Suzanne Ciani’s work as a synthesizer pioneer dates to the instrument’s infancy, and Lixiviation is a fascinating document that collects both Ciani’s musical compositions and her work as one of the first sound designers.
Chicago’s Kenny Haas mixes it up with live storytelling, prerecorded stories and a smorgasbord of musical genres--from polka (“Don’t Let Those Chickens Run Away”) to a capella doo-wop (“Kitty Delight”).
On the cover of Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen holds his iconic Fender Esquire guitar, the same ax he sported on his 1975 masterpiece Born to Run. Back then, saxophonist Clarence Clemons stood to his left, coaxing an impish grin from the young rocker. Now, on his first disc since Clemons’s death, Bruce stands solitary and sullen against a black backdrop.
Most Westerners know Sufi music through the great singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This digital-download collection introduces six Sufi and Baul/Hindu artists largely unheard outside India. It’s a spellbinding trip into mystical art with a tender heart, showcased in poignant, centuries-old teaching songs about love, humanity and devotion.
Pinning down this Chicago-based group’s sound is difficult. But it’s easy to name resemblances: the progressive song structure and guitar work of Yes; the spoken-word interludes of Frank Zappa and Ken Nordine; the slithery funk of 1970s David Bowie.
Finally, Guy Clark has received a thorough tribute that lives up to his mastery and honors the way he does things: live, spontaneous, without studio trickery to supplant the energy that players create in the moment.
The Minneapolis-based Rundman has built an unlikely career as a scruffy Lutheran rocker, tackling scripture and spirituality with finesse that transcends the vapid Christian rock scene. This disc surveys Rundman’s career from 2000 to the present, with cuts from the 52-song Sound Theology project such as “Carol of the Bells,” which celebrates a cute girl in the handbell choir.
Richard Colligan, a Lutheran church musician, yields two uplifting discs and 30 songs inspired by the Psalms. The overall feel varies from minor-key folk to gospel-tinged rock. It’s anchored by Colligan’s voice, a creamy, sublime tenor reminiscent of Jars of Clay’s Dan Haseltine.
Steve Martin’s novelty song “King Tut” contains the line “could’ve won a Grammy.” Now this disc by the actor-comedian is indeed Grammy nominated, in the bluegrass category. A deft banjo picker, Martin gets A-list help from Paul McCartney (who takes the lead vocal on “Best Love”) and the Dixie Chicks (who sing lovely, tight harmonies on the ballad “You”).
Watching this 16 mm footage—lost for 50 years—in its black-and-white glory is a revelation. The goosebumps begin the second Charles and his band (featuring David "Fathead" Newman on sax) fire up the head-boppin' riffs and rhythms. The eight-piece band nails "One Mint Julep" (though without music stands—they have to use chairs to prop up their sheet music).
On his first album since 2008, Sweet employs vinyl in the mastering process to sweeten the sound—a sign of his '60s-pop infatuation. Fans of Girlfriend-era Sweet may wish that this record rocked more; others may find its introspection a sign of growth.
Fans of guitar superslinger Phil Keaggy (which include, it is said, the late Jimi Hendrix) know that he's incredible live, the high quality of his studio discs notwithstanding. Here he combines studio precision and live spontaneity as he tackles classic-rock covers ("To Make You Feel My Love," "Here Comes the Sun") and his Christian-music chestnuts ("What a Day," "Salvation Army Band").
Mylo Xyloto strives to be melodic and grandiose, thoughtful and
commercial, a big seller but not a sellout. It's the artistic equivalent
of trying to serve Zeus and mammon, and it doesn't come without risks.
Mark Olson and Gary Louris reunited for a duo record in 2008, but this is the first album they've made together with the Jayhawks in 16 years. The two harmonize like a countrified Simon and Garfunkel, and they write potent songs that stick to your synapses.