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This article was published 15/3/2018 (1128 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
POP / ROCK
The Ice Queen (Stony Plain)
Sue Foley’s had ‘it’ since she was in her teens — an exceptional combination of passion, drive and, most of all, talent. She burst onto the Canadian blues scene in the late ‘80s as a firecracker bandleader and soon lit out for Austin, Texas, where she signed with the Antone’s label and released her debut album, Young Girl Blues, in 1992.
In the years since, Foley’s professional fortunes have risen and fallen with the tides of the music biz, yet her talent has always shone.
Now, on the cusp of her 50th birthday, Foley has released her first new solo record since 2006, and The Ice Queen feels and sounds like the culmination of her life’s work.
Recorded with Young Girl Blues producer Mike Flanigin, the 12-song album features an all-star cast of players, including drummer Chris Layton (SRV, Arc Angels) and the Texas Horns, as well guest appearances from old friends Charlie Sexton (on the swampy album-opener Come to Me), Jimmie Vaughan (for a breezy romp called The Lucky Ones) and Billy Gibbons (on the Allman-esque, lick-trading Fool’s Gold).
Star turns aside, the centrepiece of the record is its title track, a slow, simmering blues that acknowledges Foley’s northern roots, sizes up the state of Foley nation and shows off her considerable guitar talents. Elsewhere here, she spreads her guitar wings with the acoustic flamenco of The Dance, gives new life to Bessie Smith’s Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair and the Carter Family’s Cannonball Blues, and sets hearts a-fluttering dramatically with If I Have Forsaken You.
★★★★1/2 out of five
Stream these: Come to Me, The Ice Queen, The Dance.
— John Kendle
ROOTS / COUNTRY
Fire Dream (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum Records)
For what is officially his first solo album, Legendary Shack Shakers frontman Joshua (J.D.) Wilkes presents something of a continuation of the wild, southern gothic, bohemian-boogaloo he has typically delivered with his chief band.
Fire Dream zeros further into the Wilkes psyche and the results are pretty darn good. As a kind of hillbilly Renaissance man, Wilkes ties together his skills as an author, songwriter and filmmaker into one untidy package on these 10 exciting tracks.
With his cadre of like-minded wingmen including Jimbo Mathus and Dr. Sick (both Squirrel Nut Zippers), Matt Patton (Drive-By Truckers) and the horn section from the Bo-Keys, Wilkes is able to fully render his visions.
The tango-billy treachery story of Moonbottle is delivered with the same unyielding finesse as the darkly inspired Walk Between the Raindrops. In Wilkes’s world, the browbeaten are allowed their glorious redemption (Hoboes Are My Heroes) and the forlorn their moment of peace (That’s What They Say). The eerie Bible, Candle and a Skull enlightens us about "the devil’s understudy, you know he’s always ready to fill in in a pinch, he’ll try to be your buddy, maybe be your honey, baby, just to grab an inch..."). Never one to deny his historical Paducah, Ky., roots, both Rain and Snow and the hoarse-hollered, backwoods gospel murmuration of Starlings, KY feature Wilkes’s nimble banjo-playing and greasy harmonica work vividly. Fire Dream is so much more than just another album from a person that is from another band.
It is a fully developed revelation that places Wilkes as an extraordinary voice in an otherwise over-crowded genre. Adventurous roots-music aficionados would be wise to find this album and live the very same dream. ★★★★1/2 out of five
Stream these: Hoboes Are My Heroes, Starlings, KY
— Jeff Monk
Andy Sheppard Quartet
A favourite choir leader of mine used to say that silence is a container for sound. She explained that music doesn’t have to fill every available space to be meaningful.
Saxophonist Andy Sheppard’s album Romaria exemplifies that concept. It is mainly gentle, minimalistic, perhaps new age-ish, but the peaceful and meditative mood is wrapped in solid and beautiful melodies. The compositions are all original except the title track, and the writing is haunting and the solos sinuous and intense.
As with some other jazz artists, Sheppard’s music is deceptive in that it might sound simple — but it’s not. (The quartet has Eivind Aarset on guitar, Michel Benita on bass and Sebastian Rochford on drums.) There is a perfect blend of melody, rhythm and mood that is so much more than music considered background simply because it is gentle.
While there are up-tempo tracks (for example, Thirteen), this is mainly music to relax with. The periodic and understated electronics add to the mood of peace. There are times when nothing will do for your listening mood but driving, brash and "in your face" jazz. But for other times, albums like this are auditory therapy for a wish to relax with lovely music. This is another album for your friends who say they don’t like jazz because it’s too loud or aggressive. Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy. ★★★★ out of five
Stream these: With Every Flower That Falls, Forever
— Keith Black
Exhaling Space(Navona Records)
This new release by Navona Records sizzles with the energy and passion of Latin and world music influence, with eight contemporary works penned by American composer Alejandro Rutty evoking the adventuresome spirit of one of South America’s most famous sons, Astor Piazzolla.
The title track performed by the Beo String Quartet teems with extended string techniques, while Transparent Sun for violin and piano ushers listeners into more dramatic vistas, including effective pointillism. In As You Say, a pair of fiddles and solo flute take turns as though in intimate conversation, their expressive musical lines entwining and often interrupting each other’s thoughts. There is much humour as well. More Music For Examining and Buying Merchandise explores the ambient, "mood control" music of shopping malls, while Guitars has a pair of clarinets with electronics "believing" they are strumming guitars. Other ear-pleasers include Cantabile Hop and Qualia.
Not to be missed is Martian Milonga derived from his earlier concerto for saxophone quartet and orchestra, A Future of Tango, which transplants the brothel-born Argentine dance form to the years 2045, 2098 and 2145. This quirky new arrangement of its third movement, A Mars Colony (2145), includes rock, funk, dance-electronica, world music and sound-processing effects, grounded in solid craftsmanship and given new futuristic life that even a Martian would love. ★★★★1/2 out of five
— Holly Harris
POP & ROCK
From Both Sides of the Sky (Experience Hendrix / Legacy)
Jimi Hendrix has only been dead for 47 years, so naturally, he's just released a new album of (mostly) unreleased material.
Or rather, the custodians of the late rock god's estate continue to dig through the closets full of tapes he left behind in Electric Ladyland Studios.
From Both Sides of the Sky is by no means an essential addition to the catalogue of the inimitable guitarist and underrated singer and songwriter. But it is a worth-hearing document that's of interest to both obsessive and casual fans, in part because of its patchwork odds-and-sods approach.
It's rewarding to hear Hendrix cut loose on the blues, with Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy and Guitar Slim's Things I Used to Do. He also plays a little sitar on Cherokee Mist, and settles in as axman only as he hands lead vocal duty off to Stephen Stills on $20 Fine and Joni Mitchell's Woodstock and to sax man Lonnie Youngblood on Georgia Blues. ★★1/2 out of five
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
POP & ROCK
I Need to Start a Garden (Mama Bird)
Like Jimi, Haley Heynderickx is a gifted guitar player hailing from the Pacific Northwest. And in fact, the Portland, Ore.-based six-string stylist has told interviewers that her first musical inspiration was the peerless player whose last name is a homophone for hers.
However, Heynderickx plays in a finger-picking style that owes more to such acoustic wizards as John Fahey and Leo Kottke. She's supported by a subtly inconspicuous band on her debut album, with the other musicians mostly staying out of the way of her precise playing and plaintive vocals.
At times I Need to Start a Garden loses momentum with too much quivering shimmer after the manner of folkies of yore like Nick Drake and Vashti Bunyan. But Heynderickx is both playful and profound as she muses about a feminine deity on Untitled God Song and effectively uses the title as a metaphor for putting one's life in order and letting creativity flow on both Jo and the rocking, Velvet Underground-ish Oom Sha La La. ★★★ out of five
— The Philadelphia Inquirer