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.
The first question to ask about a Paul McCartney standards album is why it took him so long. The guy’s always been fascinated by the American Songbook, and unlike some pop singers who have taken detours to the land of jazzy old tunes and swinging little combos, Sir Paul has a powerful and chameleonic voice.
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.
Here in the basement of the Espresso Royale on Sixth Street in this land grant university town, amid English Fog lattes and keypad-clatter, in the afternoon before the all-hallows-eve in which Katie, a great-great-et-cetera granddaughter of the townswoman they hanged for the crime of witchcraft, will play a game—homo ludens— of volleyball against the maize-and-blue Michigan Wolverines I draft a missive to the good citizenry of Dorchester as though they might yet happen upon these words, as though their revivified selves were a short gallop from this latitude and longitude, as though their sins of omission and commission might still be forgiven— not just forgotten—by an act of penance that includes a pilgrimage to tonight’s venue and a maniacal cheering for this descendent as she executes (I didn’t invent the language) a perfect play that culminates in (really, I didn’t) a kill. Full stop because I don’t know how to end this letter. So I do what I always do: continue breaking lines and staggering down the page until it’s time to witness more volleyball and cheer like nothing else ever happens or matters.