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This article was published 8/10/2015 (2417 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
POP / ROCK
Dream City (Disintegration)
IT'S been three years and 11 months since Alannah Walker and Cole Woods released Firecracker/Cloudglow -- enough time that you'd be forgiven if you thought the Winnipeg duo had flickered and faded.
But, although Walker and Woods have both been playing and recording with other people, Cannon Bros. didn't go anywhere other than into the studio with engineer Cam Loeppky, finally emerging with a 19-song opus that broadens their primitive guitar-and-drum sound (bass -- yes!) and transforms it into fully bloomed near-perfection.
Oh sure, there's no new ground being broken here. Listeners will catch references to Guided by Voices and Eric's Trip to Liz Phair and Pavement to... oh, just about every pop-inflected indie act of the '90s. But that's not a bad thing, as Dream City is a bubbling distillation of all that is good and sweet and dizzyingly infectious about indie pop. The arrangements are taut, the songs are short and sweet (only two pass the three-minute mark), the melodies are memorable and, while Walker and Woods split lead-vocal duties, their he-she harmonizing is simply exquisite -- woo-woos, whoa-whoas and ooh-oohs abound.
Listen loud, sing along and dance around the house like a caffeinated geek. It's what you're supposed to do. ****1/2
DOWNLOAD: July, Pretend , Totally Crushed , Big Cities, Two Mirrors... hell, just get the whole damned thing
-- John Kendle
DANCE / R&B
Unbreakable (BMG/Rhythm Nation)
"IT was in summer that you left me, the fall and winter never felt so cold, and Lord knows words can never express it, life feels so empty I miss you much," Janet Jackson sings about her late brother, Michael Jackson, in her signature soft tone.
Broken Hearts Heal is a perfect example of Jackson's musical prowess: the song's beat is so feel-good, breezy and bouncy you must dance, but her lyrics are touching, and in this particular song, heart-wrenching as she highlights her relationship, even as kids doing chores, with the King of Pop. You might cry.
Unbreakable is a reminder that dance music is more than fast, loud electronic beats pounding to the floor. EDM creators and its admirers, take note: this 17-track set, which has Jackson reuniting with longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, is full of soulful, electro and addictive tracks that will make your head bop -- and make your brain think.
On the downbeat and introspective Black Eagle, Jackson gets political, singing about those who are overlooked and judged. The album's first single, No Sleeep, is a sexy R&B number, and on 2 B Loved, she's a confident independent woman in love.
And while Unbreakable has some B-level tracks -- notably Take Me Away and Gon' B Alright -- the album is a reminder that Jackson is one icon who hasn't lost a beat. ****
DOWNLOAD: Broken Hearts Heal, 2 B Loved
-- Mesfin Fekadu, The Associated Press
Turn Back the Vikings (Independent)
THE adage goes "You must not judge a book merely by its cover," and this holds true for album sleeves, notably in the case of Toronto-based guitarist/songwriter Michael Schatte's new release. Instead of featuring the nattily attired Schatte in full guitar face, perhaps a blurred shot of some quiet moor would have been more appropriate for the music inside.
Opening with the fiery blues of The Rehabilistate, Turn Back the Vikings proceeds down a path that's both musically interesting and surprisingly engaging. Honey Doll is a bayou stomp, while Pistol On Her Pillow chugs along better than a Colin James workout.
Where Schatte really excels is on the tracks that feature his guitar and voice working in tandem to create a kind of Celtic, Richard Thompson-esque feel. Tracks such as Push, Pull, and Swing, and especially All For Me, are deliciously poignant, both musically and lyrically; thankfully, Schatte knows exactly when he has proffered enough guitar noodle. Schatte covers Thompson's own ode to a bone collector (Sam Jones) perfectly and proves that, as an artist, he is nearly able to rival the crafty Englishman. ***1/2
DOWNLOAD: Push, Pull, and Swing, If I Find A Love and Leave It Be
-- Jeff Monk
Things That Can't Be Undone (New West)
IT'S been three years since Corb Lund's last studio offering, and he's made some changes for his ninth full-length album (out Oct 9). This time around, the Alberta singer-songwriter is working with Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Drive-By Truckers), who is hands-down the hottest producer in the alt-country world right now. Cobb's organic production complements Lund's no-frills approach to his unique style of country.
There's a lot that hasn't changed, including the presence of longtime backing band the Hurtin' Albertans, featuring Winnipeg's own Grant Siemens, whose inspired guitar pyrotechnics are featured prominently throughout, but especially impressive on the edgy retro rock of Talk Too Much. Lund's adventurous spirit is also intact -- he melds '60s soul with country on album opener Weight of the Gun.
Loss plays a major role on this album, whether it's the disappearance of the rancher's way of life or lives lost in Iraq. The theme becomes even more personal, since Lund recently lost his father and grandmother. Album closer Sunbeam was penned in honour of his late young niece.
Once again, Lund has done his part to keep real country alive and engaging. ****
DOWNLOAD: Weight of the Gun, Talk Too Much, Run This Town
-- Bruce Leperre
Americano (Harmonia Mundi)
SPANISH guitarist Pablo Villegas takes listeners on a whirlwind journey through "the countries, esthetics, composers and styles" of America in his new release Americano. The 18 eclectic tracks range from a steamy tango rooted in South American bordellos to iconic Broadway tunes.
Villegas is at his best, naturally, with the Latin-infused works, including Vals Venezolan No. 2, Tango en Skal and Passeio No Rio. Granada proves he can change on a peso from blistering flamenco to lilting lyricism, while Un Sueno en la Floresta teems with raw emotionalism and idiomatic tremolo effects. His recording of iconic American film composer John Williams' surprisingly introspective Rounds hints at more to come from this senior statesman. A set of pieces from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story: I Feel Pretty, Maria and America only screams "transcription." However, it's impossible to resist a second set of traditional American bluegrass numbers Dear Old Dixie, Kansas City Kitty and Big Eared Mule performed by Villegas with fingerpicking zeal on his restrung guitar la banjo.
Sometimes the album's whipsaw nature is dizzying. At times, you wish this musical traveller would take a few more rest stops along the way. Nonetheless, walking a mile -- or more -- with Villegas on his journey through America provides a generous taste of its vast cultural melting pot in all its kaleidoscopic glory. ****
-- Holly Harris