Lana Del Rey
It's all an act folks... there's nothing more to see here. But is there?
Lana Del Ray is the name used by singer-songwriter/model Elizabeth Grant for a character created to deliver her breathy, sibilant tunes. The music hasn't changed much since 2012's Born To Die -- Del Ray's wheelhouse is limited to a kind of swooshy, cinematic travelogue through what is, in reality, her life as a semi-tortured, retro-loving beautiful person.
Grant was a teenage alcoholic and cult member and uses this background to fuel her character's muse. Reverb-laden everything beds down on glacially paced arrangements to the point that the songs sound a bit soggy. Her lyrics combine navel-gazing with a world-view that is reserved for the millennial jet set, and choice couplets like, "I've got feathers in my hair, I get high on hydroponic weed," (Brooklyn Baby) and, "He hit me and it felt like a kiss," (Ultraviolence) are but the tip of the frozen iceberg.
Dreamy, insincere and barely violent at all. 3 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: F--ked My Way To the Top
-- Jeff Monk
Carey's Cold Spring (Paper Bag)
The Carey of the title is Carey Mercer, who basically is Frog Eyes, a poetic, B.C.-based indie rocker whose seventh album was self-released last fall before being picked up and re-launched by Paper Bag Records.
It's a fine, edgy album, too -- a guitar-based record that sometimes teeters close to breaking down completely without being instrumentally overwrought, either.
That said, those hearing Frog Eyes for the first time will be most intrigued by Mercer's voice, a tenor he modulates with a breathless vibrato to the point it sounds at times as if he's hiccupping his lyrics. Such vocal histrionics can be polarizing, but there's no mistaking the admirable sincerity of the emotions Mercer explores.
His imagistic, poetic lyrics (imagine a high-minded Tom Waits without the clichéd imagery -- or the gravel) paint pictures of grey skies, violent bodies of water and the sadness of illness. At the same time, it's an album suffused with hope, in that its most upbeat songs are exhortations to never give up on dreams, no matter what life throws at you.
And I can live with that. 3 1/2
Download this: The Road Is Long, A Duration of Starts and Lines That Form Code
-- John Kendle
Old Crow Medicine Show
"We're talking happiness here," banjo wiz Critter Fuqua says as an aside a few minutes into Remedy, which neatly sums up the latest album from Old Crow Medicine Show. Lickety-split tempos and kitchen-sink arrangements make for a set that's foot-stomping, thigh-slapping and grin-inducing.
The string band's wide range of influences ensures plenty of variety. Brave Boys recalls the Pogues, Doc's Day is hillbilly blues, and a composing collaboration with Bob Dylan results in Sweet Amarillo, which would fit just fine on The Basement Tapes.
All are terrific, as are songs about a fallen vet, hating on haters and a certain creek one goes up without a paddle. The hilarious Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer is a celebration of liberation, while The Warden offers a darker perspective on prison in lovely five-part harmony.
Five-part is nothing -- all seven band members sing on a couple of tunes, and the result is a glorious chorus. In fact, from start to finish Remedy creates a mighty roar. 4 stars
Download this: Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer, Brave Boys
-- Steven Wine, The Associated Press
Dirty Catfish Brass Band
Brass Riot (Independent)
This nine-piece Winnipeg band stirs up a jazz/funk mix inspired by the marching bands of New Orleans.
Six of the tracks are original compositions, but the recognizable and well-played Li'l Liza Jane opens the nine-tune debut recording.
She's My Girl has some good ensemble horn play and a solid drums and sousaphone underpinning that captures the NOLA brass sound: tight, tight playing while sounding a little sloppy.
Countershot has a big, bold sound; the horns swell over the organ with some fine sousaphone playing. Creek Speak is a tasty blues number with good harmonica work supported by taut ensemble playing.
A tribute to Stompin' Tom Connors, The Hockey Song, is heartfelt, but best saved for a club date during the Stanley Cup playoffs. 3 1/2
Download This: Countershot
-- Chris Smith
The Seasons (Hyperion)
Pianist Pavel Kolesnikov infuses this all-Tchaikovsky album, The Seasons, with Russian soul borne of his motherland and titled after the 19th-century composer's 12 evocative character pieces (Op. 37b) depicting the months of the year.
The Russian-born, London-based musician crafts each short selection like a jewel. June's haunting Barcarolle shows his rich tonal palette while December's lyrical waltz, Christmas, ends the set originally published in 1876 as serial installments for St. Petersburg magazine Nuvellist on a festive note.
The CD also includes Six Morceaux, Op. 19 with Kolesnikov's expressive playing capturing the mood of the set's fourth tantalizing morsel, Nocturne, before tossing off its virtuosic, penultimate Capriccioso during the second, Scherzo Humoristique.
There is nothing quite like hearing a Russian artist playing music that runs through his very blood. Kolesnikov also successfully captures the intimacy of the salon these charming pieces were intended for. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Barcarolle
-- Holly Harris
THIS WEEK'S SINGLES
USHER FEAT. JUICY J
I Don't Mind (RCA)
Usher likes strippers. And he doesn't mind if his girl "dances on a pole, it doesn't make her a ho, as long as she gets that money, money, money," and then comes home to him at the end of the night. Idiotic lyrics, blatantly obvious objectification, and a beat that seems to want to build into something but never really goes anywhere, this is undoubtedly one of the weakest songs of Usher's career. 1 1/2
FAR EAST MOVEMENT & SIDNEY SAMSON
Bang It to the Curb (Interscope)
Another sweaty, glow stick-waving, Redbull-and-vodka-chugging anthem from the electro foursome that ventures further into trap territory and features an absolutely hypnotic vocal, not unlike their own Like a G6, and a piercing synth line similar to DJ Snake and Lil' Jon's Turn Down For What. 3 1/2
What I Want (Feeniix Rising)
Still best known for her 2005 hit 1 Thing, under-rated American R&B singer Ameriie (who now spells her name with two I's for some reason) returns after a lengthy absence with this funky, hyper-percussive workout that samples the Incredible Bongo Band -- which most people know from the Sugarhill Gang's Apache or Sir Mix-A-Lot's Jump On It. It's not exactly original, then, but it'll definitely put a smile on your face. 3 1/2
-- Steve Adams