Midnight Memories (Columbia)
One Direction isn't really a boy band.
They don't do harmonies or synchronized moves, and they rarely do dance music. On Midnight Memories they stray even further from the boy-band mould, focusing more on guitar-driven rock and trading off vocal lines rather than singing in unison as a group.
It's a smart move since these songs will certainly have a longer shelf life than most standard boy-band fare and actually give the British quintet a way to continue to grow as artists into adulthood if they like. Midnight Memories is packed with songs that are catchy and on trend, but not so timely they will soon sound dated.
The opener, Best Song Ever, sets the tone musically, with its roaring guitars and Clash-like yelps. Diana welds bits of Sting-like phrasing with Richard Marx-ist glossy pop-rock. Does He Know? sounds like Jessie's Girl-era Rick Springfield. Little Black Dress echoes early Cheap Trick.
On the other end of the spectrum are the poppier renovations of Mumford & Sons-styled folk, especially the kickdrum-driven Happily. In fact, the rollicking folk of Through the Dark and Something Great could easily trick some Lumineers-loving adult-alternative types, who tend to look down at One Direction's blatant pop, into thinking they were listening to the Next Big Neo-Folk Thing.
Actually, the lads carry that off so well, it may actually be where One Direction is heading next if they tire of being pop idols. ***1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Does He Know?
-- Glen Gamboa, Newsday
Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones
What do two artists who have sold a bazillion albums between them do when they need a change of pace?
In the case of Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, you find yourself sitting around the palatial estate, listening to old country albums and wondering how to turn your idle thoughts into something for the fans that just might sell. Luckily, Armstrong had Norah Jones' number in his cellphone and thus we have Foreverly, a tribute album of sorts to the 1958 Everly Brothers release, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.
Rock artists turning to classic country music for inspiration isn't really new. For a nearly straight copy of a 55-plus-year-old set, Foreverly is a pretty sweet, low-voltage affair. The trademark E.B. parallel vocal harmonies are represented spot-on in all their high and lonesome glory. Armstrong seems to have lost his adenoidal annoyance in aid of hitting the lower-register notes, and Jones, as usual, sounds as sweet as pie.
The band is sparse -- a bit of steel guitar, drums and bass mesh effervescently with the strummy acoustic guitars making the faithfulness of this set ring true. If there is a 1958 album cover version trend started here we suggest perhaps Bon Iver covers Johnny Horton Sings Free and Easy, Avril Lavigne hits back with Oklahoma! Original Soundtrack and Lady Gaga revisits Kate Smith Folk Songs. For now, Foreverly will do just fine. ***1/2
CHECK OUT: Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet
-- Jeff Monk
Stick 'Em Up (Independent)
Just when it looked as if popular music was getting a little too serious -- what with its endless debates about the sexuality of Miley and Robin or the sincerity of Kanye and Jay Z (all of which are necessary, but also kind of exhausting) -- along come the Perpetrators to remind us that this music thing is supposed to be fun, damn it.
Fronted by guitarist extraordinaire Jay Nowicki, the Winnipeg trio (rounded out by drummer Ken McMahon and rotating bassists John Scoles and Ryan Menard) is a meat-and-potatoes, blues-based roadhouse band that knows full well that kick-over-the table, full-tilt boogie is the perfect soundtrack for release at the end of a day.
That's not to say Nowicki and Co. can't be keen observers of life and its foibles. Among these 10 bloozy tracks on the vagaries of love, travel and getting paid, the trio offer up a tune that can proudly take its place alongside One Great City as a quintessential Winnipeg song.
To the backing of a rollicking shuffle, Smokes and Chicken is a talking blues tale of two small-time, strong-arm robberies, one downtown and one in Transcona. The premise is almost comic, until the tune picks up intensity and Nowicki's refrain of, "Get the gun outta my face, I spent my money on smokes and chicken," becomes an aggrieved howl. It's a stunning piece of work, delivered with requisite anguish.
And, of course, the grin and wink of a survivor. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Smokes and Chicken
-- John Kendle
Inside Outside (Independent)
This is Winnipeg singer Amber Epp's first jazz album, but it still has a taste of the Latin music she loves and excels at.
The title track, a duet with bassist Steve Kirby, is the gem of the disc. It highlights Epp's singing and lyrics with minimalist, yet intricate, bass playing. She takes the duo route again on Some Other Times with pianist Will Bonness, a lovely ballad sung and played oh, so well.
Epp plays piano on three tunes, including Dos Gardenias, which showcases her affinity for Latin styles.
The singer in backed by a host of talented musicians, in varying configurations: Kirby, Bonness, guitarist Larry Roy, drummer Quincy Davis, trumpeter Derrick Gardner and percussionists Scott Senior and Rodrigo Mu±oz.
Epp is a good songwriter and five of the dozen songs here are her compositions, including One Step Blues, which will be familiar to anyone who has heard the singer in concert.
The album is being released Dec. 2 at the Park Theatre. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Inside Outside
-- Chris Smith
This week's singles
The latest from her soon-to-be-released Britney Jean album is essentially the opposite of the dance-floor silliness of Work Bitch. Perfume is a tormented, SSRq80s-inspired power ballad that finds Britney sounding surprisingly mature... except for that part about "I hope she smells my perfume/I'm gonna mark my territory." That just sounds like she's peeing on a fire hydrant. ***
Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Universal)
Seventeen-year-old New Zealander Lorde wasn't even born when Tears For Fears hit the charts with this song back in 1985, but that hasn't stopped her from covering it for the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack. And "covering" probably isn't even the right term. The new version is barely recognizable -- it's dark, brooding and borderline creepy. But hey, it worked when Gary Jules gave Mad World a similar treatment for the Donnie Darko soundtrack, so why not? ***
So Blue (Universal)
Akon's been teasing his alleged Stadium album since 2010 (remember Angel? That was actually the first single), but it still doesn't have a concrete release date yet. This new acoustic guitar-laced promo track is a decent mid-tempo R&B shuffler, with a catchy enough chorus, but it's unlikely to rocket Akon back to the top of the charts where he was six years ago. ***
-- reviewed by Steve Adams