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Light a Match (Independent)
IT begins with a simple blues riff, then the drums and bass join in, creating a fuzzed-out beat that would make Jack White proud. A trio of harmonious voices chimes in -- earnest, soaring and effortlessly catchy.
Within a heartbeat of that song's ending, another begins -- a delicate phrase floats on a swelling keyboard phrase and I Could Be Your Girl becomes a slick, R&B-infused pop song.
This is the new Chic Gamine, an updated version of the Montreal/Winnipeg quintet that first came to attention with a Juno-winning mixture of a female vocal quartet backed by effervescent percussion. Seven years on from its self-titled debut, the group has shuffled members, and Chic Gamine's third album unveils a fully-fledged pop-rock band. (Ariane Jean has left and bassist/guitarist Benoit Moirier has stepped in, joining Sacha Daoud to fill out the rhythm section.)
The essence remains the same. Just listen to Annick Bremault, Alexa Dirks and Andrina Turenne as they sing the first lines of Girlfriend. Their three voices blend as one, set to a simple backbeat, and the song (a wonderfully sarcastic tune about hangers-on who aren't what they seem) slowly builds into an old-school soul tune, with vampy keys and a soaring saxophone break. The previous version of Chic Gamine couldn't have taken the song in that direction, but this incarnation, working with producer Sébastien Blais-Montpetit, has relit its musical fire.
Chic Gamine launches Light a Match in Winnipeg with a show at the Good Will Social Club on Nov. 21. ****
DOWNLOAD: All Night, Girlfriend, Night Court
-- John Kendle
Walking in the Dark (Independent)
MUCH is made in some circles of Winnipeg's rock 'n' roll history, from the 1960s community club scene through '70s pub rock to the punkish energy and folk-infused sounds of the '80s and '90s. It could be argued now the past decade or so has belonged to the many strong women who have emerged from this city's folk and roots scenes.
Sweet Alibi is one such act.
In Jess Rae Ayre and Amber Quesnel, this trio has two lead singers who could easily front their own groups. Add the harmony vocals and multi-instrumental prowess of Michelle Anderson (that banjo!), and Sweet Alibi is a force with a traditionally rooted sound evolved to the point where it's almost unclassifiable.
And that's a good thing. This is music that could just as easily be heard on Beats 1 as on CBC Radio 2 or CMT.
On Walking in the Dark, Anderson, Ayre, Quesnel and producer Murray Pulver give each song the setting and sound it deserves -- from the breezy, Mumford/Lumineers slow-build of Keep Showing You to the mid-tempo twang of the sorrowful title track to the pulsing rock beat and soulful vocal of Bodacious to the Muscle Shoals feel of Dark Train.
Sweet Alibi launches Walking in the Dark with a show Nov. 20, at the West End Cultural Centre. ***1/2
DOWNLOAD: Keep Showing You, Walking in the Dark, Pick Up Truck
-- John Kendle
The Best of the Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 (Columbia)
THE period represented on this two-disc edition of the Bootleg Series by American "song and dance man" Bob Dylan represents, arguably, the most fertile creative period of his early career.
Available in a number of inflated formats, The Cutting Edge pitches Dylan's songcraft as a rational building of versions that juggle words and arrangements and even instruments until they became the classics we know in their released version.
The set humanizes Dylan to some extent -- as you listen to the missteps and do-overs it becomes apparent that, even though he was regarded as godlike during this period, it took long hours in the studio to get things just right enough to be released on Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. This is where the genius really exists for Dylan: though he liked to work quickly in the studio, he also had an innate gift of knowing when the medicine was mixed just right and when to sign off on it.
Indeed, there may be too much of a good thing if you purchase the 18-disc version of this set, which includes "every note recorded by Bob Dylan in the studio in 1965/1966." ***
DOWNLOAD: Tombstone Blues - Take 1, Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? - Take 1
-- Jeff Monk
Vibrez (Edition Classics)
LONDON-BASED cello octet Cellophony showcases both the string instrument's versatility as well as the acclaimed group's appetite for eclectic fare on this new release.
The ensemble has been carving its own artistic path since being founded in 2007 by Richard Birchall. Three excerpts from Schubert's collection of Lieder: Schwanengesang, D957 are ideally suited to the cello's renowned expressiveness, with the lyrical Staendchen (Serenade) particularly evocative. Barber's Adagio, Op. 11 attests to the group's ability to seamlessly meld its members' sound together as one cohesive whole, with its plaintive theme passed among individual players. Mendelssohn's soulful Ave Maria, Op. 23, No. 2 displays Birchall's ear for rich harmonizations, as does Liszt's suitably lugubrious La Lugubre Gondola, S.200: No. 2, which also explores the instrument's sonic depths. Another highlight is Wagner's Prelude from opera Tristan und Isolde, with its arresting introduction performed sans vibrato.
Sicilian composer Giovanni Sollima's Violincelles, Vibrez! is performed with conviction. Here the eight millennial-generation players tackle its technical demands, including extensive harmonics, glissandi and post-minimalistic riffs, with all the daring verve of youth.
More comprehensive liner notes, including background material for each of the 10 pieces and biographical information, would have made this album complete. ****
-- Holly Harris
FEAT. PHARRELL WILLIAMS
WTF (Where They From) (Warner)
Unbelievably, it's been a decade since Missy's last album, The Cookbook. If you think that time away from the spotlight might have made her rusty, think again. WTF is the kind of ridiculously fun, high-octane, high-attitude dance track that will cause even the most curmudgeonly of club-goers to start shaking their backsides. And the chorus! Stretching things out and then bouncing them back like some sort of lyrical bungee jump is just brilliant. ****
Swear Like a Sailor (Tandemtracks)
Continuing the trend of gentler dance numbers set in motion by Mr. Probz' Waves and Kygo's Firestone, Toronto producer Tep No delivers a warm, tropical track with polished, breathy vocals, perfect for reminiscing about the lazy days of summer. ***1/2
Hide Away (Virtu Remix) (Sony)
Seventeen-year-old up-and-comer Daya's Hide Away was one of this summer's hidden pop gems -- think Lorde or Sia, but not as weird. This new Virtu remix cranks up the electronics and adds some trippy effects while still maintaining the integrity of her impressive vocals. ***1/2
-- Steve Adams
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Updated on Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 9:42 AM CST: Replaces and reorders images