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Sofa Critic (Ontario, Canada)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lana's Best Yet - New Colours For Familiar Themes, Sept. 20 2015
This review is from: Honeymoon (Audio CD)
In 2014, Lana Del Rey received critical acclaim for her album 'Ultraviolence', which married her slow-as-molasses torch songs with guitar-driven arrangements courtesy of producer Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys). Her latest release 'Honeymoon' is a blend of styles from her first major-label release 'Born To Die' (particularly its hip-hop beats and cinematic production), with UV's reverb-heavy approach.

However, production on Lana's new album is more grand, open and airy, in contrast to the dense, leaden atmosphere found on 'Ultraviolence'. This allows the instrumentation to breathe, so every nuance can be heard. Guitars are used sparingly this time, in favour of mostly orchestral instruments like strings, clarinet, bassoon, flute and horns. Del Rey's smoky and expressive voice fills the open spaces, bringing to life her familiar themes of violence, loss, deceit and heartbreak. Lana's vocals are better than ever on 'Honeymoon', particularly on the beautiful piano ballad 'Terrence Loves You' (one of her best songs to date) and on '24'. The way she delivers the opening phrase "There's only 24 a day" is sublime.

There's not much variance in tempo on these darkly cinematic songs, but there's enough variety in the instrumentation, arrangements and vocal delivery to keep it interesting throughout. Hip-hop beats are used on a few tracks like "Art Deco" (about a nightclub queen) and first single 'High By the Beach' which is the most up-tempo track on the album.

Other album highlights: 'Swan Song', 'Salvatore', 'Honeymoon' and a cover of 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood' (which incorporates the organ sound from The Animals version with a vocal delivery closer to Nina Simone's 1964 original).

Lana produced and co-wrote the album with long-time collaborator Rick Nowels, with assistance from engineer/musician Kieron Menzies.

The Blade
The Blade
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What's More Important - Lyrics or Melody?, Aug. 2 2015
This review is from: The Blade (Audio CD)
Ashley Monroe's third album "The Blade" picks up where her last album "Like a Rose" left off. Once again there are numerous traditional country ballads and very few up-tempo tracks. While it wipes the floor of most of the dreck that passes for today's contemporary country music, your enjoyment of the record will depend on whether you prefer lyric-driven songs over more melodic fare. Country purists will love the record, but I feel the traditional instrumentation adds little that hasn't been heard hundreds of times before.

Ashley has a very distinctive voice - reminiscent of Dolly Parton - that's well-suited to the material. Vince Gill produced the record and Monroe co-wrote all of the songs, except for the title track. Best cuts: "On to Something Good", "Weight of the Load", "The Blade" and "Winning Streak".

Pain Killer
Pain Killer
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Arena-sized Pop-Country, Nov. 16 2014
This review is from: Pain Killer (Audio CD)
Little Big Town has been around for a long time, but I've just started to pay attention based on the strong hooks of recent singles "Tornado" and especially their ode to summer, "Pontoon".

LBT recently won "Vocal Group of the Year" honours at the CMA Awards in Nashville. Take one listen to "Pain Killer" tracks "Tumble and Fall", "Silver and Gold" and "Stay All Night" and you'll understand why. The harmonies of the four members Kimberly Schlapman, Philip Sweet, Jimi Westbrook and (wife) Karen Fairchild are off the charts.

"Pain Killer" is produced once again by Jay Joyce, who was behind the recording console for their last album, 2012's "Tornado". The new album is Little Big Town's best, and most eclectic release yet. Produced to sound big, many of its songs are meant to be heard in arenas. That's certainly the case for the first single "Day Drinking", a fun summery tune complete with whistling and marching-band drums. "Turn the Lights On" is a stadium-size song with a bit of an identity crisis. It's a high-impact rocker that seems to have been mashed together from the remnants of two other album contenders.

The best cuts on "Pain Killer" are the R&B / funk-infused "Stay All Night" (check out the live Walmart Soundcheck version on YouTube), the soaring "Tumble and Fall" (with Fairchild and Schlapman shining bright), and the album's undeniable stand-out, "Girl Crush", featuring Karen Fairchild's heartfelt vocal about a jealous woman's longing for a man who sees her as second-best. The song is the album's second single and a surefire Grammy contender if it catches on with the public.

"Pain Killer" is not "art" in any way - nor is it meant to be. It's just solid, well-made commercial adult-pop in the tradition of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles.

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lana's Redemption, June 17 2014
This review is from: Ultraviolence (Audio CD)
I could go into a lengthy essay about Lana Del Rey's back story, but I'll just say upfront that Lana has made one of the best albums of 2014. This one could go the distance at the Grammys next year.

Vocally, melodically and sonically, "Ultraviolence" is a winner. Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys produced nearly every track. His decision to have Del Rey sing live, accompanied by a seven-piece band, was a master stroke. The alchemy of Lana and the studio band is palpable. She's never sounded better.

Auerbach's production choices complement but never overwhelm the songs, although reverb is used a bit too liberally in places.

The songs are stately ("Black Beauty", "Old Money"), playful ("Brooklyn Baby"), epic ("Cruel World") and heartbreaking ("Ultraviolence", "Sad Girl")

Lyrically, the album is less successful. While there are phrases that paint a vivid picture, there are also clunkers: "He lives in California too, he drives a Chevy Malibu" (from "Shades of Cool"). Still, Del Rey is able to bring her dark melodrama to life over the course of the album's 11 tracks.

The bonus tracks, with the exception of "Florida Kilos" are quite strong. "Black Beauty" is a stunner - perhaps Lana's finest hour.

There are no uptempo tracks on the record. It's somber and dark, but always engaging. Auerbach has dubbed Lana's style "narco-swing", which is fitting.

After the critical drubbing Del Rey took after the release of her 2012 album "Born To Die", "Ultraviolence" is Lana's answer to her detractors.

A great album is often the best revenge.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Rock With a Fresh Sound, Feb. 13 2014
This review is from: Am (Audio CD)
What a joy it is to hear a rock album with such a fresh sound!

The vocals on Arctic Monkeys' 5th album "AM" are outstanding. Lead singer Alex Turner's deep expressive voice provides an effective counterpoint to his band-mates' falsetto backing vocals. Matt Helders' drums propel the songs forward while Turner spins tales of late-night encounters with femme fatales.

The production is wide-screen - steeped in reverb - with a neo-noir-meets-60s-R&B vibe. "AM" sounds like a Frank Miller novel brought to life, if Phil Spector was working the soundboard.

All but two of the album's 12 tracks are up-tempo. Highlights include "Do I Wanna Know?", "Fireside", "One For the Road", "Snap Out of It" and "R U Mine?"

Strong throughout, Arctic Monkeys' "AM" is one of the very best albums of 2013, and one of the best rock albums in many years.

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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious But Flawed Double-Disc, Nov. 2 2013
This review is from: Reflektor (Audio CD)
Arcade Fire returns three years after the release of their Grammy-winning Album of the Year, "The Suburbs" with their new double-disc set "Reflektor" - a sprawling, ambitious work containing 13 tracks.

As you listen to the album, it's evident that Arcade Fire is one of the few modern rock bands that can properly construct a song - in the classic sense - with strong melodic hooks and intelligent lyrics. Like "The Suburbs", this is another 'zeitgeist' album that reflects the spirit of our times.

The sound of this album is unlike any other in the band's catalogue. Thick with bass synths and a fuller drum sound, it sounds huge, and there's a real emphasis on rhythm this time, inspired by the band's 2011 and 2012 trips to Haiti and Jamaica. "Here Comes the Night Time" is a highlight that switches tempo between a lilting Caribbean swing incorporating steel drums, to a frantic Haitian percussive assault at the apex of the song.

Opening track "Reflektor", is another strong entry that sees lead vocalist Win Butler and wife Regine Chassange trading (reflecting) vocal lines over a conga-based beat. Rock legend David Bowie contributes backup vocals as the track builds to a sax and string-laden climax.

"We Exist" is another dance-oriented tune with a bass-line similar to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean". This is a good showcase for Arcade Fire's arrangement skills. They've taken a classic 3-minute pop single and extended it beyond 5 minutes through variations on the chorus hook and an extended bridge. Organ chords enter to complement rising strings as the song reaches a crescendo in its final minute.

Other notable tracks:

- "Normal Person" - with an explosive punk chorus that recalls Blur's "Song 2".

- "Joan of Arc" - a very catchy number with Regine adding French vocal lines ("Jeanne d'Arc oohhh...").

- "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus) - pure 1980's epic new wave driven by bass synth, recalling New Order and Ultravox.

- "Porno" - an hypnotic keyboard-based track with subtle variations on the main hook that keeps it interesting throughout. Another track that recalls 80s UK-based synth bands, with a touch of Roxy Music.

- "Afterlife" - probably the most radio-friendly song that Arcade Fire has released. Big, rhythmic and celebratory.

Lyrical themes: Duality; our digital age and its tenuous connections; lovers separated and reunited; the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (Win & Regine?) - to name just a few.

Flaws: The bass synths can weigh down some of the tracks. Songs like "Flashbulb Eyes" and "You Already Know" come off as throw-aways, lacking lyrical substance. At times, Win Butler's vocals are delivered in an uncharacteristically timid way, limiting their emotional impact.

Final thoughts: Disc 2 is the stronger part of the record, but the tracks on Disc 1 sound great in a live setting. Overall, a very strong album that aims high and mostly succeeds.

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Doc For the Serious Conan Fan, Nov. 28 2012
This review is from: Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (DVD)
Serious fans of talk-show host Conan O'Brien's humour will really enjoy this DVD that documents the period between O'Brien's loss of "The Tonight Show" and the start of his latest show "Conan", on TBS. Conan, sidekick Andy Richter and O'Brien's writing staff are shown developing a 90-minute show which played in 44 U.S. and Canadian cities in mid-2010. Conan's wife and children make brief appearances, along with comedians Jim Carrey, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Anyone familiar with Conan's staff will enjoy seeing O'Brien's loyal and beautiful assistant Sona, writers Deon Cole, Mike Sweeney and Aaron Bleyeart and producer Jeff Ross. Conan has a relaxed and playful rapport with his staff, but they do have to put up with his many moods. Conan can get a bit petulant and self-absorbed at times, but he balances it out nicely with self-deprecating humour. The DVD contains a lot of quality extras including a post-tour interview with O'Brien. The picture and sound quality are both excellent. Highly recommended.

The Absence
The Absence
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Exotic Jazz With Latin Touches, June 19 2012
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This review is from: The Absence (Audio CD)
Melody Gardot's third album "The Absence" was inspired by her travels to Portugal, Morocco and Brazil. She not only travelled to these locales, she immersed herself in the cultures, learning new languages, both linguistic and musical.

These influences find their way into many of the album's eleven tracks. "Mira", "Iemanja" and especially "Lisboa" are the best of these exotic cuts. There's also a group of moody, film-noir-inspired songs: "Impossible Love", "If I Tell You I Love You" and the album's stand-out cut "Goodbye" where Gardot's versatile voice simulates a baritone sax as she growls out the chorus.

Because of Melody's 2003 accident, the songs are mostly quiet in nature. This is most evident in the opening few tracks which I found a bit sleepy. The album as a whole, apart from the production, does not seem of this time. Gardot has a unique way of making her compositions sound like they're long-lost tracks from the Great American Songbook.

Adventurous, joyous and romantic, "The Absence" is a perfect late-night listen.

Blown Away
Blown Away
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Carrie's Best By Far, May 2 2012
This review is from: Blown Away (Audio CD)
Carrie Underwood''s fourth album "'Blown Away"' is rock solid from beginning to end. It is a complete triumph and a huge leap forward for Carrie on all fronts. Vocally, lyrically and creatively, this is the emergence of Carrie Underwood 2.0 - The Artist.

Contained within its 14 diverse tracks are styles ranging from classic country ('Wine After Whiskey', 'Cupid's Got a Shotgun') to calypso ('One Way Ticket') to progressive country ('Blown Away', 'Two Black Cadillacs) all handled with vocal aplomb by Carrie, whose star has never shone brighter.

Previous albums 'Some Hearts', 'Carnival Ride' and 'Play On' are chock full of hits, but some songs seemed a bit too fussed over and formulaic. Many of the lesser cuts had a girlishness about them, with subject matters seemingly pulled from the pages of teen diaries. No more.

'Blown Away' is the work of a mature young woman. Throughout the album, Carrie is confident, completely in command and firing on all cylinders. With vivid lyrics and expansive production by long-time producer Mark Bright, 'Blown Away' has the goods to go the distance, taking down everything in its path on its march to glory at the CMAs, ACMs and Grammys, where it will most definitely represent country music as an Album of the Year nominee.

Two tracks in particular stand head and shoulders above the pack: "'Two Black Cadillacs'" and "'Wine After Whiskey"', both co-written by Underwood. The former tells the tale of a wife and mistress conspiring to do away with the man who betrayed them both, while the latter is a classic country weeper about a new relationship that pales in comparison to what came before. Against a cinematic backdrop of tinkling piano, rolling drums and edgy strings, Carrie brings '"Cadillac"' to life, infusing the chorus with gospel-tinged vocals: "''and the preacher said he was a good man, and his brother said he was a good friend".'' Tense, muscular and assured, Carrie's delivery is stellar. This is a shining example of progressive country music. "'Wine After Whiskey"' is pure heartbreak in the classic country tradition. Carrie effortlessly conveys the emptiness felt by a lover who discovers her new flame can't possibly compare to the one true love that has left and moved on. Carrie's vocal is tender and nuanced during the verses, crying out in hurtful longing during the heartbreaking chorus: '"Once you've tasted a love so strong, you can't go back and you can't settle on anything less, and that's what gets me, it's like having Wine After Whiskey".'

"'Blown Away"' contains other strong cuts like the dramatic title track, where Carrie's vocal matches the power of the twister at the center of a tale about a daughter's revenge on a drunken, abusive father. '"Cupid''s Got a Shotgun"', a fast-paced redneck rave-up fits Underwood like a glove as she sings of being pursued by a suitor armed with a "'sawed-off double-barrel, trigger-happy as can be".' A lively fiddle solo is followed by the twangy guitar runs of guest Brad Paisley. "'One Way Ticket'" is a breezy, calypso-styled ditty where Carrie substitutes steel drums with intentionally off-key whistling. It's a hoot, and one of the few moments of levity on the album. In song after song, Underwood''s vocals are warm, natural and unforced. Having listened to Adele last year, she's learned to reign in her tendency to unleash the glory notes, opting instead for restraint, subtlety and vocal detail, best exemplified in the spare and beautiful "'Forever Changed".

A new chapter in Carrie Underwood''s career is beginning. With international tours planned, the world will finally hear what many in North America have always known: Carrie is the finest singer of our generation. Let there be no doubt.

Forgiven, Not Forgotten
Forgiven, Not Forgotten
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Celtic Pop, June 19 2011
This review is from: Forgiven, Not Forgotten (Audio CD)
The Corrs debut album "Forgiven Not Forgotten" is one of the finest commercial pop releases of the last 20 years. The Dublin-based Corrs are a group of three sisters and one brother, all of whom sing and play instruments. Lead singer Andrea has a lovely voice, most evident on the waltz-time "Runaway", one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. The Corrs exceptional vocal harmonies come to the fore on standouts "Love to Love You", "Closer", "The Right Time" and the title track. Celtic instrumentation abounds. Tin whistle, bodhran and fiddle combine with rock instruments to create an effective hybrid. There are six instrumental pieces that fit nicely into the flow, acting as intros and outros to the other nine cuts. The highlight is the Corrs version of "Toss the Feathers", a traditional Irish folk tune, given an expansive, drum-heavy treatment. A five-star record, docked one star for occasionally awkward lyrics.

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