Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Norah Jones's low-power trio with pals Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper seems to have more of her attention than her solo career of late, with this full album following an E.P. out for Christmas. Featuring laid-back guitar-bass-drums-harmonies grooves, all three share the writing and lead vocals, plus add some well-chosen covers from the roots world and the edges of punk. It's the hobby band every star wants, where they don't have to lead and can just have fun. All three handle drum duties on various tunes, depending on who's doing the lead vocals, and Jones only bothers to dig out the keyboards on one track.

They came up with some pretty good songs for the album, the best of them Dobson's "You And Me," and another she wrote with label boss Don Was, "The Great Romancer," which also featured on the Christmas EP. Jones has her cowboy boots out for "You Don't Know," a loose ballad with twangy guitar. Most of the tracks feature a late-night vibe, slow and steady and dark, and they bring that same feel to like-minded tunes by Paul Westerberg ("It's A Wonderful Lie"), Concrete Blonde ("Joey") and Dolly's "The Grass Is Blue." The version of Tom Petty's "Angel Baby" is a little too easy-going, but the rest all have just enough edge.

Friday, April 24, 2020


Dreamy-voiced Rockarts can be all gentle on one song, then gut-punch you on the next. The Montreal-based alt. singer-songwriter moves easily from dreamy to aggressive pop, with some sweet little numbers in between, such as the gorgeous title cut. Her best weapons include her compelling, soft voice, and a knack for soothing and catchy melodies.

"We can worry about it later," she sings on "Right Now,", "It's all good, it's okay, it will work out any way, always does somehow," and you can't help but agree, your mind at ease from the confident beauty of the track. But up next is the raunchy "Stranger," about the fear left after a random and nasty confrontation. Current single "Stay" mixes it all together, a bubbly and enthusiastic dream-pop number with guitar edge to rough up the smooth verses. A big thumbs up for this debut.

Friday, April 17, 2020


A relaxed Sexsmith spins through all his favourite styles of pop songwriting, seemingly now without care for a bigger audience. His recent move to lovely Stratford from the Toronto rat race also seems to have lots to do with the jovial tone to the album, with lots of bright melodies and carefree lyrics. The homemade approach to the record, made with only longtime drummer/producer Don Kerr, doesn't hurt the tunes one bit, the recording quality fine and dandy and less laboured than some of his bigger productions.

Side One (if you're listening on vinyl, which you should) is the more whimsical fare, with a spring ditty ("Spring Of The Following Year") kicking things off. Other cuts include one about a gig sabotaged by a cranky sound man ("Winery Blues") and an ode to a homely house, "Chateau Mermaid." These tracks are all pure ear candy, fun and filled with easy-to-digest lyrics, along with cheery tunes. It's an old comparison, but it's apt: These songs remind me of early '70's Wings albums, both McCartney and Sexsmith enjoying putting their considerable talents into pleasing melodies and catchy kitsch.

Side two sees Sexsmith add a little more substance to the tracks, with lead single "You Don't Wanna Hear It" his best soul song since "Whatever It Takes." He gives us master class in lyric writing throughout, his wit on full display. "Dig Nation" rips the self-righteous a new one: "In Dig Nation, there are plenty of people who can never see the chapel for the steeple." It's not only the words, it's the phrasing, as he matches the melody seemingly effortlessly in "Apparently Au Pair": "Where would I be if not for you? Apparently nowhere." Add lots of jaunty keyboards and sweet harmonies, and this is all smiles, especially for the listener.

Thursday, April 16, 2020


Judging by social media posts and online conversations, I'm thinking all this staying-at-home we've been doing has affected the way many of us are listening to music. Basically, people are truly listening more. With more time and less running around, listeners pay attention more. I've even noticed lots of experimental listening going on, people trying out stuff they've always meant to get to, but hadn't found time.

For me, that always means jazz, an area where I'm woefully behind. Deep listening is essential for full appreciation, so I was glad to be able to devote much of this week to the new album by Calgary's Petrity. It's the second album by the pianist and composer, who fronts a classic piano-bass-drums trio (Robin Tufts on drums, Stefano Valdo, bass). I love that format, as it gives so much room to each musician. Valdo handles much of the melody on "He Said, She Said," his acoustic bass rich and strong, able to provide all the needed emotion.

Emotional melodies are certainly Petrity's strong suit. Each of the nine tracks (eight originals and one cover) are filled with mood, evoking feelings ranging from  wonder and hope to memories of mistakes. Never flashy, her playing is still full and intricate, letting the notes and arrangements do the talking. The songs wash over you, warm and positive.

From bebop to samba, the trio goes through classic styles, opener "Conversations In My Head" the most rhythmic and a strong showcase for Tufts. The lone cover, of "Can't Help Falling In Love," is a complete re-do, slow and bluesy, with lots of wonderful improvisation around the theme by Petrity, including some rare flourishes. Never overplayed, I could listen to this trio any time, and hope to the next time I'm out in Calgary.

Thursday, April 9, 2020


P.E.I.'s Amanda Jackson has vocal power galore, but on this new, sophomore  release, she and the band hold back with more reflective and moody songs. And you know what? In a way, that's more powerful. The collection is the result of a trip to a secluded cabin in the woods of P.E.I., and several days of recording with the band. It's not a rough sound, more warm and inviting. Rather than big drums and guitars, it's filled with acoustics, subtle electric leads, surprising solo horns, and percussion touches, and always that soulful voice.

While they identify as blues, roots is probably a better description, with solid songwriting throughout, and lots of melody for Jackson to work her magic. "Firestorm" isn't a blaze, it's a slow burn of a love song, which is of course more intense. "The Warrior" is a plea for strength, "Hold the line, we'll walk like warriors." The lone cover, a version of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over," is slower and more dramatic than the original, again showing Jackson an able balladeer.

After all that simmering, the tension is released on "Break It To Ya," where the band (Dale McKie, Todd MacLean) gets to turn up, and now we hear the growl the Jackson's been holding back, on this funky, '70's workout. Ultimately this is very smart album; Jackson could easily be known as a belter, but in fact she's a  multifaceted singer.