Gordon Downie Battle of the Nudes

Downie’s first solo album, 2001’s Coke Machine Glow, was all about the poet wandering off the rock’n’roll highway, walking through the lofty pines with a fascinating group of shadow dwellers. The fusion of their collective fumbling possessed an unpredictable magic that is distilled here with more focus and greater rewards. Downie is considerably more comfortable now in his second skin alongside his fellow freaks, joining in porch jams and Neil Young nights at the local watering hole. His new conspirators — Dinner Is Ruined with Julie Doiron and Josh Finlayson — colour his every move in ways that his day job stopped doing about five years ago. And this time, they’re competing on somewhat of the same turf. Unlike the tentative touches of last time, now Downie and his new band are swinging each other around the room, rocking out in the best 1969 Velvet Underground sense of sludge. Even when Downie’s melodies sound lifted from any random Tragically Hip album cut, songs like "Figment” and "Christmastime in Toronto” are elevated by the loose and live production — complete with majestic horns, "ahh”-inspiring backing vocals, distorted clavinet and unhinged guitar leads by Dale Morningstar. Downie’s lyrics are as fascinating and memorable as always, with a playful humour more evident than usual on tracks like the parental ode "We’re Hardcore.” And if for some snobby reason you’re still sceptical, take his advice and "listen, don’t guess.” (MapleMusic)