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Rutledge turns pages in ‘Passages’

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Justin Rutledge – Passages

Soprano Davidsen shines on solo debut

Justin Rutledge, “Passages” (Outside Music)

Justin Rutledge stands in a strong tradition of literate Canadian singer-songwriters – think Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell or the late Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. Like the Hip, whose Rob Baker plays guitar on Rutledge’s new album, he deserves to be better known outside his homeland.

Rutledge’s roots are in alt-country, and like the best country songwriters he has a knack for lyrics full of doubt and loss, set to jaunty tunes. It’s angst you can hum along to.

On “Passages”, his eighth studio album, Rutledge worked with a new band and producer Chris Stringer (Timber Timbre, the Wooden Sky). Guitar-dominated, but seasoned with piano and strings, the album sometimes achieves an Eagles-y Californian vibe: layered and ambient, with an intoxicating sheen.

There’s a languid melancholy to songs like “Captive” and “Weight of the World”, while the title track is a wistful love song delivered with Beatles-esque strings. Rutledge has a gift for lyrics that are simultaneously mysterious and vivid, and while his songs are often introspective, they are also fun. He rocks out enjoyably on the spirited, slide guitar-fueled “Good Man” – the first single – and the self-questioning anthem “Chains”.

There has always been a strong literary strain in Rutledge’s songs, and his latest album ends with “Boats”, a track co-written by Booker Prize-winning novelist Michael Ondaatje. But banish any fears that “literary” means “pretentious.”

Lyrically and melodically gripping, “Passages” is the musical equivalent of a page-turner.

Lise Davidsen (conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Philharmonia Orchestra), “Lise Davidsen” (Decca)

For a young singer as prodigiously gifted as Lise Davidsen, there’s always a danger she’ll be pressured into taking on too much too soon. Judging from the Norwegian soprano’s first solo album, she’s steering clear of that pitfall.

Only 32, Davidsen is being hailed as the next great Wagnerian soprano because of her clarion, multi-colored voice with its seemingly unlimited capacity to soar over heavy orchestration. The twin peaks of that repertory – Isolde and Brünnhilde – surely await her, yet on this album she has wisely chosen only works she’s already performed onstage.

There are just two Wagner excerpts: Elisabeth’s arias from “Tannhäuser”, the opera that will serve for her debut this summer at the composer’s shrine in Bayreuth, Germany. Dramatically, the pieces couldn’t be more different. In “Dich teure Halle”, the heroine’s exuberant greeting to the Hall of Song, Davidsen caps the conclusion with a ringing high B natural. The second aria, “Allmächt’ge Jungfrau”, is a somber prayer at the point of death, and Davidsen sings it with restraint, though her gleaming tone once or twice threatens to overpower the muted accompaniment.

Richard Strauss’ opera “Ariadne auf Naxos” has served as Davidsen’s calling card in the last few years, and she delivers thrills in the wide-ranging vocal line of the title character’s aria, “Es gibt ein Reich”.

Strauss is also the composer of the remaining offerings on the album, primarily two sets of songs representing his early maturity and the end of his career. The four pieces of Opus 27 from 1894 were wedding gifts for his wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna. Davidsen shows her versatility here, meeting the operatic demands of “Cäcilie” with ease and then scaling down her voice to suit the delicate texture of “Morgen!”

The album ends with the elegiac “Four Last Songs” from 1948, just a year before the composer’s death at age 85. While more experienced sopranos have perhaps brought greater interpretive depth to these songs, the purity and flexibility of Davidsen’s voice carry the day here.

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LOS ANGELES: Tidal has announced a series of listening events across the globe for members to experience the forthcoming album from Prince’s estate, “Originals”. The 15-track album features 14 previously unreleased Prince recordings of songs he composed that were made famous by other artists, including “Nothing Compares 2 U”, “Manic Monday” and “The Glamorous Life”. The tracks were selected collaboratively by Jay-Z and Troy Carter, on behalf of the Prince Estate.

 Album release celebrations will take place in the United States, Spain, Poland, Brazil and other countries across the globe. In the US, Tidal members will have the chance to attend an album release celebration in Los Angeles hosted by Jay-Z on June 6 – for more information, see Tidal.com/Prince.

 Starting June 7, “Originals” will stream exclusively on Tidal for 14 days.

 The release represents the conclusion of Tidal’s 2015 deal with Prince, which saw the platform become the exclusive streaming partner for the artist’s music; his music returned to all major platforms in 2017.  (Agencies)

After the first release on Tidal, “HitNRun Phase One”, Prince said “After one meeting, it was obvious that Jay-Z and the team he has assembled at Tidal recognize and applaud the effort that real musicians put in2 their craft 2 achieve the very best they can at this pivotal time in the music industry. Secondly, Tidal have honored us with a non-restrictive arrangement that once again allows us to continue making art in the fashion we’ve grown accustomed 2, and we’re Extremely grateful 4 their generous support.”

 Prince previously partnered with Tidal on a series of exclusive releases, also including “HitNRun Phase Two”, the livestream of Prince’s “Rally 4 Peace” concert as well as a weekly “Purple Pick of the Week” series featuring new tracks, exclusives, rarities and more tracks selected by Prince.

 “Prince led the way, for artistic freedom, for ownership. He’s one of the bravest people I can think of in the industry. He trusted us, not just me, but Tidal, to continue his fight,” said Jay-Z. “Trying to help further that legacy through his music is both an honor we couldn’t pass up as an organization dedicated to empowering artists. This gives his true fans that peak behind the curtain.” (Agencies)

By Jill Lawless