivered on the promise of its predecessor, as grabbers like Welfare Music and 1,000 Dollar Car highlighted a masterpiece.
Each disc comes with numerous bonus tracks, including demos, outtakes, and covers. ****
Download this: Welfare Music
-- Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Plays the Beatles (Zonet)
Icelandic guitarist and Winnipeg favourite Bjrn Thoroddsen offers a jazzy take to 14 tunes from the Beatles' repertoire on this solo disc.
Beatles' melodies have spawned countless covers and jazz musicians have not been immune. Thoroddsen takes it farther with an entire album, played totally solo (except for a second guitar on Lady Madonna).
The guitarist's dexterity and love for the music give added depth to pop pap like I Want To Hold Your Hand and novelty pieces designed for Ringo Starr to sing, such as With a Little Help From My Friends.
On a medley of Here Comes The Sun/Day Tripper/Norwegian Wood, Thoroddsen plays rhythm, lead and bass simultaneously, with a little percussion added in.
Thoroddsen's take on the iconic band's music is refreshing. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Something
-- Chris Smith