This week's singles
Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull
I'm a Freak (Universal)
Produced by the Cataracs (who normally do some pretty solid, creative work), this is a fairly generic-sounding party tune, loaded up with predictably suggestive lyrics, cheesy synths and vocal effects that sound like will.i.am falling down the stairs. And what's with that chorus? Is somebody hoofing Enrique in the naughty bits? **
Mike Posner feat. Big Sean
Top of the World (RCA/Sony)
Taken from his upcoming album, Pages, this new single from the man best known for 2010's Cooler Than Me is a fun, quirky head-nodder featuring some old-school video-game-inspired synths courtesy of Diplo and Benny Blanco, a sing-along chorus, and some great guest raps from the always dependable Big Sean. ***1/2
So that you remember her as more than just a judge on American Idol, Jenny from the block is back, teaming with producer DJ Mustard (the man responsible for Tyga's brilliant/annoying Rack City) for this sort of sexy, sort of subdued, sort of forgettable number that borrows Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun catchphrase for the chorus. Sadly, there isn't much here to elevate it anywhere close to the original's anthemic status. **1/2
-- reviewed by Steve Adams
Sons of York
Forever Potential (Independent)
The stars, or maybe the weather fairies, must have aligned to provide local three-siblings-plus-one pop act Sons of York the necessary juice to create an extended-play album that's a perfect tonic for the elongated winter we've had this year.
Forever Potential is only six tracks long, but for that running time, if you set your heart and ears just right, the songs will take your mind off your daily struggle with the frozen hell that awaits outside those thin barriers we call doors. The opening title track sets the table with a quasi-instrumental charge that gets your attention in a good way. This leads us into the pure pop riff of Young Blood Unite and the drummy thump of Smoke/Drink -- this pair is as convincing a duo of memorable sing-along songs that's ever been put to plastic inside the confines of the Perimeter.
Answer lays off the speedy antics and allows lead singer/guitarist Luke Kennard an opportunity to display his first-rate, antic-free voice. This guy can sing -- when most of the local competition is meowing or mewling, Kennard sounds positively like a superhero in comparison. The final two tracks (Contraption, Sweet Sarah) prove these guys are the genuine pop-smart articles.
Speaking of comparisons, Sons of York have more in common with classic Can-popster Michel Pagliaro than anything in the last 20 years -- and that's a grand thing. Potential? Most certainly. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Contraption
-- Jeff Monk
Without looking at the title of this review, name a television actress who has not only appeared in two well-regarded and long-running series, as well as provided backing vocals for Bob Dylan, Gene Simmons, Tanya Tucker, Bette Midler and Olivia Newton John. Hard to guess but it's none other than Peg Gemma Teller Morrow Bundy herself, Katey Sagal.
Sagal's third full-lengther has an appealing vibe that will please anyone who doesn't have a problem with stars whose reach exceeds their artistic grasp. Not that this album is a dud. Sagal's voice, a kind of quavery thing that doesn't offend in a big way, is front and centre and that takes a lot of guts, considering she really does sound like a backup singer pushed forward here.
The logic for releasing an album now seems to coincide with her popularity with the Sons of Anarchy crowd. It's a Hollywood thing; something about striking while the iron is hot. Covered presents 10 listenable and rather nice songs from the likes of Tom Petty, Steve Earle and Joni Mitchell, cherry-picked to fall neatly into Sagal's vocal wheelhouse; nothing too technically difficult to emote over and a couple of songs that allow her to reach for the limits of her range without completely embarrassing herself. Call it the Jeff Bridges effect. We added half a star for covering Canuck crooner Ron Sexsmith's aching Secret Heart like a champion.
For fans of her acting, and not much else. **1/2
Check out: Secret Heart
-- Jeff Monk
Tornado (Six Shooter)
After making a lot of noise touring North America and Europe behind his 2011 debut, Goodbye Cinderella, Joe Nolan returns with yet another exercise in lyrical economy.
Still in his early 20s, Alberta native Nolan has a unique and expressive voice (like a young, less nasal Dylan), an old soul and a knack for effortlessly drawing you into his broken-hearted soundtracks. Produced by Blackie and the Rodeo King's Colin Linden, Tornado also features BARK alumni Tom Wilson and the lovely Lindi Ortega (who joins the WSO at the Centennial Concert Hall Feb. 7-9).
Like many of the songs on Tornado, My Sweet Forever addresses the ups and downs of relationships. The Pawn Shop sells secretive hushed tones of confidence. Autumn Sky is delivered in a higher register that evokes heartbreak. Album closer Massey Hall seeks success while asking his duet partner, little sister Nataya Nolan, "Won't you sing with me when we hit Massey Hall, and won't you sing with me at the end of it all?"
With talent like this, Toronto's legendary Massey Hall is only the beginning. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Did Somebody Call the Cops
Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith (OKeh Records)
Tenor saxophonist Craig Handy thinks jazz has lost its ability to dance, and his cure is a 10-tune album melding the jazz organ sound of Jimmy Smith with New Orleans' second-line brass bands.
And it is hard to keep your feet still with the likes of High Heel Sneakers, Minor Chant, Organ Grinder's Swing, a N'Awlins version of On the Sunny Side of the Street featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater in fine voice, and Muddy Waters' signature song, Mojo Workin', with Wynton Marsalis soloing on trumpet.
Handy leads a group of musicians that includes, at various times, drummers Herlin Riley, Ali Jackson and Jason Marsalis, two guitarists, Hammond B-3 organ and sousaphone, that second-line staple.
Handy really shines on Smith's Mellow Mood, On the Sunny Side and Mojo, where he and Marsalis make a formidable, bluesy front line. *** 1/2 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Mojo Workin'
-- Chris Smith