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Alan Cross’ weekly music picks: A nice Canadian flavour to close out February

Arkells perform at RBC House on September 7, 2019 in Toronto. .
Arkells perform at RBC House on September 7, 2019 in Toronto. . Darren Eagles/Getty Images for RBC

Even though it’s still three-ish weeks until spring, optimism about warmer weather begins to sprout once we hit the first of March.

Yes, it’ll be a while before we’re lazing about on the patio, but at least we can see that on the horizon. I think. Maybe these songs will help stoke that optimism.

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Here’s what we’re listening to this week.

1, Arkells, Years in the Making (Single)

The Arkells aren’t a band to wait until they have enough new material for a new album before they release something. If they come up with a song that needs to be released NOW, they’ll just go ahead and do it. As singer Max Kerman says, “You never know when the universe will deliver a tune from the song gods, but Years in the Making arrived just when we needed it.” This is the band’s first new music since 2018’s Rally Cry album.

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2. Gord Sinclair, Taxi Dancers

The other Gord from the Tragically Hip refers to himself as a “reluctant solo artist” because the bassist never thought he’d release a record on his own. He never considered his voice to be that strong and originally couldn’t imagine writing without his bandmates. But old habits die hard. Gord still found the need to write, demo, and then record with other creative people. The result is Hip-ish in some respects, unique in others. The release of Taxi Dancers leaves just drummer Johnny Fay as the last Hip member without a solo record.

3. Caribou, Suddenly

Dan Snaith of Dundas, Ont., is revered as one of the planet’s most intriguing indie electronic musicians. After veering into dancey material for the last few years, Suddenly seems more focused on songwriting and exploring a new variety of approaches. The new record does feature a few dance beats, but it also features ballads with no beats at all. There’s a lot going on here, so a measure of patience is required to take it all in.

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4. James Taylor, American Standard

Taylor has always amazed me. How is it possible that a man who has been through so much (drug addiction, mental health issues) still has a voice that sounds this sweet, even at age 71? Twenty albums into his career, he’s decided to release a collection of covers, songs that were among his favourites when he was still a child. The bossa nova-tinged Teach Me Tonight, the first single, was written by American pianist Gene de Paul and was originally a hit in 1953.

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5. Soccer Mommy, color theory

Soccer Mommy (fantastic name, that) is Swiss-born, Nashville-raised, college dropout Sophie Allison. Taking a page from ee cummings, she has decided to eschew the use of capitalization in the song titles for her fourth album. She’s already toured with Foster the People, Paramore, and Liz Phair. Don’t be surprised to see her pop up playing at Bernie Sanders rallies between now and the Democratic National Convention. Interesting, given that the decidedly non-democratic socialist Wall Street Journal gave this record a glowing review.

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Bonus Tracks

London Calling: Nadine Shah, Ladies for Babies (Goats for Love)

Nadine, who’s from the northeast of England, would like everyone to know that the title for this song (a rail against sexism in all its forms) is not about bestiality. Instead, she says it’s a phrase she remembers her brother saying years ago. In other words, take it up with him.

Undiscovered Gem: Agnes Obel, Broken Sleep

There are some songs that pair well with a cold February night. Obel, a 40-year-old singer-songwriter from Denmark, is already A Thing in Europe and the U.K. but deserves to be a planetary star thanks to gorgeous music like this. Her fourth album, Myopia, comes highly recommended.

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Throwback Track: Mazzy Star, Fade into You

This week came with news of the death of Mazzy Star co-founder David Roback. Together with partner Hope Sandoval, he created a dreamy, floating sort of approach to alt-rock that paved the way for artists like Lana Del Rey. This single from 1994’s For Tonight That I May See has been an enduring alt-rock radio hit.

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Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for Global News.

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