Monday, October 31, 2005

Mockingbird Update, 10/31

Well, today is Reformation Day, and what better way to celebrate than with an update on the new album from Derek Webb, CCM's own musical Martin Luther?

Mockingbird-- still set to release the day after Christmas-- finally has a cover, and an official tracklisting!

1. Mockingbird
2. A New Law
3. A King and a Kingdom
4. I Hate Everything (But You)
5. Rich Young Ruler
6. A Consistent Ethic of Human Life
7. My Enemies Are Men Like Me
8. Zeros & Ones
9. In God We Trust
10. Please, Before I Go
11. Love Is Not Against the Law

...and, as if that's not enough... check out these lyrics from "A New Law." If this song is any indication, Mockingbird is going to be one of the most challenging and convicting albums of the year... and, in most circles, one of the most offensive. In other words, it's a Derek Webb album all the way.

A New Law
by Derek Webb

Don’t teach me about politics and government,
Just tell me who to vote for.

And don’t teach me about truth and beauty,
No, just label my music.

And don’t teach me how to live like a free man,
No, just give me a new law.

I don’t want to know if the answers aren’t easy,
So just bring it down from the mountain to me.

I want a new law, I want a new law.
Just give me that new law.

And don’t teach me about moderation and liberty,
I prefer a shot of grape juice.

And don’t teach me about loving my enemies.

And don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit,
No, just give me a new law.

I don’t want to know if the answers aren’t easy,
So just bring it down from the mountain to me.

I want a new law, I want a new law.
Just give me that new law.

Cause what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
For one you can, that can not get you anything.

So do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid.
Oh, do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Born to Laugh: An Evening with Over the Rhine

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Another long-overdue review: Charlie Sexton

I have a little bit of free time this week, so I'm hoping I'll be able to catch up with my music reviews. Tomorrow, I'll be posting a review of tonight's Over the Rhine concert. After that, I hope to find the time to write up the new records from Fiona Apple, Holopaw, and perhaps some others. For tonight, here's my new review of...

Cruel and Gentle Things
, the fantastic new album from Charlie Sexton.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Musical Graffiti, 10/21-- New soul music compilation from Joe Henry!

UPDATE: Thanks to Caleb for pointing out that this album isn't in the works... it's already in stores! Here's the AMG review.

Pitchfork Media has some of the best news I've heard all week: There's a new project in the works from one of the finest singer/songwriters working today, the great Joe Henry.

Okay, so it isn't actually a new solo recording, but still, anything with Henry's fingerprints on it is bound to be worthwhile. Apparently inspired by his work with Solomon Burke, Henry is assembling an all-star cast of classic soul music veterans for a star-studded compilation album, with proceeds going to Hurrican Katrina relief efforts.

Check out the full tracklisting:

01 Mavis Staples: You Must Have That True Religion
02 Billy Preston: Both Ways--
03 Ann Peebles: Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You
04 Irma Thomas: The Same Love That Made Me Laugh
05 Allen Toussaint: Mi Amour
06 Mavis Staples: Keep on Pushing
07 Billy Preston: As One
08 Irma Thomas: Loving Arms
09 Allen Toussaint: River Boat
10 Mavis Staples and Billy Preston: That's Enough
11 Allen Toussaint: Turvalon
12 Ann Peebles: When the Candle Burns Low
13 Allen Toussaint: We Are One

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Wilco, Kate Bush get new album covers.

Check out these new album covers from Wilco and Kate Bush:

Wilco-- Kicking Television (live double album, November 14)

Kate Bush-- Aerial (double studio album, November 8)

So whaddaya think? I'm pretty pleased with both of them, though the big bright light on the Wilco cover may be a little too close to the cover of the most recent Rolling Stones disc.

Rolling Stone finally publishes something worthwhile... an interview with Bono.

Wow... for once, I'm really excited about the new issue of Rolling Stone. Their cover story this month is an exclusive interview with Bono, covering everything from the early days of U2 to Bono's social activism. And yes... he talks about his faith, too. Check out this exerpt:

Do you pray or have any religious practices?

I try to take time out of every day, in prayer and meditation. I feel as at home in a Catholic cathedral as in a revival tent. I also have enormous respect for my friends who are atheists, most of whom are, and the courage it takes not to believe.

How big an influence is the Bible on your songwriting? How much do you draw on its imagery, its ideas?

It sustains me.

As a belief, or as a literary thing?

As a belief. These are hard subjects to talk about because you can sound like such a dickhead. I'm the sort of character who's got to have an anchor. I want to be around immovable objects. I want to build my house on a rock, because even if the waters are not high around the house, I'm going to bring back a storm. I have that in me. So it's sort of underpinning for me.

I don't read it as a historical book. I don't read it as, "Well, that's good advice." I let it speak to me in other ways. They call it the rhema. It's a hard word to translate from Greek, but it sort of means it changes in the moment you're in. It seems to do that for me.

You're saying it's a living thing?

It's a plumb line for me. In the Scriptures, it is self-described as a clear pool that you can see yourself in, to see where you're at, if you're still enough. I'm writing a poem at the moment called "The Pilgrim and His Lack of Progress." I'm not sure I'm the best advertisement for this stuff.

Read more over at the Rolling Stone Web site.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Josh's Listening Journal, 10/19

"...We're uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don't have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we're smarter... Great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love..."

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character says those lines in the film Almost Famous, and you know, he's right; indeed, there are few pop music traditions as old and as common as the Break-Up Album. Blood on the Tracks... Sea Change... seems like every artist has got one. And I love a good Break-Up Album as much as the next guy-- they can lead us into increased empathy and compassion, and sometimes result in surprising catharsis. And then there's the rare Break-Up Album that goes beyond the pain, reaching for grace and hope in the midst of troubled times-- albums like Sam Phillips' A Boot and a Shoe and Dylan's Time Out of Mind.

We haven't had any albums like that this year, but there have been a number of worthwhile musical documents of heartbreak and loss. Like Maria McKee's new album. And the new Caitlin Cary/Thad Cockrell disc, Begonias. Heck, even the new Eels collection might fit the bill.

Fiona Apple's new album, Extraordinary Machine, is the best one yet. Critics have been singing its praises, and for good reason. Though the actual music is sometimes overshadowed by the album's sordid, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-ish back-story, it's still one of the most memorably creative albums of the year, filled with quirky string arrangements, unrelenting hip-hop beats, subtle flourishes of horns, and plenty of Fiona's typically aggressive piano playing.

And then, of course, there are the lyrics. Fiona's apparently been in a pretty nasty relationship, and man... the guy she was with sounds like a real jerk! But this album isn't about name-calling or bitterness. I am impressed by how Fiona takes us on a tour of all the different ways in which grief manifests itself-- denial, the desire for revenge, confusion, lamentation, and, in the end, a glimmer of hope. It's as if Fiona is playing the role of Juliette Binoche's character from the movie Blue, trying everything she can do to cope with her sadness until she stumbles across something that works-- Grace.

And that's not the only great Break-Up Album in my stereo right now. I was just recently introduced to Feist, and I am immediately a fan. Her new album, Let it Die, is a beautiful, enthralling, hypnotic affair, a mixture of folk, pop, soul, and disco(?!?) that has completely swept me off my feet. Leslie Feist's smoky voice is heartbreakingly beautiful, and the production casts the whole album in a warm late-night glow that's absolutely spellbinding. I haven't had too much time to dig into the lyrics just yet, but I can tell you that they're very, very sad... and hey, she's got a Ron Sexsmith cover on here, which automatically makes this album worth a spin.

In fact, both of these records are likely to end up on my year-end Top 10 list. So check 'em out folks... if you're, you know, not prone to depression or anything.

Musical Graffiti, 10/19-- Jack White forms new band; Beck retools Guero

A couple of things to file under "Umm... are you sure that's such a good idea?":

1. Jack White has announced plans to release a new album early next year. No, it's not another White Stripes disc... apparently he's got a second band going now, the Raconteurs. Rolling Stone has the scoop.

2. And guess who's jumping onboard the remix album bandwagon? None other than our man Beck, whose Guerolita releases December 6.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Musical Graffiti, 10/13-- New album updates from Radiohead, Wilco, and Coldplay. (Yes, that Coldplay)

Well, if the above teaser title doesn't get you salivating, you must not be much of a rock and roll fan. Here's a trio of news blurbs that caught my eye this morning:

1. Radiohead's Thom Yorke blogs about the band's progress in the studio... and actually gives us some substantial information! Check out Thom's entry from October 11 for a new song title, lyrics, and even some hints at the new album's sound.

2. Wilco's new live album, Kicking Television, has been bumped back two weeks; the two-disc set is now set to release on November 15.

3. Finally, in what may be the most intriguing Coldplay-related story I've ever heard, Chris Martin says that the band is already working on new material... and that fans can expect a big change in the band's sound. Says Martin:

We're always working on new material. We've got no laurels to rest on. We're still looking for our laurels in my opinion. We've everything to prove and we've finished phase one of Coldplay and now we're going to enter phase two, which could be the Abba phase it could be the transvestite phase, who knows, but it'll definitely be good.

Wow... if he's serious, this could be the first time I've ever been truly eager to hear a new Coldplay album. Here's hoping, anyway.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Musical Graffiti, 10/12-- Bono is... ubersexual? Flaming Lips return to rock; and more.

All the music news that's fit to link:

1. Usually I'm up for anything that involves Bono and/or Jon Stewart, and both of them together... well, that just can't be beat. Still, I'm not quite sure what to make of this article, which lists Bono as the #1 "ubersexual" man alive. (Stewart comes in at #10.)

2. Another update on the upcoming Flaming Lips disc, At War with the Mystics. Wayne Coyone talks to about the album's political nature and the band's return to the world of rock and roll.

And while it would be easy to read political implications into the album title, Coyne says he hopes the material will be able to transcend current events.

"It's so easy to point fingers, especially with the current administration being such buffoons," he says. :But I remind people, what would we do instead? It does get to be an abstract thing because it's not your problem. We talk about gas prices being high, but damn, turn on that air conditioner. Some of these songs, even though they feel as though they're talking about current events, hopefully, like all good songs, they last forever, because they talk about what's happening inside of you."

Oh, and if you're wondering what took 'em to long to finish this album... it may have something to do with their first feature film.

3. And didja hear about the new live disc from Bright Eyes? (Caution: Article contains some foul language)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

All of this... all of this can be yours...

Woot woot! U2's upcoming concert DVD-- releasing in November-- has a cover!

So, what say you folks? Too similar to the Elevation DVD cover? Or is it just wicked-cool?

Rehearsing for the new Fiery Furnaces album

Here's a quick heads-up for fans of the Fiery Furnaces... the group's new album, Rehearsing My Choir, doesn't release for a couple of weeks now, but if you have Windows Media Player you can stream the album for free-- just click on over to

For what its worth, I'm still trying to make my mind up about whether or not I'm excited about this release. I heard both of the band's last two albums-- Blueberry Boat and EP-- and was enthralled by their boundless creativity, but their kitchen-sink approach to music-making quickly becomes tedious to me, and their lyrics offer very little in the way of meaning or profundity. Still a band to keep an eye on, but, as far as I'm cocnerned, they have still yet to release a stone classic album.

Critical Condition: Cullum! Rusby! Deerhoof! Castanets!

Another week, another new release Tuesday! I haven't heard any of these records yet, but here are four new disc that I'm keeping my eye on:

Jamie Cullum's new album, Catching Tales, is the follow-up to his smash debut, Twentysomething-- one of last year's most pleasurable, enduringly delightful debuts. Matt Collar makes this new disc sound like a worthy sequel:

...despite some ill-advised attempts at would-be-hip DJ-style tracks, Catching Tales features more of Cullum's superb songwriting. Essentially a singer/songwriter in the tradition of such icons as Billy Joel and Randy Newman, Cullum is at his best when performing simple melodic songs with some jazz harmony that make the most of his burnished croon and verbal wit. To these ends, the beautifully melancholy "London Skies" brings to mind Joe Jackson covering a Radiohead song. Similarly, the romantic and folky "Photograph" reveals the often sardonically snotty Cullum to be a top-notch balladeer. It's also at these soft rock moments, when he isn't attempting to gun down the jazz canon, that Cullum's improvisation sounds the best. Also impressive is his mid-tempo swing-cum-soul track "Nothing I Do," which marries Harry Connick, Jr.'s neo-croon to Stevie Wonder's R&B harmonies.

Thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet for catching this next one:

Like Overstreet, I enjoyed Kate Rusby's last album, Underneath the Stars, but I had no idea she had a new record out so soon. More information at the Looking Closer Journal.

And speaking of looking closer... I have yet to hear a single song by Deerhoof, but the rave reviews for their latest disc, The Runners Four, are making me eager to give 'em a spin. Not only does Pitchfork love it, but AMG's Heather Phares says:

While it's not as clearly conceptual as Milk Man was, The Runners Four also seems to tell an extended, if fractured, story involving murderous twin beauties, spies, pirates and smugglers. There's a lot to look and listen for in The Runners Four; it's Deerhoof's longest, most eclectic work yet, and more proof that the band can expand their sound without losing what makes them special.

Finally, another band that I have yet to hear is the Castanets, but the very fact that they're signed to Sufjan Stevens' label makes me feel obligated to mention them here. And just check out this review:

As intense and searching as their first album and even more ambitious, Castanets' First Light's Freeze moves beyond the spiritual crises of Cathedral to work through the difficulties of war and friendship. Even as the group uses some of the same structural techniques from Cathedral, such as the interludes that introduced and punctuated sets of songs, Castanets explore and experiment with their sound in ways that couldn't have been conceived of based on their debut. Though both albums share a similarly charged but quiet, late-night intensity, with different themes come a different sonic palette. Keyboards, saxophones, and tick-tocking drum machines join the subversive country and folk influences of Cathedral for an even more dramatic meeting (and sometimes, collision) of old and new sounds.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A review three months in the making...

Josh's Listening Journal, 10/5

For months now I've been saying that 2005 has been a great year for smart, ambitious pop music. But now... suddenly... it has also become a great year for American roots music.

The cream of the crop? Charlie Sexton's new record, Cruel and Gentle Things. Sexton has recently ended a three-year stint as Bob Dylan's guitarist, and the time he spent playing with the Master pays off. Sexton's songs are forged from pain and experience, and his world-weary voice sells his heavy-hearted poetry, but what's remarkable is his contagious sense of joy and optimism-- real, genuine hope, not mere sentimentality or platitude. The production is flawless, highlighting Sexton's stylistic shifts while retaining a sense of focus and cohesion. It all adds up to an American roots disc that deserves to be ranked just behind Over the Rhine's Ohio and Dylan's own Love and Theft.

What's the highlight? Well gee... pick a song, any song! "Gospel" is an affecting tribute to faith in a time of crisis, played by Sexton on solo acoustic guitar. "Burn" explores similar thematic ground, but this time it's dressed up as a fiery rock and roll love song. "I'll Do the Same for You" celebrates fidelity and redemption over bright, chipper acoustic guitar strumming; it could easily fit in on the most recent Over the Rhine disc. "Bring it Home Again" is a rootsy anthem that swells with a Coldplay-ish euphoria. "Once in a While" initially sounds like frivolous fun, but the lyrics eventually sink their teeth in and become truly heartbreaking; an exhilarating piano break makes it one of the year's most memorable pop songs. "Just Like Love" is a brooding jazz number a la Over the Rhine's "Lifelong Fling." Every song is a winner, and they all come together to form a beautiful testament to faith and hope in times of hardship.

The other great American roots album that I've been spinning lately is Howl, the most recent offering from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Yes... that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. You won't hear a more astonishing musical makeover all year; with a little help from T-Bone Burnett, BRMC has transformed themselves from an angry noise-rock band to a mature, thoughtful roots-rock outfit, complete with elements of blues, country, folk, and yes, a few traces of their usual boisterous rock and roll. The lyrics are more cryptic than Sexton's, and not as poetic, but they will reward attentive listens; there's some surprising dialogue with the Divine going on here that makes it something meaningful, not just a genre exercise.

Finally, I recently caught up with Madeleine Peyroux' most recent disc, Careless Love, released late last year. Peyroux sounds an awful lot like Billie Holiday... a bit too much like Billie Holiday, in fact... but her fantastic material and the clean, uncluttered production make it an engaging listen. She and her dynamite backing band bring new life to old jazz standards and covers, sometimes with magical results-- "Dance Me to the End of Love," in particular, is one of the most memorable jazz songs of the past several years. Only her cover of Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" falls flat. (Perhaps some songs just shouldn't be covered?)

Musical Graffiti, 10/5-- U2 rocks on Conan; Arcade Fire talks new album; Stripes on Stewart

Some fantastic news from three of the world's biggest rock bands:

1. Conan O'Brien is dedicating his entire show to U2 tomorrow night! Tune into Late Night for a full hour of live performances and interview footage with the greatest band on Earth. Billboard has the details.

2. Members of the Arcade Fire discuss their next album and how it's been affected by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina; NME has the scoop.

3. Finally, U2 isn't the only band making TV history... this December will mark the first ever live musical performance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: The White Stripes.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Sufjan dethroned... again.

For the third time in as many months, Sufjan Stevens' Illinois has losts its title of Best Reviewed Album of 2005... at least temporarily. Earlier this year, Soof was dethroned by both the New Pornographers and Kanye West, but regained his crown in just a matter of days. Now, it appears that Wolf Parade's new disc, Apologies to the Queen Mary, has taken the throne. No telling how long it'll last, but dang-- this thing is getting some tremendous reviews. Guess that means I should hear it... can anyone here vouch for its quality?

Critical Condition: Fiona is extraordinary; Phair is a phailure; and Franz is... better?

Gosh, after all the buzz we've been hearing about the new Fiona Apple disc, Extraordinary Machine, it's quite a relief to hear that the album actually lives up to the hype. Stephen Thomas Erlewine raves in a four-and-a-half-star review at AMG:

Extraordinary Machine may be more accessible, but it remains an art-pop album in its attitude, intent and presentation -- it's just that the presentation is cleaner, making her attitude appealing and her intent easier to ascertain, and that's what makes this final, finished Extraordinary Machine something pretty close to extraordinary.

Meanwhile, Liz Phair's new album is getting blasted from every direction. Erlewine calls it "pleasant but dull," and Pitchfork's Amy Phillips gives it a painfully low 2 out of 10:

Rather than weather the storm and stick to her guns, Phair eschews her pop fix completely for Somebody's Miracle, an album that is "adult" in the worst sense of the word-- the sense that gets "-alternative" or "-contemporary" tacked onto it by radio programmers. It's not so much "mature" as is it safe, nice, settled down. These songs are perfectly content to get up every morning, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch the news, have 10-minute missionary-position sex, and then fall asleep.

Finally, Franz Ferdinand's new disc is drawing mixed reviews; the new issue of Paste gives it a decent-but-not-great score of 3/5; Pitchfork gives it an impressive 8.3; and AMG's Heather Phares-- quickly becoming one of my favorite music journalists-- says it's a slight disappointment:

But, after a year and a half of near-instant acclaim and constant touring, Franz Ferdinand return with songs that just aren't as consistently good as the album that made them so successful in the first place. A lot of You Could Have It So Much Better feels like a super-stylized caricature of the band's sound, with exaggeratedly spiky guitars, brooding crooning and punky-yet-danceable beats. This isn't an entirely bad thing: "The Fallen" begins the album with a wicked, gleeful welcome back that embraces the jaunty mischief running through most of Franz Ferdinand's best moments, while "I'm Your Villain" effortlessly nails the darkly sexy vibe they strived for on Franz Ferdinand. Meanwhile, the famous friends, arty parties and "shocking" homoeroticism of "Do You Want To" -- which feels more like a victory lap than a comeback single -- play like knowing, tongue-in-cheek self-parody. However, too many tracks on You Could Have it So Much Better are witty and energetic in the moment but aren't especially memorable.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Peter Gabriel unwraps

Yipee! Great news for fans of live concert DVDs and/or Peter Gabriel: Billboard announces that on November 15 Gabriel will be releasing Still Growing Up: Peter Gabriel Live & Unwrapped, a much sparer, more intimate performance than what we saw on the first Growing Up disc.

Actually, I still haven't seen Growing Up, but I am nevertheless excited about this new release. Gabriel's last two albums, Us and Up, have been so lavishly produced that they seemed to lose track of the big heart that was always at the center of his best albums, like So and Melt. I'm hoping that Still Growing Up will deliver on its promise of a more intimate Peter Gabriel-- something that I'd also like to see carried over to his next studio album.