Canadian rappers don't have the same pressure as Americans to conform to specific (arguably stereotypical) musical and lyrical traits, with the result that the Canadian hip-hop underground is even more freewheeling and experimental than its U.S. counterpart, ranging from the country shuffle of Buck 65 to Soso's Explosions in the Sky-like post-rock epic Tinfoil on the Windows. Some might even argue whether C.R. Avery is a rapper at all: on tracks like the opening character study "The Boxer Who Just Returned from London," his delivery includes sudden, emphatic bursts of human beatboxing, but his overall flow is that of a Beat poet doing a reading in the back room at City Lights Books circa 1957. (Unsurprisingly, the press kit for this album states that Tom Waits is a big, big fan.) Elsewhere, the fully sung "Prime Minster's Chair" has the cracked, slightly dazed air of a mid-'70s Neil Young ballad, and the caustic "Hell of a Hotel of Charm" swings like a collaboration between Beck and the Beastie Boys at their most experimental. But for all of the folk, blues, country, and roots-rock elements of his album, the underlying feel is deeply rooted in the cultural magpie aesthetic of modern hip-hop, where anything is ripe for recontextualization. As a result, Magic Hour Sailor Songs is an impossible album to pigeonhole, but repeated listens reveal C.R. Avery's eclectic way of thinking. There are elements of this album that in lesser hands would come across as unbearably pretentious: rather than liner notes or lyrics, the booklet slipped into the digipack turns out to be a slim chapbook of Avery's poetry; one track, "New Stanzas for Amazing Grace," is a musical setting of Allen Ginsberg verse; and the eight-minute closer, "The Ballad of Charlie Parker and Patsy Cline," is scored for a string quartet. But Avery's confident, self-assured delivery and his gift for simple but effective melodies keep Magic Hour Sailor Songs from tipping over into affected conceit.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason