Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Josh's Listening Journal, 9/13

This week I've been reveling in new albums from three first-class singer/songwriters.

Destination Unknown is the best of the three. A collaboration between world-class musician Ron Sexsmith and his frequent cellist/drummer, Don Kerr, the album stands out as a humble, sincere labor of love in a catalog that's full of them. Sounding very much like an acoustic version of Retriever (still my favorite Sexsmith disc), Destination Unknown gives one the impression that Sexsmith and Kerr just sat down on a back porch and started noodling around on their guitars and harmonizing. The songwriting is sweet and sincere, the melodies are immediately unforgettable, the production is flawless, and the harmoines are rich and moving. In other words, it's every bit a Ron Sexsmith album.

Meanwhile, Denison Witmer enlists the help of Sufjan Stevens and The Innocence Mission on his new project, Are You a Dreamer? It's easy to tell; the album sounds very much like a cross between Befriended and Seven Swans. Don Peris produces the set, and he wisely throws in enouth styistic variation and unexpected stylistic flourishes to make this project unique to Witmer. These are quiet, gentle, uncommonly beautiful folk songs with lyrics about faith, hope, and dreaming. Witmer delivers these songs with so much warmth you can't help but be won over.

Finally, if every song on Tracy Bonham's Blink the Brightest was as strong the opening three cuts, it'd be a probable candidate for Album of the Year. Unfortunately, there's not quite enough sonic and lyrical variation to keep the whole album as interesting, but it's still a highly impressive pop album. Bonham's got a magnetic, compelling voice, not to mention a flare for writing massive, unrelenting pop hooks. The production is slick, but never inappropriately so, and though her lyrics explore very familiar territory, they're clever and idiosyncratic enough to keep things fresh and interesting. Oh, and "Something Beautiful" is a pop song to rival the very best work from the New Pornographers.

So there you have it; three highly worthwhile albums from three classy singer/songwriters. Check back later this week for some more mini-reviews.


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