Michael Jackson was such a perfectionist he was notorious for releasing albums on a painfully slow timeline: His last album of new music was 2001's Invincible, and that record was a six-year wait for Jackson's fans.
His estate is less discerning. There are now two albums that have been released under Jackson's moniker since his 2009 death -- 2010's Michael and now Xscape.
Like Michael, this latest posthumous release is a compilation of Jackson outtakes that includes material from decades ago, so there's already a dated feel to much of the album, but that doesn't necessarily negate the music, and some of the most enjoyable songs are the oldest: The first single, Love Never Felt So Good, with its mirrored-ball disco groove, is infectious, with Jackson's youthful-sounding falsetto sounding like it is gliding. It was recorded in 1983.
The magic continues through the funky jam Chicago as well as Loving You, a dreamy track given a fresh, modern sound. Songs like this make you wonder why Jackson shelved them.
Things start to falter a bit with A Place With No Name, which has the same beat as Leave Me Alone and is lyrically weak. We can tell why Jackson left it on the cutting room floor, and it's a sentiment most will share for about half of the eight-track album.
Putting out music that falls below Jackson's standards detracts from the carefully constructed catalogue the King of Pop spent decades creating and protecting. The holders of his estate would be wise to apply some of the same standards the next time they consider releasing another album. 3 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Love Never Felt So Good
-- Nekesa Mumbi Moody, The Associated Press
Divide and Exit (Harbinger Sound)
And now for something completely different. Straight out of the environs surrounding Nottingham, England come Sleaford Mods, a so-called "punk-hop" duo that are hopefully destined to tear a piece off of contemporary music's bloated carcass.
Jason Williamson and his bass 'n' beats creator, Andrew Fearn, have concocted a fierce sound that is a mix of Gang of Four bleakness, the sarcastic wit of The Fall's Mark E. Smith and the droll, bile-fuelled vocal liberation of John Lydon. It's definitely a U.K. thing, but the subject matter of these kicking tracks is based in the ever so familiar grind of workaday survival.
There is no place safe from Williamson's attitude-filled invectives. From Rags to Richards and You're Brave criticize those with questionable higher aspirations than real cash to match. Tweet Tweet Tweet takes aim at cellphone culture and the literal disconnect we intentionally experience from one another via the devices we are supposed to be communicating with. Tied Up in Nottz is more regional in scope ("The smell of pee is so strong it smells like decent bacon"), and even if you haven't been to England lately, the universal theme of daily dry rot may appeal to your sensibilities. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Strike Force
-- Jeff Monk
Daredevil? No kidding. You've got to be one to tackle a full album of covers originally recorded by what many would argue is Canada's most beloved band, the Tragically Hip.
Yes, there will be shouts of "sacrilege" from the more rabid Hip fans, but the open-minded ones should revel in Rutledge's sincere efforts to bring the band's sometimes cryptic songs to a new (and familiar) audience. Rutledge's clear and understated voice lovingly moulds and caresses the words on tracks like Thugs (from Day for Night): "Everyone's got their breaking point. With me it's spiders, with you, it's me." Sometimes it's just the arrangement (Locked in the Trunk of a Car) that captures your attention, or perhaps it's the stunning vocals of Jenn Grant on the fetching Fiddler's Green.
Justin Rutledge exhibits Courage (he covers that one too) and has triumphantly done the impossible -- breathing new life into a collection of classics while making them his own. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Thugs
-- Bruce Leperre
David Weiss Sextet
When Words Fail (Motéma Music)
There are eight good reasons to like this new sextet recording by trumpeter David Weiss, but one has particular resonance for Winnipeg jazz fans.
The album is about loss and Weiss's Passage Into Eternity is dedicated to saxophonist Jimmy Greene and his family, who lost Ana Grace Marquez-Greene in the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012.
The title track is dedicated to bassist Dwayne Burno, whose last recording session before his death on Dec. 28, 2013, was for this disc.
Burno's spry playing starts off the song and his bass line doubles the piano line on the bluesy ballad, one of the best in a very good collection of compositions.
While the pain of loss is felt in the music, so is a sense of hope, superbly rendered by the original members of Weiss's sextet who hadn't recorded together in about a decade.
The musicians are now among the best in jazz and any recording by Weiss, Burno, alto saxophonist Myron Walden, tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Xavier Davis and drummer E.J. Strickland is a treat.
The Strickland brothers shine on When Words Fail, and Marcus's intense tenor drives Passage. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Passage Into Eternity
-- Chris Smith
THIS WEEK'S SINGLES
MICHAEL JACKSON feat. Justin Timberlake
Love Never Felt So Good (Epic)
If the lead single from MJ's posthumous Xscape album sounds super retro, that's probably because he wrote it back in 1983 with Paul Anka. Interestingly though, this infectiously vibrant disco-pop number simultaneously sounds fresh and contemporary, and would fit right in next to Daft Punk's Get Lucky or Bruno Mars' Treasure. Everything that's old is new again. 4 stars
JASON DERULO feat. Snoop Dogg
Following up the absolutely unstoppable Talk Dirty, Jason Derulo sticks with the smutty subject matter for this surefire stripper anthem. Between its simplistic bass line, unshakeable whistle/flute melody, and ridiculous lyrics (you know what to do with that big fat butt: wiggle, wiggle, wiggle), it's all fairly loathsomely obvious, but it also happens to be a lot of fun. 3 stars
Good Kisser (RCA/Sony)
If you're hoping for more euro-dance in the style of Scream or DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love, you're going to be sadly disappointed. Good Kisser has a distinctively old-school R&B vibe to it, with plenty of funky bass, nimble percussion, and just the right amount of raunch -- the "kissing" appears to be happening below the equator. Prince would be proud. 3-1/2
-- reviewed by Steve Adams