Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
Coming Home (Deluxe Edition)
The original, 10-cut version of this album came out last summer and was instantly greeted with acclaim for its ’60s Southern-soul sound, for how well that sound suited Bridges’ voice and compositions, and for lyrics that seamlessly blended romance, autobiography, and gospel. The only drawback was that at just over 34 minutes it felt too short. This edition adds five cuts, none of which feel superfluous and one of which (“Mississippi Kisses”) is as catchy as “Smooth Sailin’,” the catchiest song among the original 10.
Wonderful Crazy Night
The first two T Bone Burnett–produced Elton John albums got the respectful notices that their careful construction deserved. But it’s this Burnett-John go-’round that really delivers the goods. With the slow songs kept to a minimum and more hooks than both of its predecessors combined, it nearly lives up to its hyperbolic title. John’s longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin is in good form too, especially on “I’ve Got 2 Wings,” the tale of a real-life evangelist that makes serving the Lord sound like great fun.
A Ray of Light
Over Orange Heights
With “Amazing Grace,” “We Three Kings,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and a song based on a Dietrich Bonhoeffer poem for tenterhooks, Adrian Otterman’s latest progressive-folk-rock tapestry feels more big-tent-like than any of his other Over Orange Heights releases. The components most responsible for the sense of welcoming spaciousness are Bruce Nyquist’s cello and Otterman’s original lyrics, which break down essentially into prayers of thanksgiving (“Sing Praise,” “Miracles”), supplication (“Let Me Be the Moon”), and consecration and/or imprecation (“Shame My Enemies”).
The name of the show that has made Jordan Smith famous is The Voice, and it could just as well be his nickname. As this carefully curated album demonstrates, he has amazing pipes. The 2nd Chapter of Acts’ Matthew Ward is an obvious stylistic precursor and, given Smith’s background, might be a direct influence. Not that these songs, the most “inspirational” of which are open to multiple interpretations, qualify as gospel. But then neither does the phone book. And hearing Smith sing that would be all right too.
Whether Cheap Trick recorded Bang, Zoom, Crazy ... Hello (Big Machine), its latest studio effort, to capitalize on its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (the cover of Dobie Gray’s “The ‘In’ Crowd” suggests as much) or just to keep from going stir crazy is irrelevant. Like its 16 predecessors and the live At Budokan, the album weds average-guy sentiments to the hard-rock basics with ageless aplomb. That Rick Nielsen’s 35-year-old son Daxx is doing the drumming instead of the on-the-outs Bun E. Carlos doesn’t matter at all.
What does is the considerable extent to which songs such as “Blood Red Lips,” “Sing My Blues Away,” “The Sun Never Sets,” “Long Time No See Ya,” and “All Strung Out” recall the British hit machines The Sweet, Electric Light Orchestra, Slade, and T. Rex—none of whom are in the Rock Hall but each of whom should be. They paved Cheap Trick’s way after all. —A.O.