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|Written by Mike Cullen|
|Friday, 06 January 2012 00:00|
Craig Pedersen Quartet - Days Like Today
Trumpet player Craig Pedersen has already gained a strong following in the Ottawa area after playing the likes of Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest, the Ottawa Jazz Festival and taking part in performances at the Montreal Jazz Festival. With his own quartet, the aptly named Craig Pedersen Quartet, Pedersen has released his first album, and it could not have come at a better time for this reviewer.
I was asked to cover this album in December, at a time when most people are listening to Christmas music. I don't like Christmas music after living a traumatizing childhood where that's all my mother would play in the way of music for the entire month. Now, I prefer to shun Christmas music in favor of Jazz and Blues. Pedersen's album is a welcome addition to my music collection. His is the messy instrumental jazz, not the likes of Duke Ellington or Miles Davis. This isn't the pop jazz of Diana Krall or Michael Buble either; this is pure jazz, seemingly random, thrown-together and completely improvised, and in that way it is absolutely perfect.
It's difficult to review an album like this, since it lacks vocal or any concrete structure, but suffice to say, I adore this album. No one track stands out above the others (which is why I won't recommend individual tracks), because it works as a total whole, but curious listeners can head over to Craig Pedersen's website and pay to download for a very reasonable price. Pick it up-it's well worth it!
Rihanna - Talk That Talk
People who are expecting this album to be full of songs like her recent smash hit "We Found Love", are going to find themselves disappointed. There are moments when Talk That Talk sounds like Loud-Part Two, and that should come as no surprise since this project first started as a collection of songs to be used for a Loud re-issue, but Talk That Talk stands very well on its own. There are no stand-out tracks per se, but what Rihanna does give us is an album of mid-tempo jams that all hold up very well. These are tracks to sweat to on a dance floor; these are the tracks to slow down and grind to, and people are going to do just that with this album.
Rihanna has become quite a workhorse in the last two years. Three albums, two major world tours, and no signs of stopping. Her output of material is nothing short of amazing, yet she seems to be the only pop-star aside from Lady Gaga that understands to be successful in the digital age means being present, without being overexposed. Talk That Talk does just that with fourteen new songs; present, in the now, but not overexposed. This is one of the better pop albums this year.
Recommended tracks: "Do Ya Thing", "Watch n' Learn", and "We Found Love"
Robin Thicke - Love After War
The first time I listened to the album, I couldn't quite put my thumb on why it just wasn't clicking for me. I've been a fan of Robin Thicke for a while. He's got a smooth voice, and his material is the stuff that you want to turn on while you make dinner on a Sunday night. It's relaxed, smooth and down right sexy. The second time I listened to the album, it clicked; there was just too much going on. Thicke hates being called a blue-eyed soul singer, but that's what he does best. With Love After War, his fourth studio album, he's trying new sounds out, and while as individual attempts they work, on a whole there's a borderline schizophrenia about the sound.
At times it sounds big band, especially "An Angel On Each Arm", my favorite track on the album, while other songs are his traditional R&B slow jams. Two sounds that just don't quite gel, and considering it's a twenty-song album, Thicke could have just as easily released two shorter studio albums and gotten the point across. It's still an excellent album, but when I listen to it, I'm going to have to separate the styles to truly appreciate the quality.
Recommended tracks: "An Angel On Each Arm", "Compass or Map", and "What Would I Be?"
Amy Winehouse - Lioness: Hidden Treasures
The first posthumous release by the jazz crooner provides a very eclectic collection of songs. The album is one part new material, one part covers, and one part look into the vault. Songs like "Our Day Will Come" (a bit ironic) and duet with Tony Bennett, "Body and Soul" gives us a taste of what we likely could have expected from a new album; not a radical shift from Back to Black, but a solid outing. Covers such as "The Girl From Ipanema" and an updated Winehouse arrangement of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" give us the standard covers and are for the most part par for the course.
It's the deeper cuts on this album that are worth checking out. We get a more Motown-influenced version of The Zutons "Valerie", which appears to be from the vaults, and original versions of a couple of her best tracks from Back to Black, "Tears Dry" ("Tears Dry Own There Own") and "Wake Up Alone". These songs give us an interesting look into the recording process, and with the inclusion of "Tears Dry", how a song in its original form gets massively changed for the better when the right sample is thrown in.
At the end of the day though, this album isn't really an album, but more of a collection of odds and ends that diehard fans will truly appreciate. As a final (?) release though, it does make this particular fan wish Winehouse was still around to complete what by all indications was going to be an excellent album.
Recommended tracks: "Like Smoke" (Ft. Nas), "Our Day Will Come", and "Valerie" ('68 Version)
Various Artists - Ahk-TOONG Bay-Bi Covered
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of U2's epic album, Achtung Baby, Q Magazine recruited eleven of pop and rock's greatest acts currently and asked them each to cover a song from Achtung Baby. They released it with their twenty-fifth anniversary magazine, and it hit iTunes for commercial release back in November.
In some instances, straight out covers are done with few tweaks, such as Depeche Mode covering "So Cruel", while others, like Nine Inch Nails take it in a new direction with "Zoo Station". But with each cover song, the artist or band has left their own unique touch. The way The Killers deliver "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)", my favorite track from the original album, makes it sound like it was originally written and sung by Brandon Flowers.
For an album that is about love lost, love destroyed and in special cases, love rebuilt, the eleven artists (a remix of "Even the Better Than the Real Thing" with Bono's vocals is done by Stuart Price) on this compilation speak with their own voice, but manage to invoke the original feel for an album now entering its third decade.
Recommended tracks: Depeche Mode "So Cruel", The Fray "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World", and The Killers "Ultraviolet (Light My Way"
Greylag - "Black Grow"
This is just the sort of indie-folk music that's going to get me through a long, cold winter. "Black Crow" by Portland, Oregon duo Greylag is the lead single to their debut EP, The Only Way to Kill You, out this month. Depending on your musical palette and exposure, "Black Crow" sounds like a number of good bands and artists out there without sounding like an exact copy. There were moments in the song that felt like a male version of Aimee Mann (happy Aimee Mann, I should point out), and other times when they sound like early Fleet Foxes. So basically, they are in really good company. Instrumentation is minimal, as you would expect from folk music, but what really shines are the tight harmonies. It can be difficult for two men to harmonize, but Andrew Stonestreet and Daniel Dixon make their voices sound not only seamless, but utterly effortless as well.
I'm eager to hear what The Only Way to Kill You EP is going to sound like, and definitely encourage anyone who is into indie or folk music to give these guys a listen; I was incredibly surprised and pleased with what I heard.
Feist - Metals Tour
Setlist (this is from memory, and may not be exact): Undiscovered First, How Come You Never Go There, A Commotion, Mushaboom, The Circle Married the Line, So Sorry, My Moon My Man, Anti-Pioneer, I Feel It All, The Bad in Each Other, Comfort Me, Caught a Long Wind, Get It Wrong Get It Right Encore I: When I Was a Young Girl, Cicadas and Gulls, Sealion, Let It Die Encore II: Intuition
Feist has taken her latest album on a two month North American/European promotional tour. The stop in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre was the second to last show of the tour, and yet Feist played like it was the very first. Her energy on stage has grown over the years, presumably as her creative star rises and gains more confidence on stage as a solo artist. It's difficult now to imagine her as one of the lead female vocalists for Broken Social Scene, but that was a decade ago-how the time flies!
I found Metals to be a lukewarm album upon its release. Yes, I praised Feist for taking the creative route on this album and not going more commercial. I also praised her for putting out another consistently good album, but after I reviewed it I think I listened to it once. That's not a condemnation on her part; it's just a case of me not entirely clicking with the album after I reviewed it. That said, whatever my reservations with Metals, Feist alleviated that night at the beginning of December.
Metals is an album that needs to be experienced live. Feist plays with instrumentation, and just has fun. On stage, Metals has some loud material, and in the five times I have seen her perform live, this was the only experience where she totally shredded on the guitar. The majority of the album was covered, with tracks from Let It Die and The Reminder sprinkled in. This was a show for the hardcore fan, and Feist treated us well; a main set consisting of fifteen songs and two encores. Feist reminded me that night while I continue to happily fork over the money to see her perform live.
An Ottawa native, Mike is a public servant by day, and a self-professed music and comic book junkie the rest of the time. He also contributes to the Local Tourist Ottawa blog (http://ltottawa.wordpress.com) and his random music, comic book and culture musings can be read on /scribbles (http://rockingthemike.tumblr.com).
Tags: anger, brandon flowers, craig pedersen, craig pedersen quartet, depeche mode, feist, greylag, metals, music, posthumous releases, rihanna, robin thicke, rocking the mike, so many reviews, some crazy sounding album, the killers, u2