Reviews of this week’s CD releases
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/04/2022 (243 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Modern Relics (Lonewolfe Music)
It gets in your blood, playing rock ’n’ roll. Even musicians who stop “playing out” because of family and work commitments can be found bashing away in their basements and garages. Others, though, just can’t resist the pull of writing and recording and performing live. So they keep at it.
The members of North Graffiti fall into this latter camp – they’re a quartet of local music lifers, led by singer/guitarist Johannes Lodewyks (Noble Thiefs, Sub City Dwellers) who have been sitting on an album of 11 guitar-based, punk-infused tunes since before the pandemic began. Those familiar with Lodewyks’s other projects will know that he’s always been inspired by danceable, anthemic pop-punk, and this sound is the essential starting point of this band. That said, he and bandmates Marty LaFreniere (bass), Joel Leonhardt (drums) and Kyle Monkman (guitar) also incorporate the storytelling aspirations of Craig Finn or Brian Fallon (as on An Other Way, Buddy Guy or The Wilds), the vocal intonation and intensity of Tim Armstrong (Educating the Youth) and even the tongue-in-cheek, salacious swagger-and-groove of July Talk or Danko Jones (Burnin’ Fire, Scream).
Produced by the band and recorded locally at Private Ear, Modern Relics delivers a rousing sonic punch, with Lodewyks’s dirty rhythm-guitar riffs setting up each song, Monkman’s economical but piercing solos winding in and out of the mix and Leonhardt and LaFreniere delivering the kind of pulsing backbeat that will get even the most jaded legs pumping in time. The album’s centrepiece is, without doubt, The Entertainer, a slice-of-musical-life epic that explains the ritual, romance and reality of North Graffiti’s raison d’être.
Long may they run.
Modern Relics will be launched with a live show April 9 at the Park Theatre, with openers Mobina Galore (whose Jenna Priestner did all the artwork for this album) and 12/21. ★★★½ out of five
STREAM THESE: Any Other Way, The Entertainer, Buddy Guy
— John Kendle
First Generation American (Self-released)
Singer-songwriter Elliah Heifetz’s debut album is a cheerful reminder Americana has roots in many countries.
Heifetz was raised on food stamps in Philadelphia as the son of Soviet political refugees, and his melting-pot musical mix ranges from Eastern European folk and Yiddish theatre to Jimmy Buffett and John Prine.
Heifetz’s voice could be mistaken for Steve Goodman’s, and there’s a twinkle in his twangy tenor as he finds humour in the immigrant experience. But it’s not all yuks as he reflects on outliers and outsiders, dislocation, disorientation and striving to belong in the land of plenty.
“I’m foreign as the fourth day of July,” Heifetz sings. He shows it by name-checking Waylon Jennings, Donovan McNabb and Chuck E. Cheese, and that’s just on the autobiographical, Cajun-tinged title cut.
Other highlights include the stomper Molly Margarita, which describes a visit to Costco as a religious experience, and The Last Great American Cameleer, a Baghdad-to-Texas lament about trying to ride high.
Heifetz, a Yale alum who has enjoyed success as a composer for New York stages and network TV, recorded the album in Nashville with a stellar supporting cast. The arrangements include pedal steel, fiddle and accordion — immigrant instruments for songs that could only be made in America. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Molly Margarita, First Generation American
— Steven Wine, The Associated Press
L’Échelle Du Temps (Effendi)
It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when adding strings to a jazz album was almost a curiosity. Worse, it was often viewed by “purists” as simply inappropriate. The term “third stream” grew out of the original experiments.
That was then. Instrumental experimentation is so common now that the question only revolves around the compositional and integrational factors when any instrument is added to a “conventional” jazz sound.
This album — the title roughly translates as “the scale of time” — is a fine example of the way contemporary jazz has no rules about what belongs and what doesn’t. Quebec pianist/composer Léveillé has worked comfortably with a wide variety of styles, and here he has given us a rewarding example of melodic and rhythmic music with piano, bass and string quartet. With Étienne Girard-Charest on bass and a string quartet drawn from some of Quebec’s best, Léveillé stretches melodies across differing time scales that it’s obvious are felt by the whole ensemble. The mood is generally peaceful, with several tracks, like Couleur Grenade, Une Journée Comme Ça and Encodage, that have brisk, often dance-like rhythms with bass and piano moving between the other strings.
Sans Retour begins with a lovely piano solo that leads into an equally lovely smooth addition of the quartet as the piece revolves around the theme that explains the track title. This is melodic jazz that will bemuse any purists who might be left out there. (There’s another old jazz expression — mouldy figs — that might cheekily describe them.)
The constantly evolving jazz world has embraced strings and much more, and this beautiful album is an example of the pointlessness of narrow definitions. Highly recommended. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Sans Retour, Une Journée Comme Ça
— Keith Black
Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered
Lara Downes, piano (Rising Sun)
It’s (still) tempting to dismiss the “King of Ragtime,” Scott Joplin, as a lightweight in a sea of arguably more serious composers. Yet American pianist Lara Downes shows us the true beauty and sophistication of the paradoxical, early 20th century artist who longed to be accepted in mainstream music circles: the son of a former African-American slave with plantation melodies in his veins was also classically trained in the styles and manners of grand European concert halls.
The album celebrates Joplin’s trail-blazing artistry, including a gift for melody with 17 arrangements scored for chamber ensemble as well as her solo piano. A special treat is Downes’s own commentary on the 18th track providing fresh insight into the composer and his music, including her own journey discovering his timeless rags.
Naturally, Joplin’s iconic and surely best known work is included: The Entertainer, with Joe Brent’s charming mandolin adding further character and life. Another ear-pleaser, Maple Leaf Rag — with strings and winds alongside the piano — brings out the textures of this syncopated sun storm.
Lesser known rags and drags (unless you happen to be a lifelong Joplin fan) include Bethena, Reflection Rag, Swipesy, Elite Syncopations and the kinder, gentler The Chrysanthemum, performed with graceful ease. We also hear Euphonic Sounds, and the more unusual waltz-time A Picture of Her Face, featuring vocals by baritone Will Liverman providing narrative interest. Solace, with Downes, strikes a satisfying balance between jaunty, good-natured rhythms and wistfully tender ethos. The album is bookended by Prelude and A Real Slow Drag, both selections from Joplin’s opera Treemonisha, which only whet the appetite for more.
There is no one that can, has, or ever will sound like Joplin. Fortunately, artists such as Downes continue to bring his music to life for 21st century ears with fresh, innovative approaches grounded in deep curiosity and respect for the past. ★★★★½ out of five
STREAM THIS: “Solace,” performed by American pianist Lara Downes
— Holly Harris