Ben Bedford creates cinematic folk music with the wisdom and depth of someone twice his age. “John the Baptist” is a rousing song despite its minor key, thanks to its carousel of organ, slide guitar and backbeat drums (“The devil skulks ’round every bend / And a broken soul you cannot mend / Not till you raise repentant hands”).
This collection draws on Carrie Newcomer’s dozen releases on Rounder, adding two new tracks that continue in her tradition of exploring spiritual dimensions in everyday life. Newcomer’s gentle alto welcomes the listener with more warmth than a cappuccino.
It’s easy to write Kris Kristofferson off as another country songwriter trawling the shallows of whiskey, diesels and cornpone imagery. But that’s a myopic read of the Rhodes scholar, William Blake devotee, Golden Gloves boxer and helicopter pilot.
This project by producers Paul Marsteller and Gabriel Rhodes is an admirable tribute to pre–World War I popular music. Each singer is accompanied only by instruments from the song’s period. Richard Thomson’s sly baritone curls around “The Band Played On” like a handlebar mustache, while Graham Parker tackles “The Flying Trapeze” with saloon-and-sarsaparilla panache.
The latest six-song effort by Beki Hemingway—a distant relative of Ernest—finds her in fine voice, singing with a poised balance of tough and tender. And she has an able partner in husband-guitarist Randy Kerkman, who coproduces this disc.
While many of his contemporaries have ossified, Neil Young claws at the marrow like a deranged miner, digging deep in ways that confound expectation. He launches his new double album with a track that’s almost 28 minutes long—and that largely revolves around two chords. It’s one of three songs on this nine-track effort that top 16 minutes.
Cleverly disguised as bedtime music for young ones, Lullaby doubles as an album of exquisite, dreamy chamber pop that showcases Justin Roberts backed by a string quartet, trumpets and French horn. The plucked strings on “Heart of Gold” infuse the song with a playful sparkle that shimmers like summer twilight.
Steve Dawson of the five-piece band Dolly Varden shows sharp lyrical skill on the plaintive “Del Mar, 1976,” which invokes water towers and “the sad songs of the ’70s playing soft from a radio at the bottom of her stairs.” Dawson and wife Diane Christiansen offer fine vocal interplay on the punchy rockers “Done (Done)” and “Temperamental Complement.” It’s smart, country-tinged alt-pop ridi
Vignola and Raniolo’s dual acoustic guitars blend like espresso and gelato. From the first notes of “It Might As Well Be Spring,” the players leap with acrobatic precision from strummed triplets to descending diminished scale runs.
Radney Foster pulls off a neat trick: a live re-recording of his first solo album from 20 years ago, Del Rio, Texas, 1959. In splendid voice and backed sublimely by 17 musicians, he treats us to sweet, West Texas nectar.
Audrey Assad’s robust voice, which recalls Paula Cole, can climb from gentle to gutsy in the same song—as it does on the opener, “Blessed Are the Ones.” Heart is a sunny pop affair, and Assad expresses herself with unadorned simplicity. On the piano-driven title track, she asks, “Why should I be lonely?
It’s been 14 years since Sixpence None the Richer released the hit single “Kiss Me.” Little did many listeners know that the song came from a group named for a C. S. Lewis analogy concerning God-bestowed gifts. Now Sixpence has a new album—its first in ten years.
This singer-songwriter with a breathy tenor-alto takes a successful chance on the opening track, “Dylan’s Arms.” As spare guitar meets lush, multilayered vocals, Lewis offers a starry-eyed ode to the master songwriter (“He talks to everyone, but he sings to me, to me, to me”).
I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone
by James Luther Dickinson and the North Mississippi Allstars
In his storied career, Jim Dickinson produced some of rock’s greatest acts (Big Star, the Replacements). Here his sons Luther and Cody, who gained fame as the North Mississippi Allstars, accompany him in a live gig recorded three years before his death in 2009.