fashionable for 21st-century blues guitarists to blow you away with
fretboard pyrotechnics. But Dave Specter harkens to the previous
century, when players like Steve Cropper and B. B. King moved listeners
with a handful of heartfelt notes. The horns, smoky organ and sublime
guitar on "Stick to the Hip" suggest Booker T.
Himmelman's gifts for melody, lyrical poignancy and spiritual depth are
rare among singer-songwriters. He can also rock: "Motel Room in
Davenport" chugs like a freight train, while "Good Luck Charm" mixes
white-boy rapping and an anvil-heavy beat into a solid groove.
many modern gospel records, this double disc was recorded live. But it
begins nontraditionally: "Reclaim Your Mountain" builds tension by
repeating a two-note phrase for almost four minutes before spiraling
into a Holy Spirit call. "Prophecy" kicks off with a tom-tom solo and
then unfurls a Latin-tinged rhythm that frames fervent, improvised
takes guts to kick off an album with a seven-minute track, but Canasta
rewards the listener who hangs in there. "Becoming You" unfolds with
patient pop majesty, recalling Belle & Sebastian or the Decemberists
as it evokes a warm spring morning shaking off the frost.
Deas Vail's youthful pop-rock is in the vein of Christian hit-radio bands. But the vocals soar to giddy heights on "Growing Pains," which makes compelling use of distorted guitar, riffing piano and swishing cymbals.
Chicago mints blues artists like a factory spits out widgets. Not all of them pass inspection, but Nick Moss has passed the tests of time and substance, and here he delivers a potent working-man's blues-rock blend. His version of Chester Burnett's "Louise" is a bare-fisted boogie with just a touch of southern-rock swagger.
Thousand Foot Krutch shows admirable ambition on Welcome to the Masquerade, deftly juggling metal, pop, rap and post-grunge. The trio mostly succeeds in making it all appealing, and the album’s sound is ultimately more inventive than derivative—this is not just another mainstream-aping Christian rock band.
It’s been some time since I donned my best professional earbuds to focus on a question of audio fidelity. But the band in question is the Beatles and the discs part of an ambitious remastering of the band’s catalog.
Back before pop diva Lisa Loeb became a household name, she and Elizabeth Mitchell performed together at Brown University. While Mitchell didn’t achieve Loeb’s fame, she possesses no less talent—and on her album for children, You Are My Little Bird (Smithsonian Folk ways), she demonstrates how the simplest music-making can be the most moving.
The world’s most popular rock band lives in constant contradiction. As U2 itself put it in the 1988 hit “God Part II”: “I don’t believe in riches, but you should see where I live.” The group at times proclaims Christ with power and passion, but it seems equally capable of cunning calculation.
This collection ranges from the merengue of Dominican superstar Reynold to the earthy Hungarian folk of Marta Sebestyen (knit with Arabic textures on “Bethlehem, Bethlehem”). The Cox Family’s dawn-in-Appalachia rendition of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is a highlight. Other tracks sample holiday pieces from Sweden, Italy and Africa.
The late Curtis Mayfield integrated music and message in a way that changed history. Four-plus decades after achieving renown, his talent shines in the film Movin’ On Up: The Music and Message of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions (Reelin’ in the Years Productions). More than a documentary, Movin’ On Up presents 22 complete songs, along with interviews.
Nick Cave might not be well known, but time spent with this complex Australian rocker is well spent. He doesn’t shy away from dense theological issues, which he explores in a rambling, lyrical style that recalls Jim Morrison at his poetic peak.