As violent demonstrations roil Hong Kong, a bold group of volunteers is providing moral support and physical protection for young protesters
Deeper Roots: Where the Bluegrass Grows
Steven Curtis Chapman
Ignore what this album’s patchwork nature suggests about Chapman’s current level of inspiration and you’ll find plenty to enjoy. The rerecordings, the previously released recordings, the beloved hymns, the two new songs—they feel of a piece, and not just because they’re all festooned with bluegrass instrumentation. There’s also the matter of their being a family affair: One song stars Chapman’s son, another Chapman’s daughter-in-law, and five Chapman’s father (with Chapman’s brother along for four of those). That’s three generations. “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” indeed.
His second straight four-song EP (and his third straight project altogether) with Los Straitjackets finds Nick Lowe continuing his autumnal resurgence. From the svelte wordplay of his three latest originals (lovestruck and lovelorn by turns) to the instincts that enable him to detect and unearth hidden reserves of emotion in a 54-year-old Ricky Nelson deep cut (“Raincoat in the River”), Lowe hits and maintains a stride that feels neither callow nor forced. And “Trombone” is his best (only?) trombone song since “L.A.F.S.”
At its most self-conscious, this late-in-life debut by the author Larry “Ratso” Sloman is almost funny enough to rate as a Leonard Cohen or a Lou Reed parody. (Sloman does prefer talking to singing.) At its least self-conscious, it’s pretty enough to make the invitation of guests (Nick Cave, Imani Coppola) seem like acts of generosity. Somewhere in between falls an unabridged cover of Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” that features five more cameos. Believe it or not, it doesn’t feel interminable.
Quoth Webb on these interpretations of some of his favorite songs: “You could listen as if you were hanging out in the living room with me.” Fine. Intimacy, however, isn’t always its own reward, and frankly some of Webb’s favorites don’t translate well to solo piano. (Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends” and Webb’s own “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” are notable exceptions.) As for the “slip note” stylings that Webb says he learned from Floyd Cramer, Mike “Handbags and Gladrags” d’Abo would seem to be a likelier source.
John Muehleisen’s two-hour But Who Shall Return Us Our Children? A Kipling Passion is a deeply moving work, the multiple levels of which are faithfully reproduced in a new, world-premiere recording on the Gothic label by Seattle’s Choral Arts Northwest. The oratorio dramatizes the short life of John Kipling and the effect of his Western Front death during World War I on his mother Carrie and his famous father Rudyard. But because of the skill and the sensitivity of its construction, the work ends up doing considerably more.
That “more” is the transformation of one family’s grief into a universal experience of suffering and loss both consoling (life goes on) and admonitory (wars go on too). In matching poems (Rudyard’s and others’) and quotations from the Kiplings’ diaries and letters to complementary forms of sung or spoken expression, Muehleisen creates a powerful sense of life’s beauty and fragility, ultimately suggesting that there’s seldom any former without the latter. —A.O.