Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
Vaughan Williams: Job, Symphony No. 9
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis
Vaughan Williams’ Job is a portal both to the Old Testament and to William Blake’s haunting, Job-based illustrations, which inspired the ballet that Vaughan Williams’ music (itself a portal to the British spirit) was originally intended to accompany. Nowadays, the music stands on its own. Davis recorded Job and Symphony No. 9 in the 1990s with the BBC Orchestra. And while those recordings have more power, these have clearer sound. In short, Davis hasn’t topped himself. But he has given himself a run for the money.
A New Heaven
Choir of the Queen’s College, Oxford
The earliest of the 12 composers represented in these 14 Book of Revelation–based selections (Edgar Bainton) was born in 1880, the most contemporary (Marco Galvani) in 1994. The result, therefore, is a century’s worth of awe-inspiring, mostly a cappella meditations on the eschaton condensed into 78 minutes. Three of the texts are in Latin, the rest in English. None of the music is “easy.” But no one desiring a deeper acquaintance with eternity or the capacity of temporal expression to approximate it will go away disappointed.
Bone on Bone
Cockburn concluded his autobiography, Rumours of Glory: A Memoir, with an apologia for his insatiably nomadic spirituality. This album, his 25th, not counting live jobs and compilations, continues the vibe. Chugging rhythms, courtesy of his fingerpicking and drummers, suggest a pilgrim’s terrain. Gospel imagery, courtesy of “40 Years in the Wilderness,” “Jesus Train,” and “Twelve Gates to the City,” recalls highways and byways that Cockburn has followed and may follow again. His celebration of the Canadian poet Al Purdy, however, should be taken with several grains of salt.
Soul of Cash
Aside from being an imaginative take on Johnny Cash’s greatest hits, Soul of Cash is sweet soul music. Deep-pocket drumming, churchy background vocals, punchy brass—Stax voltage (to name just one energy source) courses through every groove. What prevents overheating is Owens, a singer whose joyful noises have more than a little in common with Sam Cooke’s cool, soul-stirring ways. Suggestions for Volume Two: “A Thing Called Love,” “The Man Comes Around,” “The One on the Right Is on the Left,” “A Boy Named Sue.”
Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the new Rounder Records album Bidin’ My Time will probably become better known as the last piece of its producer’s legacy than as a strong solo outing by the ex-Byrd, ex-Flying Burrito Brother, and ex-Desert Rose Band leader whose name emblazons the cover, Chris Hillman. Why? The producer is Tom Petty, who loaned the project several Heartbreakers and “Wildflowers” and whose recent death has given everything that he did in his final months heightened significance.
But Bidin’ My Time is significant for other reasons too. Besides partially reuniting the Byrds (David Crosby and Roger McGuinn contribute cameo vocals and 12-string guitar respectively) and revisiting several tunes of a feather, the album has an appealing simplicity, providing Hillman’s voice with its brightest setting in years. It also has the Hillman original “Given All I Can See,” proof that, 49 years after Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Hillman still really likes the Christian life. —A.O.