POP / ROCK
John K. Samson
Winter Wheat (Anti-)
Welcome back, old friend.
Five years after releasing his first solo album, Winnipeg's John K. Samson is back with his second, a collection of 15 guitar-based rock and folk songs that feel as intimately comfortable as a favourite chair or an old pair of socks. Nine of these tracks were written and recorded for friends and other multi-disciplinary projects, so they’ve been heard and performed in different places, but all 15 were laid down last winter with a core band that includes Samson’s wife, Christine Fellows (who sings, plays keyboards and co-produced with him), drummer/multi-instrumentalist Jason Tait, bassist/guitarist Greg Smith and singer/multi-instrumentalist Ashley Au.
Though the playing here is exquisite, loose and swinging, the heart of this album is Samson’s lyrics, which, as ever, never fail to affect, either on the page or when delivered in his quavering reed of a voice. A writer who constantly seeks connections, sense of self and sense of place, Samson always manages to make the specific universal, and vice versa. Whether imagining the frenetic world of Soviet spy Anthony Blunt (as in Fellow Traveller), the self-doubt of academia (Postdoc Blues), the rapacious nature of the oil business (Vampire Alberta Blues, one of several cuts inspired by Neil Young’s On the Beach) or the collegial feel of collective recovery (17th Street Treatment Centre), he’s got a flair for metaphor and spot-on detail. Winnipeggers will smile at the sly asides in Oldest Oak at Brookside and fans of JKS’s previous work with the Weakerthans will love Virtute at Rest, the album-closing coda to the tale of a long-suffering (yet ever-loving) cat. ★★★★
DOWNLOAD THIS: Winter Wheat, Oldest Oak at Brookside, Virtute at Rest
— John Kendle
POP / ROCK
This House Is Not for Sale (Island Records)
This ain’t your mama’s Bon Jovi.
The most famous head of hair in rock ‘n’ roll is short and grey these days, and its owner no longer writes songs about runaways, blood-red nails, cowboys or New Jersey mating rituals.
But more than 30 years after taking the world by storm, Bon Jovi is still making hit records: title track This House Is Not for Sale is as good a song as Jon Bon Jovi has ever written. As he grows older, he mixes a bold defiance (of age, injustice and negativity in general) with a more mature appreciation for love, life and hope.
The new album is a kissing cousin of 2005’s Have a Nice Day, from the clanging guitar intro to the in-your-face resolve Bon Jovi shows as he claims his legacy and fiercely defends it. Living with the Ghost is about moving on from a turbulent past; it could also reference how Bon Jovi has refused to let the absence of founding guitarist Richie Sambora end the band or dim its output. His replacement, Phil X, drenches this disc in U2-influenced riffs that add a new element to the classic Bon Jovi sound.
Knockout is a fist-pumping, ground-pounding anthem for aggression, built around the bass line from Billy Idol’s White Wedding. Rollercoaster has a chorus so catchy you’ll swear you’ve known it for years the first time you hear it.
There’s also some decent country crossover possibility here with Scars on This Guitar and Reunion, which would have made a fine companion piece to Whole Lot of Leavin from 2007’s Lost Highway album. ★★★★
DOWNLOAD THIS: This House is Not For Sale; Knowckout
— Wayne Perry, The Associated Press
ROOTS / COUNTRY
Julian Taylor Band
Desert Star (Aporia Records)
With the double-album set Desert Star, Toronto’s Julian Taylor Band has delivered a positively exuberant collection of songs destined to bring this band the wider attention it deserves.
As leader and frontman, Taylor combines gutsy performances with the kind of refined poise that sets him apart from the near tidal wave of urban music released in any given week. There is a solid soul/funk/rock fusion here that pushes the genre to new heights, racing forward while still reaching to the past for inspiration.
It doesn’t take Desert Star’s wonderfulness long to start worming itself into your head. Slow jams Bobbi Champagne and Glass House, the country soul of the title track and the Prince-ly funk of Pick You Up are standouts on the first album. Tiny & Mighty bonds Stax Records-derived horn charts onto a midnight funk vibe with Taylor’s towering vocals cresting the wave at the bridge. Hot Heels and That Spice add adult themes to the mix, while Taylor’s social observations are evident on Chemical Low and the reggae-fied pump of The Belly of the Underman.
Taylor makes no compromises here and thankfully avoids the rap trap in furthering his own diverse and imaginative musical vision. At 22 songs and nearly 80 minutes of music, Desert Star is a monumental achievement that's worth any true music fan’s consideration. ★★★★★
DOWNLOAD THIS : Just A Little Bit, Get Loud, Pt.2, Coke Bottle Candy
— Jeff Monk
A rising star in the Canadian jazz world, Rich Brown plays electric bass and is clearly in the Jaco Pastorius mode, using the bass as a melodic as well as a rhythmic instrument. The music here actually is a bit reminiscent of Jaco’s bands, or perhaps Weather Report.
Brown has Jamaican roots, and the title is a Jamaican term for a hollowed-out cow horn used to call people to a community gathering. The personnel here include some excellent Canadian musicians: Luis Deniz (alto), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet), Chris Donnelly and Robi Botos (piano), Kelly Jefferson (tenor) and Larnell Lewis (drums). The music has some Latin rhythms, as well as an overall feel of fusion and R&B. However, there are also several ballad tracks that are outstanding, such as This Lotus Ascension. The music contains subtle underlying nods to the black culture of several countries, but all within a solid contemporary jazz sound. Drummer Lewis is simply wonderful as a driving undercurrent — this album should be around at award time. ★★★★1/2
DOWNLOAD: Achilles and the Tortoise
— Keith Black
Vivaldi (Decca Classics)
At the tender age of 16, rising recorder virtuoso Lucie Horsch delivers eight sparkling works by Vivaldi. She makes a strong case for her often-disregarded wooden instrument, still living in the shadows of its more popular cousin, the orchestral flute.
The Dutch dynamo’s debut album includes four full baroque concertos, with the intimate, seven-piece Amsterdam Vivaldi Players ideally suited to showcasing the recorder’s more delicate voice. Horsch effortlessly tosses off the brighter selections with their effervescent textures, such as the Concerto in G major, or F major (La rempesta di mare), while imbuing their minor-key counterparts, Concerto in C minor and G minor, with dramatic colour.
The single-movement offerings, Cum dederit — Andante and Andante (Concerto in G major for two mandolins), also provide effective snapshots of her instrument’s unique capabilities. But there’s no denying the perennial appeal of the 18th-century master’s Le Printemps, transcribed as a recorder solo from his iconic The Four Seasons. Here, Horsch’s playing chirps and trills good-naturedly throughout the short piece, as sunny and optimistic as a bright spring day. ★★★1/2
— Holly Harris