A Letter Home (Warner)
CALL it an artistic extravagance, unabashed confidence or ego-driven self-satisfaction, but Can/American rocker Neil Young has really never stayed the safe course, musically. After raising over $6 million in crowd-sourced bucks to fund his Pono digital music player, Neil then recorded his next album on Jack White's extra lo-fi, '40s-vintage, Voice-o-Graph recording machine in glorious mono.
Sonic excursion aside, A Letter Home is mostly an idiosyncratic Young indulgence rather than a solid adjunct to his bloated musical catalogue. The album opens with Young addressing his dead mother, asking her to start talking to his deceased father again, sounding as if he believes the aged recording device is some kind of weird conduit to the afterlife. Tracks include a couple of Gordon Lightfoot songs, Dylan's Girl From the North Country, Bruce Springsteen's My Home Town, the Willie Nelson-penned nugget Crazy and more.
In the end, ALH just sounds kind of creepy and strange -- and for Young, that may actually translate into sales. This is suited to specific musical tastes. 2-1/2 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Reason To Believe
-- Jeff Monk
No Town No Country: EPs and Rare Recordings 1981-1984 (Sundowning Records)
IN 1983, American alternative rock magazine Trouser Press released a 20-track compilation tape called Trouser Press Presents: The Best of American Underground, which featured a brassy little post-punk band from Winnipeg called Dub Rifles, the only Canadian group in the collection.
Local fans were ecstatic, but also knew Stand, with its breezy, saxophone-fuelled melody and a crunching guitar line that built to an anthemic chorus, wasn't even the band's best song. Over their brief, four-or-so year 'career' as a working band, singer/guitarist Colin Bryce, saxophonists Matthew (Sid) Challenger and Dave Brown, bassist Clint Bowman and drummer Eloi Bertholet created an intoxicating polyglot that swung and swayed and rocked and, mostly, just burned with the passion of young people who have discovered they're onto something and don't ever want to stop.
This overdue collection gathers the five songs from No Town No Country, the group's 1982 seven-inch EP, plus the three tracks from 1983's Boom! and augments them with 10 live recordings from the band's last phase, an abortive attempt to live and work in Montreal in the spring of 1984. Fans will know and love the eight studio tracks (Testify and Production of Funds are my faves) but there are several gems in the live material, including the relentless groove of Bomb Shakes the Dance Hall and the slashing funk of Face Up! (The Market is Falling).
Band members, family and friends are gathering to celebrate the release of this collection on June 6 at the Orbit Room. Be there. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THESE: Stand, Testify
-- John Kendle
Road Shows, Vol. 3 (Doxy/Okeh)
SAXOPHONE colossus Sonny Rollins, approaching his 84th birthday, shines brightly live and this third volume of his Road Shows series proves it, again.
The six tracks, four from Rollin's pen, are culled from concerts from 2001-2012.
The tenor saxophonist revisits Someday I'll Find You -- which he first recorded in 1958 as an up-tempo number -- in its original ballad form. He plays the Noel Coward tune with astonishing intensity.
Rollins has always excelled playing in the moment (despite a catalogue of great studio recordings) and the hand-picked performances range from the energetic starter Biji to Patanjali, a Rollins' groove number appearing on record for the first time, to Why Was I Born?, a 23:39 jewel with the saxophonist trading solos back and forth with drummer Steve Jordan.
Unlike Vol. 2, which featured Rollins' 80th birthday concert with special guests in New York, Vol. 3 features his working bands, with stalwarts Clifton Anderson on trombone and Bob Cranshaw on bass on all tracks and a shifting lineup on piano, guitar, drums and percussion. 5 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Solo Sonny
-- Chris Smith
The Road Hammers
Wheels (Open Road)
THE Road Hammers have finally returned with their much anticipated followup to 2009's Road Hammers II.
The CCMA and Juno award-winning band got together when Jason McCoy formed the side project with drummer Corbett Frasz, focusing on a sound that mated Dave Dudley with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
On Wheels, they've pumped up the volume (and the attitude) even more. The band, which also includes vocalist/guitarist Clayton Bellamy and bassist Chris Byrne, breathes new life into spirited covers of the Hank Snow hit I've Been Everywhere and Steve Earle's Hillbilly Highway (featuring hick-hopper Colt Ford). However, BTO's classic Roll on Down the Highway sounds low on fuel even with assistance from original vocalist Fred Turner.
The band really shines on the originals like Get On Down the Road, the pretty ballad Annie and the incredibly infectious ode to Mud that blatantly (and beautifully) borrows from David Bowie's Fame and the Beatles' All You Need is Love. Wheels is a solid 10 pack of windows-down, stereo-cranked, country rockin' bliss. 3-1/2 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Get on Down the Road
-- Bruce Leperre
This week's singles
Pills N Potions (Cash Money/Republic)
Words like "soulful" and "inspirational" aren't typically associated with Ms. Minaj (usually it's more like "gimmicky" and "obnoxious"), but that's precisely the approach she takes on this borderline ballad. Following up the dark and brooding Lookin' Ass N a, the latest from her upcoming Pink Print project is probably the most mature-sounding thing she's ever done. 3 stars
Your Love (RCA)
Nicole Scherzinger's solo success post-Pussycat Dolls has been tepid at best, but she's looking to redeem herself, and her latest has all the ingredients of a proper summer dance anthem, including a crunchy, piano-driven disco beat and an unshakeable "do do dooo" chorus. It probably doesn't hurt that it was produced by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, who were responsible for the likes of Rihanna's Umbrella and Beyoncé's Single Ladies. 3-1/2 stars
DEADMAU5 FEAT. COLLEEN D'AGOSTINO
Included on the mau5-headed one's forthcoming album, the abstrusely titled while(1<2), Seeya seems somewhat restrained compared with much of the rest of his catalogue. With a sexy, cool vocal, and a creeping, electro-funk beat that's vaguely reminiscent of Daft Punk's Around the World, this is EDM from the more discerning end of the spectrum. 4 stars
-- Steve Adams