Okay, it’s that time of year again to target those ideal CD stocking stuffers for the music fans on your Christmas list. So here are 10 suggestions for releases that will appeal to the mainstream tastes of any music fan. And as this magazine is directed at Canadian content, we apologize in advance to the likes of Adele, One Direction and Selena Gomez who can top their own lists!.
So here in no specific order are 10 CD suggestions I believe will be well received on Christmas Day.
A superb collection of 13 songs (if you buy the deluxe version) by this affable Scottish storyteller who’s distinctive vocal style is reminiscent of Bob Seger, Rod Stewart and Michael Bolton with a dash of Tamla Motown, reggae-rap (courtesy of Kardinal Offishall) and a serving of Muscle Shoals R&B, by way of The Memphis Horns. Great songs including the tearful “A Picture Of You”, the Bob Segerish rocker “Honey Honey”, the rap-reggae flavoured “What I’m Feeling Right Now” and the soulful “What Love Is All About”. Reid may continue to be tattooed as a country artist but this release boasts a much greater appeal. A definite must for all mainstream music lovers who will no doubt swell his Tartan Army.
Whether appearing on Saturday Night Live, the MTV Awards, dropping collective jaws at the American Music Awards or blending in with the collective lovelies at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Scarborough Ontario’s Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, has been THE music story of 2015. Having initiated the hysteria by featuring “Earned It” on the 50 Shades Of Grey movie soundtrack, The Weeknd subsequently topped three songs on Billboard’s R&B charts with “Cant Find My Face”, “The Hills” and Earned It”, running in that order – the first time in history this has ever been achieved. With a vocal and musical style reminiscent of The King Of Pop, Michael Jackson, The Weekend has converted many people not supporters of rap/hip-hop into fans of his music.
For the more eclectic fan, Dallas Green continuous to release records which enjoy a wide fan base while reaching a more discerning audience. His distinctive vocal style might not be everyone’s cup of tea, yet his infectious writing style and simplistic, atmospheric, arrangements continue to build a strong following. Green has the ability to meld jazzy arrangements like “Killing Time: with more folksy tracks like “Friends” while maintaining a plaintive vocal style which has attracted an international audience. A great lyricist and infectious performer, Green continues to establish his own unique individuality.
Six records in and Abbotsford B.C’s Hedley has this hit-making recording technique down pat. Hook-filled, anthemic lyrics juiced by irresistible dance-oriented arrangements make for sure-fire radio classics like the lead-off “Lost in Translation.”and the Drake-inspired “Can’t Slow Down” Nothing heavy here, just easily accessible pop tracks that lead singer/songwriter Jacob Hoggard seems to knock off in his sleep. Yet aside from the customized ear candy, there is another side to Hedley and when Hoggard sits at his piano and performs plaintive ballads like “Back To Basics” and “The Knife” you get a true balance of the band’s creative talents.
Give the Stratford kid credit. Just when you think he’s burned enough bridges to alienate even his most faithful Beliebers, back he bounces with an 18-track deluxe recording which reflects a new maturity. Surrounded by experienced pro studio help from Skrillex and Diplo, Bieber has transformed himself into a mature-sounding performer who’s stylistic vocals on tracks like “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean”have already topped the Billboard charts in tandem with fellow Canuck hipsters, Drake and The Weeknd. His coming of age collaboration with Skrillex and Diplo, “Where Are U Now”has already chalked up an American Music Award and Bieber faithful are holding their collective breath and hoping that he can straighten out those personal problems and point his musical talents in a more meaningful direction. He may have lost some of his young fans in the process, but Bieber will be attracting new fans who cannot fail to be impressed by his apparent growth in maturity. Certainly record sales and downloads suggest he is on the right path.
Shawn Mendes may still have a few albums to go and a few years to mature before he hits Justin Bieber’s status but this kid is a real comer. Touring with Taylor Swift certainly didn’t hurt his reputation and Mendes has already done the round of the top U.S talk shows including Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres and David Letterman as well as making his presence felt on the red carpet at the recent America Music Awards. Unlike Bieber, Mendes doesn’t rely on dance production numbers to propel the tracks, relying almost solely on his own distinctive vocals to push the sparse arrangements featured on key tracks like “Life Of The Party”, “Kid In Love” and the title number. With 19 tracks including 4 from his recent live show at L.A’s famed Greek Theatre, Mendes is already proving to be a major breakthrough artist.
Think of those first couple of Eagles records when Bernie Leadon’s banjo was used as a lead instrument and you now have Brighton Ontario’s Cold Creek County’s debut record. Full sounding guitars and drums overlaid by a banjo and featuring countrified vocals recorded with a definite rock bite, CCC’s debut is an irresistible concoction of infectious country-rock gems. Songs like “Our Town”,”Blow My Speakers”, “Beer Weather”, the anthemic “Ain’t Nothing But A Party”, the pulsating title track and the country rap elements of “Ain’t Had Enough Of That Yet” provide a rollicking record from a band that’s just fun to listen to.
Another promising Canadian talent who has followed the boys (Bieber, Mendes, Yates, Helman) into the U.S spotlight with a debut record that’s receiving rave reviews from international critics. Think of a young Rhianna and you’d get the picture, especially with her breakthrough track, “Here” which pulled 42 million hits on Spotify and over 20 million downloads on YouTube. Sultry and melodic, Cara knows how to deliver a meaningful lyric. Her heart-felt reflection on self image with “Scars To Your Beautiful” is a poignant number that should resonate with her young fans. Definitely a star on the rise.
You’ve got to give this veteran Vancouver performer credit for battling back from debilitating personal problems to release a superb record, full of Good’s trademark poignant lyrics and stylish vocals. Songs like his first single “All Your Sons And Daughters”, “All Liars”, “Kid Down The Well” and his brilliant cover of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbursting” will sate all his alternative music fans yet win over new converts who can appreciate a challenging set of tracks. Good may have been at it for over 20 years but `Chaotic Neutral’ rates as one of the comeback performances of this year. His colourful yet poignant arrangements and stunningly powerful vocals have set up a record worthy of strong consumer attention this Christmas.
And finally my own personal favourite –
For a guy who almost succumbed to a stroke only a couple of months ago, Glass Tiger’s Alan Frew has taken a batch of classic 80’s tracks and made them his own with a series of stunning performances on tracks like Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me”, Spandau Ballet’s “Human”, Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now” and he even delivers a surprisingly solid recital of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To You”. Many artists have gone the tribute route and Frew’s buddy, Rod Stewart has made a cottage industry out of his American Songbook releases but give Frew his props for taking on 11 great songs, avoiding the karaoke approach and adding his own distinctive vocal style to the arrangements, he even sneaks in an excellent rework of Glass Tiger’s “Someday”. Eighties’ fans will get a kick out of their faves being reworked in such a stylish manner while those not familiar with these songs now have Frew’s laudable effort to introduce them to some epic material.
For those of you who disagree with these choices or have alternative selections of your own, please feel free to send your top 10’s to themusicexpress.ca and we might list your choice before the holidays.