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New music: A review of this week's album releases

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Comeback Kid

Die Knowing (Distort/Fontana North)

You've gotta figure Comeback Kid takes so long to make albums because the guys in the band need four months off to recover after recording every song.

Hell, you'll need time to recover after the Winnipeg quintet's fifth record slams you against a wall, pummels your ribs, then leaves you wrung out, sweat-soaked and bleeding on a bare concrete floor.

Inspired by the Turn it Around reunion tour they did last year with original singer Scott Wade (who does a feature turn with Andrew Neufeld on this album's Full Swing), the CBK guys deliver maximum heavyosity on Die Knowing. The twin guitars of Jeremy Hiebert and Stu Ross match crunching riffs with the propulsive, sinuous rhythms of Matt Keil's bass and Kyle Profeta's drums, while Neufeld's controlled scream/roar soars above it all, urging listeners to take matters into their own hands.

Producer Kyle Black creates a seamless tapestry here, rounding off rough edges without diminishing the band's attack. This is an album made for mosh pits and the band has already started the tour in support of Die Knowing. It hits the Park Theatre May 14. You have been warned.

Four stars

DOWNLOAD THIS: Die Knowing, Sink In

—John Kendle


Jeff Presslaff

The Complete Rebirth of the Cool (Cellar Live)

Winnipeg musician Jeff Presslaff likes projects with a big sweep that allow him to flex his arranging and composing muscles.

This latest, inspired by the music and artistry of Miles Davis's Complete Birth of the Cool, has indeed captured the excitement of that classic recording with a talented group of Prairie musicians.

The game plan for the six composers was to write something inspired by the original album, taking into account developments in the music world. The result is 10 great tunes designed for a nonet of skilled players. Standouts include Presslaff's Measure for Measure for Measure and Will Bonness's Stream of Unconsciousness.

Rebirth is a stimulating package of music and performance, not unlike its inspiration.

Four stars

DOWNLOAD THIS: Measure for Measure for Measure

— Chris Smith


Pharrell Williams

GIRL (Columbia/Sony)

It seems impossible that GIRL is only Pharrell Williams' second full-length album. For more than 15 years, on his own and as half of production duo the Neptunes, the multitasking artist has been a major force in hip hop, pop and R&B. In 2013 alone, he contributed to three of the year's most high-profile albums by Daft Punk, Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus.

Still, it wasn't a given that a man who has collaborated so gracefully with a wide variety of artists would reclaim the spotlight as handily, and with as much sheer joy, as Williams does on GIRL.

The scrumptious opening track, Marilyn Monroe, kicks off with a romantic rush of strings. "This one goes out to all the lovers," Williams sings, once the lithe groove kicks in; then he pleads, "Let's all dance and elevate each other." The following 10 tracks encourage the same, as the singer/songwriter/producer/arranger cranks out tunes that are as giddily accessible as they are texturally sophisticated.

Williams' ebullient musical savvy is everywhere, from the rhythmic use of jangling guitars and leaping horns on Brand New, a duet with Justin Timberlake, to the shimmying strings on Gust of Wind. The understated fluidity of his vocals also impresses.

Fittingly, the breezy, Oscar-nominated Happy, featured in the film Despicable Me 2, is also included here. "Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth," sings Williams -- and you will, at least for the duration of this album.

Four stars

DOWNLOAD THIS: Marilyn Monroe

-- Elysa Gardner, USA Today


Benmont Tench

You Should Be So Lucky (Blue Note/Universal)

As a founding member of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, pianist Ben Tench has served long and well behind one of classic rock's central bands. His stretches with other major artists (Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan) only serve to illuminate his first-call status.

His first solo album, while understated, and at times rather plaintive, is loose and easy to enjoy. In true support-musician style, Tench is not really a singer -- his voice varies from a hushed whisper to a more gravelly hushed whisper -- yet this slight impediment only serves in its own way to sustain the cadence of the songs. Tracks like Dogwood, Today I took Your Picture Down and Hannah take a while to get under your skin, but their overt easiness does satisfy.

A quartet of toddlin' tunes, including a cover of Dylan's 2012 shuffle Duquesne Whistle, provides a coherent balance to the meditative mood of the set. Spend enough time with this album and you may be lucky enough to succumb to its wily charms.

Three stars

DOWNLOAD THIS: Like The Sun (Michoacan)

-- Jeff Monk


Broken Bells

After the Disco (Columbia/Sony)

It may just be me, but a collaboration between Shins' high priest James Mercer and producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton, the man behind the brilliant Grey Album, the producer of Gorillaz' Demon Days and the brains behind Gnarls Barkley) should sound more immediate than this. It should be sexier than this.

But no, Broken Bells offers up a high-concept blend of indie-meets-dance music that captures neither Mercer's mastery of clever pop nor Danger Mouse's penchant for creating the perfect mood. After spending several hours trying to "get" this album, listeners may have more fun playing "spot-the-influence," a game that will have them name-checking everyone from A-ha to Daft Punk to the Bee Gees (yes, James' falsetto is everywhere here) to, wait for it... even the likes of Steve Winwood and Bob Seger. Really.

Two stars

-- John Kendle

Download This: Perfect Worlds

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2014 ??65532

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