Reviews of this week's CD releases
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/07/2020 (774 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
POP / ROCK
Women in Music Pt. III (Columbia/Sony)
How people react to Haim’s third full album will depend on how much they’re into these three multi-instrumentalist sisters who’ve been playing in bands since they were little kids.
Most people are casual music listeners, so they’ll be aware of the trio’s breezy pop hits and its fun, sunny videos (often directed by Paul Thomas Anderson), which have caused many to consider Alana (who’s now 29), Danielle (31) and Este (34) Haim as heirs apparent to SoCal pop-rockers such as Fleetwood Mac or, perhaps, a much, much cooler upgrade on Wilson Phillips.
These folks have likely heard The Steps, the first single from WIMPIII (which the Haims pronounced “Wimpy” during their online album launch) and will think the record is a similar collection of intelligent but straightforward guitar songs. But these folks would be wrong.
Those coming to Haim with no preconceptions will find a post-modern pop-rock outfit bringing all its gifts to bear on an assured outing, while the band’s super-fans (of which there are many) will realize the Haims were hinting at an adventurous new direction on Summer Girl, Now I’m In It and Hallelujah, three singles they released last year (available as bonus tracks on WIMPIII).
That’s not to say Haim has abandoned its trademark musicality and expressive, otherworldly harmonizing. It’s just that the sisters and their co-producers — Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend) — feel assured enough to experiment with things such as lilting reggae and soca rhythms (on Los Angeles and Another Try), gutsy indie confessionals (the wonderful FUBT) and electronic textures and beats (most notably on the ethereal I Know Alone or 3 AM and the staccato All That Ever Mattered). Danielle even channels Joni Mitchell on Man from the Magazine, a succinct call-out of the sexism the sisters regularly face.
The breeze is still here, no doubt, but the added textures bring greater depth and richer hues to the tunes, several of which deal with the depression each of the sisters reportedly dealt with after coming off tour in 2018. All told, WIMPIII is far from what the sisters’ pronunciation would suggest — it should grace many Top 10 lists at year’s end. ★★★★ 1/2 out of five
Stream these: The Steps; Gasoline; FUBT
— John Kendle
ROOTS / COUNTRY
Agricultural Tragic (Warner)
Corb Lund has created his own musical niche with amusing neo-cowboy tunes that pay homage to the traditions of the Old West, but viewing that ranching and horse-riding culture through a 21st-century lens.
The fine Agricultural Tragic, the Alberta singer-songwriter’s first record of new songs in five years, continues in that vein. In the album’s rip-roaring opener, 90 Seconds of Your Time, he introduces a military man who would rather use the lonely Idaho foothills to cope with war-induced PTSD than the “docs at the VA always be a-pushin’ them pills.”
Lund offers another juxtaposition in the waltzy weeper Louis L’Amour, which contrasts the trusted old ways of the west made famous by the cowboy novelist, with a mother’s worries about her son’s meth habit. “You can’t count any more on Louis L’Amour,” Lund croons, while accompanied by some lovely Spanish-style guitar from Grant Siemens. (The guitar wiz has backed Lund in his Hurtin’ Albertans for years, even though he is from Manitoba and is often seen with his six-string at the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club.)
It was at that downtown bar last July where Lund rehearsed these songs at three shows, and while Main Street is a long way from the Alberta Rockies, the jam-packed honky tonk was very much simpatico with Lund’s strain of country music.
There’s plenty of room for fun times in Agricultural Tragic, too, especially in I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey, a duet in the style of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. In this case, Lund’s pal Jaida Dreyer provides the female perspective, persuading Lund to try gin.
Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans were supposed to play the Burton Cummings Theatre in March, but the concert was postponed to Dec. 1, owing to COVID-19. ★★★★ out of five
Stream these: I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey, Louis L’Amour
— Alan Small
Still I Rise (Impact Jazz)
Trumpeter Derrick Gardner is originally from Chicago, but has held the Babs Asper Chair in Jazz Trumpet at the University of Manitoba since 2011. A mainstay in the jazz community here, Gardner has a new big band release that features a number of Winnipeg musicians, including Luke Sellick (bass), Curtis Nowosad (drums) and Kasey Kurtz (guitar). Others are Mark Gross, Greg Gatien, Rob Dixon, Tristan Martinuson and Ken Gold on saxes, Bijon Watson, Jeff Johnson, Curtis Taylor and Andrew Littleford on trumpet, Joel Green, Anthony Bryson and Bill Green on trombones and Zen Zadravec on piano. A number of the musicians are alumni of Gardner’s program.
Gardner not only displays his trumpet skills here; his compositions and arrangements are set up for such displays from all parties. The flat-out blues opener, Push Comes Da Shove, leads to the title track, Still I Rise, referencing and dedicated to African-American icon Maya Angelou. The majority mood is up tempo throughout, with moments of minor tonality that Gardner says is a purposeful activism speaking through his music. The best example of that musical activism is the track Melody for Trayvon, dedicated to a Black teenager killed in the U.S. in 2012. Blues à la Burgess is dedicated to Gardner’s father, who has been his major trumpet influence.
This is big band music that conjures memories of latter-day swinging albums, shades of the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra and several European large ensembles. The track 8 Ball Side Pocket rearranges Basie’s Corner Pocket to great effect. The album ends (or should I say, “exits stage right”?) with a hilarious, wild, turntable-added romp Gardner calls a “hodgepodge bouquet of chaos” — heavens to Murgatroyd! If you are old enough, that reference is bringing back memories about now. Create a few more with this album. ★★★★ out of five
Stream these: Push Comes da Shove, Melody for Trayvon
— Keith Black
La Francesina — Handel’s nightingale
Sophie Junker, Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu (Aparté)
Belgian-born soprano Sophie Junker pays homage to French singer Élisabeth Duparc, a.k.a. “La Francesina,” on this new release, joined by baroque chamber group Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu led by Franck-Emmanuel Comte.
No fewer than 12 lead roles in the quintessentially refined composer’s opera and oratorios were created for his muse, including the title role in Semele, as well as Michal in Saul and Nitocris in Belshazzar.
The 12 offerings, sung in Italian and English, showcase Junker’s crystal clear vocals and effervescent ornamentation, underscored by her particularly compelling uppermost range.
After a bright and brilliant opener of Handel’s Prophetic raptures swell my breast, from Joseph and his Brethren, listeners are immersed into more contemplative waters with aria What passion cannot raise and quell! from Ode to St. Cecilia’s Day.
Another highlight is Myself I shall adore excerpted from Semele, with Junker easily tossing off its quicksilver scalar runs and figuration, while the orchestra keeps apace with crisply executed, idiosyncratic dotted rhythms adding further rhythmic punch. A series of instrumental works is wisely interwoven throughout the disc, including the overture from Semele, and Sinfonia Allegro Postillons from Belshazzar, which provides effective counterpoint to the vocal numbers.
In sweetest harmony they lived, from Saul, is infused with a rainbow spectrum of tonal colour, while the more dramatically intense My father! Ah! from Hercules proves Junker’s versatility, seeing her scaling the heights of heaven before plunging into darker, equally arresting underworlds — dramatic qualities of which both Handel and his famed nightingale would surely have approved. ★★★★
Stream this: Handel’s What passion cannot raise and quell! from Ode to St. Cecilia’s Day
— Holly Harris