Arts & Life
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Shelf Life (Birthday Cake)
If you want a quick précis of the latest album from Grant Davidson, the Winnipeg indie folk/pop singer-songwriter who performs as Slow Leaves, you should probably skip to the record’s last song, Sentimental Teardrops.
Over a spare accompaniment of acoustic guitar and strings, Davidson applies his hushed tenor to a laundry list of his innermost hopes and dreams and fears. Set to a beautifully rendered backdrop, the lyric is an acknowledgement of life’s joys and frailties and also an assurance that it’s quite alright to feel all the feels — something we should all be reminded of at this moment of mass anxiety.
That said, you should probably start with Shelf Life at the beginning, as Davidson has gathered an ace band of locals — guitarist Rusty Matyas, bassist Rejean Ricard and drummer Damon Mitchell — who combine to give the 10-song, 40-minute collection of songs the deftly spare settings they require. The album opens with a relatively breezy pair of tunes, in Looking Out My Window and Miss You, both of which hint at the disappointments that lie behind the temptation of possibility. If anything, that’s the theme of this album, as Davidson processes reaching the middle of life and realizes that it’s not all he wanted it to be. In Sink Full of Dishes, he wakes his partner with his anxious dreaming, Time Was on Your Side is a wistful contemplation of memory, revisionism and regret, while in Try Again in the Morning he expresses the insecurity that gnaws at every tired parent.
Don’t misconstrue all this to mean Shelf Life is glum. It’s low-key, yes, but it’s also rich, heartfelt and affirming, in much the same way as the music of Bahamas, the quieter side of Dan Mangan or even Jeff Buckley. ★★★★ out of five
Stream these: Sink Full of Dishes; Try Again in the Morning; Sentimental Teardrops.
— John Kendle
West Coast Highway Cosmic (Alive Natural Sound Records)
Hot on the heels of Blessed Is the Boogie (2019) comes another instalment from Aussie underground rock icon Dom Mariani and his band of cool motivators.
WCHC doesn’t stray far from the existing Datura4 formula of heads-down, often explosive psychedelic blues and boogie music, but there are enough sideways turns here to keep things interesting. Mariani’s inclination to keep his tunes tough-sounding pays off in spades on tracks like the Deep Purple Mark 1-esque opener title track and the environmentally themed heavier hard rock of A Darker Shade of Brown. The psych-blooz of You’re the Only One is a faultless sonic cousin to the ZZ Top-informed grind of You Be the Fool.
Mariani’s masterful guitar tone is established early and continues throughout the 10 tracks. He doesn’t mess around with achingly long solos and instead delivers essential heft to every song in a way that sets him apart from many of his contemporaries.
If there are noticeable feature-player elements on display, it’s mostly down to keyboardist Bob Patient and his savvy organ work on gems such as Give, a track where all elements of this combo coalesce spotlessly.
Harmonica boss Howie Smallman sucks and blows most righteously on Wolfman Woogie and Rule My World, to the point where he should perhaps be made a permanent member rather than a guest.
By the sound of it. Mariani has certainly paid attention to what has come before, as evidenced in Get Out, a nod to ‘70s Iggy Pop circa Kill City. Closing track Evil People throws mid-tempo heat as the highway ends; lyrically it’s rather docile ("Some people are good people, some people are just evil / these people hurt good people"), but it doesn’t fail to maintain the mood. ★★★1/2
STREAM THESE: Mother Medusa; Rule My World
— Jeff Monk
Matty Stecks & Musical Tramps
Long Time Ago Rumble (Ropeadope)
Saxophonist, composer and educator Matthew Steckler, a.k.a. Matty Stecks, is a native New Yorker, but currently teaches in the Brandon University jazz program. This new two-CD album is a wonderful wild ride through a diverse mix of solid improvisational jazz, updated cinema music, pop/rock tunes and huge energy.
It was put together initially through a commission by the Brandon Chamber Players that led to a world première concert last year. Steckler has performed extensively under his alter ego, with this adventurous concept referencing an early Charlie Chaplin movie (hence the "Musical Tramps" name).
Led by Steckler on saxes, flute, voice, keyboards, EWI and electronics, the personnel here are a great bunch of Manitoba musicians: Keith Price on guitar; Matt Kozicki on bass; Eric Platz on drums; Leanne Zacharias on cello; Catherine Wood on clarinet; and Jeff Presslaff on piano and keys, as well as several vocalists.
The music shifts and twists through familiar-sounding pop-like vocals to very abstract and hard-edged jazz. Personnel also shifts from track to track. Over the two CDs, the music maintains that fascinating blend and somehow it works beautifully. There are occasional short bridge tracks, LTAR I through IX, with longer tracks that cover the range of moods noted. Modern Preternatural Rumble, for example, has lovely strings with voice-overs and goose calls. Yes, goose calls. The unexpected is the constant surprise, with repeated listens simply leaving one waiting to be surprised again.
Ultimately this album is not easily described in a few words; that’s likely the whole idea here. Steckler has challenged us as listeners with this cheeky, wide-ranging gift that will give us all a real kick every time we listen to it. Highly recommended. ★★★★1/2
STREAM THESE: MB Blues, Musical Tramps
— Keith Black
Ensemble Correspondances, Sébastien Daucé
Les Plaisirs du Louvre — Airs pour la Chambre de Louis XIII (Harmonia Mundi)
Early music ensemble Ensemble Correspondances, led by Sébastien Daucé, performs intimate vocal works reflecting the epicentre of power during the reign of Louis XIII, Paris’s fabled Louvre, before ultimately shifting to the Palace of Versailles.
The album features 28 short selections that would have been performed in those hallowed halls and designed to impress the royal court.
Highlights include musical "soupçons" from the Ballet des Nymphes bocagères de la forêt sacrée and Ballet des Triomphes — Les Suissesses by French composer Antoine Boesset, performed with clarity and finesse. Others are the then-popular, secular "air de cour" songs, such as a plaintive interpretation of Aime-moi, Cloris, more introspective Ô doux Sommeil que tes songes amiable or Rares fleurs vivante peinture, which also showcases Daucé’s skilful, sensitive direction during its lengthier instrumental introduction.
There is a good variety and much to choose from for both baroque and Renaissance music buffs, with a final utterance, Ô mort l’objet de mes plaisirs, resonating across the ages while heralding the dawning of the Sun King, Louis XIV. ★★★★
STREAM THIS: Aime-moi, Cloris by Antoine Boësset
— Holly Harris
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