A 20 year film and television career have done nothing to soften the edge of fifty-something original Kingston punk rocker Hugh Dillon and his band of not so merry men who make up the latest incarnation of the Headstones. After a decade of sitting on the shelf taking a back seat to Dillon’s acting gig Canada’s bad boys of rawk are back and they mean business. Strictly B-T-W boys and girls, unapologetic BALLS TO THE WALL rock ‘n’ roll Hi-Test. Little Army delivers, no surprises, no disappointments. This is exactly the album that everyone wants and everyone expects from the Headstones. Now if only the Stones could take a cue from these guys.
Powerfully anchored by the poignancy and politics of the album’s title track, The Underside Of Power harkens back to a bygone era when the Motown sound of young America was taking it to the streets and acts like The Temptations and Edwin Starr helped give voice to the nation’s youth with scorching tracks Ball Of Confusion and War. And as much as those records were a sign of the times so is the latest by Algiers, current, modern and of it’s day. A head turning genre bending trip through soundscapes of indie rock, gospel, R&B, EDM techno pop, punk rock and soul, The Underside Of Power is music with a message, as dense as it is danceable, echoing the eternal mantra of the gods of funk “free your mind and your ass will follow”.
In attempting to describe the music of The Mavericks one must first accept the fact that Roy Orbison is an entire genre of music onto himself and that Marty Robbins is so much more than a mere country & western cross-over artist, for it is somewhere in-between these two orbits of timelessness that The Mavericks exist and never so fully as on their latest album Brand New Day. Buoyed by the sophisticated song writing chops of seasoned band leader and main vocalist Raul Malo, Brand New Day, with it’s syncopation and swing, is far more mariachi crooner pop than country. Recorded alternately in both Nashville and in the house that Frank built in Los Angeles’ legendary Capitol Studios, Brand New Day is The Mavericks’ crowning achievement in a 30 plus year music career.
90 year old Chuck Berry managed to crack the Top 10 for the first time since 1977 with this record but sadly did not live to see it. Despite having managed to complete the album on schedule and on time, Chuck, Berry’s first new album of original material in almost 40 years ultimately became a posthumous release after the death of the Rock ‘n’ Roll deity in March of 2017. Supported by a rock solid steady rhythm section provided by Jimmy Marsala on bass and Keith Robinson on drums, Chuck is very much an intimate family portrait featuring no less than three generations of Berrys on guitar. Produced by Berry senior with all but two tracks original compositions Chuck is no mouldy oldie nostalgia trip down memory lane but rather a lean mean fighting machine, much like the man himself, pared down to the raw essentials. This is the record Lennon would have made had he made it to the ripe old age of 90, revelling in the stripped down production and guitars, guitars, guitars. Considering his age Berry’s vocal prowess is surprisingly strong and virile, exhibiting powers surpassing men 20 years his junior (are you reading this Keith?). Stand out tracks include Berry’s newly penned reggae classic “Jamaica Moon” and the spoken word “Dutchman”. A fitting final chapter in the life of a man who put the L in legend and both R’s in rock ‘n’ roll. Hail hail Chuck Berry!
Euro techno pop contemporaries to both Daft Punk and Air, France’s Phoenix, fronted by none other than Mr. Sophia Coppola himself (Thomas Mars), successfully manage to channel their favorite Pet Shop Boys throughout Ti Amo, the forty somethings sixth album in a music career spanning some 20 odd years. 36 minutes of backward looking early ‘90’s EDM pop, as pleasant as it is impermanent.
Anyone unfamiliar with the works of Roger Waters should first acquaint themselves with his former band Pink Floyd and their albums Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall before turning to Water’s latest opus and it’s numerous repetitive sonic references to these three aforementioned ground breaking records. With production assistance from Radiohead veteran Nigel Godrich as well as contributions from former Jellyfish Roger Manning filling in for Richard Wright on keys, Waters seems intent on reminding the listener that he was once an essential element behind the creative force responsible for an outburst of unprecedented creativity in serious popular music some 40 years ago. In spite of itself and its derivative nature, Is This The Life We Really Want (perhaps more aptly titled Is This The Floyd Album We Really Want?) benefits from the eerie tone of Water’s lone voice in the wilderness as well as his distinctively sinister and unsettling take on the precarious days in which we live. Certainly worthy of a listen if but only after a full feast of Floyd first.
There’s trouble in Paradise and it has nothing to do with PEI’s Jenn Grant wanting to shed the limitations of a music persona knee deep in the trappings of today’s crowded acoustic music scene; Bon Iver did just that quite successfully last year with his ground breaking 22, A Million album. Nor is there anything wrong with husband Daniel Ledwell’s layers of lush electro dreampop. The problem lies squarely with the songs themselves. Rather than producing a wealth of music rich with ebb and flow, Paradise, Grant’s 6th album in a decade, yields 11 static tracks which simply fail to bloom in any sort of way. After a strong start with the Art Of Noise “Moments In Love” sounding title track Grant mumbles her way through the remainder of the album, her lazy diction making it difficult to connect in any meaningful way to the lyrics which are, for the most part, indecipherable without the help of a lyric sheet. With vocal stylings reminiscent of Florence and the Machine and classic Jane Sibery, Grant’s Paradise is one step closer to embracing the promise of the album’s beautifully silhouetted chanteuse inspired cover art, she’s just not there yet.