THIS WEEK'S SINGLES
Screwdriver (Purple Music)
Subtlety has never been one of Prince's greatest virtues. Despite having a garbage chorus ("I'm your driver, you're my screw" -- really?), this surprise new single from the Purple One is a funky, driving rock 'n' roller, filled with crunchy guitars, low-tech production and plenty of raspy wailing. 3 1/2 stars
Started From the Bottom (Cash Money)
Often criticized for pandering to the ladies with his crooning R&B sensibilities, the first single from Drake's upcoming third album is a blustery, straight-up rap track, with a sombre beat that haters will jump all over as he describes his journey from the "bottom" all the way up to superstardom. 3 1/2 stars
Hold That Sucker Down (Lange Productions)
The O.T. Quartet's (a.k.a. Rollo of Faithless and Rob Dougan) mid-'90s dancefloor classic has been reworked plenty times over the years -- and while the Builds Like a Skyscraper mix is still the best, this latest version, courtesy of British producer Lange, does an admirable job updating the iconic trancer's orchestral strings with a chunkier electro vibe. 4 stars
-- Reviewed by Steve Adams
POP & ROCK
Electric (New West)
TAKE a legendary British singer-songwriter named one of Rolling Stone's "20 Greatest Guitarists." Pair him with one of Nashville's most in-demand guitar-slingers and producers. Then plug them both in.
We're talking the legendary Richard Thompson and Buddy Miller, who produces the likes of Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant, so we've got something truly electric and eclectic.
Thompson sings of love, scandal, ambition and overcoming adversity. Rockers will worship the incendiary solos on Sally B and Good Things Happen to Bad People. Fans of '70s-era funky blues rock will applaud Stuck on a Treadmill. Salford Sunday and Saving the Good Stuff for You tastefully tread the line between country and folk.
Add even more talented musicians contributing fiddle, accordion, mandocello and hurdy-gurdy, plus the silky smooth vocals of special guest Alison Krauss on The Snow Goose and it's one fine recipe for sonic satisfaction. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD: Another Small Thing In Her Favour
-- Bruce Leperre
Minor League MVP (Foultone Records)
LOTS of rappers talk about keeping it real, but Winnipeg's John Smith doesn't have to. Big Smitty is part of a very select group of MCs whose words twist and turn the everyday into moments of authenticity and been-there-done-that storytelling. Sure, the Churchill-raised wordsmith born Joseph Winter can boast with the best of them, but his working-class hip hop builds on a tradition that doesn't compromise on integrity.
Girls, booze, samples from Bon Jovi, '90s rock icons, razor-sharp pop culture references and Winnipeg slang all make appearances on the Kutdown-produced Minor League MVP.
The one-two punch of Restless Leg Syndrome, with its Nirvana bassline and local rapper Nestor Wynrush on the hook, and party rockin' Bazooka Joe really set the tone on Winter's sixth release, the second full-length album he's put out in under a year. Whether it was on the mcenroe-produced Ol' Man Winter or with Kutdown's head-nodding beats on Minor League MVP, Smitty seems to be in the zone, knocking out verses that show an MC at the top of his game.
John Smith performs live on Feb. 16 at the Windsor at the album release party for Ol' Man Winter and Minor League MVP. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Restless Leg Syndrome
-- Anthony Augustine
Toots and the Maytals
Reggae Got Soul: Unplugged On Strawberry Hill (Isis/Metropolis)
FREDERICK "Toots" Hibbert has been the hardest-working man in reggae music since his career began in the late 1960s in May Pen, Jamaica. This two-disc set (CD+DVD) is a valuable addition to the singers' estimable catalogue, and for fans is something of a blessing.
The "Strawberry Hill" location is Island Records founder Chris Blackwell's idyllic cliffside digs in the verdant Blue Mountains of Jamaica, and it was here that Toots and his small band recorded these Maytals classics. It's not a long trawl at only 12 tracks, but the acoustic setting (with two of Hibberts' young daughters adding lovely backing vocals) perfectly suits this reggae master's loose and soulful style.
The included DVD adds much to the value of this collection. The entire SH set is here, plus a somewhat formulaic new documentary on Toots' expansive career. The real bonus is the Live At Rockpalast 1982 set that gives you a much better idea of what power there is in this man's charismatic stage presence and his startlingly powerful pipes. Hibbert is still gigging, of course, and this collection is a worthy testament to his talent and longevity. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Sweet and Dandy
-- Jeff Monk
Wayne Shorter Quartet
Without A Net (Blue Note)
SAXOPHONIST Wayne Shorter returns to Blue Note, the label that released his great 1960s recordings such as Speak No Evil and Adam's Apple.
It is a triumphant return with his quartet, formed in 2000, of pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Pattitucci and drummer Brian Blade -- a band with a innate sense of intuitive interplay.
The CD has eight quartet tracks from a 2011 European tour and the 23-minute Pegasus, with its elegant movements performed by the quartet and the Imani Winds quintet at a Los Angeles concert.
Orbits, a Shorter tune from Miles Davis's Miles Smiles, opens the disc with Shorter's soprano sax making it clear this is jazz performance at its peak. His solo on Myrrh, the shortest track, is a gem.
Six of the tracks are new compositions, augmented by Orbits, Plaza Real from his Weather Report years, and Flying Down to Rio, the title track from the 1933 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie.
Shorter sound fantastic as he approaches his 80th birthday in August. His playing and ideas are as sharp, as innovative as ever. 5 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Myrrh
-- Chris Smith