Almost Home (Island)
As a reminder she's not just a judge on American Idol these days, Mariah tackles the theme to the forthcoming Oz the Great and Powerful. Emotionally charged, mid-tempo electro-pop from production duo Stargate (Beyonce's Irreplaceable, Rihanna's Diamonds) and Carey's signature soaring vocals couldn't make this more of a big, beautiful Disney theme if Elton John and Phil Collins themselves showed up. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
Hey Porsche (Universal)
Taken from his upcoming M.O. album due out in June, this could-be summer jam sees Nelly slobbering all over his favourite German automobile... or wait, is he actually talking about a woman he wants to sleep with? Structurally, it sounds very similar to Flo Rida's Whistle (minus the whistling) and features lyrics that would make Prince's Little Red Corvette roll its eyes. 'Ö'Ö
Street Dreams - Nas x Aerosmith + Sinatra (Mystika Music)
Combining Aerosmith's Dream On with Nas's Street Dreams and Ol' Blue Eyes' Young At Heart sounds like one of those mash-ups that's just too crazy to work. But Massachusetts producer Cheatcode handles it masterfully with powerful results. Best of all, it's completely free to download on SoundCloud. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Reviewed by Steve Adams
-- POP & ROCK
Tegan and Sara
ALBERTA'S sisterly duo Tegan and Sara Quin have generally shown first-rate conviction to their artistry by trying new sounds and production techniques over the course their nearly 15-year recording career. Heartthrob (their seventh album) is, according to the duo, their attempt to wade into the money-spinning female pop/dance/club category, knowing full well that game professionals like Beyoncé, Pink and Ke$ha pretty much have those airwaves locked down tight.
The album works, delivering pure listenability that even works outside the club or bar. Sure, the songs drill deep down into a repetitive hook when necessary, but it's the smaller details that make this record shine. Rhythmically heaving keys 'n' beats serve to drive the Quin twins' voices to their rightful upfront place in the mix, rather beat their charm into oblivion to serve the clubbers. The technique works and you can hear it working. For the most part the 10 songs on offer here deliver what is necessary to keep hips undulating and Jell-O shots flowing on a Saturday night.
If the Quins' management can deliver the cash necessary to promote this album in a way that will pit them booty to booty alongside the generally mechanical yet successful club fodder, they may just become bigger heartthrobs themselves. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
DOWNLOAD THIS: DROVE ME WILD
-- Jeff Monk
Atoms for Peace
GIVEN its pedigree, Atoms for Peace's debut album should be great.
The supergroup -- with Radiohead's Thom Yorke on vocals, Red Hot Chili Pepper Flea on bass, R.E.M. and Beck veteran Joey Waronker on drums and David Byrne collaborator Mauro Refosco on percussion -- got together with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich for three days of jamming. There's no way that much talent can turn out something that's not good.
What keeps Amok from making the leap from good to great, though, is a problem that affects a lot of songs born from high-level jamming. So much of Amok is built around the strong grooves of Flea and Waronker that you wait for the inspiration that pulls it all together to arrive and, a lot of times, it doesn't, leaving you wondering why you waited.
The album opens with a stunning trick. Before Your Very Eyes... begins with a fierce bit of Fela-inspired bass guitar and African percussion, with Yorke's haunting vocals floating atop it all. As the song progresses, the warmth of that instrumentation is gradually replaced by synthesizers sounding increasingly icy, until it becomes twitchy samples and whispers.
It's a great song and an even greater concept, but it's a rarity on Amok, where concepts usually win out. When Atoms for Peace have a great song, like the lovely Ingenue, the results are spectacular. They should do the songs first next time. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: INGENUE
-- Glenn Gamboa / Newsday
Magic Beans (Sunnyside)
PIANIST Benny Green jumps out of the gate with the hard-driving Benny's Crib on his new CD, his first of all original compositions.
The 10 Green tunes sound good played by the pianist's working trio with Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums -- all three former members of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and as tight a trio as you'll find.
Green pays tribute to pianist Kenny Drew with a bouncy tune, to saxophonist Jacki McLean with a Latin feel and to saxophonist Harold Land with swing.
La Portuguesa is a sensual mini-suite while the title track is a melding of Latin vamps and classic swing, keeping Jack and the Beanstalk in mind.
This is a great piano trio set, both for performance and compositions. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: BENNY'S CRIB
-- Chris Smith
New Country Rehab
Ghost of Your Charms (Kelp)
WITH influences from Hank Williams to Arcade Fire, NCR deftly blends a pastiche of country, folk, rock, bluegrass and even jazz, while spinning stories of tall-tale tellers, murder and death by broken heart. Some of those yarns, such as Home to You, with its gorgeous lilting melody, tend to warm hearts in sharp contrast to the darkness.
John Showman's uniquely identifiable voice soars above the rich aural palette created in part by his highly adept fiddle manoeuvres while guitarist "Champagne" James Robertson blends hues both dark and bright, fortified by the tight and often thunderous rhythm section of Ben Whiteley and Roman Tome.
In the two years since NCR's spellbinding debut, many have lauded the Toronto quartet as Canada's answer to Mumford & Sons. On their sophomore release they continue to display a thread common to that act, but NCR has bred something extraordinary and singular. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: THE BANK AND THE ARMY
-- Bruce Leperre