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Gin Wigmore’s Holy Smoke reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On October - 23 - 2010

Gin Wigmore
Holy Smoke
Universal Music, 2009

By Sheryl Normandeau

New Zealand’s Gin Wigmore may be casually dismissed as yet another young, trendy female singer with an unusual voice and an album of retro-sounding tunes, but while she’s certainly not as crass and deliciously unstable as Amy Winehouse, she’s definitely not Duffy-esque lite. Showcasing a nasal rasp that ranges from cute to vaguely annoying, Gin Wigmore’s first full-length album, Holy Smoke, is clearly a manufactured throwback to decades before she was even born. Wigmore nonetheless manages to jump on the bandwagon with a gutsy amount of sincerity and spirit.

The opening track, “Oh My,” is a gigantic crowd-pleaser: a hand-clapping, harmonica-drenched blues-rock ditty in which Wigmore expresses utter astonishment at “being beaten in the game of love.” Continued pleas to a higher power for a new direction resolve nothing, but the result is pure sing-a-long fun, and a rollicking good start. Recent single “Hey Ho” follows, leading the listener into the smoke-filled rooms of some old jazz club while the sultry beat and heavy horns belie the singer’s sinister, threatening lyrics. It’s a carefully calculated, elaborately smooth production, and the usually whiskey-voiced Wigmore delivers her lines with a cold deliberation that isn’t found on the rest of the record.

The ponderous slow beats of “Golden Ship” and the ivory-tinkling intro to “New Revolution” truly unmask the wonder that is Wigmore’s voice. “Golden Ship,” in particular, is mostly stripped down to just the singer and a piano, exposing the utter strangeness of Wigmore’s vocals. Naked and unpolished, Wigmore’s voice is almost lazy in intervals, breaking down into near-speech as she tells her lover goodbye.

Wigmore takes a different tack in “Mr. Freakshow,” where she presses her voice into a hoarse shout above a dance-pop number reminiscent of Pink or Lily Allen (sadly, without the clever lyrics of the latter). A nonsensical chorus weak on actual words renders the tune either catchy or annoying, depending on the listener’s take, but a heavy bass line and a touch of circus organ at the end ensures a walloping party. Wigmore’s sloppy attempts at scatting continue on “One Last Look:” a fluffy pop number straight out of the 50s, complete with requisite “ooh ooh” background vocals (poodle skirts and lettered sweaters optional). It’s cutesy and boppy, and to her credit, Wigmore doesn’t once sound ironic or tired.

The current single “Too Late for Lovers” is Wigmore putting on Macy Gray, with smoky, cracked vocals over strings and acoustic guitar.  Expressing the heady emotional strain of a broken relationship that she is just “passing through,” Wigmore somehow manages to sound utterly convincing.

Indeed, this is the beauty of Gin Wigmore and Holy Smoke: no matter how manufactured or pandering the songs on the album may appear, the singer unfailingly gives it her all. Factor in her undeniably quirky, rich voice, and the combination is quite interesting.

Hawksley Workman’s Milk reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 16 - 2010

Hawksley Workman
Milk
Isadora Records, 2010

By Jake Shenker

Hawksley Workman’s newest album Milk, the euro-pop companion to January’s fiercely gritty Meat, is a polarizing record. While devotees of Workman’s less accessible (albeit genius) early work have dismissed his more recent forays into pop-rock – 2003’s Lover/Fighter and 2008s Los Manlicious, in particular – those who thrive on the songwriter’s mercurial nature have continued to support his flights of fancy, and relish in the surprising direction of each new release. Read the rest of this entry »

Luminato: Rufus Wainwright Live / Prima Donna

Posted by art On June - 21 - 2010

By Kerry Freek

Rufus Wainwright: All Days are Nights / Songs for Lulu
June 15 and 17 @ Elgin Theatre

Act One:

The sombre face in the picture above should give you a pretty fair indication of how the first act of Wainwright’s one-man show went down. Before the curtain opened, an unidentified man came out, greeted us on Rufus’ behalf, and brought tidings of Wainwright’s requests of us for the next half-hour or so, which included refraining from applause until his imminent “song cycle” had come to a complete end. We’d even have to wait until Wainwright left the stage entirely, as we were told even his exit would be “part of the performance.” Read the rest of this entry »

James’ The Night Before reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 8 - 2010

James
The Night Before
Mercury, 2010

By Sheryl Normandeau

These Manchester mainstays have been around since 1981, giving them plenty of time to molder on the shelf a little. That clearly hasn’t happened:  behold their latest project, a two-disc split called The Night Before, and its companion The Morning After, for later release. These are only mini discs, but there is no need to consider them as mere appetizers, when it is clear from the outset that the seven tracks on The Night Before can be relished as a very satisfying full meal. The feeling that the record is stand-alone and whole is even more astonishing considering the way the band recorded it: using a file transfer protocol site (FTP), each individual member added layer upon layer of music and ideas, sharing their vision virtually, while producer Lee “Muddy” Baker worked as sort of a web-savvy construction supervisor, putting it all together.

Read the rest of this entry »

John Mayer / Michael Franti & Spearhead in Toronto

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On February - 24 - 2010

John Mayer with Michael Franti & Spearhead
At Toronto’s Air Canada Centre,
February 14, 2010

By Sara Starkman

This Valentine’s Day, I got to spend the evening with the two men I love the most: my father, and the very talented, very sexy, John Mayer. Enraptured by the buzz of Toronto’s jam-packed Air Canada Centre, the energy was almost tangible.

Opening band Michael Franti & Spearhead had the entire stadium on their feet as Michael Franti, with guitar and a microphone, made his way through the crowd and personally serenaded audience members along the way. This hip-hop meets funk meets reggae band has been together for ten years, and has just recently cracked the Billboard Top 40. Although it has seemingly been a long and arduous journey for this talented group, rest assured that they will be selling out arenas with countless fans of their own in no time.

The energetic performance of Franti & Spearhead left a magical atmosphere in the arena, and as Mayer walked on stage and asked the audience at large to be his valentine, the magic only grew.

Photo credit: Phil Carpenter / Montreal Gazette

Dressed in a white collared shirt, converse sneakers, and a red tartan plaid vest, Mayer resembled a Palm Spring’s resident on his way to shuffleboard. Old and slow, however, are the last two words to describe John Mayer. Accompanied by a group of worthy musicians, Mayer and company played a selection of songs both old and new. The group also decided to have some fun and perform covers of timeless pieces like McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige. Both songs had every audience member on their feet, in awe of the passion, soul, and flawlessness that came with Mayer’s personal spin of these great songs. His artbitrary outburst of rap improvisation also solidified his quick wit and lyrical aptitude.

Brilliant lyrics and audience rapport aside, Mayer’s musicianship was jaw-dropping. A modern-day Hendrix stood before us on stage, and played with his heart and soul for two and a half hours. He repeatedly paid gracious dues to his talented accompaniment, insisting the sincere honor he felt standing next to each and every musician and vocalist on stage. Needless to say, my date didn’t disappoint, and Valentine’s Day was a huge success.

Review: Red Sky’s Tono: a music concert

Posted by art On January - 23 - 2010

A behind-the-scenes photo from Tono. Wednesday's performance included just the musicians (background, in traditional dress). Photo by Alicia Ho.

Tono: a music concert
Presented by Red Sky
Featuring Tuvshinjargal Damindinjav, Bat-Orshikh Bazarvaani, Batmend Baasankhuu, and Rick Sacks
January 20-21 @ The Music Gallery

By Isla Craig

I am forever captivated and amazed by the similarities and expressions found in folk music traditions. Across land and time and centuries of histories, the power of song prevails, confirming our connection with life and the living world.  As a singer, I am interested in the sound of voice, the body as instrument and find great wonder in the connections forged between continents and across language.

Wednesday night’s performance of traditional Mongolian folk songs was undoubtedly an amazing display of vocal technique of a celestial nature. The voice is the driving force behind the Mongolian folk song, consisting of throat singing and long song. Throat singing sounds like crickets and bees and all sorts of frequencies you would never imagine could be replicated by the human voice. Read the rest of this entry »

Allana Mayer’s Musical Decade in Review

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On January - 20 - 2010

By Allana Mayer

Editor’s note: In this MONDOmusic special feature, former music editor Allana Mayer shares her views on the music of the last 10 years, nominating her favourites and some honourable mentions…

Ten years ago I was using AudioGalaxy to download Bjork and Depeche Mode tunes. Now, people use YouTube as a radio. It’s been one long, exhausting decade, and it’s fantastically impossible to keep on top of everything. And yet people (myself included) continue to use the best-of list as a viable format for journalism. Let’s be honest: it’s all about the name-dropping, and not a bit about the ranking… and we like the arguing, too. With that in mind, let’s make some unnecessarily pigheaded blanket statements about the 00s, shall we?

Here is my no-holds-barred, no-discussion, completely-unaccountable list of the best albums of the decade, one per year: Read the rest of this entry »

Patrick Watson’s The Wooden Arms reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On January - 10 - 2010

Patrick Watson & The Wooden Arms
The Wooden Arms

Secret City Records, 2009

By Sara Starkman

Patrick Watson and The Wooden Arms’ self titled album, The Wooden Arms, debuted in 2009. The Montreal based group consists of four highly skilled musicians who composed a collection of songs that can be described as none other than chilling. The overtone of the CD is ominous yet whimsical, and could, perhaps, make a great soundtrack for a Tim Burton movie. Listening to the album with my eyes closed feels much like Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole: fascinating yet arbitrary. At times I felt run off course: the tranquil sounds of harpsichord would often be sharply interrupted by abrupt, offbeat percussion. There is merit to this polarized tone: it steps outside of the box and causes you to rethink the journey you originally thought to have been on. Read the rest of this entry »

The Little Black Dress at the Rivoli

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On January - 10 - 2010

The Little Black Dress live at the Rivoli

By Sara Starkman

A little black dress is every girl’s “must have,” up-to-date item positioned at the front of her closet. It can be dressed up or dressed down, but regardless, it’s a timeless piece, never forgotten. And no matter what, you know it will always look just so damn good. It’s no surprise then, that the band The Little Black Dress chose this to be their name. Opening for another Toronto-based band at Queen Street’s well-known hotspot, the Rivoli, The Little Black Dress stole my ears for an hour in time.

I came in mildly skeptical, as I am of most new bands. Call me a music snob, or a skeptic at large, but regardless, any cynicism I had towards this new band was washed away within minutes. Surrounded by sweater vests, scruffy beards, and studded belts, the crowd had a very upbeat, granola, hipster vibe to it. The warmth that emanated from the venue floated just above the heads of the musicians and audience, who knew almost all of the words to every song played. At first, I was shocked at how large of a following there was. However, it became progressively clearer, as did the amount of talent that The Little Black Dress encompasses. Dan Sadowski, the band’s lead singer, announced at the beginning of the concert that he was feeling somewhat ill, as he proceeded to guzzle a bottle of honey. Even under the weather, though, his voice remained strong: neither guttural, nor nasal, Dan’s voice was audibly delicious, reminding me a lot of Bradley Nowell of Sublime. The songs themselves sounded like a cross between Sublime and Maroon 5. Read the rest of this entry »

New Release Tuesday: September 8, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On September - 8 - 2009

Phish-Joy_bBy Jake Shenker

PhishJoy (JEMP Records)
With this summer’s inundation of 90s band comeback albums — some surprisingly excellent, many predictably forgettable — how could New England jam band Phish be left out of the equation? After a five-year hiatus – initially considered a full-fledged break-up — Phish have treated us to Joy, their newest studio album, along with a lengthy summer tour to promote it. While on first listen Joy sounds like a natural progression from where the band left off, subsequent hearings reveal the true nature of this 10-track opus: Joy is a review of Phish’s entire career, compressing their 25-year musical progression into one flawless set of songs. Album opener “Backwards Down the Number Line” takes a cue from 2000’s Farmhouse; “Kill Devil Falls” is reminiscent of Story of the Ghost’s “Birds of a Feather;” the latter half of “Light” plays like an updated “Bouncing Around the Room.” The unexpected focus of this relatively short disc is partly due to producer Steve Lillywhite, who ensured that Phish’s 5-year hiatus would not leave the band sounding scattered. With a perfectly apropos title, Joy is the product of an impeccably synchronized quartet at their best. Welcome back!

Beatles_Stereo_Box_SetThe Beatles’ Remastered Catalogue (EMI)
A refresh of the Beatles’ compact-disc catalogue has been on every fan’s wish list since it was initially released on lousy sounding CDs in 1987. An event several years in the making, September 9 will mark the release of The Beatles in Stereo and The Beatles in Mono, two box-sets containing the entire digitally-remastered catalogue in your desired format. If you’re any kind of fan, you’ve been following the avalanche of reviews hitting the web since June, so I’ll be brief: this release is good. Very good. Old favourites shine with astounding clarity, revealing detail that was lost in the previous format. Vocals sound crisp, bass and drums sharp, and layered instrumentation unambiguous. If you ever needed a reason to listen to more of the Beatles, this is it.

311’s Uplifter reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On September - 1 - 2009

Uplifter311
Uplifter
Volcano Entertainment, 2009

By Brian Last

When I think about the origins of bands that fuse rock, ska, rap, and punk, my mind immediately jumps to Southern California, the hotbed of that sound. But 311 hail from Omaha, Nebraska, and have become synonymous with this kind of musical fusion. This summer the fantastic foursome from the mid-west returned with their new album, Uplifter, whose sound holds true to its name.

311 took some time putting out this album, their first endeavor since 2005’s Don’t Tread on Me. Guitarist and lead singer Nick Hexum has expressed his satisfaction with Upliftter, comparing it to the band’s self-titled “Blue” album, which spawned hits like “Down” and “All Mixed Up”.

And 311 have a right to be proud. Uplifter brings the band back in touch with their founding sound: the rock/rap fusion that gained them notoriety and a legion of loyal fans. Read the rest of this entry »

New Music Tuesdays: August 25, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 25 - 2009

nrBy Jake Shenker

It’s hard to believe, but they just keep coming back. This week brings us the absolutely unnecessary new release from Collective Soul. At this rate, I expect to see a Chumbawamba album drop in September.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Collective SoulCollective Soul (Roadrunner)
The new record from this 90s alt-rock band really does beg the question “why?” It’s really not bad, I guess — it sounds just like every other Collective Soul album. But two breezes through the entire disc left me with the same feeling I get after watching back-to-back cooking shows on the Food Network: what the hell have I been doing for the last 2 hours? Collective Soul has no standout tracks and no serious stinkers, no departures in style and no surprises. Fans will buy it (it’s selling for 10 bucks — clearly the record execs have high hopes); the rest of us will yawn and ask “who cares?”

Imogen HeapEllipse (RCA)
Ellipse is everything I want from a new Imogen Heap album: a full disc of staggering vocal harmonies, trippy synthesized beats, and damn fine songs. Beyond those superficial features, though, lies a flawlessly-conceived follow-up to Heap’s 2005 breakthrough album Speak For Yourself. Although songs like “First Train Home” would fit in well with Imogen Heap’s back catalogue, new gems like “Earth” and “Bad Body Double” establish the British singer’s uncanny ability to evolve.

MatisyahuLight (JDUB)
I’m over the shtick. Back when Youth came out, everyone was fixated on Matisyahu, the Hasidic Jew who rapped and sang reggae music about God and religion. Putting aside the persona, Youth was an impressive album with a chunk of memorable songs. But Matisyahu’s newest disc, Light, is a step in the wrong direction. Abandoning the minimalist reggae sound of Youth in favor of more polished in-da-club-style hip-hop production, songs like “Smash Lies” and “We Will Walk” are neither fresh nor catchy, and border on irritating. Matisyahu’s once endearing faux-Jamaican singing accent has been replaced with high-pitched rapping and monotone speech. Although standout tracks like “So Hi So Low” and “I Will Be Light” echo the favorable sound of Youth, Matisyahu’s own lyrics articulate the main problem with this disc: “I’ll say to you / this is nothing new.”

It’s hard to believe, but they just keep coming back. This week brings us the absolutely unnecessary new release from Collective Soul. At this rate, I expect to see a Chumbawamba album drop in September.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Collective SoulCollective Soul (Roadrunner)
The new record from this 90s alt-rock band really does beg the question “why?” It’s really not bad, I guess – it sounds just like every other Collective Soul album. But two breezes through the entire disc left me with the same feeling I get after watching back-to-back cooking shows on the Food network: what the hell have I been doing for the last 2 hours? Collective Soul has no standout tracks and no serious stinkers, no departures in style and no surprises. Fans will buy it (it’s selling for 10 bucks – clearly the record execs have high hopes), the rest of us will yawn and ask “who cares?”

Imogen HeapEllipse (RCA)
Ellipse is everything I want from a new Imogen Heap album: a full disc of staggering vocal harmonies, trippy synthesized beats, and damn fine songs. Beyond those superficial features, though, lies a flawlessly-conceived follow-up to Heap’s 2005 breakthrough album Speak For Yourself. Although songs like “First Train Home” would fit in well with Imogen Heap’s back catalogue, new gems like “Earth” and “Bad Body Double” establish the British singer’s uncanny ability to evolve.

MatisyahuLight (JDUB)
I’m over the shtick. Back when Youth came out, everyone was fixated on Matisyahu, the Hasidic Jew who rapped and sang reggae music about God and religion. Putting aside the persona, Youth was an impressive album with a chunk of memorable songs. But Matisyahu’s newest disc, Light, is a step in the wrong direction. Abandoning the minimalist reggae sound of Youth in favor of more polished in-da-club-style hip-hop production, songs like “Smash Lies” and “We Will Walk” are neither fresh nor catchy, and border on irritating. Matisyahu’s once endearing faux-Jamaican singing accent has been replaced with high-pitched rapping and monotone speech. Although standout tracks like “So Hi So Low” and “I Will Be Light” echo the favorable sound of Youth, Matisyahu’s own lyrics articulate the main problem with this disc: “I’ll say to you / this is nothing new.”

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