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Album reviews: Tegan and Sara; James Ehnes; Ben Sidran


Tegan Sara

Warner Music Tegan and Sara have gone from vital to banal on their ’80s and ’90s-referencing album Heartthrob, writes Peter Goddard.

Pop

Tegan and Sara

Heartthrob (Warner Bros.)

(out of four)

Recent interviews show Tegan and Sara in full damage control mode before Tuesday’s official release of Heartthrob, their seventh studio album in some 14 years. Bubbling over with highly marketable synth pop in place of their beloved, quirky introspection, the album has Calgary’s twin Quin sisters concerned they appear to be chucking loyal followers for Justin Bieber-level sales, precisely the career move that turns fans into cynics. However, the real worry here should be how the writers of the eerily sensuous “Walking with a Ghost” in 2004 or “The Con” in ’07 could resort to the entrance-level banality that makes Heartthrob so blink-and-you-miss it disposable.

T&S claim they’re “pushing forward” in their careers and lives by — wait for it — revisiting the ’90s, when their creative juices first fermented. Selling this retro-feel is director Isaac Rentz’s video for “Closer,” the CD-opening single that plays with rec-room party nostalgia while peeking at girls about to make out with each other, guys fooling around with lipstick, everyone acting goofy and pretty balloons making it seem all innocent.

The rest of the running order follows suit. “Goodbye, Goodbye” gets the crowd moving, “I Was a Fool,” with its opening piano riff, signals a slow dance, and then “I’m Not Your Hero” hints at the ’80s and Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” — yikes, ’90s retro turns ’80s retro. But this longing for the comfort of multiple pasts, carried into the next four tunes, is understandable. Tegan and Sara are 32, ancient in pop terms. Their desperation is showing.

All is not dazed and confused however. Heartthrob ends heartily as Tegan and Sara’s innate creativity emerges with “Now I’m All Messed Up,” with its dark angry edge foreshadowed by piano chords, and the equally hard-as-nails “Shock to Your System,” the last of the CD’s 10 tunes, before its two bonus tracks.

Peter Goddard

Classical

James Ehnes

Bartók Vol. 2, Sonatas and Folk Dances (Chandos)

So far in his amazing career, Brandon, Man., native James Ehnes has turned into gold every note touched by his violin bow. His second album devoted to the music of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók (1881-1945) is northing short of spectacular. The attraction of Bartók’s music is that you can enjoy the late-Romantic side as well something more modern. So much of his music vibrates with the vitality of folksongs and dances. They start off as clear depictions in his earlier music, gradually becoming more abstract over time — like Pablo Picasso’s faces, which ultimately bore only a fragmentary resemblance to the original subject. Ehnes has his feet firmly planted on the earthiness of the folk elements as he tosses off this virtuosic music with panache. The big showpiece on this generous album is the 1944 Sonata for solo violin, a four-movement monster that tests the violinist’s every skill. A 1903 Sonata with piano accompaniment is easier listening, but no easier to play. Ehnes has a strong, elegant accompanist in Andrew Armstrong, who is also there for three sets of folksong transcriptions for violin and piano. This album is a wonder from beginning to end.

John Terauds

Jazz

Ben Sidran

Don’t Cry For No Hipster (Bonsaï Music)

With the internet making “inside” knowledge universally available, the hipster seems like a mythical creature, like the unicorn or a winning Maple Leafs coach. All praise must then go to American pianist/composer Ben Sidran for his funk-filled musical portrait of this nearly forgotten Beat-era figure, the cool dude who claims “when nobody’s lookin’ that’s when I’m cookin’,” as Sidran sings in “Private Guy.” It’s particularly cool when Sidran explains in his reedy, convivial voice, “I’m not sayin’ . . . I’m just sayin’,” during “Can We Talk,” one of the 12 tunes he wrote or co-wrote with son Leo, a drummer, for this 14-tune compilation.

None of this is going to conjure the ghost of Jack Kerouac up out of hipster paradise. But Sidran’s jive lite is fun in the way thumbing through an old copy of Playboy for the articles (of course) is a gas for some. The fun runs thin with the music itself, alas. Sidran — who once played with Boz Scaggs and Steve Miller in a band — favours lightweight funk. At its best it only suggests what Ray Charles might have done with tunes such as “In the Beginning,” a hip bit of bible study revealing Sidran at his songwriting best, particularly when given a finishing polish by guitarist Will Bernard and the rest of a top-notch band.

P.G.

thestar.com – Entertainment

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