Reviews of this week's CD releases
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/11/2019 (1212 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
POP / ROCK
At the end of a year that saw musicians like Niall Horan and Ed Sheeran gingerly dip their toes into other languages, Coldplay have responded: hold my European beer.
Their new album, Everyday Life, is so utterly embracing of the world that it has words spoken or sung in Arabic, Spanish, Zulu and Igbo, and even a French verse sung by lead singer Chris Martin.
It’s a fluid and experimental 53-minute double album, divided into two halves, Sunrise and Sunset. If on 2015’s A Head Full of Dreams, the band sampled the likes of Barack Obama and a Rumi poem, now they’re doubling down.
Everyday Life is bursting with idiosyncratic references, ranging from the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, to a Bob Dylan lyric, a novel by Khaled Hosseini, audio of a bullying at a traffic stop by a cop in Philadelphia, an elegy to Africa, samples from Nigerian composer Harcourt Whyte and jazz legend Alice Coltrane, the South African activist song Jikelele and an exuberant tune about Syrian refugees (Orphans, which features a credit for Martin’s teenage son, Moses).
Orphans is really the only traditional-sounding Coldplay song. The others are often subdued, instrumental or undercooked. “I haven’t finished this one yet,” the liner notes say on the stripped-down and fragmentary WOTW/POTP. It’s an astonishing, unsafe step from a band who could have just kept giving us Something Like This.
There are ambient sounds and snippets from films, including the documentaries Everything Is Incredible and Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon. The band even seems to reference themselves (Boom bo-boom boom from X Marks the Spot.) Sometimes it feels less than an album and more like a multimedia project.
Fans will find that, sonically, the band has stepped off the dance floor. The new music is less bombastic and more intimate. Old Friends is a mournful ode to loss, while Daddy is sung from the heartbreaking perspective of an abandoned child. “Daddy are you OK?/Look dad we got the same hair.” There are even spots of gospel and funk-jazz.
There are also political songs — the menacing Trouble in Town and the sarcastic Guns — but most of the album is about faith — all faiths, from East Asian Buddhism to Pakistani Sufism.
It begins with a prayer in Church — “Oh, Father, God Almighty, why have you forsaken me?” — and ends 15 songs later with a soft thanksgiving Hallelujah, thanks to the gentle title track’s earnest plea for peace.
“How in the world am I going to see/You as my brother not my enemy,” Martin sings. “Got to keep dancing when the lights go out.” In response to an ailing world, Coldplay opens its arms wide and refuses to stop believing.
3 and a half stars out of five
Stream these: Daddy, Church
— Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press
ROOTS / COUNTRY
Wide Mouth Mason
I Wanna Go With You
(We Are Busy Bodies Records)
Back in the halcyon days of Canada’s video music television channels, Saskatchewan’s Wide Mouth Mason made a fairly big splash on the national music scene.
Once the bottom fell out of the music video market, the group soldiered on and primary band members Shaun Verreault (vocals, guitars) and Safwan Javed (percussion, vocals) have popped up again with a new attitude on I Wanna Go With You. These dozen tracks don’t file neatly under the blues/rock label, yet there is no debating the rootsy threads that Verreault and Javed are trying to pull here.
The album bobs and weaves happily, with the kind of shifting moods and wild sonic excursions that make the most exciting blues albums really work. Verreault plays any number of slide guitars here, including resonator-style acoustic and some loud and kinetic electric lap steel.
The opening upward drag and tight finger plucked riff that lights up Bodies In Motion gets your attention fast and sets the stage perfectly for what is to follow. It’s a delight to hear Verreault grind and slide away expressively track-by-track and standout burners like Only Child and Erase Any Trace complement less frenetic songs like the pretty You Get Used To It and a sacred-steel-infused take on David Bowie’s Modern Love.
Another twist in the WMM attack is delivered by their canny ability to direct their blues blaze toward some appealing, hook-filled pop arrangements. The bouncy lament that is Every Red Light and the falsetto vocal-infused charm of Anywhere expand the sound delightfully and draw the listener away from hearing this set as anything but an exercise in lick-baiting.
Outsourced and Stay For A Couple More touch on more contemporary issues, and with these kinds of songs in the set proves that all these years later, Wide Mouth Mason still has plenty to say musically.
Stream these: Anywhere Every Red Light
three and a half Stars
— Jeff Monk
Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits
Hard-times troubadour Tom Waits gets the Great American Songbook-style treatment in Come On Up to the House, a classy collection of covers performed by two generations of female singer-songwriters.
The album, produced by musician/writer Warren Zanes to mark Waits’ 70th birthday on Dec. 7, makes clear that he deserves it. Waits is a superlative American songwriter, whose snapshots of life in the streets and on the road have survived — even thrived on — interpretation by artists as varied as Rod Stewart and the Ramones.
Contributors on Come On Up to the House include Roseanne Cash and Patty Griffin, and many of the 12 tracks feature stripped-down arrangements that reveal the strong melodies and pungent imagery of Waits’ songs, with their veins of hurt and flashes of hope.
At its best, the result is spine-tinglingly melancholy. An understated vocal against a plain piano backdrop is all that’s needed for the title track to shine in a rendition by Portland, Ore., trio Joseph.
Stripped of Waits’ raspy growl, the mood of many songs becomes plaintive rather than gritty. Phoebe Bridgers’ delivery of the tragic ballad Georgia Lee is a shade too delicate; the same could be said of indie-folk band the Wild Reeds’ wispy take on Tom Traubert’s Blues.
Distinctive takes are provided by Iris Dement, who brings an old-timey country feel to House Where Nobody Lives, and Kat Edmonson’s swoony retro-pop stylings on You Can Never Hold Back Spring.
At its best, this is an album on which fine singers and fine songs gel seamlessly, from Corinne Bailey Rae’s languid swing on Jersey Girl, to Aimee Mann’s authoritative rendition of Hold On.
Best of all, sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer bring a beautiful unhurried power to Waits’ Ol’ 55 — another bittersweet tale of restless movement and “riding with lady luck.” Even in the gutter, Waits’ work reassures us it’s possible to look at the stars.
four stars out of five
Stream these: Ol’ 55, House Where Nobody Lives
— Jill Lawless, The Associated Press
Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain, Chris Potter
This album is at one level an unusual trio configuration, but mainly it is an extraordinary musical conversation between three simply wonderful musicians. Bassist Dave Holland is clearly a master in the jazz world. He is teamed here with Zakir Hussain, considered the best tabla player in any genre, and Chris Potter, one of the best of the current jazz saxophonists.
The blending of eastern and western influences is breathtaking — a seamless three-way discussion of how worldwide potentials are enhancing the jazz community. The chemistry between these musicians is total. There are two- and three-way chats that cross expected paths with abandon and always with sustaining rhythm. The complexity of Lucky Seven — with Potter, known for playing tenor but switching to soprano — is balanced with the all-out driving pace of the title track. Bedouin Trail sounds like what a slow desert crossing might conjure.
While especially Potter cuts loose on some tracks, there is an underlying melodic base to every tune. Each of these men have recorded across a wide range of styles, and Hussain has played with folks like saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who is known for including eastern styles and influences in his music. I have mentioned before that for many of us, it is rhythm that originally drew us to the music. Hence, the tabla works in this context like hand in glove. Each listen exposes more intensity and depth to this music. It is enjoyable at any level.
four and a half stars out of five
Stream these: Lucky Seven, Bedouin Trail
— Keith Black
Toquinho and Ophélie Gaillard
Canto da sereia
This new crossover album offers an irresistible melting pot of bossa nova and classical music forces, performed by legendary Brazilian vocalist-guitarist Toquinho, who is known for his “canto falado” style of spoken song, and Paris-born, classical music-based cellist Ophélie Gaillard — both united by their shared deep love of J. S. Bach’s Baroque masterpieces.
The dynamic duo, backed by a live band, deliver 13 tracks infused with sultry South American heat, including bossa nova standards with new arrangements created by Uruguayan composer Gabriel Sivak.
Highlights include the disc’s title track Canto de sereia and Fariseus, as well as the rhythmically rugged Quem viver, vera. Others, such as mellifluous ballad Eu sei quevou te amar reveal the more lyrical side of this music, including an effective trombone solo by Fabien Cyprien interwoven with Gaillard’s fluid, flexible cello lines.
Several well-paced instrumental numbers further showcase the two artists, including Bachianinha and Carinhoso, before the album wraps up with a guitar and cello arrangement of Bachiana Brasileira No. 5, originally scored for a soprano and cello ensemble, and excerpted from a larger suite of nine pieces penned between 1930-45. This final offering pays homage to arguably the most famous Brazilian composer of them all, Heitor Villa-Lobos, whose haunting music still gets the blood pumping while stirring the soul.
(Four stars out of five)
— Holly Harris
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