Robyn Hitchcock (YepRoc Records)
If you’re any kind of fan of recorded pop music, then you’ve likely heard of the U.K.’s Robyn Hitchcock. The singer-songwriter has been plying his charming trade since the early 1970s; he built his credibility on his work with psychedelic new wavers the Soft Boys and followed up with a string of critically acclaimed solo outings.
With this self-titled release, Hitchcock (now based in Nashville) once again sails the colourful seas of his own brand of woozy, lyrically astute psychedelic folk, but threads in some interesting asides. The album opens with a showstopper of sorts and I Want To Tell You About What I Want sets the stage fittingly. Hitchcock’s oeuvre has always leaned toward the slightly verbose. Language is his paintbrush and tracks such as the rocking Virginia Woolf, the diaphanous Raymond and the Wires and the lovely ballad Sayonara Judge show the artist fully in control and on his game.
As a bonus, being based in Music City U.S.A. delivers its own benefits. The amusing I Pray When I’m Drunk ("I pray when I’m drunk / to get me from the sewer where I am") is a twangy warning of sorts and 1970 in Aspic moves gently along, buoyed by some delightful steel guitar work. Hitchcock’s longtime fans will find solace in the pretty Detective Mindhorn and the dramatic jangle of A Pair of Autumn Sunglasses.
If this album is an attempt to restructure Hitchcock’s work into a new era then it works admirably, as it captures every eloquent facet of the music that has delivered him to this point in his lengthy career… and then some. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM: Mad Shelley’s Letterbox, Detective Mindhorn
— Jeff Monk
Metaphysics (Cadence/Fontana North)
Metaphysics is Sarah Slean’s seventh studio recording and her first since 2011’s double-album project Land & Sea. That recording featured nine pop-oriented tunes produced by Joel Plaskett (Land) and nine orchestral songs produced by Jonathan Goldsmith (Sea) in a sprawling attempt to explore both sides of her musical character.
This is a leaner effort, featuring just 10 tracks, but it’s no less collaborative and ambitious, as Slean combines her penchant for pop melodies and orchestral settings with the talents of producers Hawksley Workman, Daniel Romano, Joshua Van Tassell and Jean Martin (Tanya Tagaq). Despite the multiple collaborators, there’s a unity to Metaphysics that’s rooted in its theme of finding salvation and redemption in love, in all its forms.
Album opener Perfect Sky sets the tone, blending a percussive heartbeat with bright piano and a soaring vocal melody to tell the stories of a pilot, dancer and writer who are urged to act now rather than wait for "the right time." Several songs — the lovely, chiming Not in Vain, the poppy Sarah and the hopeful Loved Well — were clearly inspired by the breakup of Slean’s marriage (to singer-songwriter Royal Wood) but they aren’t tales of sadness or anguish, coming off instead as redemptive and affirming — albeit a little bittersweet.
The Gypsy is the album’s one outlier — a vampy cabaret piece that hints, with a wink, at playful times to come. ★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM: Perfect Sky, Loved Well, A Thousand Butterflies
— John Kendle
Canadian trombonist Darren Sigesmund has an international cast on this album, with Americans Gary Versace on keyboards and accordion and Mark Feldman on violin, along with Canadians Jim Vivian on bass and Ethan Ardelli on drums. Feldman’s violin offers a fascinating counterpoint to Sigesmund’s trombone and with occasional accordion on some tracks, the flavour is decidedly French. (Violinist Stéphane Grappelli would have approved.)
The music here is varied in mood, and while some tracks swing solidly, others are almost rhapsodic in tone. Tracks such as Now or Never are fairly mainstream, while others have a more complex groove. The tune Machautnations adds to the French feel with an intense mood and a musical reference to the work of early French composer Guillaume de Machaut.
Juno winner Sigesmund has had several widely acclaimed releases and with this one he moves in an intriguing direction. His compositions here have clean lines with plenty of room for improvisation. The trombone and violin are a wonderful team and Feldman is constantly impressive. The last track, called Riff, adds a substantial edge, as if to say it’s not always simply a straightforward style. There is a lot here to bring enjoyment through repeated listenings. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM: Jigtok, Danza a la Luna
— Keith Black
Chiaroscuro (Navona Records)
This debut album by Mexican-born classical guitarist/composer Giovanni Piacentini features three works infused with his artfully crafted spatial effects and evocative atmosphere.
The artist performs two suites composed of short, individual movements. Chiaroscuro takes listeners through shifting shades of seasonal light, with its central section, Night Sounds, teeming with idiomatic tremolo, glassy harmonics and pregnant pauses.
Miniatures offers a series of seven musical snapshots, with such imaginative titles as Apparition, The Cyclops, The Smiling Spider and The Raven. As though proving the adage "less is more," each section showcases Piacentini’s ability to encapsulate tiny, winsome worlds as if passing through a gallery of paintings.
The sole single-movement track, Chasing Shadows, features Tim Fain’s solo violin cascading through musical hills and valleys created by Mike McGinnis (bass clarinet), Jane Yoon (harp), and Chris Graham (vibraphone). The composer’s choice of tonal colour is heightened further by textural contrasts, with the chamber ensemble responsive to every bow stroke of Fain’s rhapsodic declamations. ★★★1/2 out of five
— Holly Harris