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The Soul Sessions Vol. 2 (UNIVERSAL)
NEARLY a decade after unleashing The Soul Sessions -- and her voice -- on the world at the age of 16, British vocalist Joss Stone returns with a sequel.
On the original 2003 album, Stone showed off her powerful pipes on a set of well-known and obscure 1960s and '70s soul and R&B nuggets by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Willie Garner, Laura Lee, the Isley Brothers and Bettye Swann. This time Stone mostly sticks to the 1970s and '80s with her take on material from the likes of Womack & Womack (Teardrops), the Chi-Lites (For God's Sake, Give More Power to the People) and Don Cherry (Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye).
No matter whether she is delving deep into emotional balladry or having some fun - the 2010 Broken Bells' The High Road stands out much like her version of the White Stripes' Fell in Love With a Girl did on the first Soul Sessions -- Stone's voice is front and centre sounding mature, confident and powerful with the exception of Sylvia's Pillow Talk, where she come across a little too much like Olivia Newton John at her most saccharine. There are some parts of the '70s we can forget about.
Some of the arrangements could be a little more interesting, too -- without Stone's talent a few would verge on being skippable, rather than merely forgettable.
After a few missteps over the course of her career, the look back appears to be a good one for the young diva even if there aren't any major surprises. Fans of the first album should check in with Stone for a listening session or two. Three stars
-- Rob Williams
Bring on the Mountain (Bad Taste)
DANKO Jones sweats blood.
Well, that's not entirely true, but for a while he got into the habit of slapping himself so hard during shows he would bleed and eventually he ended up with a detached retina from the constant self abuse.
That's one of the tidbits fans will learn about the hard-working man and the rock band named after him in this 90-minute Diamond Bros.-directed documentary about the band, featuring some excellent footage of their early days playing notable Toronto venues, the story of how they came to develop a huge fanbase in Europe (one that has never been matched in their Canadian home) and a look into the record
ings of each of their albums. Onstage Jones is a wildcard who loves to hear the sound of audiences chanting his name, but offstage he is almost soft-spoken while he and his longtime bandmate, bassist John Calabrese, along with a revolving door of drummers, are brutally honest in detailing the highs and lows of life on the road and the band's ambitions.
"We want to be the greatest band in the world; we want to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," Jones says near the end of the feature.
The two-disc set also features a 23-minute short film -- the Ballad of Danko Jones -- along with 14 live performances ranging from 1996 to 2011 and 19 videos. Bring it on. Four stars
God Forgives, I Don't (Def Jam/Universal)
THROUGHOUT his career, Rick Ross has declared himself a "bawse." On God Forgives, I Don't, the Miami rapper continues to live up to his catchphrase, proving he's one of the top bosses not just in hip-hop, but in music. Period.
His fifth solo album in six years is loaded with quality tunes, making his new offering his most well-balanced piece of work to date. It's clear the burly, bearded Ross has made strides as a lyricist and storyteller. His
husky voice is full of bravado with eloquence that is easy to digest. He stays in his familiar lane, rapping about grimy street life, his large stash of cash, luxury cars, women and his rise from rags to riches.
Ross measures up with Jay-Z and Dr. Dre on 3 Kings, and his collaboration with Andre 3000 on Sixteen makes for an enjoyable listen. The album is also filled with other club bangers and street anthems.
With God Forgives, Ross is consistent, and it sounds classic. Four and a half stars
-- Jonathan Landrum Jr., Associated Press
MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS
Electra Heart (Atlantic/Warner)
YOU can probably set your watches and wait for the next 15 minutes to pass, but it may be too late. Welsh saccharine-pop plaything Marina Diamandis has hit the sophomore stage of her likely short career and if you like songs that are as light as a multi-coloured feather and desperate for any and all attention, then this is your album.
Don't shoot the messenger, but have we not had enough of this kind of over-produced doo-doo? On a lighter note, the gal can sing, which apparently is part of what she is selling here. Well, that and dance floor-driven tracks with questionable lyrical content aimed at pre-teen girls and boys itching to become sexualized adults in less time than it takes to write lyrics like, "I'm miss sugar pink liquor, liquor lips, I'm gonna be your bubblegum b-tch," or, "I wanna be a bottle blonde, I wanna be an idle teen, I wish I hadn't been so clean."
It's just tasteless enough to be a huge success. Two and a half stars
-- Jeff Monk
Bringing Down the Giant (eOne)
MISSISSIPPI mainstream rockers Saving Abel is a band that probably feels no shame whatsoever in being lumped in with insipid contemporaries like Nickelback, Buckcherry, Papa Roach and Creed. Indeed, nothing much sets the quintet apart from their noisy mates, but at least their third album, the frequently generic Bringing Down the Giant, tries to bust out of the festering mould for a couple of tunes.
Let's face it folks, the genre is fairly constrictive. If there weren't turgid rockers like I'll Do It Again, Bittersweet and the awful Those Who Wait -- featuring the brilliantly tedious lyrical couplet, "Cuz all the good things, come to those who wait" -- no one would buy this album. The band's more straightlaced fans may balk at the metal/country twang of Pine Mountain and the pot-kettle-black lyrics of You Make Me Sick, but in the end these guys are just Velvet Revolver for southern folks. Two and a half stars
LOS Angeles-based singer-songwriter Joshua Radin is best known for placing his music in a variety of television series ranging from Scrubs to Grey's Anatomy and it's easy to see why: Radin has perfected that unassuming adult contemporary pop and pastoral folk style that fades nicely into the background of any scene.
Radin's aching, breathy voice rides pleasantly above his acoustic guitar on these 12 melodic tracks that find the middle ground between the laid back vibe of Jack Johnson and rocky mountain high of John Denver. There are some light orchestral flourishes on album highlight The Greenest Grass and The Willow, but mostly it's a low key, somnambulant offering perfect for those moments in life when you need some anonymous music as your soundtrack. Two and a half stars
Blossom & Bee (Palmetto)
SARA Gazarek's singing is impeccable over 12 tracks on this album influenced by Blossom Dearie.
It's not a tribute album; Gazarek is just one of many singers who appreciate Dearie's one-of-a-kind voice and delivery.
The title track is Gazarek's but you could hear Dearie performing it. Singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli joins Gazarek on the relaxed love song.
The disc includes standards like Tea for Two, Down With Love and I'm Old Fashioned as well as a heartfelt The Luckiest, from Ben Folds' pen. It closes with Unpack Your Adjectives, a song Dearie sang on the TV show Schoolhouse Rock.
Gazarek ends a five-year recording hiatus with this stylish album, backed by crack musicians, including producer Larry Goldings on organ. Four stars
-- Chris Smith
ULSTER ORCHESTRA, JOANN FALLETTA
Holst: Cotswolds Symphony; Walt Whitman Overture; Indra; Japanese Suite; A Winter Idyll (Naxos)
GUSTAV Holst had a triumph with The Planets when it premiered in 1920 and half of this program shows the composer in similar voice. Written for a Japanese dancer while The Planets was gestating, Japanese Suite is very attractive, with colours and orchestrations that naturally offshoot the former work. Indra works just as well, though its legends of India are distinctly English.
The other, earlier items go in the direction of the Romantics: Brahms and especially Dvorák, as the young Holst was developing his style under his teacher Charles Villiers Stanford, the "Irish Brahms" as he became known. The Cotswolds Symphony is most enjoyable, with a substantially elegiac slow movement in memory of utopian socialist William Morris whom the composer admired. Ditto the other items.
This is JoAnn Falletta's first recording in her new post as the excellent Ulster Orchestra's principal conductor. She draws well detailed performances, though the Elegy's gravitas doesn't quite register. Three and a half stars
-- James Manishen