POP / ROCK
Bazooka Joe 204
Prairie Nilsson (Peanuts & Corn)
Here’s a welcome return from an older face with a new name. Bazooka Joe 204 is the MC formerly known as John Smith, a vanguard member of P&C’s Break Bread collective whose 2004 album, Pinky’s Laundromat, is a bona fide classic of Winnipeg hip hop. This time out, the rapper (whose real name is Joe Compayre) has upgraded his moniker from "nobody" to "classic" with the name Bazooka Joe (harking back to the days when Bazooka bubble gum cost a penny and came with a tiny, folded three- or four-panel comic strip featuring Bazooka Joe and his Gang).
He’s also slyly cast himself as a rebellious iconoclast (or at least a student of pop culture) by mimicking the infamous bathrobe cover of Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson.
Names, visuals and backstory aside, the meat of this release is in its grooves, as it should be. Cuts such as Lookit, King Cake Baby and Art School Kidz reveal that Joe is still eminently familiar with hardscrabble life in Winnipeg’s North End, painting pictures of working-class origins, payday weekends, houses full of empties, and a head full of giggles, regrets, pride and resentment.
But there’s also a rueful tone to tracks such as Iowanna, Carpe Diem and The Prestige; the sense of "coulda, woulda, shoulda…" that comes to many as time passes.
As ever, P&C label boss and main producer mcenroe sets Joe’s flow to his trademark low-key but always interesting beats, creating background soundscapes while letting the MC set the tone, using everything from ersatz, dub-plate versions of It’s the Hard-Knock Life to ‘80s synths and drum machines.
Album closer The Stone is Prairie Nilsson’s crowning achievement, a simply fine piece of writing that could stand alone as a short story. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: King Cake Baby, Iowanna, The Stone
— John Kendle
ROOTS / COUNTRY
Star-Crossed (Interscope Records/UMG Nashville)
Kacey Musgraves breaks down the breakdown of her marriage on Star-Crossed, her followup to 2018’s Grammy winning Album of the Year, Golden Hour.
Musgraves delivers the story in roughly three acts of tightly woven pop/country songs: the optimism of falling in love, the sadness of drifting apart and everything that comes from the realization there is no going back.
You don’t have to have suffered through a divorce to connect with the feelings Musgraves expresses about seeking and holding onto love, loss, anger and hope for a better future. She credits a guided psychedelic trip with helping her organize and execute the record.
On What Doesn’t Kill Me, Musgraves gives a nod to the smash that immediately preceded this challenging, but accessible, record: "I’ve been to hell and back/Golden hour faded black."
On the standout track Camera Roll, Musgraves describes scrolling through old pictures on her phone and the memories they trigger.
"Chronological order and nothing but torture," she sings. "Scroll too far back that’s what you get/I don’t wanna see ‘em but I can’t delete ‘em/It just doesn’t feel right yet."
Who can’t identify with that?
"This hookup scene ain’t all that it’s made out to be," she sings on another confessional, Hookup Scene.
"A pretty face might get you far/But still it can’t replace the kind of real connection that I crave," she sings. "The kind we don’t have anymore."
Star-Crossed is a brave and brutally honest take on her marriage to singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly that now joins the long list of records detailing breakups. It’s a story of courage and honesty and a stark contrast to the warm glow of Golden Hour, with Musgraves showing a vulnerability and willingness to grow artistically that is often in short supply among artists at her level of popularity. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Hookup Scene, Camera Roll
— Scott Bauer, The Canadian Press
Montréal Jazz Trio
Montréal Jazz Trio (Odd Sound)
This album from the Montréal Jazz Trio — Steve Amirault on piano, Adrian Vedady on bass and Jim Doxas on drums — is a wonderful reminder that the jazz trio format developed many years ago is appropriately still alive and well. This means that the piano is the lynchpin here (think of Bill Evans), while the bass and drums are more than window dressing but will be seen as part of a piano trio. Having said that, Vedady and Doxas are terrific musicians, and are in no way subservient.
The music here is a neat mix of original compositions, mainly by Amirault, and some very contemporary covers of jazz standards. The opening track, All Those Lovely Things, is built on the changes of All The Things you Are. The trio’s version of Take The "A" Train begins with a wild groove that reminded me of the excruciatingly hilarious version by Darlene and Jonathan Edwards. (If you don’t know what that means, I urge you to check out Darlene and Jonathan Edwards, who got a 48-star review from Downbeat.) This trio has much fun with the tune. Amirault’s Empath, on the other hand, is a lovely ballad that has a gentle touch. Vedady’s tune Wray is a tribute to the late Canadian jazz pianist Wray Downes.
Throughout, the music has a familiar but challenging style. While not doing anything "new" in one sense, the album gives pleasure within a familiar context without simply mailing it in. Often we jazz reviewers perhaps understandably celebrate the innovators and challengers. Yet jazz has many branches, and this album celebrates one of them with real skill and intent. Long live the jazz trio. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Taking a Chance On Love, Empathy
— Keith Black
Stephen Hough (Hyperion)
Following his all-Schumann release in September, multi-award-winning pianist Stephen Hough celebrates his upcoming 60th birthday (Nov. 22) with a new two-CD set of Chopin’s complete Nocturnes.
What makes these particularly memorable is Hough’s unabashedly operatic approach to each piece. He describes in his own liner notes the deep love the Romantic composer — hailed as the "poet of the piano" — had for the vocal art form. Each nocturne is brought to life with the expressiveness of a colouratura aria, including soaring bel canto melodies, a flexible rubato and florid ornamentation that shimmers above a steady left-hand accompaniment.
Of particular note is Hough’s choice to use several authentic variants of embellishment, including a second version of Op. 9, No. 2 derived from handwritten notes in students’ scores. This provides not only a fascinating journey into the composer’s creative process itself but also a fresh take on these enduring classics.
Several works are performed at a relatively quicker pace that avoids any temptation toward the maudlin: Op. 37, No 1, Op. 48, No. 1 and the subsequent Op. 48, No. 2. Others particularly showcase the pianist’s renowned singing tone and lyrical phrasing, underpinned by a dramatic sensibility as heard during Op. 27, No. 1 and its companion piece, Op. 27, No. 2.
Highlights include a particularly haunting ‘Nocturne,’ KKIVa/16, as well as Nocturne in C minor, KKIVb/8 with Hough’s quicksilver runs and embellishments sending chills down the spine. The final offering, Op. 62, a set appearing as a summation of Chopin’s musical legacy further displays the soloist’s sensitive artistry so clearly in tune with these masterpieces, while revealing his own poetic soul. ★★★★ ½ out of five
STREAM THIS: Nocturne Op. 27, No. 1 and Op. 27, No. 2
— Holly Harris