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This article was published 3/2/2016 (2345 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Honest Man (Stubbyfingers Inc.)
Award-winning New Brunswick singer-guitarist Matt Andersen makes a stylistic about-face on his seventh album, the wonderful Honest Man, and it rates as one of the best from the big man of Canadian blues.
Recorded in New York, New Jersey, Halifax, Nashville and Kingston, Jamaica, the album is a full-blooded, blue-eyed-soul set that, at 10 songs, is short but oh so sweet. Breakaway pulls its positive, bouncy vibe from classic Al Green sides, while the title track and the hot Who Are You Listening To? use Andersen’s blues-guitar authority and golden pipes to get their moods across. Even the slow-jam ballads (I’m Giving In, Quiet Company, Last Surrender) owe their smoothness to their Muscle Shoals forebears, yet are stamped with Andersen’s charm.
Honest Man is neither a tribute to classic soul music, nor a pastiche for profit; it is the sound of an artist who’s dedicated to expanding the reach of his music. It honestly gets the job done — and then some. ★★★★
DOWNLOAD: Honest Man, Let’s Get Back
— Jeff Monk
Good Advice (Silent City)
Basia Bulat may have seemed a sunny indie-folk popster over the past 10 years, but some observers will have noticed the autoharp-wielding Toronto singer-songwriter was pushing her effervescent material, highlighted by her Natalie Merchant-esque voice, into darker, more exploratory territory on each of her three albums.
On Good Advice, Bulat takes a sonic leap forward, while at the same time wrestling with the draining emotions of a relationship’s end. She’s made synths and keyboards her main instruments, and she’s also working with a new producer (My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James). The result is almost a moderated pop feel, as if Bulat were well aware these songs could lead her into full-blown Adele territory. She and James come close to that sort of melodrama on the slower material, but these tunes largely work because they’re performed as songs rather than vocal showcases.
There’s still sun here, though: the lyrics on the opening trio of songs are as personal as anything Bulat’s written, but the tunes are as upbeat as her most celebratory material. ★★★1/2
Download: La La Lie
— John Kendle
Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams (Local Rascal)
Winnipeg-born Corin Raymond is back with yet another linguistic masterpiece.
Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams (see what he did there?) is full of fun wordplay right from the opening track, Hard on Things — "I’m hard on my body, I’m hard on my bones / I’m hard on every tool I own." From there it just gets better with songs like Morning Glories that really come alive with it’s vivid "pigeon conductors," "drunken John Priners" and "stray cat collectors."
Under the Belly of the Night is Raymond’s heartfelt ode to those classic artists who’ve passed on before their time… and those radio stations that keep the music alive.
Raymond may not be the best singer around but, like Neil Young or Townes Van Zandt, he’s truly one of a kind, with his rarely heard beat-poet influence and musical timing.
Whether real or made up, it’s apparent Raymond really cares about the characters who reside in his exceptional and engaging songs. ★★★★
Download: Morning Glories
— Bruce Leperre
Water (Deutsche Grammophon)
On this unusual new release, acclaimed French pianist Hélène Grimaud explores the power and beauty of water with 16 evocative tracks, including solo works by nine late-romantic and 20th-century composers.
The concept album was originally spawned by the ecologically minded musician’s 2014 site-specific installation in collaboration with visual artist Douglas Gordon, which transformed New York’s Park Avenue Armory Drill Hall into an "endless field of water." The live recording of Grimaud’s watery-themed program grew to become the basis for this disc, with seven electro-acoustic transitions by award-winning composer and DJ artist Nitin Sawhney subsequently added to help create the CD’s fluid narrative.
Selections include expected French classics: Debussy’s La Cathédrale Engloutie, Fauré’s Barcarolle No. 5 and Ravel’s Jeux d’eau. However, Grimaud’s sensitive artistry is at its best during the lesser-known, more contemporary works: Berio’s Wasserklavier and Takemitsu’s Rain Tree, each washing over the ear like a musical meditation. Also included is bonus track Water Reflections, featuring the pianist’s own short poetic musings on each piece, further underscoring her personal commitment to this life-giving, increasingly threatened resource. ★★★★
— Holly Harris
Rihanna feat. Drake
If you were hoping for another We Found Love or Don’t Stop the Music, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. While Work is probably the most upbeat song from RiRi’s newly released, largely experimental downtempo album Anti, it lacks real bite in almost every way. The beat is breezy but minimal, the lyrics are lazy and unintelligible for the most part, even Drake sounds kind of bored. For a song titled Work, it doesn’t seem as if a lot went into it. ★★
Make Me Like You (Interscope/Universal)
After a couple of fairly underwhelming comeback attempts (Baby Don’t Lie, Used to Love You), Stefani finally hits the nail on the head with this fantastic disco-pop track that’s more than likely a reference to new boyfriend Blake Shelton. Sounds kind of like a jacked-up version of the Cardigans’ Love Fool if it were performed by Maroon 5. ★★★1/2
Tiesto & Oliver Heldens feat. Natalie La Rose
The Right Song (PM:AM/Universal)
The original instrumental version of this song, last year’s chugging, futuristic groover Wombass, was — and remains — a killer club record. This more radio-friendly version featuring vocals from Somebody singer Natalie La Rose is decent, but doesn’t really add anything remarkable. ★★★
— Steve Adams