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This article was published 23/2/2017 (1534 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
POP & ROCK
Wild Cat (AFM Records)
Toronto’s Danko Jones has been a dependable force in garage/metal music for 20 years and with his latest sonic blaster (in stores March 3), he again brings the noise with energy to spare.
There is a ferociousness here that appeals to a wide range of listeners. He and hammering bassist John Calabrese and extraordinarily locomotive-like drummer Rich Knox steer a course toward a sound that can almost be likened to Canada’s own Nickelback. While that is not necessarily a good thing, I Gotta Rock definitely lives up to its title.
Where Jones has always excelled is when he changes speed and torques into the faster material. There is a level of unbridled boogie menace in tracks such as Let’s Start Dancing and the incendiary Diamond Lady that scale back the lofty pretension and get down to hardcore, metallic punk-rocking. This has always been the sound that sets Danko Jones apart from many of his contemporaries — tight, unwavering and fast. More of this mayhem would be welcome, although it could end up frying the drummer to a crisp.
Jones even gets his pop persona going with the careening You Are My Woman, sounding for all the world like the late Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy in full flow. Jones keeps his lyrical construct the same — to hear him sing it, he is obviously the world’s greatest lover.
On balance Wild Cat deserves much respect. Jones may not have changed his sound much over the past couple of decades, but you can at least count on him to bring his brand of aggression with a sufficient amount of voltage. That is pretty wild. ★★★
DOWNLOAD: Let’s Start Dancing, She Likes It
— Jeff Monk
ROOTS & ROCK
Here & Now (Rising Sun Productions)
Winnipeg guitarist/songwriter Vince Fontaine has led the vanguard of Canada’s aboriginal rock scene for more than two decades, first with Eagle & Hawk and now with Indian City, a project that has brought many of Manitoba’s First Nation and Métis performers into its fold over the course of its three albums.
Here & Now — which was launched earlier this week with a performance at Festival du Voyageur — is the third of those records, a collection that features six different singers across nine different songs that are nonetheless thematically linked. The material here runs the gamut from roots country (Not Letting Go) to modern rock (Here and Now, The Fire Won’t Die, Through the Flood) to country pop (Seasons) and the production of Fontaine and longtime collaborator Chris Burke-Gaffney ensures each song and style is explored to its fullest. Most interesting, though, is the album’s lyrical message.
Whether Don Amero, Andrina Turenne, Jeremy Koz or Jay Bodner is at the microphone, these songs reflect upon the harsh experiences of Canada’s indigenous peoples, yet also counsel vigilance and positivity in the struggle for progress and reconciliation. It’s a sentiment that should be taken to heart by all who hear Here & Now. ★★★1/2
DOWNLOAD: Here and Now, Take Me Home, Fire Won’t Die
— John Kendle
Ugly Beauties (Marilyn Lerner, Matt Brubeck, Nick Fraser)
Strange Attractors (Independent)
Pianist Marilyn Lerner was born in Montreal but has many close connections with Winnipeg, where she lived for a time. She has recorded a range of jazz from primarily melodic to very "out there."
This album is the second by the trio Ugly Beauties — Lerner with cellist Matt Brubeck (yes, Dave’s son) and drummer Nick Fraser. The band is named after the Thelonious Monk tune of the same name. These three are amazing musicians, playing genre-bending creative improvised music at a very high level.
I’ve heard the oxymoronic term "abstract lyricism" used to describe their music, and that is pretty accurate. Unquestionably edgy at times, there are beautifully constructed tracks of extraordinary interplay and accessible tunes. (Check out Sniffin’ Around, Open My Eyes.)
While it is true that modern improvised jazz can be an acquired taste, this album is an example of uncompromising music that can reward and delight listeners.
Struggling to define jazz these days is ultimately pointless; the constantly shifting landscape is simply there to explore and enjoy. This album belongs in the vanguard of that exploration. ★★★★1/2
DOWNLOAD: Blue Violins, Holometabolous
— Keith Black
Christopher Houlihan plays Bach
American organist Christopher Houlihan goes toe-to-toe with the "king of instruments" in his first all-Bach recording. The 29-year old dynamo performs five of the Baroque master’s enthralling pipe organ works, as well as his own intriguing arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Italian Concerto BWV 971.
Recorded on a relatively modern organ at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., Houlihan’s skillful interpretation of such classics as Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542, a.k.a. The Great, features non-traditional dynamic shadings and register changes that might rattle purists’ bones, positing that Bach’s creative genius would have allowed these nuances, if they’d been possible. This is especially displayed during his interpretation of the Italian-styled, three-movement work originally penned for harpsichord. Nevertheless, his conviction in performing it on organ, replete with booming pedal tones, adds an orchestral sensibility while ultimately deepening one’s appreciation.
The album also includes the intensely dramatic Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 544 and Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, BWV 564, wisely balanced with lighter fare: Trio Sonata in G major, BWV 530, which further showcases the soloist’s sparkling technique. Finally, Houlihan treats listeners to the mighty Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, regarded one of the organ repertoire’s cornerstones, performed with flourish right up to its last, thunderous chord. ★★★★
— Holly Harris