POP & ROCK
Smash the System (Cherry Red)
The U.K. music scene has created more than its fair share of peculiar artists. On his latest musical outing, Walton-on-Thames lad Luke Haines (the Auteurs, Black Box Recorder) extends the non-conformist thread even further.
)Smash the System is wonderfully detached, yet draws you into its fiery furnace of fun after several comprehensive listenings. Using only sparse electronic drum loops, shards of guitar and a plethora of odd sounds, Haines creates a subversive electro-pop vision that includes tracks honouring long-forgotten German political outsiders (Ulrike Meinhof’s Brain Is Missing), his partner’s skills at combining witchcraft and gardening (Ritual Magick), British glam rockers T. Rex (Marc Bolan Blues), Church of Scientology folksters (The Incredible String Band) and Euro weird-a-billy casualty Vince Taylor (Black Bunny).
To say this album is like nothing you have heard before shouldn’t frighten anyone away from expanding their personal sonic space. Haines uses his lyrics to make folly of what are considered popular themes and he makes it work on every track. His passion for his subjects is palpable and even when he advises us to smash the existing systems, he does it with the kind of flourish and whip-smart attitude reserved for experts. ★★★★ out of five
DOWNLOAD: Marc Bolan Blues, Ritual Magick, Cosmic Man
— Jeff Monk
JD & the Sunshine Band
Soaking Up the Rays (Transistor 66)
JD & the Sunshine Band could only come from Winnipeg. Winnipeg’s core area, to be precise.
JD Ormond is a local musician and the drop-in co-ordinator at Sunshine House, a harm-reduction centre that provides programs and services that meet the recreational, social and health needs of the city’s under-served populations. The Sunshine Band evolved from a music module of Sunshine House’s Solvent Users’ Recreational Project, when Ormond realized several people in the program were engaged by the kinship and good times that come with playing music. The band released an album in 2014 — a shuffling, twangy collection of feel-good, singalong roots and country tunes that functioned not only as a fundraiser for Sunshine House but which also served notice that the Sunshiners have plenty of stories to tell.
The group’s second album continues in the same vein as the first and, if anything, solidifies the notion that the Sunshine Band is an integral part of its members lives. In-jokes abound, both in the liner notes and in the songs (My fave is a line about NCI radio playing Copperhead Road "for the fifth time today"). Ormond contributes six of the 12 tunes here, the best of which is 45 Minute Set, an ode to what it’s like to be in the Sunshine Band. Adrian Spence deserves a nod in this space, too, for offering up heartfelt vocals on The King is Gone (So Are You) and Merle Haggard’s Big City. ★★★ out of five
DOWNLOAD: 45 Minute Set, Brain Freeze, Big City
— John Kendle
Film in Music
Tell Tale (Drip Audio)
Over the years, jazz musicians have had some wide-ranging subjects serve as a basis for their albums — whales, haystacks, poets, space, you name it. The band called Film in Music, composed of eight excellent Canadian West Coast musicians, uses the highly acclaimed television series Deadwood, a western following developments in 1870s South Dakota, as the stimulus for this album.
The music is generally experimental and avant-garde as opposed to typical western movie soundtracks, but there is an underlying feeling of the west and a gritty frontier sense on some tracks. Having said that, Wild Bill and Calamity Jane might not have completely appreciated the overall effect.
The nominal leader here is cellist Peggy Lee, known for some very abstract releases, but the music is largely accessible, even melodic at times. Pianist Chris Gestrin and guitarist Ron Samworth stand out as soloists, especially on the last track, Finale: God’s Laughter and a Parade. One senses the band had a lot of fun with this project, which apparently grew out of their collective love of the HBO series. ★★★★ out of five
DOWNLOAD: A Turn of Events
— Keith Black
Mitsuko Uchida /The Cleveland Orchestra
Mozart Piano Concertos Nos. 17 & 25 (Decca Classics)
Award-winning pianist Mitsuko Uchida wraps up her series of Mozart piano concerto recordings with this release. Her latest album features two of the wunderkind’s most popular works, with the Japanese-born dynamo also conducting the Cleveland Orchestra from the keyboard, in keeping with ages-old tradition.
The opening allegro movement of Mozart’s always charming Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K453 provides the first taste of the soloist’s delicate touch. She brings more colour and pensive drama to the andante movement, with its constant shifts of mood and modalities. The good-natured allegretto finale, a set of theme and variations reputedly inspired by Mozart’s pet starling, is suitably good-natured and also showcases Uchida’s technical prowess.
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K503 recalls Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony with its expansive orchestral vistas. Once again, the sweet spot is its second, tranquil andante movement while its sonata-rondo allegretto finale teems with sprightly dance rhythms.
Once again, this musical treasure, now approaching her late 60s, performs with crisp clarity and precision, adding to the ever-growing discography of satisfying Mozart recordings. ★★★★ out of five
— Holly Harris