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This article was published 9/5/2019 (289 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Citizen Alien (Coax Records)
Keri Latimer has been making music in Winnipeg for nearly 25 years. Through her time with Special Fancy (a ’90s trio with Christine Fellows and Barry Mirochnick), Nathan (which won a Juno Award in 2008) and now Leaf Rapids (a core duo of Latimer and her bass-playing husband, Devin), she has always been a uniquely disarming songwriter. Keri’s sweet, warm voice and her penchant for old-time folk and country-tinged roots pop belie her sharp, observational writing which, when combined with her empathetic nature, conjures all sorts of interesting characters.
On Citizen Alien, Leaf Rapids’ second album, many of these characters are drawn from her family history. The title track is inspired by her maternal grandmother’s family, Japanese-Canadians who were stripped of their property and sent to an internment camp during the Second World War. Barbershop Shears relates how her great-grandmother taught a lesson to a lumberjack client with wandering hands by stabbing him in the leg. Parliament Gardens is about a great-grand-uncle who won the Victoria Cross for bravery in the First World War and was left shocked and shattered by what he saw and experienced.
Three of the album’s best songs are bound by family of another type, as Dear Sister, Virginia and Twenty Storeys High are wistful, wonderfully spun lyrics about women and motherhood and sexuality.
All 10 songs are set to gentle, keening melodies, carefully shaped by Latimer and co-producer Rusty Matyas and impressively coloured by such otherworldly sounds as Keri’s theremin or Bill Western’s pedal steel. Helen’s Waltz even features the youngest Latimers, Oscar and Hazel.
★★★★ out of five
Stream these: Dear Sister; Citizen Alien; Twenty Storeys High
— John Kendle
Pony (Royal Mountain Records/Sub Pop)
Enjoyable music should always be about diversity. Too many genres have been zealously stuck onto their tired tropes and new artists ready to push boundaries seem to be consistently relegated to the sidelines.
Toronto-based Orville Peck will certainly upset the country music/Americana apple cart with his look and sound, yet for our money he is exactly the breath of fresh air we need.
First things first — Peck is a masked entertainer, meaning that he uses face coverings on stage and, if you follow him on social media, he does the same in his digital life as well. Besides this artifice being a bit eccentric, it has no bearing on his music. His voice is a dark, lovely and rich combination of Roy Orbison croon and Morrissey-esque warble that gets your attention fast.
Album opener Dead Of Night crosses the boulevard from a shadowy alley into a reverb-inflected David Lynch-inspired dream. It gets better. The driving Buffalo Run shamelessly emulates Joy Division while the waltz-time Roses Are Falling, complete with its spoken-word bridge, sounds like a song Elvis Presley would have coveted in his post-divorce phase. Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call) ghost-riders itself perfectly, evoking images of home-on-the-range campfire story telling built on a forlorn whistle melody.
The music is mostly sparse and evocative — a twangy guitar here... a sweetly plucked banjo there — leaving Peck’s voice the unadulterated centre of attention. It is this awareness that makes Pony a set of songs that you want to keep hearing. The world may not be entirely ready for a masked queer cowboy, but Orville Peck sounds like he is ready to be the artist to pony up for the job.
Peck and his band play the West End Cultural Centre on May 26.
★★★★ out of five
Stream these: Old River; Turn To Hate
— Jeff Monk
Pianist/composer Mike Janzen is a Manitoban who now lives in Toronto. This solo piano album has an extraordinary backstory.
Several years ago, Janzen fainted in his bathroom, fell and suffered a severe concussion. His life and musical efforts were put on hold as he struggled to regain some semblance of normalcy. For many months, playing piano for even brief periods was impossible. He believes that music helped him, but his wish to record a solo piano album seemed questionable. When a grand piano was gifted to him to work on this album, the stimulation of the full sound of the instrument meant he could play for only minutes at a time.
Slowly, he was able to do more, and he worked on a set of tunes representing mainly hymns associated with his faith. He acknowledges that his touch and the scope of his music is not where it was, but the 12 tracks here are a tribute to courage and the healing effect of music. These often-familiar tunes are interpreted with respect and affection, with improvisations and arrangements that can be simple without in any way being merely played well.
While most of the tunes are hymn arrangements, one track is a solo version of a tune called Vigil he recorded with a jazz combo and members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on the album Nudging Forever. It is quite beautiful.
Without question, this album cost Janzen a lot, in many ways, but it is a remarkable example of perseverance and the will to overcome damaging effects of concussion. His recovery is continuing, with an appearance scheduled with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra this fall. Spiritual jazz has always been a component of the genre, and this is a fine addition to that component.
★★★★ out of five
Stream these: O Sacred Head Now Wounded; Vigil
— Keith Black
Matthias Goerne, Leif Ove Andsnes
Liederkreis op.24 Kernerlieder — Robert Schumann (Harmonia Mundi)
Acclaimed German baritone Matthias Goerne performs two heartfelt song cycles penned by Schumann during his "Liederjahr" or "Year of Song" of 1840, while embroiled in a legal battle to wed his beloved muse, piano prodigy Clara Wieck.
The first of those, Liederkreis, op. 24, based on nine poems by Heinrich Heine, immediately displays the singer’s resonant vocals and sublimely lyrical phrasing matched equally by the sensitive piano of Leif Ove Andsnes. Highlights include the work’s opening lied, Morgens steh’ ich auf, to more forceful Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann, and melancholic finale, Mit Myrten und Rosen, sung with limpid expressiveness.
The singer grows even more powerful with his interpretation of Kernerlieder op. 35, inspired by 12 poems by Justinus Kerner, that delves even deeper into the imagined lover’s inner emotional worlds, including stormy opener, Lust der Sturmnacht, more flowing Stirb, Lieb und Freud and an ebullient Wanderlied, becoming particular highlights.
But the beating heart of this song cycle is the eighth piece, Stille Liebe — or Silent Love — artfully sung by Goerne with an innate sensitivity to its haunting text chronicling love and loss, underscored further by Andsnes’s equally delicate piano commentary that adds its own eloquent voice.
★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Stille Liebe
— Holly Harris