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.
Finally, Guy Clark has received a thorough tribute that lives up to his mastery and honors the way he does things: live, spontaneous, without studio trickery to supplant the energy that players create in the moment.
So, I didn’t latch onto a holy word and go into space and, ethereal, lose touch with my body. But God, in those thirty slow minutes, you unfolded in me the bud of a fresh flower, with color and fragrance that was more than my soul was capable of, on its own.
. . . We all, with unveiled face, behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.
And when the peony showed up, I knew it as a kind of mirror. This was glory in pink and cream, with a smell of heaven. Petals like valves opening into the colors of my heart.
I saw myself kneeling on a grass border, my knees bruising the green, pressing my face into the face of this silken, just-opened bloom, and breathing it, wanting to drown in it. Wanting to grow in its reflected image.