When I was growing up, the music that got played at my house consisted of choral music, showtunes, CCM and praise bands (the last two being considerably more distinct in those days than they are now). Before and for a while after they had kids, my parents played in an CCM-ish band. Another couple from that group remained close friends of my parents, and their son and I--living a half mile from each other, each surrounded by sisters--were inseparable from birth to college.
On many Saturday nights, I slept in my friend's basement. His dad liked to wake us for church by putting on records by Doc Watson--who died Tuesday--and cranking the volume.
Ruthie Foster has a powerhouse of a blues/gospel voice, which she never allows to overpower a song. If you’re not sold already, Foster made her newest album in New Orleans with the Blind Boys of Alabama and a cast of hotshot players. It wouldn’t have killed them to restrain the Hammond organ player once in a while, but that’s being picky: the project brings a truckload of soul and grit.
M. Ward’s solo albums reveal that he surpasses his more-famous collaborators (Conor Oberst, Zooey Deschanel) on all fronts. His sound has a sepia-toned timelessness; it’s both inventive and a whole bunch of kinds of old-fashioned.
On her third album, Shannon Stephens reins in her chamber-folk experimentalism in favor of a bluesy little band that takes her songs to unexpected places. Her sound remains relatively subdued, yet it grooves and pops and even swaggers.