nkotb-10New Kids on the Block created pop hysteria during the late 1980s and early ’90s, with best-selling albums, top-grossing tours and merchandise that included dolls, lunch boxes and bed sheets. After several unsuccessful comeback attempts, Jonathan Knight, Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Danny Wood and Donnie Wahlberg have returned with their most mature album to date. Says Wahlberg: “We’re not kids anymore. We’re older guys now and we’ve got to balance family and work.”

            The group’s sixth album features savvy dance-pop tracks like “Crash,” “Now or Never” and “Remix (I Like The),” about a girl who transforms from “wallpaper to heartbreaker.” But the album’s best track is the opener “We Own Tonight,” a harmony-drenched ballad that promises to be a highlight of this summer’s The Package tour, where NKOTB will be joined by fellow former teen heartthrob bands Boyz II Men and the recently reunited 98 Degrees. The kids are all grown up.

Leonard Cohen - Live in LondonIn 2001, Leonard Cohen came down from the mountain—literally, the Mount Baldy Zen Center northeast of Los Angeles—after five years in seclusion as a Buddhist monk. But the Montreal-born poet’s joyous return was short-lived when he sued his longtime manager for a $5 million misappropriation that left him nearly penniless. Although he won the lawsuit, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was told it was unlikely he’d ever be able to collect his cash.

Taking matters into his own hands, Leonard launched a world tour in 2008, his first in 15 years, and was soon performing sold-out concerts across Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The tour continues in the United States and with more Canadian and European dates this spring and summer. Everywhere he goes, the 74-year-old Leonard has been thrilling audiences and earning ecstatic reviews, while replenishing his retirement fund.

Now fans can see and hear the latest from Leonard with Live in London, a double CD and companion DVD recorded last summer at London’s O2 Arena. Sporting a fedora and a pin-striped suit, Leonard, the former Ladies Man, is still a dapper troubadour capable of stirring hearts with his classics like “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy,” “Ain’t No Cure for Love” and the transcendent “Hallelujah.” Like his songs, he’s aged well. At one point, during “I Tried to Leave You,” he sings “Here’s a man still working for your smile.” Truth is, the legendary Leonard doesn’t have to work hard to get us smiling again.

April 2009

Kristina Train - Spilt MilkThis southern U.S. singer has several connections with Norah Jones, including the same record label and a similar penchant for melancholy. But, as a vocalist, Kristina has greater range and power, closer to British contemporaries Duffy and Adele, with whom she shares a producer (Jimmy Hogarth) and a songwriter (Eg White). Kristina’s debut album is full of soul-drenched breakup/makeup songs like “Don’t Remember,” “It’s Over” and the title track, which echoes Adele’s Grammy-winning “Chasing Pavements.”

November 2009

Blue Rodeo - The Things We Left BehindOne of Canada’s longest running bands, Blue Rodeo forged its country-tinged rock sound on Toronto’s Queen Street in 1984. Since then, the group has released more than a dozen albums and sold more than four million copies while winning five Junos and a place on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Blue Rodeo’s success is rooted in the songwriting partnership of Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, whose friendship began on the football field at North Toronto Collegiate Institute.

To mark the band’s 25th anniversary, Jim and Greg—along with bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem and pedal steel player Bob Egan—have made the ambitious The Things We Left Behind, a double album released in both CD and vinyl formats. “From the beginning we knew we were going to two records,” says Jim. Adds Greg: “We wanted to make two CDs that represented the flip of a record.”

As with all Blue Rodeo records, the strength of The Things We Left Behind lies in the songwriters’ yin and yang, typically Jim’s melodic ballads and Greg’s moody rockers. But the new album often turns that dichotomy on its head. Some of the best songs offer surprising twists, whether it’s Greg’s joyous “Never Look Back” or Jim’s plaintive “One Light Left in Heaven,” graced by Anne Lindsay’s violin and Oh Susanna’s backing vocals. Other highlights include the CSNY-style epic “Million Miles” and the Beatlesque “Don’t Let the Darkness in Your Head.” After a quarter century, Blue Rodeo still knows how to keep it fresh.

November 2009

Dragonette - Fixin to ThrillMartina Sorbara is hard to ignore. The singer-songwriter, daughter of former Ontario finance minister Greg Sorbara, first turned heads as a provocative solo artist. These days, with her husband, bassist-producer Dan Kurtz, she’s the striking frontwoman of stylish electro-popsters Dragonette. The band’s latest CD is a mostly thrilling affair, with a fizzy pop sound featuring Martina’s frenzied yelps and sexy purrs over dazzling synths and block-rockin’ beats, best heard on “Easy” and the banjo-sampling “Gone Too Far.” 

November 2009