Now that our festival season has ended, we can start diving into the pile of music that gathered dust over the summer. You’ll be seeing a fair number of reviews coming from us in the next weeks and months as we catch up with all the great music we’ve been wanting to tell you about, but just haven’t yet had a chance.
As for this set of albums, I’ve picked a mix of styles (which is appropriate for me, since I can never settle just on one favorite). From Aron D’Alesio’s retro-dreamy sound, to Corridor’s 80s-style pop (with a hint of punk guitar), to Maxim Cormier’s Bach with a pick, and finally to Dennis Ellsworth and Kinley Dowling’s marvelous harmonies, these are all projects with a twist of the unexpected – and each more enjoyable for it.
Aron D’Alesio, “Aron D’Alesio”
This debut solo project from Aron D’Alesio of the Young Rivals is evocative of 1950s and 1960s rock in all the best ways. (Indeed, his Facebook page lists artists such as the Everly Brothers, Dick Dale, and Roy Orbison as influences.) Recorded in the wee sma’s of the night, these songs are dreamy, yet pointed. “Best laid plans fall through my hands, like the sand,” D’Alesio sings in “Where You Going To,” one of many points where the ethereal sounds of the album contrast sharply with darker lyrics.
Although it’s difficult to pick a favorite from this terrific album, I would lean toward “The Old River,” which I find contemplative in an odd, slightly dissonant sort of way. “Diamond Ring,” which ends the album, uses Beach Boys-like harmonies and chiming guitars to create a gorgeously atmospheric song – an appropriate finish to a album that carries those sounds throughout.
Corridor’s latest album has a similarly retro vibe to it, but more reminiscent of the 1980s. Since the 1980s were a decade I mostly missed musically (being either stuck in the 1970s or the 1770s, depending on when you asked), it’s difficult for me to land on a comparison to any specific bands… but it’s a tight, slightly synth-driven sound that reminds me of those snippets of radio that managed to catch my ear at the time.
“Le grand écart” is one such tune – it begins with an almost dreamy synth intro but quickly morphs into a driving beat and ringing guitars, then ends with a series of dissonant chiming guitar chords; all of this draws the listener inexorably into the music. “Du Moyen Âge à l’âge moyen” has hints of punk to it, while the album’s closer, “L’histoire populaire de Jonathan Cadeau” is the one throwback to a previous era (and even could fit on d’Alesio’s project).
This is a really enjoyable album – don’t miss out even if you don’t understand French.
Maxim Cormier, “Maxim Cormier Plays J.S. Bach”
The day on which I’d planned to listen to this terrific project (of which I would sadly not have known without the Music Nova Scotia nominations – so thankful I saw it listed) was also the day it took me four hours to get to work. Bach is one of my go-to stress-reducing composers in any case, and this album was a godsend that kept me from going insane that day.
One of the many marvelous qualities of Bach’s music is its contrapuntal/fugal nature – that is to say, Bach’s genius at keeping two, three, or even four distinct musical lines going within the same piece. So I was a bit surprised to hear the pieces on this album, which all consist of single musical lines – until I read that Maxim Cormier plays with a pick on a steel string guitar, not fingerstyle on nylon. Color me impressed… the sound he creates on this album is tremendous, and he’s chosen pieces that work well for his playing style. This is a short album, but an enjoyable one, and I hope he tackles more classical repertoire in the future.
(Maxim Cormier is releasing an album of Celtic duo music with his father next month, so watch for that.)
Dennis Ellsworth & Kinley Dowling, “Everyone Needs to Chill Out”
I’ve had this album in my Spotify rotation since it was released in June, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to sit and gather my thoughts about it. Like Maxim Cormier’s album (reviewed above), this album soothed my irritation during the never-ending ride to work last week, but while the musical vibe is cool (and could lead the casual listener to ‘chill out’), the lyrics span a gamut of emotions.
Several of the songs (all written or co-written by Ellsworth and Dowling) explore the highs and lows of relationships. “I Tried to Be Your Lover,” one of the album’s highlights, digs into the difficulty of loving someone who just won’t give their all: “I tried to be your lover / but I could not find your heart.” “Snowing in Amsterdam” beautifully evokes the difficulty of loving from afar. “Something Beautiful” highlights Kinley Dowling’s ethereal voice in a lovely, hopeful love song: “you were for me right from the start.”
Dowling and Ellsworth, who both hail from Prince Edward Island, have worked often together in recent years and it shows – their voices pair wonderfully and their partnership has resulted in a pretty terrific album.