New music

Reviews of this week’s CD releases


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COUNTRY Amanda Shires

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/08/2022 (304 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Amanda Shires

Take it Like a Man (Silver Knife/ATO)

Amanda Shires is a country fiddler adept enough to have been a member of the fabled Texas Playboys when she was just 15. Today, at 40, she is an accomplished singer, songwriter and frontwoman who has released six studio albums, racked up scores of session credits and boasts an MFA degree in poetry. In 2019, Shires co-founded the Highwomen with Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Maren Morris, and she also just happens to be married to Jason Isbell and plays in his Grammy-winning band, the 400 Unit.

On Take It Like a Man, Shires and producer Lawrence Rothman create a genre-fluid collection of 10 songs that touch all kinds of musical bases — from pop to Americana to country to rock to Brill Building balladry — and its breadth may be best considered in the juxtaposition of its first two songs.

Album opener Hawk for the Dove is the lusty, vamping romp of a woman on the prowl, all reverb and ominous backbeat, with a fiddle solo as scorching as a guitar; while Take it Like a Man is a piano ballad that becomes a huge, Owen Bradley-esque production, building to a massive crescendo, replete with horns and strings (close your eyes and you can almost see a backlit Reba McEntire on a pedestal).

Elsewhere on the album, Morris joins in on Empty Cups, a big ol’ hurtin’ song, while Here He Comes is a jaunty, upbeat pop romp, Bad Behavior is a moody groove and Stupid Love features a palpable Motown vibe. Lonely at Night is a torchy piano-and-strings tune, while Everything Has its Time is another Bacharach-ish examination of Shires’ lyrical theme — the realization that love and relationships are in constant states of change. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THESE: Hawk for the Dove; Empty Cups; Everything Has its Time.

— John Kendle



The Last Goodbye (Ninja Tune)

EDM fans, hold on to your glow sticks and rave goggles — Odesza is back and more experimental than ever. The duo of Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight released an immersive album in July after four quiet years of speculation that the electronic magic-makers had disbanded or were done for good.

Perhaps this album, The Last Goodbye, is Odesza’s sneaky way of saying farewell, but there’s no sign of the pair stopping any time soon as they rev up for a tour following the release of the album.

The Last Goodbye is packed with songs that, believe it or not, are hard to describe, but that’s kind of Odesza’s thing.

Some tracks feel nostalgic and at home at the same time, starting with This Version of You (feat. Julianna Barwick), a sort of guided meditation that shares a glimpse of the artists’ past few years of reflection that they say inspired the creation of this album.

Then there are others that put the “dance” in “Electronic Dance Music,” such as Forgive Me (feat. Izzy Bizu), with its clubby chorus.

And an honourable mention to the uplifting Better Now (feat. MARO)” where the bubbly melody and lyrics, “So what if I fall?/Better that I try instead of nothing at all,” will make you feel like a kid.

The album features a variety of vocal talents, ranging from Charlie Houston to the Knocks to Låpsley, whose voices echo over hypnotizing electronic loops. Bettye LaVette is featured on the title track, resulting in a soulful connection of the past and present.

The range in the tracks, albeit a tad disconnected at times, makes for an indescribable, immersive listening experience that will surely not disappoint in the arena. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THESE: The Last Goodbye, Forgive Me

— Kiana Doyle, The Associated Press


Mary Halvorson

Amaryllis/Belladonna (Nonesuch)

Today is a bit of a “twofer:” Guitarist Mary Halvorson has simultaneously released two EPs, each about 37 minutes in length, with a vinyl option. The short albums are obviously closely related, but show this wonderful musician in her most provocative development. Halvorson is one of the current giants in the avant-garde jazz world, and works with new and larger groups and stretches compositional boundaries.

Amaryllis features a sextet, including Nick Dunston on bass, Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Jacob Garchik on trombone, Patricia Brennan on vibes and Adam O’Farrill on trumpet. This band is augmented by the Nivos Quartet, a New York classical/experimental string quartet. Halvorson is accompanied solely by the strings in Belladonna.

Taking them separately for the moment, Amaryllis presents a constantly changing soundscape that has beautifully gentle moments that erupt without warning into dissonant and very non-gentle moods. Listeners will smile at the need not to get lured into a set response. Halvorson’s music is never that predictable. Her distinctive scoops and loop moments, and driving arpeggios, are always challenging and rewarding.

The opening track, Night Shift, is a tightly written, rhythmic tune that really shows vibist Brennan off to great advantage. On the title track and throughout the EP, the brass offers usually aggressive involvement with Halvorson’s guitar. 892 Teeth is melodic, again with the vibraphone offering a lovely solo before Halvorson blows the scenery away with an electric solo that once more gives way to peaceful resolution.

Belladonna offers a counterfoil to Amaryllis, with the strings swirling around Halvorson’s adventurous guitar. There is airtime given to the string quartet that holds the avant-garde flag high. There is no easing of the mood while offering more melodic time.

Moonburn and especially Haunted Head give Halvorson’s loops and spins lots of space within her excellent compositions. This sonic “twofer” is simply a stunning example of Halvorson’s scope as leader, musician and composer. Highly recommended. ★★★★1/2 out of five

STREAM THESE: Amaryllis, Haunted Head

— Keith Black


Esther Birringer

Debussy: Images I & II, Ballade, Masques (Rubicon)

In her second solo piano recital album for the Rubicon label, Esther Birringer tackles both books of Debussy’s Images penned in the early 20th century, with the Impressionist French composer’s music showcasing her luminous tone and virtuosic technique.

Birringer made her debut as soloist with an orchestra at the tender age of six, and is in demand on concert stages around the globe. Her 2021 album Once Upon a Time further displayed her versatility and penchant for diverse offerings, including the balletically inspired Petrushka, The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet.

Highlights abound on the new record, with Birringer setting the right tone with the atmospheric Reflets dans l’eau, Hommage à Rameau, while equally infusing the second set’s opening Cloches à travers le feuilles, and Et la lune sur le temple qui fut, with requisite dramatic sensibility.

Debussy fans will also be treated to her interpretation of Ballade, as well as graceful rendering of Deux arabesques.

Lastly, Birringer’s pianism shimmers like moonlight in the composer’s iconic Clair de lune, from his Suite bergamasque, before L’isle joyeuse, inspired by the composer’s travels to an island in the English Channel, peals from her keyboard with joyous, cascading waves of sound. ★★★★ out of five


— Holly Harris

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Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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