Josh's Listening Journal, 8/31
Lizz Wright, Dreaming Wide Awake
Finally caught up with Lizz Wright's new one; again, many thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet for his recommendation .The album is a pleasure-- even more low-key than Salt was, but definitely the sharper and stronger of the two.Wright's voice is a thing of beauty; these songs mostly have very simple, straightforward lyrics, but when Wright sings them they sound like profound poetry. And producer Craig Street realizes that to hinder or distract from her voice in any way would be doing the music a huge disservice, so he wisely keeps the arrangements sparse and spacious. I love how Wright doesn't just cover these songs, but she re-interprets them. Her slowed-down version of "Stop" may take some getting used to-- at least for this diehard Joe Henry fan-- but I am impressed by how the song takes on a whole different meaning in Wright's hands. Great stuff.
Buddy and Julie Miller, Buddy and Julie Miller
I love Buddy Miller. I really do. His most recent solo work, Universal United House of Prayer, was one of my favorites of 2004, and his work with Emmylou Harris is always a pleasure. His collaboration with wife Julie on the other hand... well, let's just say I love about half of this album, which happens to be the half that Buddy contributed. Julie Miller is a fine songwriting talent, but she takes too many easy outs here; as profound as her classic song "All My Tears" is, there's just no excuse for couplets like, "You make me think I could miss you/ You make me think I should kiss you." And her voice... well, it's a wee bit shrill, to say the least. This is hardly a bad album-- or even a mediocre one-- but it's not nearly as consistent as Buddy's solo works.
Collin Herring, The Other Side of Kindness
I really hope we'll be hearing much more from this guy in the near future... on a major label, ideally. Herring's independently releases sophomore album is full of brilliant songwriting-- he tackles relationships and lost love with as much wit and grace as Aimee Mann-- and exciting stylistic shifts, jumping from loud, raucous garage rock to weepy country ballads to psychadelic stompers. The only thing that prevents this album from being a real knockout is the production; unfortunately, the guitars are turned up so loud that Herring's great songwriting mostly just gets lost in the mix. What this guy needs is T-Bone Burnett!
Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster
Any album that allows you to hear Ron Sexsmith, Ollabelle, and Mavis Staples on one disc is automatically worthwhile in my book. This multi-artist tribute to America's first great songwriter (you know him from "O Susanna," "Camptown Races," and many others) is sometimes a bit sleepy, but all in all a beautiful, memorable collection of great songs performed by great musicians. (The only real blunder is Michelle Shocked's spectacularly awful reading of "O Susanna.")
And, as usual, I've saved the best for last. How come nobody ever told me about...
Neko Case, Furnace Room Lullabies.
Dadgum it, folks, I can't believe it's taken me three years to discover this album. I absolutely love country music, and, simply put, this is one of the most compelling, powerful country recordings I've ever heard. It bests any of the recent Emmylou Harris and Loretta Lynn albums in its intensity and focus, and the production and songwriting are first-rate. What's amazing, though, is Case's voice; she grabs you from the first syllable of "Set Out Running" and doesn't let go until you've finished the last song, your heart torn out and stomped on. (In a good way.) This is fiery, impassioned country music with an electrifying rock edge, and if you, like me, enjoy roots music but have yet to discover this great album, it's time you were introduced to the joys of Neko.