Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Josh's Listening Journal, 8/10

You know, this has been a pretty darn good year for new music; I'm still basking in the glow of the new Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens discs, and I've had some powerful experiences with late-night listens to the new Maria McKee album. I've also been able to get my hands on several worthwhile new releases this week, and will share some quick-draw first impressions of them here:

Nickel Creek, Why Should the Fire Die?
The new Nickel Creek recording gives us more of everything the band has been known for in the past-- in other words, it's another hearty dose of agressive, progressive bluegrass music, pristine vocal harmonies, and remarkable feats of musicianship. Unfortunately, it's also stuck in the same songwriting rut that the band was in on their last two albums. The songs here-- many inspired by the breakdown of Chris Thile's marriage-- are as dark and soul-searching as any in the Nickel Creek canon, but they sound more like high school journal entries than carefully crafted poetry. Still, for the impressive musicianship, this album is worth hearing.

Danny Cohen, We're All Gunna Die
Danny Cohen has done something that I once thought was impossible: He has come dangerously close to out-weirding Tom Waits. We're All Gunna Die is a remarkable, utterly strange collection of wonderfully warped folk songs. Cohen isn't much of a singer, but his lyrics are funny, touching, and surprisingly complex. The music is tough to describe, but, if you can imagine a marriage of Waits' junkyard-pop sound and the freak-folk of Vic Chesnutt, you might be on the right track. A very difficult album, but also very rewarding.

Ry Cooder, Chavez Ravine
A sprawling, monsterous concept album about a long-forgotten Hispanic neighbordhood in LA, Chavez Ravine is all over the place, both stylistically and lyrically. Cooder deftly hops from one genre to another, incorporating many different forms of ethnic music-- along with searing insturmental solos and numerous guest performers-- into a complicated, ambitious whole. His lyrics, while not exactly subtle, work together to tell a compelling story. This is another album that can prove hard to sit through at times, but patient, attentive listeners will find it rewarding.

Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, Begonias
Listening to this album is enough to make this country music fan think he's died and gone to heaven. This is an impossibly beautiful album of perfect country duets, one that channels the spirit of Graham Parsons and Emmylou Harris like no album in recent memory. This album is so much more authentic, so much more graceful than any other recent country release that you'll have a hard time believing these songs were written; they sound like they've existed forever, and are tightly woven into the very fabric of American music. This one's a keeper, and one of 2005's best.

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