Metals Feist (Arts & Crafts)
Feist had played in several bands (including Broken Social Scene) and done two solo albums by the time the Grammy people thought she might be their best new artist. Sometimes it pays to be patient: The runaway success of 2007's The Reminder hasn't thrown Feist off her stride, or distracted her with thoughts of how to do the same world-beating thing again.
The proof is this tough-minded, secret-keeping, slow-burning collection of songs about the jagged edges left when something in your life is sheared away. Truth and consequences are the fuel here, and those often burn brightest when the light is most subdued.
It starts at the end, with The Bad in Each Other, which is the kind of reflection that comes only after a full stop in a relationship. Then we head to the Graveyard, with a wish that everything finished could rise again, as the lean, resonant music picks its way over ground made uneven by a tricky metric pattern. Go forward a bit more, to the R&B-tinged How Come You Never Go There, and time spools backwards, to a stage when a schism between two people is still too raw for either to break away. "How come I'm so alone there?" Feist sings, and there's the heart of the matter: This is a lonely record, animated by thoughts that tumble through the mind from back to front and in wide restless circles.
That kind of reflection has many flavours, and Feist and her colleagues (including co-producers Chilly Gonzales, Mocky and Valgeir Sigurdsson) don't satisfy themselves with only a few. Several songs ride a heavy, denuded beat, as if to smash away any residue of the sunny lilt of 1,2,3,4. The apex of that heavy sound comes in the pounding massed chorus of The Undiscovered First, a full-throated interrogation of life's purpose beyond the story of self and other: "Is this the way to live, is it wrong to want more?"
The Circle Married the Line – a real Prairie girl's way of describing a sunset – takes an apparently sunnier path, with a lighter sound, more strings and a melody that climbs steadily through the clouds. The feeling is Starbucks-friendly, but the lyrics could be the story of The Bad in Each Other from a different angle, with more warmth but no more hope.
Comfort Me has a rootsy feeling that could support a finger-picking acoustic arrangement. Feist's melody stabs away at a flattened seventh that never directly resolves ("it doesn't bring me comfort, actually"), but drives the song to a heavier rock configuration. The Bad in Each Other spreads its roots eastward, with an oddly Celtic lilt.
Anti Pioneer dispenses with all colour and light, till there's nothing behind Feist's voice but a muffled bass, a stark backbeat and a few twisted grimaces from her electric guitar. It's a depressive waltz that wears away at the same thought, in the same harmonic groove, till exhaustion comes to the rescue.
The finale, Get It Wrong, Get It Right, has a conciliatory feeling, but not because something has been saved. The world has its cycles, visible in the nature imagery of the lyrics, and time won't wait for anything: "Leave the past." The song's glimmering, hopeful sound makes it another one for the coffee bars, but there's so much more here, including the light daubs of mostly percussive colour that show how artfully this disc has been made.
Feist plays The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Nov. 18, the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton on Nov. 20, Calgary's Jack Singer Concert Hall on Nov. 21, Massey Hall in Toronto on Dec. 1 and three more Canadian dates through Dec. 6.
OTHER NEW RELEASES
The Barr Brothers The Barr Brothers (Secret City) 3 stars
More from the Montreal scene. Brad and Andrew Barr, two Americans in Canada, make a striking debut with this sublimely textured album of 10 rootsy treats. Opening track Beggar in the Morning moves pleasingly at a Lindsey Buckingham melodic pace, Cloud (for Lhasa) gracefully whispers and whistles an honour to the late Lhasa de Sela, and Deacon's Son is a percussive Malian kaleidoscope. You might wish to watch clouds to this often pretty music, though a roughhouse cover of Blind Willie Johnson's Lord, I Just Can't Keep from Crying clobbers that mood. Otherwise, little fault and much promise here. Brad Wheeler
The Barr Brothers play Toronto's Drake Hotel, Oct. 12; Montreal's La Tulipe, Oct. 18.
In the Moonlight Sophie Milman (eOne) 4 stars
This is where Milman moves into the big time, with a new label, a stellar set of sidemen (including soloists Randy Brecker, Chris Potter and Julian Lage) and opulent string settings (courtesy ace arranger Alan Broadbent). And yet the Toronto-based singer delivers the goods with such relaxed confidence you'd think she's been there for years. It doesn't hurt that she's great on ballads, smouldering through Watch What Happens and bringing an engaging intimacy to Speak Low. But her tone, luscious and throaty, works just as well on up-tempo tunes like Let Me Love You, creating the illusion of languor no matter how hard she swings. A stunner. J.D. Considine
Play the Blues: Live from Lincoln Center Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton (Reprise/Jazz) 3 stars
It's no secret that Eric Clapton is a fan of the Chicago blues, but for this album, he and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis go back a generation before Muddy Waters's electric blues to the raucous, clarinet-salted sound King Oliver brought up the Mississippi from New Orleans. Working with a stripped-down version of Marsalis's Jazz at Lincoln Center ensemble, Clapton happily adjusts to both the sound and aesthetic, letting the horns take the foreground and even treating Layla as if it were an old-style New Orleans dirge. Not everything works – Careless Love is burdened with a too-cute horn arrangement – but the best moments are revelatory. J.D.C.
Award Winning Album The DoneFors (Independent) 3 stars
This cheekily-titled disc plays like two dissimilar EPs stuck together. The first half has a jazz feeling, in its rhythms, chord choices and metrical manoeuvres ( Bob and Stan takes off in a jumpy 10/8). Cherry Season feels like a new cool jazz standard waiting for solos to be attached, with literate lyrics and a clear, unblinking, slightly mysterious sound from singer Janine Stoll (her partners in this Toronto band are guitarist/vocalist Paul MacDougall, bassist/keyboardist Liam Smith and drummer Brian Lahaie). The nimble beats and bone-dry rhythm guitar in Shot at You gives the tune an Afrojazz flavour, and Tallboy is about as urbane as a pop song can be. Wolf Sounds pivots on a blaze of rock guitar in the chorus, and then the album turns toward a more square and predictable form of folk-oriented indie pop. I'll be playing the first half of this album a lot; the second half not so much. Robert Everett-Green