Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New music

A review of this week's CD releases

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CHRIS BROWN / FORTUNE (RCA/SONY)

FOR the last three years or so, Chris Brown and his decimated, yet ravenous, fan base have been trying to convince critics and the general public to look past his rather ugly personal defects and judge him solely on his artistic talents.

Fine, I will. Fortune is boring.

Despite a laundry list of big-name producers, including Benny Benassi, Danja, William Orbit and Polow da Don, there's very little here that rises above average.

The club tracks, like the slick Turn up the Music and the Auto-Tune overload of Don't Wake Me Up, are serviceable, but they're virtually interchangeable with anything released in the last six months by Usher, Flo Rida, and/or Nicki Minaj.

The pop ballads are mostly forgettable, and in several cases, flat-out insincere and insulting -- Biggest Fan, for example, where he croons "I need to sex you babe, girl you better not change your mind." ...Or what?

Love him or hate him, he pretty much sums it up on the glitchy Bassline, sneering, "You heard about my image, but I could give a flying (expletive) who's offended." 'Ö'Ö

-- Steve Adams

BEND SINISTER

Small Fame (File Under: Music)

ONE thing you should definitely not be confused by is Vancouver band Bend Sinister's name. While they may have derived their moniker from an obscure 1986 album by long-serving U.K. first generation post punk outfit the Fall, you'll hear none of the obtuse herky-jerky anti-rhythms made by famous by Mark E. Smith and crew here. Instead, this eclectic combo has swallowed classic rock-isms whole and regurgitated them as something fresh and magnificently listenable.

Small Fame blurs the line between Supertramp-like, electric piano-driven ditties and edgy, Rush-inspired progressive rock zing. The quartet carves out a distinctive sound, though, and with drummer Jason Dana bashing away wildly at every turn it's a solidly blistering listen. One Shot is their Bloody Well Right, while their blues-tinged Black Magic Woman (not the familiar Santana song) establishes their power as an exciting, willing-to-take-chances bunch of dudes.

This album proves there are still groups out there that have a fresh perspective while pulling only exactly what they need from the past. Fame, large or small, may be just around the corner. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Jeff Monk

ED SHEERAN

+ (Atlantic/Warner)

RED-HEADED British moppet Ed Sheeran (he's 21) is an acoustic-guitar-toting teen heartthrob, not to mention a bona fide billboard sensation across the pond. His full-length debut +, which was released in the U.K. last year, has the highest ever opening sales figures for a debut artist and stayed on the charts for months.

It's hard to put your finger on why he's so beloved -- his downy-soft English schoolboy voice is sweet but not stunning (and it's a funny match for his occasional rapid-paced raps) and his somewhat soggy melodies aren't particularly grabby.

On the plus side, although he sounds like a less aggressive James Blunt, he's not the squeaky-clean of his buddies in One Direction. His lyrics aren't merely moony, girl-empowering dreck -- there's some darker content and some clever turns of phrase. The combination of cheeky bad boy and tousled troubadour is bound to appeal to the junior high girl in some of us. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Jill Wilson

MELVINS LITE

Freak Puke (Ipecac)

DON'T be fooled by the "lite" in the band's name: this is still the Melvins in all its heavy, sludgy glory. The difference this time is the band's rhythm section -- Jared Warren and Cody Willis of Big Business -- is sitting this one out and the main core of Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover are joined by Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle/John Zorn/Fantomas) on stand-up bass.

The double bass doesn't take away from the band's regular oddball abrasiveness, but serves to add some additional tones and textures to tracks like Inner Ear Rupture and Baby, Won't You Weird Me Out, which includes a Dunn solo spot before he and Crover get into some hijinks together. Fans of Osborne's guitar heroics and downtuned riffs should check out the slow grind of A Growing Disgust or the more menacing Leon vs. the Revolution and the title track. And adding to the list of surprises is an excellent cover of the Wings standard Let Me Roll It. Really.

Don't believe it? See for yourself Monday when the trio makes a racket at the West End Cultural Centre. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Rob Williams

LITTLE FEAT

Rooster Rag (Rounder)

JUST in case you greying Little Feat fans have lost track, the band's latest album, the pretty sweet Rooster Rag is its 16th studio offering. The Southern California combo lost leading light Lowell George way back in 1979 and sadly, drummer extraordinaire Richie Hayward died nearly two years ago, yet the Feat walk on.

The new dozen-tracker has practically all the energy and feel of some of the band's classic-era output, and that must be attributed to the group paring down to its original members only (save for drummer Gabe Ford and guitarist Fred Tackett). Their hip-loose and down-and-funky vibe is intact on instant winners like Salome, the title track and album opener Candy Man Blues. In particular, Paul Barrere's slippery slide guitar work stands out, and with vocals handled by the band themselves, it truly does sound like old-school Little Feat.

It may not be Sailin' Shoes or Dixie Chicken but this rooster does rock. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

-- Monk

FLO

Pieces of Me (MFM)

FOR her second full length album, Winnipeg-based urban singer-songwriter Florence Oramasionwu has created nothing less than an exceptionally hot set of tracks that, in a just world, would send her to the very top of the overly crowded genre.

Miss O, or Flo as she goes, has the kind of vocal power and sass that only a select few divas possess, and her ability to shift gears from intense ballads to sticky and sweet dance tunes and back to between-the-sheets scorchers is the stuff of future legends. Heck, with the right combination of luck and timing, this gal could hit the big time.

By teaming up with well-positioned producer Arun Chaturvedi, Oramasionwu has practically sealed the deal toward larger recognition. Fans of this kind of music will have their favourite tracks, but anyone with ears will get the popping joy behind My Song and the delicious old-school soul vibe of the sensuous You Showed Me. Sophomore slump? Not this time. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Monk

FLO RIDA

Wild Ones (Atlantic/Warner)

FLO Rida has never been the main attraction on his own records: He's best known for his collaborations with other artists. His first hit, Low, co-starred T-Pain, and subsequent ones like In the Ayer featuring Will.I.Am and Right Round with Ke$ha should have been an indication of the extent of his range, which is pretty limited.

On his new nine-track album, Wild Ones, he takes even more of a back seat than usual. But that's not the only problem: some of the tracks "contain elements" of various songs, making the album sound like something you've heard before -- many times.

Wild Ones sounds like it accidentally ingested beats from David Guetta or Pitbull; it's a confused mesh of rock, rap and dance music. Not even the J. Lo-assisted Sweet Spot stands out from the crowd of diluted European dance sounds. The title track is somewhat enjoyable, but that's thanks to Sia's performance on its hook.

The album's worst offender is the international hit Good Feeling. It samples Etta James' Something's Got a Hold on Me -- but it's sonically identical to the dance jam Levels by Swedish DJ-producer Avicii. Side effects from listening to the tune might include a chronic case of déj vu and confusion. 'Ö'Ö

-- Cristina Jaleru, The Associated Press

CLASSICAL

CITY OF PRAGUE PHILHARMONIC, PAUL ENGLISHBY, CHARLIE SIEM, MARTIN ROBERTSON

Tony Banks: Six Pieces for Orchestra (Naxos)

FOUNDING keyboardist for the progressive rock band Genesis, Tony Banks ventured into the classical orchestral world in 2004 with Seven. This well-performed set covers a diverse range of moods within its six pieces, two of which have solo roles for violin (Charlie Siem) and saxophone (Martin Robertson).

Banks' lyrical bent is sincere and his sounds are comfortably plush, if a bit benign as far as harmonic suspense is concerned. He doesn't develop his material very well, relying on modestly varied counter-statements to fill out each piece, which results in a fair bit of directionless rambling. Much of this feels like underpinning for a lyric, dramatic happening or visual imagery. By itself, the music sounds more like characters looking for an author than sustained musical argument.

This disc is currently a big seller in the U.K. Fans of Genesis might want to investigate it. 'Ö'Ö1/2

-- James Manishen

JAZZ

CASSANDRA WILSON

Another Country (eOne)

CASSANDRA Wilson sounds oh so bluesy and sultry whatever she sings, even on a version of O Sole Mio on this 10-track album recorded in Florence and New Orleans, and featuring guitarist Fabrizio Sotti as instrumentalist, co-composer and arranger.

There are eight songs and two guitar instrumentals and Sotti's excellent guitar work is key to the disc. But it's the singer you come to hear and opener Red Guitar and No More Blues are vintage Wilson.

The instrumentation is spare, emphasizing voice and guitar, with percussion (including the great Mino Cinelu), electric bass, and an accordion that gives the music a European café ambience.

Wilson's voice and delivery are as good as ever, but this album just doesn't grab you like so many of her earlier recordings. 'Ö'Ö'Ö 1/2

-- Chris Smith

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2012 G4

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