What Do Rhiannon Giddens, Sam Phillips, and the Movie “Amélie” Have in Common?

When a music critic declares an album “perfect,” it tends to say more about that listener’s enthusiasm—and, perhaps, hubris—than it does about the record. So I’m holding myself back from that kind of overreach here.Suffice it to say that I’d have a hard time imagining a stronger “debut” record for Rhiannon Giddens than Tomorrow Is My Turn, an album that seems to immediately negate its own title by declaring “Today! Today belongs to Giddens.” … [Read more...]

Looking Closer’s Favorite Albums of 2011

I didn't hear any records this year that filled me with a zeal to shout from the rooftops. (Last year's The Long Surrender by Over the Rhine did that, and it remains my favorite record of the last several years.)Nevertheless, 2011 was still a year full of extraordinary music. Here are a number of albums that I spent time with over and over again in the car while driving and under headphones while writing.... … [Read more...]

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus

In the Bible of contemporary gospel music, Nick Cave’s new pair of albums prove he’s a Major Prophet.Like David Eugene Edwards (of Sixteen Horsepower and Woven Hand), Cave’s brutal honesty, surreal symbolism, zeal for the sublime, and righteous anger at himself and the reset of humanity sets him up as one of rock and roll’s equivalents to John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, making way for the return of the Lord even as he decries those who claim to speak for God.Cave embraces his r … [Read more...]

2005 – Favorite recordings of the year

I'll admit it. I did not keep up with the world of music the way I have in the past. On average, I listened to a new album every week, but the time I'd planned to spend writing about them was swallowed by film-writing assignments and fiction deadlines. It's been a demanding year in so many ways.Thanks to the vigilance of friends and colleagues like Josh Hurst, Andy Whitman, Thom Jurek, the folks at All-Music Guide and Paste Magazine, I did discover recordings that gave me relief, strength, … [Read more...]

2006 – Favorite Recordings of the Year

About this list:Once again, I find myself looking forward to hearing a long list of albums that have come highly recommended... but I haven't had the time to give them proper attention. (That's what a full-time job, weekly review-and-column deadlines, and three book deadlines will do to you.) … [Read more...]

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Raising Sand (2007)

If you haven't heard Raising Sand, you're in for a treat.Who would have thought that we'd ever see the collaboration by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss? Who was bold enough to dream they'd perform songs by Tom Waits and Sam Phillips (the two finest tracks on the album)?Even better, they're joined by guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Jay Bellerose.And the wizard behind the curtain is T-Bone Burnett, who keeps things turned down to a simmer. He holds the reins on these inspired … [Read more...]

Over the Rhine – Drunkard’s Prayer

I wrote one review of this album for Christianity Today, which you can still find here, and another for this blog, which is restored below.•All marriages are broken.We’re broken people, and when we commit to each other, for better or worse, we are guaranteed that there will be difficult — sometimes severely painful — times. How we respond to those trials will depend largely on our priorities and our beliefs. Am I in this for my own personal satisfaction? Or am I in this to give myself … [Read more...]

Overstreet’s Favorite Recordings: 2004

The wall has come down.By my lights, anyway, it appears that this was the year that brought it crumbling to the ground.When I was a teenager, I lived in a world where Christian music existed in a carefully protected city with high walls, where we whispered about the dangers and depravity of "secular" music. We believed that we could copy the sound and production values of secular music and just write "Christian" lyrics. We were fooling ourselves. If there is any such thing as "Christian … [Read more...]

U2 – How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

U2 begins their fourteenth album by counting to fourteen in Spanish: Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce!!The numbers correspond to the U2 albums on which Steve Lillywhite worked as a producer. And that's only one of the ways in which How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb symbolizes the completion of U2's stylistic adventures and Bono's prodigal-son journey from innocence into darkness and back again.Granted, for the counting-theory to make sense, you have to count U2's Best-Of collections in the … [Read more...]

Sam Phillips – A Boot and a Shoe

When no one’s listening I have so much to say...That’s a line from “How to Quit,” the first song on Sam Phillips’ A Boot and a Shoe. It’s a loaded line. She’s been a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter since her debut The Indescribable Wow in 1988. Her work has been consistently produced by the best in the business—T-Bone Burnett—every step of the way. If the torch of the Beatles’ sound, style and songwriting prowess has been carried by anyone, it’s been Sam, who sometimes seems to be sing … [Read more...]