Big Bill Broonzy
By Kevin Breit and the Upper York Mandolin Orchestra, from Field Recording (Poverty Playlist); streaming at kevinbreit.bandcamp.com
Tucked into the package with Kevin Breit's new CD was a note: "Hope you like mandolins," it said of an album involving 14 players of mandolas, mandocellos and, yes, mandolins. And while twinkling stringed things are eminently likeable, so is songwriting, a craft at which the Ontario fretboard fanatic shows much promise. Big Bill Broonzy, for example, is an affecting story song, concerning the titular country blues giant and his storied, unlikely affair with a Dutch girl. The soundtrack is nimble and lightly theatrical; the lyrics are thoughtful and intriguing, with vocal help from family members on the chorus: "The finest stitch, the toughest knot, slowly comes undone/ but no one can change this strange kind of love." Stitch, knot, love – here's to mandolins and what Breit is able to weave.
By Purity Ring and Danny Brown; streaming here
A sequel to the Edmonton duo's serene, blippy, brittle-beat Belispeak adds a verse from the American rapper Danny Brown, whose belly also speaks. Megan James is still the star, though, alternating between a voice Auto-Tuned and one that is sweet – no growl at all to the stomach of hers.
Purity Ring plays Montreal's Le National, Jan. 10; Toronto's Phoenix, Feb. 1.
By Torres, from the forthcoming self-titled debut; streaming here
From the young Nashville singer-songwriter Mackenzie Scott, a grungy, hurting, slowly climbing folk-rock track. "Happens all the time," she sings, somewhat tortured, but it doesn't sound like she used to it at all.
By Lee Harvey Osmond, from The Folk Sinner (Latent); streaming here
"Oh Linda, you made me grieve, I feel like I could die / Look out baby the moon is falling, down from your sky." Tom Wilson sings a Gordon Lightfoot song that is "most unkind," adding spookiness with an arrangement of bass and little else. Sounds like a Buddy Holly zombie at work.
Whole Lotta Helter Skelter
By Soundhog; streaming here
You want supergroup? Try Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, the two principals of a mash-up of the former's Whole Lotta Love and the latter's heaviest: Helter Skelter. The video consists of vintage live Zeppelin and studio footage of the Beatles. At one point, a defeated Ringo Starr yells "I've got blisters on my fingers," but his time-keeping counterpart John Bonham keeps right on bashing away, his hands fine. The Beatles and Zeppelin – baby, they weren't foolin'.