The Deep Dark Woods
Jubilee (Six Shooter Records)
SASKATOON'S the Deep Dark Woods holed up in a rustic setting to record their fifth album and if location makes a difference, then these guys chose correctly. Jubilee positively reeks of authenticity. That's not to say the band has broken any moulds here, but the album is as good an endorsement of looking back as any lately. Producer Jonathan Wilson is regarded as "patron saint of the present-day Laurel Canyon folk revival" and he and the band have created something that, if not completely unique, is "revival" enough to get some ears paying attention.
If you're a fan of the music that has obviously influenced these cats, then this baker's dozen will hit the mark. Red Red Rose channels the Band circa Music From Big Pink. Opening track Miles and Miles ambles like a Neil Young outtake from Sleeps With Angels and on and on. It sounds swell, and the over-arching sadness of the album will please anyone searching to add a bit of grey to their day.
To give credit where it's due, Jubilee is pastiche, full stop. In these times of copyists and honorable mentions, that could be worth celebrating. ***
DOWNLOAD THIS: 18TH OF DECEMBER
-- Jeff Monk
Bitter Rivals (Mom + Pop)
BROOKLYN noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells' new album, Bitter Rivals, is an unfortunate thing. Perhaps singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller overthought the scope of their art.
In an effort to be heavy and edgy, Sleigh Bells have slathered too much production bass and ham-fisted fuzz over their own valuable talents. This is smarty-pants angst drifting in a sea of cliché lyrics and simplistic song structure.
The title track is a mess of indecisive pace, and Minnie, for its aggressive assault, is tempered by a refrain that finds Krauss singing in a small child's voice. Had the album, the group's third, channelled the zeitgeist of guitar played by Miller on Tiger Kit, easily the best track, Sleigh Bells would have been much better off.
Sleigh Bells sounded more pure on last year's Reign of Terror when their power felt less contrived on tracks such as Crush and Comeback Kid, but that was then and this is now. Bitter Rivals is much less than their best. **
DOWNLOAD THIS: TIGER KIT
-- Ron Harris, The Associated Press
Costumes Are Mandatory (HighNote)
ALTO saxophonist Lee Konitz, nearly 86, remains a great improviser, one whose lengthy career includes playing in Lennie Tristano's innovative sextet in 1949.
On this disc, Konitz, Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy pay tribute to what Iverson calls the "Tristano school."
Eight of the 14 tracks feature the quartet; the others are trios, duets or solos.
Konitz's trademark airy tone and economy of notes are just right for two versions of Iverson's bluesy Blueberry Ice Cream, and the saxophonist and bassist Grenadier dig down for some dulcet tones for their duet on the chestnut Body and Soul. Grenadier's full-bodied bass and Konitz's wandering alto are a superb combination.
The ballads are the highlight of this recording: Try a Little Tenderness and What's New are gems; My Old Flame, features Konitz on a high-pitched scat before a heartfelt solo.
That Konitz is still active as he approaches his 86th birthday this weekend is a triumph; that he's still as musically agile and innovative as he is, is remarkable. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: BODY AND SOUL
-- Chris Smith
FOR all the antics Miley Cyrus has demonstrated in the last few months -- the wardrobe (or lack thereof), the outrageous quotes, the awkward twerking and the rest of her wild child behaviour -- she could easily grab attention if she did one thing: let her music speak for itself.
Cyrus's Bangerz, her fourth album, is a collection that marks the 20-year-old's musical breakthrough. The former Hannah Montana star kicks off the 13-track set with Adore You, a downbeat song about love. Other tracks that follow with that energy -- Wrecking Ball, My Darlin' and Somewhere Else -- capture a mature, nuanced side of Cyrus we haven't seen much of, and that's a welcome change. Some tracks even feel experimental as she blends elements of alternative, upbeat pop and soft rock with hints of R&B and hip-hop.
The Britney Spears-assisted SMS (Bangerz) and the Pharrell-produced Getitright are addictive, feel-good, up-tempo pop tunes; FU has Cyrus semi-angry over a dramatic beat, and it makes for an overall punchy and amazing track. Even Do My Thang -- where she isn't too convincing as a rapper -- sounds good thanks to the groovy hook and will.i.am's Southern hip-hop-flavoured beat.
Cyrus's outlandish behaviour is helping her get attention. It's good for the Pop Star Cyrus, but for Artist Cyrus? Not so much. If the singer concentrated more on showcasing her music than trying to become the latest shock queen, perhaps we wouldn't be shocked that Bangerz is a good album. ***1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: FU
-- By Mesfin Fekadu, The Associated Press
Tin Star (Last Gang Records)
SINCE she hit the wider musical consciousness of the cool-kid roots community with her 2011 album, Little Red Boots, Torontonain-turned-Tennesseean Lindi Ortega's career has continued to build momentum.
Last year's Cigarettes and Truckstops continued the upward climb and with her latest, the fine Tin Star, this artist looks to be headed for whatever so-called big time is still available in this life. At only 11 songs, Tin Star isn't a huge statement, but a well-thought-out collection caringly paced and completely listenable from top to bottom.
Ortega's trademark sweet vibrato is front and centre as usual, and while it is her obvious calling card, it's the music wrapped around it that lifts these songs to special places. Opening track Hard As This spaghetti westerns its way to your heart quick, while Gypsy Child follows with an undeniable boot-stomping. Ortega balances her up-tempo rockabilly and country songs with dark ballads where she truly shines. Lived and Died Alone is as spooky as this gal gets. Built on a simple guitar strum, brushed snare drum and chiming keyboards, Ortega's lyrics -- "When the sun has set I will go dig up the dead, lift their bodies from their graves and I'll lay them in my bed, to fill their hollow hearts with all of my broken parts, and all the love that they were never shown" -- fall into pure Nick Cave territory.
Considering Ortega's talent and her competition in the female country-music realm, there is no reason to expect anything but gold stars all around for this album. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: LIVED AND DIED ALONE
-- Jeff Monk