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This article was published 5/11/2015 (656 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Focus (Republic / Universal)
With a punchy, marching-band vibe reminiscent of JC Chasez's long-forgotten Blowin' Me Up (With Her Love) and a dead catchy, very Mystikal-sounding chorus (if that's not Mystikal, it's somebody doing a spot-on Mystikal impression), Grande's contributions to her own song almost seem secondary. Does that matter? Not really. Focus is a freaky, funky hit. ***1/2
DJ Snake feat. Bipolar Sunshine
DJ Snake has been involved with some of the coolest crossover electronic hits of the past year (Lean On, You Know You Like It, Get Low), and his latest continues the trend with more gentle synths and swirling, effects-heavy vocals. Not exactly surprising, then, but very well produced and a whole lot of hip fun. ***1/2
Used to Love You (Universal)
Last year's "comeback," Baby Don't Lie, was met with lukewarm reception at best, but Gwen is back for another try with this electro-pop ballad from her upcoming, long-delayed third solo album. Her divorce from Gavin Rossdale is obviously the inspiration, and thematically, the song bears some resemblance to previous single Cool. Decent, but unlikely to set the world on fire. ***
-- Steve Adams
Crosseyed Heart (Virgin/EMI)
NEVER-SAY-DIE rock legend Keith Richards has all the coiled energy of a slithering sidewinder baking on a salt flat -- and for his first solo album in 20 years, the resilient Rolling Stone delivers exactly what fans expect. Working from scratch with perennial sidekicks the X-Pensive Winos and a couple of ringer guests, the album fits perfectly into Richards' existing body of work.
Lead guitarist Waddy Wachtel is the necessary foil to the main man's penchant for mildly sloppy, open-G guitar tuning, and drummer and songwriter Steve Jordan's snare cracks add the necessary propulsion on tracks such as Heartstopper, Amnesia and Something for Nothing.
On balance, Richards leans just a little more into the slower grooves. Whether he is finally showing his 70-plus years at this point or just finding it easier to write a frank ballad is anyone's guess, but the subtle shuffle of Robbed Blind, Suspicious and Illusion are distinctive and, in a way, even more straightforward than Richards' by-the-template rockers. ***1/2
DOWNLOAD: Substantial Damage
-- Jeff Monk
LINDSEY White's Renegade is a multi-faceted project -- a full-length recording, a book (Renegade Writings), a blog (lindseywhitemusic.wordpress.com) and now, an ongoing series of concerts, readings and posts. Ultimately, it's the culmination of a long process of loss, grieving and self-discovery.
That said, White's music isn't daunting. The Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter is an educator who loves sharing the power and thrill of music with kids -- and her own songs are suffused with that same sense of elemental joy. Though their subject matter is often painfully personal, she and guitarist Joe Curtis, drummer/producer Mitch Dorge and bassist Alasdair Dunlop set her lyrics to straightforward pop/rock arrangements brightened by hints of reggae, power pop, bossa nova and even R&B and soul.
The best songs here are those that don't try to do too much. The Let Me Be Song is an upbeat guitar rave, Stronger is a breezy, reflective tune that could be a cross between Fleetwood Mac and early Sade, and Asylum (for which White just shot a video) is a simple piano tune whose melody belies the intensity of the lyric. ***
Download: Stronger; Asylum; Headingley
-- John Kendle
Birds With Broken Wings (Warner/Coalition Records)
UNDERNEATH his fabulous mane of wild hair and his biblical beard, Nova Scotian Ben Caplan could be just another timid singer-songwriter with diary issues. Instead, the roaring troubadour enlarges the character behind the shaggy facade and presents a pretty daunting persona. Visuals aside, his second album, the wild and woolly Birds With Broken Wings, is a blustery but solid set of enjoyable story songs.
The opening title track rips the album open with an eastern European-informed churn, complete with urgent banjo, ethnic-sounding fiddles and an incessant bongo beat, all topped by Caplan's wildly imaginative lyrics, such as, "Bring me birds with broken wings, men with all the answers, people who have killed, give me incurable cancers..."
Balancing the more raucous, festive songs are Caplan's sincere ballads. Belly of the Worm, Nights Like Tonight, Devil Town, and particularly album closer Lover's Waltz, counter the bombast with elegance, proving the kind of musical range that leads to successful careers in music. The album's big, broad expressions may not be to everyone's tastes, but if you want a listening adventure, it doesn't disappoint. ***
DOWNLOAD: 40 Days & 40 Nights
Schubert Impromptus D935; Piano Pieces D946; Huttenbrenner Variations D576 (Hyperion)
SCOTTISH pianist Steven Osborne brings his refined artistry to Schubert's intimate solo works on this new release.
Dated 1827 and published posthumously, the four shorter pieces that comprise the Austrian composer's second set of Impromptus, D935 were once notably dismissed as "a sonata in disguise" by none other than Robert Schumann and Albert Einstein. The award-winning pianist imbues each piece with dramatic intensity, well in keeping with Schubert's "appassionato" marking in its opening No. 1 in F Minor.
He displays his poetic sensibility during No. 2 in A flat major, as well as butter-smooth legato phrasing in No. 3 in B flat major. By contrast, the Hungarian-flavoured finale, No. 4 in F minor, is attacked with zeal, including its syncopated dance-like rhythms and wild scalar flourishes.
Also included is Three Piano Pieces, D946, ostensibly a third and final set of impromptus written in 1828. Osborne's sensitive treatment of No. 2 in E flat major particularly shows Schubert at his lyrical best.
Variations on a Theme by Anselm Huttenbrenner, D576 pays tribute to the Austrian composer Schubert had met while both were pupils of Mozart's (reputed) nemesis, Antonio Salieri. More contrast among its 13 compact movements would have made this work stand out.
Detailed liner notes in English, French and German are clear and concise, providing both historical context as well as fascinating lore. ****
-- Holly Harris