Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/8/2018 (366 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Queen (Young Money/Cash Money)
Nicki Minaj, New York’s former reigning queen of rap, is back and as vengeful as ever, taking swings at everyone from Drake to her No. 1 rival Cardi B on her fourth album, Queen.
Carefully spitting over a ‘90s flavoured beat, Minaj shows why she is both respected and feared in the rap world. Nicki sidesteps the trend of MCs subliminally dissing each and unloads on every rapper who has tried to sleep with her in Barbie Dream. She throws shade at everyone from DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Eminem, 50 Cent, YG and some mumble rappers she didn’t give the time of day to.
Minaj hooks up with fellow ‘90s diva Foxy Brown in the attention-grabbing Coco Chanel, which switches up the style of beats to give the legends space to shine. Ariana Grande joins Minaj on Bed, which will obviously be one of the singles on the album and shows Minaj isn’t just a rough-and-ready rapper. One obvious disappointment is her cut with the Weeknd, Thought I Knew You. We should have expected more, considering the fame of the two artists.
While Minaj hasn’t lost a step, you get the impression that by trimming a few cuts on Queen that the album would have landed with more urgency. The R&B style tracks like Run & Hide, Come See About Me or LCC would have felt more fitting on an EP or released on their own.
Although it is hard to know if Cardi B or Minaj are ruling over New York’s rap world, the lyrical competition between the two is good for hip-hop.
4 stars out of five
Stream these: Barbie Dreams, Coco Chanel and Good Form.
— Anthony Augustine
Blueprint (Don Giovanni Records)
Released in March, this album flew largely under the radar until it appeared on NPR’s list of the best of 2018 so far. Alice Bag is legendary on the Los Angeles punk scene as co-founder of first-band the Bags (who initially performed with paper grocery bags on their heads), and was featured in the first of director Penelope Spheeris’ three The Decline of Western Civilization documentaries.
When the Bags dissolved in the early ‘80s, Bag, whose real name is Alicia Armendariz, remained active on the local art and music scenes and became an elementary school teacher and, later, an author, painter and historian who maintains a digital archive on women’s involvement in the original L.A. scene. She worked on several musical projects over the next 30-plus years but only released her first solo album in 2016.
On Blueprint, Bag has put together a collection of vibrant, punk rock tunes that range from the fury and sputtering rage of 77 (about pay inequality between women and men and featuring vocals from Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre) and White Justice to the new wave and ska-infused (it’s all about the horns) sounds of Stranger or the title track. Invisible is a sad and knowing tale of a friend or lover’s descent into alcoholism while Adrift is a mellow piano ballad about the dissolution of a relationship. Opening cut Turn it Up, meanwhile, is a spiky, adrenalized call to arms that rings just as true now as it would have in 1978.
4 stars out of five
Stream these: Turn it Up; Blueprint; White Justice.
— John Kendle
Out Of My Head (Alive/Natural Sound Records)
New Yorker Paul Collins may be best remembered in these parts for his contribution to one of the early new wave pop bands, the Nerves. Their self-penned song Hangin’ On The Telephone was covered by Blondie and became a genre classic. After the Nerves folded, Collins formed the Beat, which will forever be confused with U.K. two-tone hit makers The English Beat, excepting the fact that the Brit version sold tons more records.
Out Of My Head finds our man Paul once again in a ‘60s pop music frame of mind and top to bottom the album is a charmer. The opening four tracks (In And Out Of My Head, Go, Kind Of Girl and Just Too Bad You’re Leaving) dial perfectly into a Nerves-esque, guitar-fuelled, power-pop zone. Collins, with some help from Paul Stingo on bass and vocals, plays everything on here and his vocals, drumming and guitar work are spot on, lively and fun. Go is a cracking raver that at just over a 90-second running time begs the listener to get up and start moving around madly. The Killer Inside tilts toward a swampier groove while closing trio Lost Again, Tick Tock and the captivating Beautiful Eyes deliver the softer side of Collins’ talents, all to good effect.
The album is short on running time and at less than 35 minutes it is a testament to this man’s ongoing ability to craft the kind of melodies and music that lift your spirits and even compels you to sing along to the effervescent ear worms. Too few bands are making this kind of unalloyed magic these days and for his part Collins should be congratulated for being so adept.
Like taking a loving trip back to 1979 OOMH is an achievement that will surely stick in your head.
three and a half stars out of five
Check out: Just Too Bad You’re Leaving, Kind of Girl
— Jeff Monk
Mary Halvorson & Bill Frisell
The Maid With The Flaxen Hair: A Tribute To Johnny Smith (Tzadik)
The jazz world is full of delightful surprises, and this album is one of them. Guitarist Mary Halvorson is a mainstay in the avant-garde scene in New York, and guitarist Bill Frisell is at home in many genres both within and outside the jazz range. They share a musical debt and deep affection with a guitarist named Johnny Smith, a self-taught musician from Alabama who died in 2013.
This tribute album features tunes associated with Smith, and the main surprise is that within an unconventional approach to the music the melodies are treated with recognizable respect. At times Halvorson’s adventurous style is clearly in play, as is Frisell’s, but I’ve never heard these two simply give over to their melodic and balladic side in such a direct manner.
Halvorson and Frisell are both virtuoso musicians with distinct and identifiable sounds. Here they work beautifully together with interweaving improvisations that become constantly surprising. The music at times has a somewhat melancholy tone that perhaps illuminates the influence they owe the often under-appreciated Smith.
The playlist is also unusual for this duo — tunes like Moonlight In Vermont, Shenandoah, The Nearness Of You, Misty or In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning would not be expected on an avant-garde artist’s album. Here is depth and beauty within the hearts of two versatile and iconic musicians saying thank you to a mentor.
Four stars out of five
Stream these: Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair, Old Folks
— Keith Black
Dame Evelyn Glennie, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and Anne Manson
Mirage? Concertos for Percussion (MCO Records)
This new recording showcases the stellar artistry of world-renowned Scottish percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie, performing four eclectic works with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, led by Anne Manson.
Mirage? by Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis in 2008, and commissioned by the CBC for Glennie and the MCO, is infused with an elegiac sense of lamentation for lost, economically stable worlds. Glennie’s vibraphone sensitively weaves melodic fragments and embellishments throughout Hatzis’s carefully crafted orchestration replete with pregnant pauses and thoughtful commentary before arriving at its final, ambiguous ending.
In Michael Oesterle’s MCO-commissioned Kaluza Klein, Glennie tackles its dissonant, often halting textures on vibraphone that ewqually demonstrates her renowned, ironclad conviction and thirst for musical adventure.
Two Baroque offerings include Glennie’s own transcription of Vivaldi’s Piccolo Concerto in C Major, RV 443, with her bright and brilliant opener on vibraphone leading to a luminous central movement in which she casts a spell of suspended tones. The finale teems with ebullient high spirits and lightly executed ornamentation that further displays her spark-throwing bravura.
The second is Corelli’s Sonata in D Minor, Op. 5, No. 12 ‘La Folia,’ transcribed by Karl Jenkins with its series of 23 variations steadily growing in complexity. An album highlight is Glennie’s final, enthralling solo cadenza performed on marimba and delivered with gusto.
4 1/2 stars out of five
— Holly Harris
The War and Treaty
Healing Tide (Strong World/Thirty Tigers)
Along with his considerable talents as a guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, bandleader and radio host, Buddy Miller is an excellent talent scout. In the case of the War and Treaty, Miller gave his stamp of approval — and a helping hand — to an act beyond his usual Nashville orbit.
Good call, Buddy, as always. Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter, the pride of Albion, Mich., are husband and wife and a powerhouse R&B duo who sound as though they were born to sing together.
Their full-length album debut, Healing Tide, is Americana in that it’s rooted in the nation’s pews, fields and street corners, all sweat and spirit and soul. Miller produced and captured the magic of the live performances that have caused such a buzz about the couple. The material draws from Sly Stone’s family but also the Carter Family, thanks to varied arrangements that include dobro, banjo and autoharp.
Trotter, a wounded warrior who served in Iraq and once composed songs to honour fallen comrades, wrote all 11 tunes with a focus on the glory of love. He and Tanya have huge voices, and while some of the most moving moments come when they dial back the volume, mostly they swing and soar, whoop and wail, testify and sanctify, often in tandem.
Showboating? A little. Showstopping? Yes.
4 stars out of five
Stream these: Healing Tide, Here is Where the Loving is at
— Steven Wine, The Associated Press