POP / ROCK
Live and in Stereo (Fifth Kid Records)
Recorded on March 24, 2016, at the Burton Cummings Theatre, the Watchmen’s first live album opens with a simple introduction by iconic Winnipeg radio veteran Howard Mandshein and rolls on through a similarly understated, 21-song overview of the Winnipeg band’s career. Back in the band’s mid-1990s heyday, frontman Danny Greaves was never one for forced patter, preferring instead to shut up and play — and that’s just what he, Sammy Kohn (drums), Joey Serlin (guitar/vocals) and Ken Tizzard (bass) do here
They touch on all aspects of their output — from the energetic jangle-rock of 1993’s McLaren Furnace Room (including the magnificent Anything But That and Must to be Free) to the surprise inclusion of Trampoline, a 2009 download-only. Along the way venture into deep cuts from Silent Radar (Rooster), Brand New Day (Kill the Day) and, of course, rev up their hits in the show’s slow build to a crescendo, including Boneyard Tree, All Uncovered, Any Day Now and Stereo, all of which prompt full-throated singalongs from the hometown crowd.
Mixed and mastered by Serlin, the album’s a faithful document of a band playing to a roomful of wistfully nostalgic fans — and it’s made to sparkle by Greaves’ genuine warmth and his penchant for dropping other people’s songs into his own (snippets of Johnny Nash, the Police, the Stones, even The Lord’s Prayer, appear here). As the singer says over the mic just before launching into Absolutely Anytime, "You couldn’t ask for a better set of folks, in a better town, in a better room." ★★★★
STREAM: Anything But That, All Uncovered, Must to Be Free
— John Kendle
POP & ROCK
Bob Dylan’s latest album is three records of sad realizations — and there’s more to regret than these exquisite songs of the FDR and I Like Ike years.
Dylan has organized them so conveniently — one disc is called ‘Til the Sun Goes Down, the next Devil Dolls and the third one Comin’ Home Late — but they all help the listener imagine they’re back home after a night on the town that never quite lived up to the expectation.
The regret is right there in the songs and in the way Dylan sings them. Somehow, he is able to add even more chagrin to As Time Goes By — play it, Bob, for old time’s sake — and in lesser-known hits such as September of My Years. His singing and his band’s playing are exquisite, emotional and shine another soft light on these songs long forgotten by 21st-century music lovers.
But Dylan also needs to heed the lesson of another singer whose songs are not on this album, Ray Charles. He learned early in his career that he needed to be his own man, musically, because the world didn’t need another Nat Cole singing the Great American Songbook. Put Dylan with these timeless classics in the 1940s and he’s just one of the pack of singers who can’t quite match Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan.
But let Dylan’s beautiful, weathered voice on Triplicate loose on the Great Dylan Songbook — I’ll take a late-career classic such as 2012’s Long and Wasted Years over Triplicate’s forgettable There’s a Flaw in My Flue when Dylan plays the MTS Centre on July 12 — and he has the Nobel committee bending over backwards to give him one of their awards.
The Best is Yet to Come, indeed. ★★★★
STREAM: As Time Goes By, The Best is Yet to Come
— Alan Small
An Ancient Observer (Nonesuch)
On a solo album, there is no place to hide — the flow of ideas must always be fresh. Despite this hurdle, solo piano albums are not rare in the jazz world, and while they don’t always work, some have become classics.
The new release from Armenian pianist and Thelonious Monk Award winner Tigran Hamasyan might be on track to be the latter. The musician always blends western jazz influences with fascinating folk-song and other musical influences from his homeland. This album displays that mix to wonderful effect, with vocalized additions on some tracks. Several of the tracks are Armenian tunes, while other influences range from baroque to hip hop.
Hamasyan moved to Los Angeles with his family as a child, but has now relocated to his homeland and the historical roots of his culture permeate his music. The liner notes speak of his close emotional link to the ancient history and geography of the area. Hence the music is at once very personal and communicates contemporary energy along with pleasurable understanding of the past. Tracks such as Leninagone are hymn-like, while The Cave of Rebirth has complex rhythms and a dancelike mood. This talented musician is more than equal to the demands of a solo album. ★★★★1/2
STREAM: Nairian Odyssey
— Keith Black
St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir
Jubilate: 500 Years of Cathedral Music (Decca Classics)
Cathedrals and choirs go together like a hand in a glove. This new release features London’s world-famous St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir led by Andrew Carwood, augmented on four tracks with guest choristers from 50 British cathedrals, as well as the Choir of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. The album features 17 works culled from 500 years of cathedral tradition, including music by Tallis, Handel, Stanford, Mendelssohn and Parry, as well as beloved British composer John Rutter.
One of the recording’s sweetest pleasures is hearing St. Paul’s 2016 head chorister Nathaniel Morley warble Hear My Prayer, his pure treble voice soaring up to heaven itself. Other highlights include the choir’s resolute delivery of Zadok: The Priest, while the flowing polyphony of Hosanna to the Son of David, is (mostly) clear despite the all-too-real challenges of St. Paul’s legendary reverberation. The singers’ voices bleed together in Salvator Mundi and Ubi Caritas, as well as during a peaceful Evening Hymn.
Rutter provides his own musical benediction with a poignant arrangement of A Gaelic Blessing, before the album’s final joyful finale, I Was Glad, performed with gusto and pure, religious conviction. ★★★1/2
— Holly Harris