Skip to main content

Culture Music

New or recent releases

New or recent releases

Johnny Cash: Forever Words

Various artists

Just when the exploitation of the Johnny Cash brand seemed to have run its course, here comes this masterpiece by committee, in which 16 mostly famous acts take poems and lyrics that Cash never set to music and not only give them melodies but also arrange and record them with posterity—theirs and Cash’s—in mind. From performers who knew and/or were related to the man, such triumphs might seem inevitable, but even the outliers (Jewel, Elvis Costello, I’m with Her, Robert Glasper, Ro James) make good.


Lilian Dinma

Dinma testifies to her Christian faith in Nigerian Pidgin atop Afro-pop so bubbly that it may as well be carbonated. But she has a less-fizzy register too. “Sing Praises” is a Jesus song as simple as it is sweet, with “Na You Be the One” not far behind. There is, however, an elephant in the room. “If chocolate fudge cake could sing,” someone once quipped, “it would sound like Barry White.” Well, if a tube of aluminum foil could sing, it would sound like Auto-Tune.

I’ll Be Ready When the Great Day Comes

John Johanna

Meet John Johanna, a young singer-songwriter whose curiosity encompasses Eastern and Western folk musics (particularly those hospitable to waltz tempi) and who isn’t afraid to mention that he’s an Eastern Orthodox Christian. Not that he needs to—anyone who would write a 2½-minute rocker whose only lyric is “Maranatha” (iambically pronounced), assay arrangements of “Rock My Soul” and Charles Wesley’s “And Am I Born to Die?” and then drench the results in otherworldly lo-fi has obviously spent time pondering ancient verities.


Phil Madeira

The basis for the Randy Newman comparisons greeting this engaging and overtly autobiographical album is the whiff of Dixieland coming off the Deep South melodies of “A Rhode Island Yankee on Jefferson Davis Court,” “Back in the Ocean State,” “Native Son,” and “Gothenburg.” The basis for the Mose Allison comparisons is the bluesy, piano-centric lope of “Rich Man’s Town,” “Crescent Park,” and “Wide Eyed Dream.” As history has shown, Newman’s and Allison’s approaches lend themselves well to the universalizing of particulars. Madeira’s lyrics are full of ’em.

(Youssef Boudlal/Reuters/Newscom)


Amancio Prada’s 1977 recording of John of the Cross’ devotional classic Cántico Espiritual has been reissued many times, and now the French label Éditions JADE has brought it out again. Following the lead of EMI’s 1997 edition, it breaks up Prada’s arrangement of the poem’s 40 quintets into nine tracks with recurring titles such as “Esposo” (“Bridegroom,” or Christ) and “Esposa” (“Bride,” or the believer’s soul) that emphasize the text’s dialogic nature. (There’s also a trilingual libretto, but the English, in preferring fidelity to rhyme scheme instead of fidelity to meaning, reads clumsily.)

Accompanied by the violinist Jesús Corvino, the cellist Eduardo Gattinoni, and his own eloquently plucked guitar, Prada enunciates John of the Cross’ mystical verses impeccably and sings them in a yearning tenor commensurate with their lofty themes. The Song of Solomon is an obvious forerunner, but the experiences were John’s own. Thanks in part to the durability of Prada’s rendition, they can be others’ as well. —A.O.