Category: Music reviews

The Capitulation to, and Challenge of, Belief: Sinead O’Connor, Theology

It is an interesting idea to produce more than one version of a song for the public, something artists have been doing more and more in the last two decades. Sometimes, as here, the difference in instrumentation and interpretation allows the listener to get a sense of how many doors there can be into an experience, and how supple a perception can be.

Difference Is No Threat: Angelique Kidjo, Djin Djin

Angelique Kidjo is a dynamic, intelligent, and intense performer; and with Djin Djin Angelique Kidjo may be posed to consolidate and expand her popularity. Certainly, the musicians she has chosen to work with suggests a diversity of artistic interests and musical constituencies.

Cowboy Junkies, At the End of Paths Taken

The songs on At the End of Paths Taken attempt to suggest the complexities—complications and contradictions, coincidences and correspondences—that are to be found in an individual mind, in a relationship, in a society. That is a respectable mission, but it is not as unusual as I have sometimes thought—it may be the most lasting goal of serious, modern artists.

Tribute: Joan Armatrading, Into the Blues

Does it matter when a mature musician decides to explore a musical genre, such as the blues, that has become somewhat neglected?  On the album Into the Blues, Joan Armatrading’s song “A Woman in Love” is about the power of love, its ability to calm, to correct; and the blues notes in the song do not forbid rhythmic propulsion or Armatrading’s distinctively contemplative—austere, open, and pleasantly thoughtful—vocal tones.  It is possible to hear a difference in her sound and yet it is a difference that does not obscure Joan Armatrading’s temperament or the nature of her much-loved gifts (it is simply a new accent, a new tonal color). 

Masters at Work: George Benson and Al Jarreau’s Givin’ It Up

George Benson’s voice lacks the mannerisms one might have expected from someone of his mature age (his voice seems clear, deep, expressive, flawless—I cannot imagine what a George Benson imitation would sound like). Benson’s solo performance of “All I Am,” composed by Rex Rideout and Phillip Jackson, affirms the song narrator’s humility and genuine love.

Comic Voice, Tragic Vision: Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

The singer offers gifts, offers to be cordial, but expects no good: “Let’s shake hands if you want but soon both hands are gone, ha-ha-ha!” Is the narrator mad, without logic, or is the world? “Well we all stumbled round tangled up in the cords from our phones, VCR, and our worldly woes,” he sings. Is the technology of the world—the abundance of the world—resource for the fulfillment of purpose; or disguise, distraction from deep purpose?

All Your Friends and Sedatives Mean Well: Cassadaga by Bright Eyes, featuring Conor Oberst

There is an instant when a musician’s work can seem to embody his time, the most important aspects of his culture’s current history, but if he does not change, does not grow in fresh ways, he begins to embody not the present but the past. Yet, the growth of an artist must be true to the mind and nature of the artist rather than a fulfillment of the wishes of audiences and critics; and, sometimes, the best artists give us desires and pleasures we did not anticipate.

Experiments Conducted: Burnt Sugar’s More Than Posthuman, and Not April in Paris, and Blood on the Leaf

The path to success, whether small or large success, can be paved by inheritance or by luck, but, it seems to me, it is most usually preceded by hope, intelligence, passion, discipline, and a plan, as well as resources. Burnt Sugar is to be commended for pursuing a path its members, apparently, consider vital to themselves, a journey that a small audience in different parts of the world has decided to share with the band.

Courage, Compromise, and Corruption: A Weekend in the City, by the band Bloc Party, featuring Kele Okereke

A Weekend in the City is a sketch, if not a map, of the contemporary moment and of London, a sketch of the modern city; and it is a musical recording with very public ambitions and a private heart. The development of culture, knowledge, and technology in a city are the basis of its modernism; and that culture, knowledge, and technology are ever growing, ever tested: and tested by each life, and by the diversity and the weight of all the lives, to be found within it.