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Mumford & Sons
If you’d never guess from the ubiquitous electronics or the arena hooks that leaven these musical meditations that Mumford & Sons were ever considered “folk,” you could surmise from the lyrics that they’re sometimes considered “Christian.” The ardent monogamist of “Forever” may question his eternal standing, but “42” is a prayer on behalf of an evil and adulterous generation, and “The Wild” intuits the paradoxical relationship between fearlessness and the fear of God. And speaking of the fear of God, “Darkness Visible” features Gill Landry reciting Milton’s description of hell.
Pedro the Lion
“Tell them your stories,” sings David Bazan at the climax of “Black Canyon.” “If you carry them by yourself, / the gorier the details, the more you walk alone in Hell.” To that end, he rakes through his Arizona upbringing with a fine-toothed comb, keying his memories to Sean Lane’s pounding drums and the garage-friendly guitars through which they punch holes. Glimpses emerge of a tattered faith. Bazan, for instance, knows that the Lord giveth and taketh away. “Blessed Be the Name,” however, remains (just?) beyond him.
Pettis’ first solo album in a decade begins with the brisk three-chords-and-the-truth “Wouldn’t Change It for the World.” After that, the tempos drop, the voice gets creaky, and introspection prevails. “The Adventures of Me (and This Old Guitar)” is a sharper showman’s-life song—especially given the kind of “showman” that Pettis is—than Jesse Winchester’s “A Showman’s Life,” which he covers nevertheless. What kind of showman is Pettis? One who can make a new wineskin of and for the “Prayer of Saint Francis.”
The ballads dig deep and soar simultaneously. The louder upbeat numbers take unpredictable yet rewarding turns. The six songs beginning with “Joy Invincible” (nimble pop), peaking with “Wonderful Feeling” (the calm after the storm), and ending with “The Strength to Let Go” (the highest soaring of the deep-digging ballads) unfold like a mini-musical loosely based on a modernized retelling of The Pilgrim’s Progress. And still the Brothers Foreman have an encore up their sleeve. It’s called “Oxygen,” a song as lovely as it is haunting.
With The Bucket List, Phil Keaggy has finally made the big time (Glass Harp never quite got over), layering his multivalent guitars atop 12 distinctive pulses generated by the celebrated (and co-billed) rhythm section of Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta. And if the title of the second-catchiest song, “Steely Funk,” seems too literal given the Becker-Fagen-esque pop-jazz to which it’s attached, it also serves as accurate shorthand for the project’s slinky airiness as a whole.
Fans hoping, in other words, that Keaggy would let rip and prove once and for all that God-fearing ax wielders can too shred might be disappointed. Only “Carved in Stone,” “Good Stuff,” and “Caravan” (not Duke Ellington’s) gather rock ’n’ roll momentum, and even their riffs sound as if Keaggy could’ve played them sitting down. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The catchiest song, “Sometimes We Up,” practically reifies kicking back—that is, until its last-minute crescendo. —A.O.