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.
The band R.E.M. is easy to love—and hate. In the 1980s the group from Athens, Georgia, defined college and indie rock. It grafted locomotive Rickenbacker guitar and bass onto the no-nonsense beats of Bill Berry and the barely audible but alluring vocals of Michael Stipe.
New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, largely inhabited by poor African-American residents, looks not much different now from when the floodwaters receded. You have to wonder how Washington would have reacted if Katrina had hit a wealthy, white gated community.
The Pigeons Couldn't Sleep
The Best of Jonathan Rundman: 20 Songs from the 20th Century
Peter Himmelman, formerly the bushy-haired hero of the New Wave band Sussman Lawrence, has transitioned into a middle-aged rocker, and his music reveals only the best results. His songs have a muscular, energetic groove that begs comparisons with Bob Dylan—his father-in-law. The lyrics balance pungent humor and well-versed, poignant observations.