Mighty M's: Mendes, Marr and Marvin

By Tom Von Malder | Jun 27, 2018
Photo by: Island Records Shawn Mendes has issued his third album.

Owls Head — Shawn Mendes: Shawn Mendes (Island CD, 44:14). Mendes' eponymous third album shows a maturing artist, as lyrics dip into sexy dalliances that often prove unsuccessful. Heck, the lad, from the suburbs of Toronto, only turns 20 in August. He has come a long way from being an online star on Vine, doing mostly cover songs. Here, he has a hand in writing all 14 songs, most co-written with multi-instrumentalist Scott Geiger (and others), with Geiger and Mendes handling much of the production.

The album contains two terrific singles in "In My Blood," one of several songs about being insecure, but which rises in anthematic fashion a la U2, and "Lost In Japan," which has a more soulful sound. Mendes' songwriting is improving, although it has yet to make the leap that will set him apart from similar performers. For example, Ed Sheeran co-writes "Fallin' All In You" and Mendes sings the song the way Sheeran would. Mendes gets two solid duet assists, with Khalid featured on "Youth," a defiant cry that says despite all the bad news "you can't take my youth away, " and "Like To Be You," sung with co-writer Julia Michaels and featuring John Mayer on guitar. Another of the songs about being insecure, "Nervous," is appealing and is conversational in approach.

There is more soul in "Why" and "Where Were You" bemoans the one-night stand that did not hang around until breakfast. "Queen" is more bouncy pop, while "Mutual" is a catchy highlight. Grade: B+

Johnny Marr: Call the Comet (Sire CD, 57:59). This also is the third solo album for Marr, but Marr has a rich history, going back to being a founding member of The Smiths 31 years ago and then spending some 25 years of the intervening time being an in-demand session player, as well as creating the band Electronic with Bernard Sumner of New Order. (By the way, Joy Division and New order fans should check out Sumner's autobiography, "Chapter and Verse.")

Marr's new album was recorded as a quartet, with himself on lead vocals, guitar and keyboards, Doviak on keyboards and backing vocals, Iwan Gronow on bass and backing vocals and Jack Mitchell on drums. While not a concept album as such, and certainly not linear, the album's lyrics do envision an alternate universe in which kindness, curiosity and intelligence are valued over the crassness and cash of these days of Donald Trump and Brixit. This theme culminates in the uplifting "Spiral Cities," as he gets lost in the glow of love.

The album opens with one of the best tracks, "Rise," which has some electronics at the start (recalling Electronic) and then a pulsating guitar line. The lyrics start: "Now here they come/It's the dawn of the dogs/They hound they howl/Never let up/The fear is on." The album's title comes from the lyrics of "The Tracers," another strong track which has a slight nod to Joy Division/early New Order. As in most of the album, Marr's vocals are rather even and thus secondary to the melody, and the lyrics are less accentuated. Here, the lyrics printed in the booklet come to play. They are about empaths who have come to Earth to help mankind. Also strong is the mesmerizing "Hey Angel," which has more strong guitar.

Of the rest, "Hi Hello" (think 1980s) has a nice keyboard melody, "New Dimensions" is chilly, "Day In Day Out" has an acoustic start and the fine "Actor Attractor" has a very floaty feel and is similar in approach to "The Tracers." "My Eternal" recalls the New Romantics in its keyboards and drums. The closing "A Different Gun" was written about the 2016 Nice terrorist attack and it was being recorded the night of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, with the latter being referenced by the chorus line, "Stay and come out tonight," about Marr being asked to play in Manchester following the bombing. Grade: A

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and vocalists: Play It Again, Marvin! (Varese Sarabande CD, 72:33). Recorded April 28, 2017, this tribute show celebrates the music of composer/pianist Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012), who is only the second person, after composer Richard Rodgers, to have earned a Pulitzer Prize and an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. Only 12 others have won the other four, minus the Pulitzer. The concert provides a wonderful reminder of the wide variety of Hamlisch's music, so much of which is so memorable, appearing in movies and on Broadway. Eleven of the 19 tracks feature vocalists and Hamlisch himself is heard playing piano on three tracks, including singing "If You Really Knew Me."

The concert opens with "The Way We Were," featuring cellist Adrian Daurov. Then comes a delightful "A Chorus Line Concerto," highlighting pianist Kevin Cole, who is the creator of the tribute concert. "A Chorus Line" was the 1975 musical that earned Hamlisch his Pulitzer. The show also is represented by Judy Harrison's dramatic version of "Nothing" and the rousing sing-along finale of "What I Did For Love." The selections reach back as far as "The Swimmer," from Hamlisch's first film score in 1968, and his first hit, "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" (lyrics by Howard Liebling), sung by Lesley Gore in the 1965 film, "Ski Party." Another of his songs is "A Mother's Voice," written in 1996 with frequent collaborators Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Here, it is performed as a duet by Sylvia McNair and Harrison. Also from his film work are "Through the Eyes of Love," from 1979's "Ice Castles" -- also sung by McNair -- and "Nobody Does It Better" from the 1977 James Bond film, "The Spy Who Loved Me," sung by Harrison. Cole hired an orchestrator to copy the exact arrangement that Carly Simon sang in the film, as the original orchestrations for the film had been lost.

Cole also arranged the piano-only "Marvin's Medley" track, consisting of the three songs that Hamlisch said were his favorites. They are "The Way We Were" and, from "A Chorus Line," both "At the Ballet" and "What I Did For Love." Grade: A+

Norah Jones: Live at Ronnie Scott's (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 90 min.). This trio concert -- Jones plays piano and sings, while Brian Blade drums and Christopher Thomas plays both stand-up bass and electric bass -- is performed in the very intimate club setting of Ronnie Scott's in London. The concert includes 15 selections, and there is a bonus performance and a pre-show interview with Jones.

Jones first emerged on the world stage with 2002's "Come Away With Me" album, which became a global phenomenon and swept the 2003 Grammy Awards. A nine-time Grammy winner, Jones has sold more than 50 million albums, both solo efforts and with her bands The Little Willies and Puss N Boots. Her music weaves country (she grew up in Texas), folk, rock, soul and jazz, and she has collaborated with Willie Nelson, Outkast, Herbie Hancock, Foo Fighters and Danger Mouse (he produced her 2012 album, "Little Broken Hearts"). She was born in New York City to Susan Jones and famed Indian musician Ravi Shankar.

Jones, who had been playing more guitar of late, reconnects with the piano in this stripped-back, under-stated show. Highlighting a return to her jazz roots, much of the material is taken from her newest album, "Day Breaks" (2016). In fact, the first two selections, both covers, are the from the album: the searing "Sleeping Wild" and Neil Young's "Don't Be Denied" (from his 1973 album, "Don't Fade Away"). In all, the show covers eight songs from "Day Breaks," plus a ninth in the bonus track, "Burn" (5:36). Other highlights from the album are "After the Fall," the soft ballad "And Then There Was You" and the simple "Carry On," as well as the more aggressive "Flipside," featuring electric bass.

There is a false start on "Nightingale," as Thomas dislikes the bow he is using and discards it, before Jones begins the fine song over. To end the show, Jones covers two songs by Jesse Harris, including a fine "Don't Know Why." The 20-minute interview is very nice and informative. Grade: A

Bella Thorne and Nathaniel Walcott: Midnight Sun original motion picture soundtrack (Lakeshore CD, 47:14). The first half of the album is devoted to the nine songs -- five performed by star Thorne -- from the film in which Thorne plays a 17-year-old who is allergic to sunlight, but soon meets the neighbor boy of her dreams, played by Patrick Schwarzenegger, and they begin a nighttime summer romance. (The DVD was reviewed in my previous column.)

The two songs Thorne sings with full arrangements are exceptional. They are "Burn So Bright," which is anthematic, and "Walk With Me." Of the others, "Reaching" is an acoustic guitar piece and "Sweetest Thing" is a little ditty, while "Let the Light In" is a piano song. The other songs include the percussive "Warsaw" by White Sea, the forceful pop of "What's Real" by Waters and "Stockholm" by Adriel.

The other 13 tracks are from Walcott's score, much of which is quiet ambient music. The guitar is often chiming or shimmering. Storm sounds are heard on the more dramatic track, "Sunrise," while there is vocalizing on "Triggering Event." Grade: A-

Jeff Russo: Star Trek Discovery original series soundtrack season 1 chapter 1 (Lakeshore CD, 53:16) and season 1 chapter 2 (Lakeshore CD, 54:05). I prefer the first disc slightly, probably because the pilot is the only episode I have seen. Russo adds grandeur to the "Main Title" and reprises the original "Star Trek Theme" by Alexander Courage ever so briefly. Disc one covers music from the first nine episodes, and Russo uses a lot of violins and cellos, as well as percussion and reed instruments. An 8-minute tour de force is "I'll Go" from the pilot, in which the unidentified beacon is investigated by a character who goes through a range of emotions. "Torchbearer" rises in volume and richness, with building crescendos. "Facing Off" is more action oriented. The first disc closes with a half-minute longer version of the "Main Title."

The second release contains music from the remaining episodes of season one. "I Can't Rest Here" is a bit militaristic, while there is vocalizing and some words on "Kasseelian Opera." The disc ends with Courage's "Theme From Star Trek" as performed for the end credits of episode 15. Grade: B for both

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