Thursday, March 31, 2011

March '11 reviews

In addition to this month’s reviews for the K-W Record, my take on this year’s Juno telecast ran on the Maclean’s website.

Upon reflection, the only other obviously missing Canadian music heavyweight from the past 40 years missing that night was The Tragically Hip.

Much has been made over the exclusion of any hip-hop performers from the telecast, despite the fact that Drake was hosting. True, there was really no reason for Tokyo Police Club to be there, and their slot could easily have gone to showcase Shad to a national audience—though obviously the organizers didn’t know he’d swipe Best Rap Recording from Drake’s hands. Not that the category was broadcast anyway—which is not unusual either, as the only “specialty” category given out during the telecast was the “pop” album. Drake likely didn’t perform because a) he did last year and b) that might have upped his paycheque outside the budget. If you wanted to get semantic, one could technically argue that Down With Webster are a “rap” band, as insipid as they are, and Chromeo qualifies as an “urban” performer.

Where was Kardinal Offishall, you ask, who has a new album out? He announced in 2006 that he’s boycotting the awards for their approach to hip-hop, saying he’s “not going to be the Junos’ monkey no more.”

Anyway, on to reviews:

A Hawk and a Hacksaw – Cervantine (L.M. Dupli-cation)

Everyone might be abuzz about the return of the reclusive Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum to the stage (a few select dates this spring, including one in Toronto, sold out instantly), but meanwhile, that band’s drummer, Jeremy Barnes, has been quietly making excellent records for most of the past decade, engaging in musical travels that have taken all across Europe and soaking up a wide variety of influences, especially in the Balkan region. Barnes preceded many others who followed: he helped introduce the band Beirut to the world (and also got Mangum to sing on a couple of records, although the geek squad seemed to have missed that).

Originally a drummer, Jeremy Barnes’s accordion skills are now impeccable, and his colleagues Heather Trost and Chris Hladowski bring serious chops into the band—Trost in particular can pound out the drinking tunes as well as make you weep on a ballad like "Lajtha Lassu."

If A Hawk and a Hacksaw’s last album, Delivrance, saw them fully embracing their biggest influence, the Balkans, Cervantine finds them casting a wider net: Turkish songs, Serbian brass, some of the mariachi music native to Barnes’s home of New Mexico, and some tracks that sound explicitly Indian in origin—which makes historical sense, because the Roma, or gypsies, who inform much Balkan music, originated in India centuries ago.

Whereas Barnes once felt like an interloper, adapting various traditional musics and meshing them with his own vision, he’s been diving in deep lately—and Cervantine may well be his best work. It’s high time he got his own due as a bandleader. (March 10)

Download: “Uskudar,” “Lajtha Lassu,” “At the Vultural Negru”

Kiran Ahluwalia – Aam Zameen: Common Ground (Outside)

This Toronto Punjabi singer has never been a purist, which makes her new album’s title all the more apt. She continues to adapt traditional Pakistani music with a variety of influences, but most notable this time out is her collaboration with two Tuareg bands from the Malian desert, Tinariwen and Terakaft, whose brand of electrified desert blues has been one of the most exciting sounds to emerge from Africa in years. The whole album is produced by Justin Adams, a British guitarist with decades of cross-cultural credibility, known for his work with Robert Plant, Jah Wobble, Sinead O’Connor, and for producing Tinariwen.

So it’s not surprising that when Ahluwalia and Tinariwen transplant Pakistani legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s signature song “Mustt Mustt” to the Saharan desert, the Muslim spiritual works magically; likewise when Ahluwalia takes on the Tuareg song “Matadjem.” She didn’t shack up in the Sahara for the entire album (which was recorded in Paris and at the RealWorld studio in Bath, U.K.), and there are still plenty of tabla and harmoniums. While the desert excursions may be highlights, Ahluwalia finds herself spreading out in all sorts of directions. (March 3)

Download: “Mustt Mustt (Extended),” “Raqba,” “Matadjem”

Beady Eyes – Different Gear, Still Speeding (Fontana North/Maple)

If we are to believe The Noel Gallagher, a man with no doubts about his own place in rock’n’roll history, there is no Oasis without The Noel Gallagher. Without The Noel Gallagher’s songs, the band is nothing, right? Listening to the others’ contributions to past Oasis albums—including those by estranged brother Liam—The Noel Gallagher got the benefit of the doubt.

Until now. Beady Eyes is Oasis without The Noel Gallagher—and it sounds better than any Oasis album of, let’s say, the last 15 years. What on earth could this mean? That The Noel Gallagher was holding his bandmates back in a fit of egomaniacal delusions for more than a decade? That this album’s producer, Steve Lillywhite, somehow convinced Liam and company to kick their own butts and improve overnight?

To put this in perspective, however, comparing Beady Eye to every Oasis album since What’s the Story Morning Glory is not setting the bar very high, to say the least. And despite his cheeky swagger, Liam Gallagher is incapable of writing lyrics more profound than: “Call me the roller/ I’ll squeeze and unfold ya.”

But to hear Liam snarl his way through the rousing “Four-Letter Word,” or command an intense honky-tonk groove with gospel back-up singers behind him on “Bring the Light,” is to gain new respect for a man who has never been considered more than his brother’s puppet.

Will Beady Eyes live up to Liam’s lyric: “I’m gonna stand the test of time/ like Beatles and Stones”? Unlikely, but by exceeding all expectations, he’s already got one major accomplishment under his belt. (March 10)

Download: “Four-Letter Word,” “Bring the Light,” “For Anyone”

Les Breastfeeders – Dans la gueule des jours (Blow the Fuse)

Montreal’s long-running francophone garage rock gang continue to carry the torch for their retro style and rave-up tunes, only this time they manage to maintain a delicate balance between raw power and modern production, helmed by two of their city’s finest guitarists, Adrian Popovich (formerly of Tricky Woo) and Joseph Donovan (formerly of the Dears). The songwriting is as cheeky as always—and accessible to anyone with even elementary French—and the only drawback is the lack of strong material for co-frontperson Suzie McLelove. (March 24)

Download: “Le monde tourne autour de toi,” “Ne perds pas la tete (Marie-Antoinette),” “La fille dans la vitrine”

The Dirtbombs - Party Store (In the Red)

Here’s an idea so ridiculous it actually works.

Detroit is known as a music city with a long and storied history of legendary figures. But as the city’s economic fortunes have declined, there have really only been two musical movements it’s been known for in the past 30 years: the innovative and widely influential techno music from the ’80s and early ’90s, and the retro garage rock scene from the last decade, of which the White Stripes are the best-known export. No one would ever expect the two scenes to collide.

And yet Mick Collins, frontman for the Dirtbombs—who are, for most serious enthusiasts, one of the best-loved bands of the scene—is apparently a huge fan of his city’s techno legacy. It wasn’t surprising when he put out an album of soul covers 10 years ago, but diving in deep to a genre where guitars are verboten is a bit of a stretch. As it turns out, it’s a stretch he’s more than capable of pulling off.

It’s also absolutely thrilling to hear his raunchy and raw electric guitar substitute for synth string stabs on a techno classic like Kevin Saunderson’s “Good Life” or Derrick May’s “Strings of Life.” And while live drums and percussion are employed throughout, there’s a bit of electronic enhancement to approximate some semblance of the originals. LCD Soundsystem built a career on this concept; Collins and company decided to pay a direct debt instead.

Chances are that if you find techno repetitive and dull, these versions won’t necessarily change your mind—and a 22-minute version of Carl Craig’s “Bugs in the Bass Bin” is plodding at best, with an ersatz Eddie Hazel-style guitar solo trying to approximate the jazz piano of the original with interminable results. But more often than not, the Dirtbombs lock into a groove and take it to ecstatic heights, which was the same intention of the original composers.

Hats off to Collins for realizing the potential in this project. They should give him the key to the city for this. (March 31)

Download: “Good Life,” “Sharivari,” “Tear the Club Up”

Peter Elkas – Repeat Offender (New Scotland)

Peter Elkas is a smooth operator—you can hear it in every tiny guitar lick, piano flourish, seductive swing of the saxophone and laid-back but soulful vocal performance on Repeat Offender, a record that’s readymade to romance you.

Elkas has been a peripheral player in the last 15 years of Canadian music. His underrated teenage band Local Rabbits were shepherded by Sloan, and more recently Elkas has been part of the Joel Plaskett Emergency, while quietly releasing several solo records. Apparently Elkas was ready to retire his solo career entirely and start paying his bills by becoming a professional dog-walker—which he still does, but thankfully he decided to rally his resources and make Repeat Offender, easily the best thing he’s done since his days as a young Rabbit.

Elkas is older, wiser and laid back now, leaving rock’n’roll behind to indulge in the softer side of Springsteen and ’60s and ’70s soul music. His writing retains its signature complexity—Elkas has never settled for a mere three chords—but he’s more successful at pop songs than his previous solo work, with a few tracks here he could easily convince Al Green to cover. (March 10)

Download: “Cool Thing to Do,” “Atlas,” “Melody”

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)

The pipe organ is one of the most astounding musical instruments ever invented: the first synthesizer, if you will, created to evoke the power and majesty of a higher power, meant to fill cavernous places of worship.

Tim Hecker is not a “musician” per se; he is a sculptor, an artist who moulds sounds from various sources into ambient symphonies. On this album, he uses only one source: a pipe organ he played for one day in a wooden church in Reykjavik, recorded by engineer Ben Frost (who also mixed the recent Colin Stetson album, another immersive sound piece by a fellow Montrealer).

Hecker then returned home to Montreal and deconstructed the experience, toying with the sound of the room, distorting the natural sound of the organ, adding the occasional acoustic piano sound and running everything through a series of filters that make the original source almost entirely unrecognizable: the pipe organ’s ghostliness and majesty—and perhaps most importantly, its ambiguity—actually sounds more like the voice of God than the original instrument, which in comparison sounds like the work of all-too-literally minded men. Like “real” pipe organ music, this sounds best at full volume. (Apparently he’s performed this work live with a pipe organ, though listening to this it sounds virtually impossible.)

Hecker has always explicitly explored the ephemeral and unknowable, as on his two previous high-water marks, the albums Radio Amor and An Imaginary Country. Here the connection sounds more spiritual—even before you know how and where it was made. The titles allude to some motif of musical crisis (“Hatred of Music,” “Analog Paralysis,” “Studio Suicide”), but Hecker sounds more inspired than ever, free of expectations not only from either traditionalists—which he always has—but from his own oeuvre. (March 17)

Download: “No Drums,” “The Piano Drop,” “In the Air (Part One)”

Les Jupes – Modern Myths (Head in the Sand)

Les Jupes have what it takes to be Canada’s answer to The National: led by a commanding baritone singer singing brooding anthems and atmospheric ballads, this Winnipeg group filter Joy Division and Nick Cave influences through modern in life in Montreal, where much of Modern Myths was recorded with Arcade Fire engineer Marcus Paquin. Bandleader Michael Petkau Falk was once central to the scene in Winnipeg—where he co-ordinated a Record of the Week club, featuring many of the city’s best musicians—before quitting music in 2005 and relocating to Montreal. Hence, his work here in Les Jupes sounds like a veteran performer who believes that if you’re not going to go full throttle, you shouldn’t go at all. (March 10)

Download: “One Solemn Oath,” “Someone Lit a Fire Under Kruschchev,” “How Do You Keep This All in Line?”

The Luyas – Too Beautiful To Work (Idée Fixe/Dead Oceans)

Little Scream – The Golden Record (Outside)

One has to wonder if people who grow up in Montreal are naturally weird, or if the city’s artistic reputation depends entirely on imported bohos. These two albums lend credence to the latter theory.

The Luyas are led by ex-Torontonian Jessie Stein, and features two members of Bell Orchestre; the newest member, Mathieu Charbonneau, comes from Torngat, which is another project for Luyas’ French horn player Pietro Amato. While three of the four come from an art-rock background, which is wonderfully obvious in the creative arrangements heard here, Stein used to front a grungy pop band and briefly flirted with a singer/songwriter persona. She’s a square peg in this group, to be sure, but where that contrast used to be jarring, her performance on this, the band’s second album, is much more in line with her bandmates. The more abstract the track, the better it is. Charbonneau bolsters the band’s sound considerably, Owen Pallett contributes string arrangements, and Stef Schneider remains one of the most inventive drummers in the country.

Laurel Sprengelmeyer is a visual artist and designer from Iowa who moved to Montreal for school. While there, she started performing as Little Scream, capturing the attention of Richard Reed Parry (Bell Orchestre, Arcade Fire), who co-produces and performs on her debut record, roping in many other Montreal all-stars along the way. There’s no danger of distracting from Sprengelmeyer herself, who has a lovely voice that she layers extensively over arrangements that alternate between grungy guitar, ala early PJ Harvey, and almost pastoral soundscapes. For those that remember late ’90s Toronto performer Tamara Williamson, there’s a strong resemblance here, vocally and aesthetically. Sadly, Sprengelmeyer’s songwriting isn’t as impressive as her voice; like the Luyas, she’s more intriguing when she’s far away from pop song constructs—though conversely, when she drops everything and plays an acoustic folk song, "Heron and the Fox," she’s more than capable of conventional beauty. Though Sprengelmeyer is an exciting new voice, she’s still working out kinks here. (March 31)

Download from the Luyas: “Moodslayer,” “Tiny Head,” “Spherical Mattress”

Download from Little Scream: “Heron and the Fox,” “Your Radio,” “Guyegaros”

Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (LL/Warner)

When she arrived on North American shores in 2008, Swedish singer Lykke Li appeared poised to be a lo-fi version of Robyn, with her unassuming, somewhat cutesy take on electro pop. Once again produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn and John, here she ditches the synths and her Swedish home, relocates to L.A. and dives into ’60s pop, stark folk, and hints of psychedelia. Her previously girlish vocals have matured considerably, anchoring everything she does here. Though this sounds worlds away from her successful debut, it never sounds like she’s needlessly genre-hopping. While she may be leaving club culture behind, she never strays too far outside standard pop structures—anyone turned on to her via the Twilight soundtrack have nothing to fear here. Unfortunately, some of the lyrics—which hopefully can be chalked up to ESL—can be more than cringeworthy (“I’m your prostitute / you’re going to get some,” goes the chorus of the first single), which is the only thing stopping Wounded Rhymes from true greatness. (March 17)

Download: “Youth Knows No Pain,” “Unrequited Love,” “Jerome”

Katie Moore – Montebello (independent)

Katie Moore is the eternal bridesmaid of Montreal’s roots music scene, playing strong supporting roles for Plants and Animals, Socalled and Gonzales, while her own solo material took a back seat. Montebello should change that. Moore has always been handicapped by her own songwriting, but here she not only steps up her game, but calls in every favour possible from her many friends, and the arrangements situate her heartbreaking voice front and centre. That said, it’s the cover versions here that stand out; Moore is a fantastic interpreter, which is of course what makes her an MVP for others, and so it’s not surprising that she breathes brilliant new life into Anna McGarrigle’s beloved “Heart Like a Wheel” and David Wiffen’s “We Have Had Some Good Times.” Hopefully more people will discover this after Moore steals the show on the new Socalled album, due in May. (March 24)

Download: “Heart Like a Wheel,” “We Have Had Some Good Times,” “Wake Up Like This”

Michael Rault – Ma-Me-O (Rault Records)

The problem with most retro garage rock is that it’s made by older men. Edmonton’s Michael Rault, on the other hand, is barely past the age of 20, and so his heartfelt howls about sexual confusion and heartbreak ring all the more true, and he gets away with lines about he wants to “tease you like a mean big sister.” Plus, he’s young enough not to worry about clichés cribbed from early rock’n’roll and bubblegum records. Or, in the case of “The Times When You Were Mine,” more recent rock records—the verses bear a striking resemblance to Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”

Rault has the swagger and the hooks to pull this all off, complete with tinny electric guitar, trebly organ, tambourines and cardboard drums that somehow all manage to sound fantastic. Anyone who remembers the mid-’80s garage band the Gruesomes will find plenty to love here—but hopefully Rault reaches a demographic closer to his own age, because he deserves to be much more than a regional or genre sensation. (March 31)

Download: “I Don’t Need No Help Getting Down,” “She’ll Cut You Down,” “Call Me On the Phone”

R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now (Warner)

R.E.M. has been a band for 30 years now. If long-time fans accept that the band is treading water, the question is how successfully they do it: 2008’s Accelerate found them startled out of a decade-long slump, by revisiting their most raucous moments circa Life’s Rich Pageant and Green. The accompanying live album was invigorating, a sign that they were remembering the elements that once made them a great band.

Likewise, Collapse Into Now sounds retro. Sadly—unlike Accelerate, where the new songs were just as exciting as the revisited sound of past glories—the only reason this album will be remotely acceptable to casual R.E.M. fans is because it sounds like 1992’s Automatic for the People, with its mix of guitar rock and acoustic folk with plenty of mandolin and orchestral tinges. Michael Stipe is in fine voice, spending most of his time in his lower register, and not sounding strained or whiny (rare for him lately). But if you want to hear Peter Buck lay down some memorable guitar lines, check out his work on the new Decemberists album instead, which is actually a better R.E.M. record than this one. Guest appearances from Patti Smith and Peaches don’t add anything; the latter appears on “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter,” a song that’s not only silly—which is fine, as some of R.E.M.’s greatest pop moments have been when they yuk it up—but limp and dull.

Collapse Into Now sounds like R.E.M. trying too hard to be R.E.M., as if they forgot somewhere along the way. Which they may well have. (March 17)

Download: “It Happened Today,” “All the Best,” “Every Day is Yours to Win”

Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing (Paper Bag)

We’re told Alberta is all about the economy: it’s the province that doesn’t run deficits (or at least, until recently); it’s the province without a sales tax; it’s the province whose oil sands are the engine of the Canadian economy; it’s the province that sends politicians to Ottawa who are all about fiscal restraint.

The Rural Alberta Advantage is by no means a political band, but they are certainly an economical one. There is no dead weight in this trio, not a note out of place in these 10 songs delivered in 32 minutes, and there is plenty of space surrounding the succinct melodies of frontman Nils Edenloff. Departing delivers considerable improvements from the band’s promising debut, with drummer Paul Banwatt punctuating every song with propulsive, syncopated beats that set the group far apart from its influences or peers; multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole not only softens Edenloff’s nasal tenor, but her additional percussion and keyboards add subtle but extremely effective texture. Edenloff plays guitar, but never as a crutch; for an indie-rock trio, it’s to their credit that the guitar is the least important instrument here.

If there’s a flaw here, it’s that Edenloff’s voice is a bit too thin to sell the songs, and he pushes it to its limits—but then again, a more proficient belter might make this too bombastic. It would be almost too easy to transform these songs into Arcade Fire anthems, but Rural Alberta Advantage are content to carve out their own niche, making them one of the most exciting new Canadian bands at a time when we seem to be suffering from an embarrassment of riches.

And you can take that to the bank. (March 3)

Download: “North Star,” “Muscle Relaxants,” “Under the Knife,” “Barnes’ Yard”

Ron Sexsmith – Long Player, Late Bloomer (Warner)

Over his 20-year career, Ron Sexsmith has taken more hits to his ego than he’s had hits on the radio. And it’s obviously getting to him: “If you’re intent on making me feel bad, you’d best get in line,” he sings on the opening track—which is also one of his strongest songs in years.

Despite his sad sack image, Sexsmith has had plenty of success: his songs have been covered by Feist, Michael Bublé, k.d. lang and Rod Stewart. But the theme here is one of mid-career frustration, and for the first time since 2002’s Europop makeover Cobblestone Runway, Sexsmith sounds hungry and eager to step up his game: “I’m a small player with a tall order/ to come out on top.”

To do so, he hired producer Bob Rock (Metallica, The Tragically Hip), and whether Rock pushed Sexsmith to work harder or not, the songs here no longer sound like he’s coasting on the economy and craft of his earliest records: “This ain’t no random shuffle/ there’s reason in these rhymes.” Musically, there’s nothing unexpected: Sexsmith is shooting straight for the middle of the road, and Rock assembles a top-notch team of studio musicians and string sections to deliver a perfectly pleasant album that ranks with the songwriter’s best. (March 3)

Download: “Get in Line,” “Believe It When I See It,” “Heavenly”

Colin Stetson – Judges: New History of Warfare Vol. 2 (Constellation)

Andy Haas – Paradise of Ashes (Resonant)

Two saxophonists—one Canadian living in New York, one American living in Montreal—surface with solo records that toy with expectations. One tinkers with traditional pop forms, the other seeks to reinvent the saxophone itself.

Andy Haas’s main claim to fame is his stint with Martha and the Muffins in the early ’80s—that’s him on "Echo Beach" and "Danseparc"—but lately he’s been a prolific and acclaimed solo artist. Paradise of Ashes sets his recognizable timbre to work on melodic classics by Cole Porter, George Jones and, uh, Kelly Clarkson—as well as original compositions and Arabic songs—while strange and unusual electronic percussion punctuates the performance. There are plenty of drum machines here, but never used in a traditional sense; Haas’s approach to the technology is more textural, like his New York avant-garde peer Ikue Mori, than someone merely interested in beat-driven backing tracks.

While one can picture Haas standing on a street corner playing “Harlem Nocturne,” Colin Stetson is less interested in melody than he is in every acoustical property possibly found on his saxophone: the percussive clicks and clacks; the non-notatable sounds of wind moving through it; the resonance of a room; the sound of his voice amplified through the saxophone, with or without the reed in play. On this, his second solo album, he uses a variety of contact microphones to capture his compositions intimately, which can be an all-out assault or a meditative wave of arpeggios delivered through his impressive circular breathing skills. Stetson, who is a member of Bell Orchestre and performs with Laurie Anderson and Bon Iver among many others, takes what could be a gimmicky concept—this is all performed live, with no looping pedals or overdubs—and transforms it into the realm of emotionally engaging and enrapturing material. (March 3)

For Haas, download: “New Maladies of the Soul,” “Enta Omri,” “Paradise of Ashes”

For Stetson, download: “Judges,” “From No Part of Me Could I Summon a Voice,” “A Dream of Water (featuring Laurie Anderson)”

The Sway Machinery – House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1 (JDub)

Jeremiah Lockwood must be a very persuasive man. The New York bandleader, who has a solo career as a blues performer and also plays with East European electro hybrid Balkan Beat Box, has not only corralled some of the city’s best players into the Sway Machinery, including the Antibalas horn section, Bell Orchestre’s Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Brian Chase, but he’s also hauled the band to Africa to play the legendary Festival in the Desert in the remote north of Mali—where he was surely the only performer there to sing in Hebrew.

Apparently the band was rapturously received, and the good will spilled into a recording session in Bamako the following week. The result, this second album by the Sway Machinery, features master Malian singer Khaira Arby, Vieux Farka Toure and some younger acts they discovered at the festival.

A good resumé doesn’t necessarily make a good record, of course. In this case, however, it does. Though obviously steeped in an eclectic stew of Malian influences, the Sway Machinery don’t sound like they’re embarking on an anthropological project. There’s more than enough of their own personality; the horn section can do pretty much anything, the drums on a track like “Youba” owe far more to Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham than African rhythms, and even when Arby takes the lead vocals, it sounds remarkably different than her own work.

The only weak links are Lockwood’s own earnest vocals and his lyrics (one example: “With my wings behind me/ cumbersome and unwieldly”—which could be a direct metaphor for his writing). Thankfully, the band behind him offers more than a few pleasant distractions at all times, and Arby steals the show whenever she takes the mic. (March 24)

Download: “Youba,” “Sourgou,” “Gawad Teriamou”

Lucinda Williams – Blessed (Lost Highway/Universal)

Blessed is the best work Lucinda Williams has done in the past decade—if only that meant something. The once-brilliant songwriter has been on autopilot for her past several albums, her voice seemingly trying to stretch out each syllable in a pseudo-seductive moan that sounds more like a final breath. Here, her band inserts pointlessly proficient guitar solos that go nowhere; though there are some fine songs here, it’s almost impossible to figure that out from these performances, with Williams sounding like she’s asleep at the wheel and her band trying to overcompensate.

One can’t wait to hear someone else cover any one of these songs; Williams sounds positively bored, even by her own, newly found contentment in her personal life—the title song is about her recent marriage to her long-time manager.

Two songs, “Seeing Black” and “Copenhagen,” are rumoured to be about the death of her friend, singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt, which she sings with an expectedly potent mix of resignation, bitterness, anger and emptiness. Likewise, “Born To Be Loved” is an empathetic bluesy lullaby. But of those three, the one and only time her performance matches her poetry is on “Seeing Black,” where she is in a positively snarling mood, perfectly capturing the mixed emotions that accompany the suicide of a loved one. It would be a shame if only dark tragedy is capable of conjuring a fine performance out of her anymore. (March 24)

Download: “Seeing Black,” “Copenhagen,” “Born To Be Loved”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Juno fever!

Many years ago, my dear friend James Rocchi covered the Junos in Hamilton, Ontario, for a piece in Id Magazine, and demanded to know of everyone he met there: "Do you have Juno fever?" Most people merely laughed in response because, of course, there was no such thing as Juno fever, and probably never had been.

That's all changed in the nine years since CTV decided to take over the staid institution and juice it up into a truly pan-Canadian pep rally. The awards are celebrating their 40th anniversary in Toronto, a town much less likely to get worked up over yet another parade of Canadian talent (we just had Canadian Music Fest, and NXNE is not that far away).

Yet even though the event is in my current town of residence, I'll be watching it on TV like you and writing about it on Monday for In the meantime, I'll be on CTV News Channel tonight at 7.15 p.m. attempting to get some Juno fever going.

Which, based on the last two ceremonies, might be difficult.
Here are my takes on 2009 and 2010.

UPDATE: The Maclean's piece is here.