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This article was published 10/3/2016 (1412 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Small Glories
Wondrous Traveler (Independent)
Can two singer-songwriters be better than one? Yes, emphatically, yes, if the two in question are Cara Luft and JD Edwards, playing and singing together as the Small Glories.
Briefly, for the uninitiated, singer and multi-instrumentalist Luft was a founding member of the Wailin’ Jennys, but went solo before that group’s second album; Edwards is a masterful singer whose band has wrung out many a honky-tonk. They first played together in 2012 but didn’t commit to joining forces until 2014.
It’s our loss they didn’t do it sooner because Edwards and Luft are a folk-roots powerhouse. As Luft clawhammers the opening banjo notes to album starter Had I Paid, Edwards claps in time and the pair begin singing an earnest, rollicking tale of living out their musical dreams that perfectly blends their voices and conjures a spark that’s palpable throughout this album’s 10 songs.
Recorded at an analogue studio Kelowna, B.C., with producer Neil Osborne (frontman of 54-40), Wondrous Traveler is the Small Glories’ first full-length recording and it’s a richly organic document of all that Luft and Edwards can do. Their voices weave in and out of each other with ease (check out the harmonizing and counter-melodies on Something to Hold Onto) yet they manage to give each other space as well, as on Old Garage, which sees Edwards tell a wistful, aching tale of his grandfather, or Home, on which Luft gently explores every traveller’s greatest longing until she’s eventually joined by Edwards’ soaring voice and a choral chorus.
As good as the original songs are, the most joyous track here is a version of Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg’s Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, on which you can actually hear both singers giggling as the song ends. It’s magic. ★★★★
Download: Had I Paid, Old Garage, Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key
— John Kendle
Empty Train (Laker Music)
Ayrshire, Scotland’s David Francey has been a Canadian citizen most of his life, but the 61-year-old still sings with the thick brogue of his native country. That’s a good thing, since his type of folk-inspired tale-telling and heartfelt insights benefit from his deep and dusty cadence.
Francey plays no instruments himself here, leaving his band, the Handsome Soldiers, to deliver the tuneful, rootsy vibes. Mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar and the occasional fiddle finesse avoid cliché and contour Francey’s graceful lyrics perfectly. Within this framework, the singer’s words lay out the kind of wisdom gained not only by living a conscious life, but having the skill to turn sincere emotion into song.
Hospital tells the tale of a son watching his father barely exist while in care and the toll it takes on the whole family. Blue Girl details a tormented slog through the porn industry, while Crucible lifts unknown soldiers to prominence. Empty Train succeeds because Francey writes the kind of songs driven by personal experiences, yet speak to the larger life truths of compassion and sincerity. Get aboard this train.
Francey plays the West End Cultural Centre March 13. Tickets are $23 at Ticketfly.com. ★★★1/2
DOWNLOAD: Big Texas Moon, Junkie’s Heart
— Jeff Monk
No Fantasy Required (Counter)
Tiga’s third album is more than just a statement that in a post-electroclash world, the man born Tiga James Sontag has prospered and continues to thrive, while other artists from that era are relegated to period playlists. Sure, Tiga knows how to have fun and his music is rooted in our party-driven culture, but he has taken the muted neon shine on his trilogy of albums and made it work. Proven dance floor weapons like Planet E (featuring Hudson Mohawke), Plush and the inescapable Bugatti position the 41-year-old Montrealer as a purveyor of big-room artillery, keen to show off his arsenal.
At times, though, Tiga can come off too campy, leading to some throwaway cuts, such as the ill-conceived 3 Rules with Matthew Dear. While the edges of his glamour may have become rounded over the years, slinky acid tracks like Always and the plodding bassline and icy melodies of Don’t Break My Heart still deliver.
From the beginning of his career, Tiga has maintained a balance between humour, ebullience, sarcasm, sincerity and magnetism, and No Fantasy Required isn’t any different. ★★★
DOWNLOAD: Plush, Bugatti, No Fantasy Required
— Anthony Augustine
The Epic (Brainfeeder)
Well-known in the Los Angeles area, saxophonist Kamasi Washington, 35, has worked with many jazz greats, including Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, but has gained wider recognition with his debut three-disc solo release, The Epic.
It has familiar elements, but also influences that challenge the current definition of jazz and suggest new directions. In addition to conventional instrumentation, it features strings and a full choir on many of the tracks. The playlist is varied and wide — with Washington sounding like John Coltrane at times (see Change of the Guard) — featuring hard-driving tracks (Miss Understanding) and even a version of Claude Debussy’s Clair De Lune. There will be a lot of discussion and response to this hugely ambitious 17-track project, as The Epic may just live up to its name.
Washington plays the Jazz Winnipeg Festival June 21 at the Burton Cummings Theatre. HHHH
DOWNLOAD: The Next Step, Leroy and Lanisha
— Keith Black
Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas (Hyperion)
Canada’s first lady of piano Angela Hewitt brings her customary finesse to Domenico Scarlatti’s solo keyboard sonatas.
Acclaimed worldwide for her sensitive interpretations of J. S. Bach — she garnered top prize at the 1985 Toronto International Bach Piano Competition — the Ottawa-born pianist, now based (primarily) in the U.K., is always at her pianistic best with Baroque repertoire.
Her own natural groupings of her chosen 16 pieces form four sets. Highlights include perennial favourites: Sonata in D minor, Kk9 (Pastorale) rendered with calm simplicity; a contrasting, wild tarantella, Sonata in C major, Kk159 tossed off with sparkling clarity; and Sonata in D major, Kk29, an in facto precursor to Bach’s iconic Goldberg Variations. Hewitt also displays limpid lyricism during the quieter works, including Sonata in B minor, Kk87 and one of her noted personal favourites played since a child, the expressive Sonata in F minor, Kk69.
Hewitt’s own thoughtful liner notes provides detail on each work, while also alluding to more Scarlatti recordings to come. If this latest album is any indication, it will be well worth the wait. ★★★★1/2
— Holly Harris