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Willie Nelson

Band of Brothers (Sony/Legacy)

Willie Nelson is 81 years old. We mention that simply because it is almost beyond comprehension that at this late stage in his career, he still has the guts and skill to make music as tremendous as what is found on Band of Brothers. Nelson wrote or co-wrote nine of the 14 tracks and there is little doubt he is still a dab hand at getting lyrics and chords together in a way that is at once pure Willie, yet would sound brilliant sung by almost anyone.

Bring It On, Guitar in the Corner, The Git Go and Whenever You Come Around will quickly become new Willie favourites, and whether he is warbling about lost love or the current state of country music, he sounds as authentic and warm as he ever did.

The Songwriters updates Nelson's own 1982 slight, Write Your Own Songs, brilliantly, while his duet with Jamey Johnson (The Git Go) won't leave your memory once you have heard it. Let's hope Willie lives another 81 years. 3 1/2


-- Jeff Monk


Pop Rock

Ed Sheeran

X (Atlantic/Warner)

Armed with only his acoustic guitar and his charming personality, Sheeran quickly established himself as an arena-filler with his brutally honest tales like The A-Team.

On his follow-up, X, pronounced "multiply," Sheeran manages a remarkably difficult task -- broadening his sound without losing the immediacy of his raw, intimate stories.

Astonishingly, superstar Sheeran is still willing to wear his heart on his sleeve. (No other arena headliner is likely to be as revealing as Sheeran is in I'm a Mess, except maybe his BFF Taylor Swift.)

The Pharrell-produced Sing, with its Justin Timberlake-influenced falsettos and unshakable groove, is a musical shock from Sheeran, but he makes it work because, at his core, Young Ed is a storyteller and Sing is a great story.

The Man is an even better one, as Sheeran raps about how "success is nothing if you have no one there left to share it with" believably, then sings his own hook of "I don't love you, baby."

However, Sheeran's strength is still the acoustic-guitar ballad, though One and Tenerlife Sea show how he has improved in structuring those songs as well. And, as powerful a pop statement as Sing is for Sheeran, it's likely the lovely Thinking Out Loud will outlast it. 4 stars

Download this: Thinking Out Loud

-- Glen Gamboa, Newsday



Big Wreck

Ghosts (Anthem)

Let's face facts: generally, in popular music, Canadian bands have had to compete with the larger populations in the U.S. and Great Britain to be heard. Our smaller pool of musicians has meant that at times musical originality has suffered simply because of numbers.

Big Wreck is a case in point. For their fourth full-lengther, Ghosts, indomitable singer Ian Thornley and the band have reached back to a kind of progressive grunge-rock sound that was all the rage in the late '90s. It's not a bad album, it's just an album that is as anachronistic as all get-out. Layered guitars grind against stolid drumbeats while Thornley offers his best emotive Chris Cornell variations.

Hey Mama is a sort of sonic tribute to Led Zeppelin -- who themselves just re-issued their first three albums on vinyl because Jimmy Page needed to carpet the moat around his castle or something. The blues guitar riffs in the title track give hope for relief from the banality of Ghosts, but can't rescue this set from the inevitable low-grade hum. Perhaps the album title is more apt than it is meant to be. 2 stars


-- Jeff Monk



Vittorio Grigolo

The Romantic Hero (Sony Classical)

Since first bursting onto the scene with 2006 pop shmaltz album In the Hands of Love, Italian lyric tenor Vittorio Grigolo has morphed from crossover artist to serious opera star, with six albums to date.

The Grammy-nominated singer wears his heart on his sleeve in this ooh-la-la collection of French opera arias. The 12 tracks, featuring lushly scored music by Massenet, Gounod, Bizet, Meyerbeer, Halévy and Offenbach, provide an ideal showcase for Grigolo's dramatic sensibilities. Highlights include his lyrical interpretation of Massenet's Toute mon ¢me est l...Pourquoi me réveiller (Werther), while Bizet's La Fleur Que Tu M'Avais Jetée (Carmen) displays his soaring upper range.

But the pièce de résistance is Gounod's Va! Je T'Ai Pardonné... Nuit D'Hyménée (Romeo et Juliette), with Grigolo joined by Russian soprano Sonya Yoncheva and accompanied by the RAI National Symphony Orchestra led by Evelino Pido.

There are no track timings and the overall, dreamy romantic haze at times becomes too much of a good thing. Still, this latest release by one of Italy's native sons generates enough swoon-worthy moments to quite possibly inspire a few heroic acts of your own. 3 1/2

DOWNLOAD THIS: Va! Je T'Ai Pardonné... Nuit D'Hyménée

-- Holly Harris


This week's singles


Icona Pop

Get Lost (Big Beat/Atlantic)

Up until recently, it looked pretty safe to declare Ariana Grande's Problem as the song of the summer for 2014, but this late arrival could yet be a serious contender. Brimming with electro energy and sporting one of the most anthemic, sing-along choruses in recent memory, this is raucous, rebellious fun. 4 stars


Tiesto & Hardwell feat. Matthew Koma

Written in Reverse (PM:AM/Universal)

The latest from the veteran Dutch DJ's A Town Called Paradise album is another dependable dancefloor workout, complete with squelchy synths and a fantastic, spine-tingling vocal from Brooklyn up SSRqn comer Matthew Koma, who also guested on previous Tiesto single, Wasted. 3 1/2


T.I. feat. Iggy Azalea

No Mediocre (Grand Hustle/Columbia)

As the title would imply, T.I. has disdain for plain Jane. Lyrically, this track off his upcoming Paperwork project isn't anything new, but an infectiously nimble, steel drum beat courtesy of DJ Mustard and a solid guest verse from the currently red hot Iggy Azalea make this one worth checking out. 3 stars


-- reviewed by Steve Adams

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2014 ??65532

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