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Reviews of this week's CD releases


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POP / ROCK Paul WellerOn Sunset (Verve Forecast)

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/07/2020 (987 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Paul Weller
On Sunset (Verve Forecast)

Paul Weller’s On Sunset is a rapturous collection, filled to the brim with a carnival of sounds that finds inspiration in decades past while occasionally stepping into something new.

Weller’s 15th solo effort is closer to the Style Council than the Jam, his two former bands, and clearly feels of a kind with the string of albums he’s released since 2008’s 22 Dreams, stretching the mould without breaking it.

At over seven minutes, opening cut Mirror Ball would suit a dance marathon, an homage to the dance floor that ventures outside the nightclub to found sounds, returns with a layer cake of vocal harmonies and drifts off with a hazy music-box piano that marks a transition to dreamland.

Baptiste is one of three tracks — along with Village and Walkin’ — featuring the Style Council’s Mick Talbot on Hammond organ, and they carry that band’s trademark dedication to soul music.

More, about the futility of excessive and unending desire, gets its message across by featuring a few lines in French as well as a flute and a backward flute, a less-is-more-but-more-is-even-more approach crowned by an extended fade with horns, strings and alternating guitar licks.

The title tune enters to the sound of waves and a faintly My Sweet Lord guitar strum, adding other sounds of the early ’70s while adhering to the album’s leitmotif of simplicity and rejuvenation, albeit amid deep nostalgia and the acknowledgement of time’s unstoppable advance.

The latter sentiment is clear also on Old Father Tyme and Equanimity, whose basic piano and guitar yield to an uncharacteristic but expressive violin solo and a horn section.

Closer Rockets may partly be a David Bowie tribute, with Weller later lashing out at the systems and institutions we’re caught up in but which provide plenty of opportunities for the privileged.

Weller’s soulfulness and gift for memorable melodies across On Sunset, plus his ability to slide between genres without blurring his commitment to quality, make him a specialist in many styles.

★★★★ out of five

STREAM THESE: More, Mirror Ball

 Pablo Gorondi, The Associated Press



Phoebe Bridgers
Punisher (Dead Oceans)

It’s often said that the best albums don’t reveal themselves immediately; that it takes many listens to explore their full breadth and depth. That’s not always the case, of course, but Phoebe Bridgers’ second full-length solo record is certainly “a grower.” This may surprise fans of Bridgers’ recent work, both as a member of boygenius (with Lucy Dacus and Julien Taylor) and as a part of Better Oblivion Community Centre, her recent collaboration with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, as both those projects are rather easily and readily accessible.

The biggest surprise for many listeners, especially after hearing the breezy, indie pop/rock of the Kyoto single all spring, will be Punisher’s cool, mostly gentle vibe. Many of the songs here are downtempo ruminations — all multi-layered acoustic guitars, hushed, almost-whispered vocals, ethereal cello and violin and moodily haunting keys. But this is not an especially sad or mournful journey, more of a stock-taking and reflection. Bridgers’ lyrics aren’t linear narratives and her dream-like imagery, delivered in her trademark sweet alto, reveals a young singer-songwriter who has lived enough to be sentimental about the loss of youth but who has also become strong enough to take whatever is yet to come.

So here’s how to listen to this record — put in your best earbuds, turn it up a little louder than usual, then do something else and let it waft over you. Go for a walk, work in the yard, cycle, read… whatever. Before you know it, you’ll be marvelling at the rich textures of these 10 songs, you’ll hear the understated layers that Bridgers and co-producers Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska have created, and you’ll be looking up the songs on Genius in an attempt to parse the lyrics. Which is what all the best records should do to you. ★★★★1/2 out of five

STREAM THESE: Halloween, Moon Song, ICU

John Kendle




Eric St-Laurent
Bliss Station (Independent)

Guitarist and keyboardist Eric St-Laurent was born in Montreal, studied in New York, worked in Berlin, and now is based in Toronto. This album is actually his 13th album of original music, this time with a quartet that features Sebastian Studnitzky on trumpet and piano, Jordan O’Connor on bass and Michel Dequevedo on percussion.

Philosopher Joseph Campbell wrote of “following one’s bliss,” and this idea was the conceptual basis for this album. Whether the concept works or not, the music here has a sense of peace and relaxation that is quite lovely. Not that the music is bland, far from it. There is a strong Latin mood in many of the tracks that drives the tunes without the loss of that reflective feel.

The brief opening track, Edges, sets the stage with a gentle guitar and a gentle trumpet groove. The title track swings beautifully, as the Latin percussion of Dequevedo slides through the harmonic changes. The compositions throughout are melodic and captivating. Studnitzky is attributed as trumpeter, but his mellow sound is pure flugelhorn on many tracks.

Over the years, the reviews on this page have covered jazz that is thoughtful, hard-edged, perhaps baffling, wildly exciting or meditative — sometimes all at once. This album could be described as making you simply feel good for having heard it, but it is surely thoughtful as well, with St-Laurent’s compositional style and guitar totally reflected in the album’s moods. The fugal nature of Calvados is a standout. Mustard Arizona has humour within a Latin rhythmic base that isn’t perhaps directly associated with Arizona but works anyway.

Canadian jazz takes a back seat to no country or region. From coast to coast, we have musicians worthy of international recognition, as well as winning kudos here at home. In these times of isolation and uncertainty, they need your support more than ever. Check out digital album options, and consider this one in your list. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THESE: Calvados, Less

Keith Black




Mahan Esfahani
Musique? (Hyperion)

Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani turns the traditionally kind, gentle baroque harpsichord firmly on its head with six cutting-edge works dating from the 20th and 21st centuries. The liner notes even come with their own disclaimer: “No harpsichords were harmed in the making of the album” — further evidence intrepid listeners should buckle up for a wild ride.

The selections range from Toru Takemitsu’s evocative Rain Dreaming from his Waterscape series (the soloist wisely allowing enough space for its sparsely crafted textures to breathe) to Henry Cowell’s aptly titled Set of four, commissioned by pioneering American harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick. The latter offers more drama, with its four movements composed in response to a rise in pre-classical works being programmed at that time. Esfahani infuses the opening Rondo with dramatic flourish, while the subsequent Ostinato shows off his crisp technique. The more lyrical Chorale provides greater repose before finale Fugue-Resume, including its angular opening theme, returns to listeners to (mostly) more contemplative climes.

One particular highlight is Kaija Saariaho’s highly imagistic Jardin secret II, in which the amplified harpsichord is juxtaposed with a pre-recorded electro-acoustic tape featuring the composer’s own breath sounds.

Gavin Bryars’ After Handel’s Vesper, a semi-narrative work, demands a certain conviction by the player, while the final two selections once again incorporate electronics. Anahita Abbasi’s Intertwined distances infused with digitally processed sounds of the harpsichord gives it an arresting new voice, while Luc Ferrari’s Programme commun ‘Musique socialiste?’ morphs into an explosive, often shocking expression of timbral colour and dissonant chords. Esfahan’s fearless attack sees him pounding out tone clusters with his fists against a pulsing rhythmic track, leaving one wondering if this genteel ancestor of the modern-day piano will ever quite sound the same again. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THIS: Kaija Saariaho’s Jardin secret II

Holly Harris

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