Entertainment Music

Neil Young + Promise of the Real tops this week's new music

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darryl-sterdan
By , Postmedia Network

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Neil Young 7
Neil Young

ALBUM OF THE WEEK

Neil Young + Promise of the Real
The Monsanto Years


Uh-oh; Neil's ticked off again. And we all know what that means: Big guitars, pounding rockers, snarky lyrics and bad sloganeering. That's what he delivered on his last crankypants disc, 2006's Living With War. And it's what you'll find in spades on Shakey's 36th solo studio tossoff The Monsanto Years. True to its title, you'll also find most of his vitriol is directed at the controversial U.S. agribusiness behemoth -- though there's more than enough left over for GMOs, Starbucks, Citizens United, Walmart, Chevron, pipelines, pesticides, politicians, corporations and anyone who thinks people just want him to sing about love. Obviously, the latter group are going to be mighty disappointed by this batch of electric protest music. But if you just want Young to plug in and rock out, you might enjoy this slate of raggedly rugged roots-rock. You might also appreciate Young's latest revolving-door backing band Promise of the Real, which is led by two of Willie Nelson's kids and pretty much sounds like a tighter and more tastefully talented Crazy Horse. Of course, it also helps if you want to hear Young prattle on ad nauseam about how corporations have hijacked democracy and pesticides cause autism and fish are dying and big box stores are destroying small businesses and that hot dogs come in packages of 10 while buns come in packages of eight (OK, I made that last one up, but it won't be long now). And it helps if you can forget that the 69-year-old Young -- a jillionaire whose entire musical career has been spent sponsored and supported by major corporations -- has about as much political credibility as Donald Trump. Because when you get right down to the nitty-gritty, much of what Young says here should be said, heard, considered and discussed (even when it involves gawdawful puns like the song A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop). And the passionate urgency of his message and his delivery are a welcome change to the microcephalic vapidity and deliberately unchallenging drivel that defines the vast majority of pop music. So it's great to hear Neil ticked off again. But it's hard not to wish he woud do himself a favour and cork his piehole when he isn't in the studio or onstage.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Tori Kelly
Unbreakable Smile


Tori Kelly talks a good game. The 22-year-old California singer-songwriter/officially designated Next Big Thing's major-label debut sports lyrics about how she's just a girl with her guitar who wants to make a difference, stay true to herself and not become a pawn in someone else's game. That's nice. Though it might ring truer if she weren't a repeat reality-show contestant who signed her first album deal at age 12. And is now being svengalied by Justin Bieber starmaker Scooter Braun. And voicing those sentiments on a disc that also includes duets with Ed Sheeran and Grammy host LL Cool J. Plus production from Swedish hitmaker Max Martin. Along with songwriting contributions from umpteen hired guns. All in service of a calculatedly commercial menu of R&B, hip-hop, pop, soul and folk precision-engineered to maximize her demographic reach, media exposure, crossover appeal, monetization opportunities and award-nomination potential. You know, just like all the other girls with their guitars.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Leon Bridges
Coming Home


Nostalgia never gets old. But it does get sold. And Bridges is this year's product. The much-hyped 25-year-old Texan is the latest artist blatantly but effectively mining the classic soul and R&B of the '60s, with a crowd-pleasing debut that sets his sweet Sam Cooke croon and sincere sentiments against a faux-vintage backdrop of swirling organs, slinky guitars and rich horns. It's the soundtrack to the youth you never had.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Refused
Freedom


Freedom = nothing left to lose. Which is how reunited Swedish hardcore insurrectionists Refused approach their first album since 1998's tellingly titled The Shape of Punk to Come. Retaining the tightly wound intensity and anything-goes aesthetic of its predecessor, the 10-track disc defies expectations by decorating primal screamer Dennis Lyxzén's leftist polemics with a dizzying ADD array of sounds, styles, electronics and instruments (along with contributions from pop producer Shellback). Purists will hate it -- which just means Refused are in fine shape.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Richard Thompson
Still


Still as in going strong. But not as in sitting. Indeed, Thompson remains a man in motion on this Jeff Tweedy-produced document. Cut in about a week while putting songs and immediacy ahead of showy antics, the prolific folk-rock guitar hero's 16th solo studio release pointedly spotlights his dark woody vocals, spiky fretwork and traditionalist troubadourism against a lean, economical (and despite Tweedy's presence, notably underproduced) musical backdrop -- while taking time to pay tribute to idols from Django to Les Paul. He's still got it.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Joy Williams
Venus


Her life has changed. Her music has followed suit. Nearly three years after the acrimonious implosion of Civil Wars, the distaff half of the Nashville duo resumes her solo career. But you won't find any rootsy duets here; Venus takes Williams to new places, setting her richly resonant vocals and feminist themes atop an eclectic musical landscape that fuses evocative piano balladry and trip-hoppy electronics with lilting African melodies and grooves. It's definitely ambitious -- but only time will tell if fans feel it's a change for the better.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

NOW HEAR THIS

Miguel
Wildheart


"What's normal anyway?" asks Miguel. Well, certainly not this. The R&B renegade pulls out all the stops for his third release, returning to his native California and leading us on a hazy, freewheeling, slowly meandering tour through psychedelic meditations, Valley porn shoots, low-rolling West Coast hip-hop, funky jams and sunny guitar-rock. Magnificently abnormal.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Third Eye Blind
Dopamine


Some guys want to stand out. Stephan Jenkins seems to want to fit in. Anywhere and everywhere. So, on the first 3EB album in six years (not that anybody's counting), the singer-songwriter and his latest lineup cover the bases with a lineup of radio-ready singles that balance '90s-rock nostalgia with dashes of everything from Bowie to Arcade Fire to electronica. Semi-charming.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Craig Finn
Newmyer's Roof


Man does not live by indie-rock alone. Not even if that man is indie-rock vet Craig Finn. The Hold Steady frontman changes his tune on this sneak-peek EP preview of his upcoming solo album Faith in the Future. Out go the guitar-heavy rockers, in come the acoustic instruments, funky beats and musical experimentation. But Finn's dark, druggy narratives remain. Stay positive.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Rickie Lee Jones
The Other Side of Desire


Rickie Lee's in love. With New Orleans, apparently. The singer-songwriter's 13th studio full-length was written and recorded in her adopted Crescent City hometown -- so naturally, it's got some slow-rolling R&B and French-Cajun lyrics scattered here and there. But not enough to get in the way of Jones' romantic boho troubadourism and eternally girlish plugged-nose vocals. Big easy.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Bill Wyman
Back to Basics


Wyman never broke a sweat in 30 years with the Stones. He ain't starting now. The world's most imperturbable bassist continues to hang loose on his first solo album in a generation, tossing off a batch of laid-back new tunes (along with a few cherrypicked oldies) while vocalizing in a rasp midway between JJ Cale and Ian Dury. To be any more laid-back, he'd have to be horizontal.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

F---ed Up
Year of the Hare


Down the rabbit hole we go. For the seventh instalment in their irregular Zodiac singles, the Canadian art-punks pull some new tricks out of their hats. Recorded over two years in three studios, the 20-minute rabbitcentric title epic jumps between ambient sound, acoustic fare, drowsy balladry and mighty guitar-rock laced with Damian Abraham's sandblast vocals. Be very, very quiet.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Robert Glasper
Covered (The Robert Glasper Trio Recorded Live at Capitol Studios)


There's a time to crank it up and a time to dial it back. The latter has come for Glasper. After winning Grammys with the genre-jumping expanse of Black Radio and its sequels, the adventurous pianist downsizes by returning to acoustic piano, reuniting his old trio and cutting a live disc that mixes originals with stylishly revamped covers of everyone from Joni to John Legend to Radiohead. Tune in.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Lindemann
Skills in Pills


Lost in translation? Not this time. Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann switches from German to English for his latest extracurricular project with Hypocrisy mastermind Peter Tägtgren -- all the better to hear their ridiculously rude, oppressively grinding industrial-metal anthems of sexual perversion, abortion and pharmaceuticals. Not for the humourless. Or most people, for that matter.

RATING: 2 (out of 5)

Los Texmaniacs
Americano Groove


Max Baca is in good company. And good spirits. The singer-baja sexto player and his conjunto Tejano crew welcome Alejandro Escobedo, Joe Ely, Augie Meyers and Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin on their half-dozenth release. But their jubilant, Doug Sahm-inspired fusion of accordion-laced Tex-Mex, country and rock is the real attraction. It's a groover's paradise, baby.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Sonny Landreth
Bound by the Blues


Perhaps that should be Rebound to the Blues. After all, slide-guitar master Landreth is returning to his roots after a decade. Eschewing the genre detours and guest stars of late, the Louisiana native mixes 12-bar classics from the likes of Robert Johnson and Elmore James with his own supple originals -- including a tribute to the late Johnny Winter. Any blues fan is bound to dig this.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Dale Watson
Call Me Insane


Call him industrious. Mere weeks after reissuing the latest chapter in his Truckin' Sessions Trilogy, Austin alt-country old-schooler Watson is back in action with his umpteeth batch of two-stepping honky-tonk twangers and string-sweetened Ameripolitan balladry -- all topped with his Elvis-meets-Charlie Rich baritone croon and goods-ole-boy lyrics. You'd be crazy to miss out.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

SteelDrivers
The Muscle Shoals Recordings


Same sound, different place. Despite recording in their singer's Alabama stomping grounds -- famed for hosting everyone from Aretha and the Stones to Skynyrd and Black Keys -- the Nashville crew don't change their tune on this fourth album. Not that their vibrant backporch bluegrass and soulful harmonies needed a wholesale swampy reinvention. But a touch wouldn't hurt.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

The I.L.Y.'s
I've Always Been Good at True Love

Death Grips have always been good at messing with fans' heads. So why stop now? The previously unknown I.L.Y.'s are rumoured to be a side project from one or more of the Sacramento trio. Whatever the truth, these fuzzy lo-fi nuggets of synth-flake metal and oddball garage-rock are eccentric enough to hold your interest, but nowhere near as incendiary or gripping as the real deal.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Dylan, Cash & the Nashville Cats: A New Music City
Various Artists


Nope, it's not a country version of the Broadway musical. It's even odder: The soundtrack to a Country Music Hall of Fame Exhibit on a group of Music City session musicians who played behind Bob, Johnny, Kris, Ian & Sylvia, Joan, Gordon, Neil and a myriad of others -- many of whom are represented on this double-disc set of '60s and '70s hits, highlights and rarities.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Jamie xx
In Colour


He came to dance. Or at least move more than he does with The xx. For his solo debut, British musician/producer/remixer/all-around knobtwiddler Jamie Smith tentatively heads out on the floor with his low-impact grooves, chilly electronic clouds and oddball samples. But he doesn't stray too far from his day job -- both his bandmates contribute vocals. Beats dancing with yourself.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

NOW SEE HERE

U.K. Subs
On the Road


More like A Life on the Road. Septuagenarian punk pioneer Charlie Harper has spent nearly four decades leading U.K. Subs. But that doesn't stop him from putting his umpteenth lineup through its paces on this concert DVD, which features two nearly identical club shows from 2014, plus an extensive and frank 45-minute interview with the surprisingly soft-spoken frontman.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

IN THE PIPELINE


July 10

Collabro, Act Two
Cradle of Filth, Hammer of the Witches
The-Dream, Crown Jewel
Four Tet, Morning / Evening
Little Boots, Working Girl
Owl City, Mobile Orchestra
R5, Sometime Last Night
Veruca Salt, Ghost Notes
Felix Da Housecat, Narrative of Thee Blast Illusion
Groove Armada, Little Black Book
Black Veil Brides, Alive and Burning DVD
Stray Cats, Live At Rockpalast DVD

Twitter: @darryl_sterdan

darryl.sterdan@sunmedia.ca
 

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