"DO you want to see me naked, lover?" Lady Gaga asks in Aura, the first song on her new album.
For sure! Wait, no -- hold on. Do we?
No one plays the media as cleverly as the woman born Stefani Germanotta has since she emerged in 2008 with The Fame. She's constructed a persona that reflects our complicated, contradictory relationship with celebrity.
Though Gypsy might do sincere, Bruce Springsteen-style rock more effectively than the Boss himself has lately, it turns out that authenticity is just another pose; she's no more willing than ever to align herself with a single viewpoint. It's a mind-set borne out by the rest of the album's shifts in perspective, which doesn't mean she's equally convincing in all her guises.
Duds include the clunky arena-rock goof Manicure and Donatella, an excruciatingly lame homage to Donatella Versace. But Lady Gaga approaches other fresh modes with more spirit, particularly in a handful of songs that pull deeply from R&B: the throbbing G.U.Y.; Do What U Want, a sleek duet with R. Kelly; and Sexxx Dreams.
In Dope, a stripped-down ballad, she uses her most unvarnished singing to deliver pained lyrics. Is this the soul-baring she threatens at the beginning of the record? But as her voice cracks in practiced spontaneity, you can hear Lady Gaga mainlining her real drug of choice: our attention. 2-1/2 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Gypsy
-- Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
In Our Nature (Warner)
OVER the course of their nearly 30-year career, Toronto's Blue Rodeo have not only sharpened their artistic vision, they has proven their worth as a hard-working and boundary-expanding roots-rock combo. You'd think there would be a law of diminishing musical returns by now, yet their 13th studio album showcases a band at its full artistic power.
Co-leaders Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor write the kinds of enduring songs that will resonate with those who have had some life experiences and the emotional scars to show for them. The opening line of most of these tracks -- "When life feels like a storm-filled sky"; "Walk along the darkened streets"; "For all the wounds that never heal" -- are indicative of the album's lyrical approach. By keeping their easygoing, country-rock-infused sound as unpretentious as can be, and with the addition of guitar ace Colin Cripps to the folds, the recording has the classic Blue Rodeo sound that's at once recognizable and ultimately engaging.
ION rates as one of the group's best and most consistently listenable albums to date, but a half-star must be deducted for the average version of the Band's Out of the Blue. At this stage of the game, Robbie Robertson should be covering Blue Rodeo songs, not the other way around. 4-1/2 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: New Morning Sun
-- Jeff Monk
Sun Grenades and Grenadine Skies (Independent)
"GUITAR, cello, drums and two voices." That's how Raleigh singer/guitarist Brock Geiger describes the three-piece, Calgary-based band he plays in with cellist/pianist/singer Clea Anais and drummer Matt Doherty.
Sparse words, but the heady music Raleigh makes is far from it. On their second album, they create inventive, evocative chamber pop that, at its best, explores the notion of what pop music can be. At times the group can noodle off into discordant, skronky jazz (as on Puritan) or taut, dynamic prog rock territory (Inside Lines). Mostly, though, the delicate interplay of Anais' cello (both plucked and bowed), Geiger's harmonic finger-picking and Doherty's restrained percussion creates a melodious, trance-like mood, subtly augmented by the fragile blend of Geiger and Anais' gentle voices. Even Raleigh's breezier efforts, such as Carebear or It Will Rise, somehow just feel more substantive than other, similarly fey nouveau folk.
Listen for yourself when the band plays the West End Cultural Centre on Nov. 29. 3-1/2 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Carebear, Inside Lines
-- John Kendle
Tightrope (Anzic Records)
THE 3 Cohens are many things: improvisers, composers, great musicians and figurative tightrope walkers.
Siblings Anat (tenor saxophone, clarinets), Avishai (trumpet) and Yuval (soprano sax) play mostly a cappella on Tightrope, their fourth recording.
The three have uncanny musical rapport, and their emphasis on horns-only music and improvisation here cements the chemistry that began as children in Israel.
Five of the tunes, called conversations, are short improvisations (the longest is slightly over two minutes) that arose during recording.
There are guests on the disc: pianist Fred Hersch performs on three tracks (including his own Song Without Words #4 and a tasty version of Monk's I Mean You); drummer Johnathan Blake joins on Avishai's Black; and bassist Christian McBride's woody tone graces Ellington's Just Squeeze Me.
Each of the Cohens has a separate, successful career, but something special happens when they make music together. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Just Squeeze Me
-- Chris Smith
THIS WEEK'S SINGLES
BUSTA RHYMES FEAT. Q-TIP, KANYE WEST & LIL' WAYNE
Thank You (Cash Money)
Taken from his upcoming ELE2 project, veteran Busta Rhymes trades rapid-fire raps with fellow vet Q-Tip on this funky, feel-good bumper that heavily borrows from Alicia Myers' I Want to Thank You. Yeezy and Weezy's brief contributions are pretty disposable, but it doesn't matter, because the two main stars definitely deliver. Easily the best thing Busta has had his name attached to in ages. 4 stars
PET SHOP BOYS FEAT. EXAMPLE
Thursday (x2 Recordings)
While the chorus teeters on the verge of Rebecca Black-isms (Thursday, then Friday, it's soon going to be the weekend), otherwise, the latest from their 12th album Electric has all the hallmarks of a classic Pet Shop Boys track. Chimes, synths, punchy beats, Neil Tennant's unmistakable vocals, not to mention an excellent guest appearance from English MC Example. 3-1/2 stars
BENNY BENASSI FEAT. JOHN LEGEND
Dance the Pain Away (Ultra)
The don of Italian dance music teams up with the superstar of American soul for this somewhat melancholic club track. Very similar in style to Benassi's collaboration with Chris Brown from a few years ago, Beautiful People, minus the auto-tune overload. 3 stars
-- reviewed by Steve Adams