Sizzling, by Daphni
Here’s the way records are made: An artist or a band writes songs, records them and puts them out into the world. It more or less works. Under the discotheque pseudonym Daphni, the DJ-musician Dan Snaith (a.k.a. Caribou) works a different scheme. He puts together tracks for his club gigs and releases them only when the response they get on the dance floor warrants it. So, the Daphni EP Sizzling comes pre-approved. The title track is a hustling remix of Sizzlin Hot, a 1981 cut from the Bermudian band Paradise. If uses a looped piano bit to mesmerizing effect. Romeo has more seventies cocaine on it than a white suit in Travolta’s closet. The boogie people have spoken, the summer is about to begin and this soundtrack says it’s going to be a hot one.
Skye Wallace, by Skye Wallace
There’s a problem in the indie-music business. Because the artists aren’t making any money off streaming, they tour more and take other jobs to support themselves. All of which leaves less time to write songs. Maybe you’re fine with songwriters working on verse during a break at Burger King? Fine, have it your way, but the art suffers. For her fourth album, the Toronto-based rocker Skye Wallace was able to ruminate on material during writing retreats in Dawson City, Yukon, and Norris Point, Nfld. The result is a work of rugged guitar-based angst by a songwriter inspired by ghost stories, family lore, folk tales and, more than once, small-town nursing history. Coal in Your Window sounds like the Amelia Curran/Queens of the Stone Age collaboration I never knew I needed. Always Sleep With a Knife is good feminist advice. Wallace herself describes There is a Wall as an anthem against glass ceilings and a “song for the untold stories.” I’m not sure whether Wallace has a switchblade under her pillow, but I bet there’s a pen there.
Stella Bella Strada, by Kevin Breit
Fifteen years ago, Norah Jones asked Canada’s Kevin Breit to come away with her – on tour. He said no. He was a guitarist in her band and had played on her debut album that took home six Grammy Awards. But Breit had a family and didn’t want to leave them to hit the long road with Jones. Since then, Breit has been busy putting out under-the-radar mostly instrumental records, some with his jazz-rock weirdos Sisters Euclid. Elsewhere there were collaborations with everyone from Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista to actor Hugh Laurie. Ernesto and Delilah, from 2015, was a mandolin-orchestra affair. Last year’s Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas was an alter-ego conceptual LP that scored a Juno nomination. His latest is Stella Bella Strada, on Alberta’s Stony Plain Records. It’s an uncommon trip of electric-slide guitar symphonies, Felliniesque balloon rides, horn-section funk and lovely vocal-free serenades. So, what’s Breit been up to? Everything you could imagine, and some things you could not.
Passages, by Justin Rutledge
The literate alt-country emoter Justin Rutledge has been around for some time now, his veteran status a seemingly sudden development. And while I’ve found everything he’s done in the past to be lovely and meaningful to listen to, I’m not sure I’ve ever been inclined to press “repeat” after any of his albums’ last tracks. Until now, with his most recent LP, Passages. The tunes last all day; the production is snow-swept pristine; there is no tiring of this record. “I think we have it all,” he croons on a finger-picked love song that works as a wedding song for roots-music people. Maybe Toronto’s Rutledge played it at his own recent marriage ceremony. Do we even want this hushed balladeer happy, though? Some of his best music of the past has been the saddest. Indeed, even on Passages he sings in his trembling tenor about pretty miseries left over by the storm. Elsewhere, One Winter’s Day is about suicide and Belleville Breakup is all small-town bring-down. A Blue Rodeo protégée and a Michael Ondaatje collaborator, Rutledge has a poet’s grace and a way with a waltz that might have Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers muttering under his breath in grudging admiration. On his eighth album, it’s finally all come together for Rutledge.