Alan Cross’ weekly music picks: 23 August 2019

Taylor Swift attending the Billboard Music Awards 2019 held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. CP Images Archive

I’ll be honest: today is tough for two reasons. First, artists and labels are done with the summer and have begun to look ahead to the fourth quarter, the most important time of the year.

And second, it’s all about Tay-Tay. No one wants to go up against her.

1. Taylor Swift, Lover

Almost all of the oxygen this week is taken up by Swift and her Swifties with the release of her first album on Republic Records, the label to which she jumped from Big Machine last fall. A lot of money and plenty of reputations are riding on this record, but so far, so good.

Reports are that it pre-sold nearly a million copies, so it won’t be even a close race for number one on the charts. Swift is one of the few people who can still promote an album old-school and have people respond.

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2. The Rembrandts, Via Satellite

The Rembrandts struck it rich when their I’ll Be There for You became the theme for Friends. Once that kind of lightning happens, you really don’t have work another day in your life — and the band hasn’t really bothered much. Can you blame them?

But after 18 years, the group returns with a new album of original songs. To put things into perspective, the last new Rembrandts album was released three weeks after 9/11.

3. Tanya Tucker, While I’m Living

Another AWOL situation. The country legend (both for good and bad reasons) has returned with her first album in 17 years, a project produced by Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings. Taken together, the songs form an audio autobiography. This single illustrates that approach.

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4. Redd Kross, Beyond the Door

Back in the 90s, Redd Kross almost broke through with their brand of grungy power-pop, but couldn’t quite take that final step. (Was this a contributing factor?) Returning after an absence of seven years, the McDonald brothers pick up basically where they left off in 2012.

5. Dwayne Gretzky, Dwayne Gretzky

Brilliant interpreters of other artists’ material or glorified wedding band? I go with the former. Dwayne Gretkzy, the 10+-member Toronto musical collective, has been a live favourite for years. Now they’ve collected together their finest cover versions for a self-titled debut album. And I’m happy to report that they lead off with my favourite ABBA song of all time.

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Bonus Tracks

London Calling: Foals, Black Bull

Earlier this year, Britain’s Foals issued Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1. Predictably, it’s being followed up with Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 (due Oct. 18). This is probably the heaviest thing the band has ever done.

Undiscovered Gem: Neon Bloom, Lighten Up

Combining garage rock and synthpop, Neon Bloom is already a Toronto live favourite. There are elements of danger to their gigs, too. Singer Jen Simpson suffers from epilepsy and can seize during rehearsals and shows. At one point bedridden and forced to put her modelling and musical ambitions on hold, she’s found a combination of meds that reduce seizures by about 90 per cent. Jen also doesn’t mind talking about her condition, believing that any awareness that’s given to the plight of epilepsy patients is a good thing.

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A new EP is due in early 2020.

Throwback Track: Sugar Ray, Someday

Sugar Ray was massive 20 years ago with a run of several multi-platinum albums, all containing ubiquitous radio hits. Then it was over. Today, singer Mark McGrath is best known as a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother. But in the spring and summer of 1999, all the cool kids were into songs like this from their 14:59 album.

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