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This article was published 20/5/2021 (409 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
POP / ROCK
Daddy’s Home (Loma Vista)
Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, has always been a shapeshifter. Like her hero, David Bowie, St. Vincent’s artistic expressions are multi-media conceptions, always grounded in music but also always fleshed out with cultivated looks and arch, studied vibes which impart the feeling she’s in complete control of what she presents.
And that’s true — to an extent. Anyone who’s seen a live St. Vincent show will attest that they are highly choreographed pieces of theatre, that her musical virtuosity is beyond reproach and that her post-modern blend of genres is tastefully considered and brilliantly performed. But this seeming control is not always the whole story, especially when considering Clark’s songs — and her lyrics in particular.
Daddy’s Home, for example, is an album (and playfully euphoric song) inspired by the release of her father from prison after serving a 10-year sentence for financial impropriety. Many of its lyrics deal with loss, separation, and the struggles many of us have trying to find comfort in a harsh, consumerist world. No wonder, these songs say, so many turn to the escapism of addiction or crime. Especially when the alternative — finding true love — requires courage and honesty that can be difficult to muster.
Clark has said the music of Daddy’s Home, is rooted in the music of her father’s youth; a pastiche she describes as "post-Woodstock/pre-disco" and which encompasses elements of Bowie, Sly Stone, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and Pink Floyd. Those stirred by the electronic pop/rock of 2017’s Masseduction may find themselves at sea after the opening buzz of Pay Your Way in Pain, as Clark and producer Jack Antonoff have created a set of slower, almost restrained soundscapes. However, a few listens at high volume (on a playback system bigger than headphones or earbuds) should transport listeners to a louche ‘70s lounge where Annie, dressed as Candy, the protagonist of last song Candy Darling, will distract you with her blond wig and come-hither stare, even as she reveals her innermost secrets. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Pay Your Way in Pain, The Melting Sun, Down, My Baby
— John Kendle
POP / ROCK
Surrounded by Time (S-Curve)
Though still probably best known for lounge-y ‘60s hits such as It’s Not Unusual and What’s New Pussycat?, Tom Jones has always been able to go toe-to-toe with his more acclaimed peers in rock and R&B. Now, at 80, the Welsh eminence continues a remarkable late run with Surrounded by Time.
With its Moog-dominated atmospherics, the album is less overtly rootsy than Jones’ three previous, excellent collaborations with producer Ethan Johns. But like all first-rate interpreters, the singer again invests himself in a disparate collection of songs and uses them to fashion his own story. And, with the exception of a too-busy The Windmills of Your Mind, the accompaniment here enhances rather than detracts.
The former sex symbol has some winking fun with Cat Stevens’ Pop Star, and he audaciously tackles stoner-savant Todd Snider’s Talking Reality Television Blues. That song and Jones’ take on Tony Joe White’s Ol’ Mother Earth, a lament for the ravaged environment, both speak to pressing matters.
While the singer admits frailties on Michael Kiwanuka’s I Won’t Lie and Bobby Cole’s I’m Growing Old, the invigorating gospel of Samson and Delilah and the brash declarations of Malvina Reynolds’ No Hole in My Head reveal his booming voice to be as robust as ever.
Jones finishes with a nine-plus-minute ersion of Terry Callier’s Lazarus Man. As Surrounded by Time makes clear, his own story is less one of coming back from the dead and more that of an artist continuing to find ways to maximize his gifts and remain stirringly relevant. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: No Hole in My Head, Pop Star
— Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra
Twisting Ways (WJO Music)
In 2019, an ambitious collaborative effort involving musical influences from both English and French Canada led to this fascinating album. Montreal-based saxophonist/composer Philippe Côté and Toronto-based pianist/composer David Braid worked with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra to compose a 25-minute "art song" called Twisting Ways, with poetry by Dr. Lee Tsang and vocals by Toronto singer-songwriter Sarah Slean. Other tracks feature Manitoba-born, New York-based vocalist Karly Epp.
In what was often called "chamber jazz," the WJO is in wonderful form for this complex session. "Twisting ways" also describes the compositional style here. This is serious music without any imposed definitional boundary. Sectional playing is crisp and tight. Personnel here, conducted by trumpeter Richard Gillis, are many of the usual WJO musicians with several guests, including vibraphonist Stefan Bauer and saxophonist Mike Murley, whose soloing, perhaps especially on Lydian Sky, is stellar. Composer Braid offers solid leadership on piano as well. His solo on the opening movement is beautiful. I recommend checking out the album for full personnel and information.
The Twisting Ways suite uses poetry that follows the impact of a "mysterious force" that explores "imagery related to the human spirit and its transgressions." This might sound dark, but in fact it simply communicates the complexity, the twisting ways, of the human spirit. There is emotion that moves through rhythmic and tempo variations with great effect. Côté has previous work has the same ability to tell deep truths within accessible moods. The final album track, Fleur Variations, with great soloing by Bauer, is a rework of a Côté piece from a few years ago.
The WJO has shown with its latest releases (Suite 150, etc.) that it belongs in the top echelon of Canadian large ensembles. As the current mantra goes — buy local. ★★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: Opening Glimmers, Hope Shadows
— Keith Black
Brahms: Symphony No.3, Serenade No.2
Budapest Festival & Orchestra I, Iván Fischer (Channel Classics)
Acclaimed Hungarian conductor/composer Iván Fischer completes his cycle of Brahms complete symphonies in this upcoming release, wrapping up the series with Symphony No. 3, No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 and Serenade No. 2 in A, Op. 16, which showcased the master symphonist’s unique compositional voice in fully realized form.
The recording was made one day prior to Hungary going into lockdown on Sept. 1, 2020, further heightening Fischer’s musical bookend with urgency during these precarious times.
The first work, penned during the summer of 1883, is noteworthy for the lifelong bachelor composer’s "Frei aber froh" ("free but happy") motive embedded through the notes "F-Ab-F," first heard during its opening theme and possibly a response to his Hungarian violinist friend Joseph Joachim’s similar "F-A-E," coding for "Frei aber einsam" or "free but lonely."
The maestro brings to life the sweeping drama of its opening Allegro con brio movement, which leads to the eloquent Andante, rendered with smoothly legato phrasing and well-blended winds. The waltz-like Poco Allegretto ultimately leads to the finale, Allegro — Un poco sostenuto, bristling with taut energy throughout.
The album ends with Serenade No. 2, written in 1859 with unusual scoring that omits the violins. Fischer effectively brings out the intimacy of its smaller chamber form with each of its five distinct movements, from the opening Allegro moderato through to rollicking Rondo: Allegro. However, the sweet spot is the central Adagio non troppo — a heartfelt plumbing of emotional depths in this work Brahms dedicated to his great love and wife of his friend Robert Schumann, composer/pianist Clara Wieck. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Adagio non troppo, from Brahms’ Serenade No. 2 in A, Op. 16
— Holly Harris