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LADY GAGA / Born This Way (Universal)

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/05/2011 (4095 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

LADY GAGA / Born This Way (Universal)

THANKS to all the stunts and hype, it’s almost hard to remember, sometimes, that first and foremost, Lady Gaga is a pop star who uses performance art and fashion to draw us into her musical world. Yes, she should be considered a renaissance artist, but would anyone care about someone wearing a meat dress or arriving on a red carpet in an egg if she wasn’t famous for her music first?

Now, finally, after months and months of endless hype leading up to the release of her sophomore album, Born This Way, we can just put it on and listen to it without any distractions. The verdict? Born This Way is a good dance-pop album, no more, no less, with obvious nods to the star she most resembles: Madonna.

Lady Gaga does her best to be a little bit of everything to everyone — as she does in real life — throwing in some metal-tinged guitar riffs on Electric Chapel and Bad Kids; enlisting Bruce Springsteen’s sax player Clarence Clemons to provide some heft on two songs, including the bombastic Edge of Glory (which should serve as an explosive concert finale); borrowing the melody line from Madonna’s Express Yourself for the chorus of the title track; singing in German on Scheibe; delving into some Latin theatrics on Americano; and serving up some clap-your-hands-and-sing-along piano pop on You and I. Lyrically she sings about on her childhood, dabbles in religious imagery, throws out some sexual references and offers up plenty of self-affirming exclamations all backed by a non-stop, pulsating electronic beat.

There is no room for subtlety on Born This Way. This is Lady Gaga in your face and you are going to ride her Bad Romance-recalling Highway Unicorn (Road to Love), or not.

The 25-year-old New Yorker born Stefani Germanotta may push the envelope in fashion and art, but musically there is nothing revolutionary about Born This Way; it merely affirms her status as one of today’s forward-thinking pop stars who knows better than many the importance of a good hook. The live show, on the other hand, should be a blast. ‘Ö’Ö’Ö1/2

— Rob Williams



Roadkill Rising: The Bootleg Collection: 1977-2009 (Shout Factory)

ANYONE who has seen Iggy Pop or the Stooges live knows he is a wild man in concert, prone to violent fits, spastic convulsions and random acts of nudity. This new 66-track, four-disc career retrospective compilation shows off Pop’s many sides, from charming frontman to crowd-baiting antagonist.

The discs are divided into decades, ranging from the late 1970s Lust for Life tour through the Stooges 2007 reunion and beyond. The sound quality varies, along with the material, but most of his greatest hits are here and even the most unassuming of album cuts get a new life in the live environment where you can practically feel the tension in the air at times — most notably during a live show in Detroit when the crowd won’t shut up enough to let Pop sing the ballad One for my Baby (And One more for the Road).

Roadkill Rising is an excellent document about one of music’s greatest performers, but a lack of liner notes and information about the recordings is a serious oversight that takes away from the overall package. ‘Ö’Ö’Ö1/2

— RW


Bride of the Noisemakers (429)

EVER since he scored big with three Top 20 hits from his first album, 1986’s The Way It Is, keyboardist/songwriter Bruce Hornsby hasn’t looked back. He’s worked with everyone from Don Henley to jazz icon Charlie Haden and Bonnie Raitt to Bob Seger. He even spent a chunk of time in the haunted piano chair with the Grateful Dead. Bride of the Noisemakers is a two CD set that covers concert dates from 2007 to 2009 and at 25 tracks, it is one jam-packed listening experience.

After wading through the highs, lows and in-betweens on this monster, it comes down to the straight-up fact that Hornsby is pretty boring. His band is tight as a nun’s habit for sure, and Hornsby is no slouch when it comes to tinkling his various keyboard instruments with style and a confident flourish. The complete lack of danger or colouring outside the musical lines makes it extremely difficult to stay wide-awake as they tastefully lay out their blissful tunes.

Mainstream music fans will enjoy this; anyone else should find some more exciting noise. ‘Ö’Ö1/2

— Jeff Monk


Love and Other Messes0 (Independent)

EDMONTON songstress Ann Vriend is 29, but her music is that of an old soul — or at least someone influenced by the sounds of old country soul, Motown and blues. Her fifth full-length album is a collection of polished, adult songs that would be all over AM radio if such a thing existed anymore; she’s moved away from the girl-at-the-piano pop that characterized earlier albums.

Vriend (pronounced Vreend) has a voice that recalls Dolly Parton’s, but the quivery quality is moderated with a warm, smoky allure. She can sound a bit brittle when she swings for the fences, but when she plays it soft and low, its cracked vulnerability is perfect.

If You Were Here is a star-crossed-lovers duet (co-written and sung with Winnipeg’s Matt Epp) that oozes longing. Vriend dabbles in cabaret on the playfully sultry Graffiti on My Heart, and Tin Man, which starts out with just piano, martial drumming and husky vocals, is so simply beautiful, you wonder how no one thought to put notes together in that melody before.

Ann Vriend plays The Cyrk on Wednesday. ‘Ö’Ö’Ö1/2

— Jill Wilson



ISAM (Ninja Tune)

SETTLING into Brazilian-born Amon Tobin’s seventh studio album, it’s obvious that his pastiche, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to sound is still intact.

But instead of just cranking out dull, predictable downtempo that has become the soundtrack to coffee shops around the world, he offers up a challenging concoction of scattered drums, rugged bass, creepy piano, weird noises and jarring contrasts of sound. Similar to his last album, Foley Room, Tobin continues to record, craft and shape his own sounds, along with creating his own custom instruments.

At times, ISAM feels like a soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist or a game you haven’t played yet. His experience in soundtrack design for video games like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and the fact that his music has turned up in films like 21 and The Italian Job isn’t surprising.

While Tobin is pushing boundaries with his sound design, ISAM doesn’t succeed on other levels and is ultimately forgettable. ‘Ö’Ö

— Anthony Augustine



This Is Country Music (Arista/Sony)

A professional performer since 13, Brad Paisley is a talented songwriter and an even better guitarist serving up many a tasteful solo on his ninth studio album.

This is Country Music is country music, pure and simple. Paisley not only embraces, but revels in the well-worn clichés of death, pickup trucks, drinking, loving, hard luck and a good time. Old Alabama sees Paisley taking a page from Kid Rock’s playbook by sampling Alabama’s Mountain Music while actually getting band members, Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook to sing along. Oh, there’s Western music, too, with Clint Eastwood whistling on the impressive instrumental Eastwood and even a hint of surf a la Dick Dale on Working on a Tan.

After moving more than 12 million albums and scoring 19 No. 1s, it doesn’t look like the three-time Grammy winner and the CMA’s reigning Entertainer of the Year is slowing down any time soon. ‘Ö’Ö’Ö1/2

— Bruce Leperre



Cast the First Stone (Plus Loin Music)

THE sophomore recording by this group of hard-bop veterans serves up ample helpings of blues and swing while giving the musicians plenty of room to solo.

The band, which takes its name from the 1965 Freddie Hubbard Blue Note album Night of the Cookers, includes Billy Harper (tenor sax), Eddie Henderson and Davis Weiss (trumpets), Craig Handy (alto sax), George Cables (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums).

The seven tunes here have the air of a jam session without resorting to the musical clichés that so easily can sabotage such an all-star session.

Harper opens the disc with the title track with great honking and wailing, Cable’s ballad Think On Me is a delight, and the whole band, well, cooks on The Chief. This isn’t a band reliving its heyday; it’s living it. ‘Ö’Ö’Ö’Ö

— Chris Smith


Try To Remember (Independent)

FORMER Manitoban and now Torontonian, pianist and composer Mike Janzen has the kind of musical credibility and talent that comes with years of hard work. In the liner notes, he writes that he wanted to record a bunch of Broadway show tunes for his new baby to listen to and, suffice to say, the man got his wish.

Try to Remember features the super-talented Janzen and his band jazzin’ up grizzled chestnuts like Oh What A Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma, Mary PoppinsChim Chim Che-ree and newer faves like Bring Him Home from Les Miserables and the title track of The Fantastics. Whatever Janzen and his ladylove consider hip to listen to inside their home is completely up to them, but hearing these songs being butchered by jazz just doesn’t make sense, even though the playing is superb and worth noting.

I’m trying to forget Try to Remember. ‘Ö’Ö1/2

— JM



Grieg, Bartók, R. Strauss: Violin Sonatas (EMI)

YOUTHFUL, impetuous, yet with a surprising fund of nostalgia, Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 1 and Richard Strauss’ Violin Sonata both date from the composers in their early 20s and are equally charged with optimistic joie. EMI’s brilliant new violinist Vilde Frang and her highly insightful collaborator Michail Lifits dig in hard to project that, supplying an ideal blend of spontaneity within clear plot-lines and technical execution, leaving nothing wanting. Fresh discovery blankets every phrase here, for which nothing more can be asked in these early works.

Those pieces flank Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin in this recital, one of his last works and commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin. It’s a thorny, tremendously resourceful display that absorbs throughout its four movements. Frang’s taut rhythmic control and range of colour most impress here. She’s quite the player and clearly a star on the rise. ‘Ö’Ö’Ö’Ö

— James Manishen

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