“Traveling Shoes,” the opening track on James Milne‘s third release under the Lawrence Arabia moniker shuffles in a glorious string arrangement tailor-made for a dapper crooner like Bobby Darin. The Sparrow (Bella Union) finds the droll New Zealander aligning his middle class-induced doldrums with Parisian piano plinking (“Bicycle Racing”) and tipsy brass (“The Bisexual”). A swinging ’60s gal like Holly Golightly (of Breakfast At Tiffany’s fame) would gravitate to the genuflecting horns-and-bow combo of “Lick Your Wounds” for her Mod soirees, but cloak her morning-after melancholy in “The Listening Times.” As a wordsmith, Milne can turn a phrase, but his real strength lies in recreating a world belonging to foursomes in matching ruffled tux shirts swaying in unison on “American Bandstand.” The album’s lone instrumental, “Dessau Rag” embeds a life-of-the-party trombone that would blow a blood alcohol level of .12 in a Breathalyzer test. (Saturday@Empty Bottle with Group Fantasma.)
— Janine Schaults
After nearly 30 years, The Tragically Hip is at it again. Now For Plan A (Zoe) is the Canadian band’s 12th studio album and a testament to its success. Plan A kicks off with “At Transformation” to show a rough and angry alt-edge, but easier melodies still lace the album, like “Man Machine Poem.” An amazing follow-up to the first track, it highlights The Hip’s versatility and ability to create an unrelenting earworm. “We Want To Be It” falls into that category as well. Although slightly slower, it contains those incredible vocals that define the band. Instead of irritating, repeating the same words over and over again becomes surprisingly powerful. Throughout the album, and especially on tracks like “About This Map” and “Done And Done” the vocals shine and occasionally steal all the attention. Lyrics, whether delivered in a low voice or blaring through speakers as a scream, captivate. But, they can’t take all the credit. Slower numbers like “Now For Plan A” have a simultaneous sweet and trippy rhythm guitar that make this track worthy of the album title. (Saturday@The Riviera.)
Elliott Brood shot to popularity this year with the release of its third full-length album, Days Into Years (Paper Bag). The Canadian alt-country trio is being praised for its honest lyrics and rustic sound. Banjos and harmonicas help the band achieve that old-timey flavor, but an impressive use and range of instruments takes the threesome from simply country to an amalgamated force of folk-alternative-bluegrass in this roots revival gaining so much momentum.
Mark Sasso‘s ever-present low rasp adds to the band’s uniqueness. Elliott Brood refreshes each track with either a new instrument, or focus on a different style of music. More alternative songs like “My Mother’s Side” and “Their Will” have that rough edge that epitomizes the category. But, the fancy guitar work on “Lines” and the basic banjo in “Lindsay” contrast nicely with a folk sound. “West End Sky” beautifully leans towards Nashville while the miraculous guitar twangs on “Northern Air” wrap its sweet and simple lyrics in nostalgia. A fitting harmonica accompaniment wins the song a “best of” designation. Elliott Brood tosses in a ukulele and a kazoo for good measure on “Owen Sound.” (Sunday@Empty Bottle with Wintersleep.)
— Mary Scannell