From the Senate in the 1970s to the presidential campaign trail in 2020, Joe Biden has a long record of going where political pressures push him—and right now they’re pushing him aggressively leftward
Nobody’s Fault But My Own
The Sensational Barnes Brothers
If you passed on the obscure-’70s-gospel-singles compilation The Soul of Designer Records five years ago because its low-budget, one-take sound obscured what was good about the best of its 101 selections, this album will reward your patience. Chris and Courtney Barnes have rerecorded eight of them (plus three others from the Designer vaults) with a clarity of vocal and instrumental attack that not only shows what all of the fuss was about but that also deserves a fresh fuss of its own.
Johnny Costa Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Jazz
It was Art Tatum himself who called Johnny Costa the “white Art Tatum,” and insofar as the term means that Costa could play chords up and down the piano like nobody’s business, it fits. Tatum, however, didn’t live to record Fred Rogers’ melodies. Rogers produced this instrumental jazz-trio album in its original 1984 incarnation and for 18 years employed Costa as his show’s music director. Longtime viewers will recognize the tunes. Thanks to Costa’s exuberance, they’ll also feel as if they’re hearing them for the first time.
Gill has put so much thought into this heartfelt album that he should’ve put a little more. Whether it’s the song about his mother, the song about his father, the song about Amy Grant, the song about Guy Clark, or the song about Merle Haggard, each stops just short of capitalizing on the emotional investment. Then there’s the song about the Bible’s “red words.” Yes, “they come from Jesus.” But in implying that they mean more than the black ones, Gill risks ceding ground to the Jesus Seminar.
One of the motifs in Ken Burns’ recent Country Music documentary is that in the ’70s there existed nobody more crucial to uniting old country and new than Emmylou Harris. And if Michaela Anne keeps evolving at her current rate, someone will someday make an analogous and equally convincing claim about her. This album’s formal breakthrough: an echoey mix that enhances rather than obscures her melodies, lyrics, and singing, each of which keeps getting closer to a perfection that it wasn’t all that far from to begin with.
In the notes to the new Omnivore Recordings compilation It’s Such a Good Feeling: The Best of Mister Rogers, the television critic Robert Bianco—apparently anticipating unsympathetic reactions to songs titled “Tree Tree Tree” and “You Can Never Go Down the Drain”—asks listeners to remember that Fred Rogers’ target audience was preschoolers. Bianco needn’t have worried. Thanks to the success of Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and the publicity for the forthcoming A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks, awareness of Mister Rogers is practically at an all-time high.
Besides, the anxieties and challenges that Rogers’ disarmingly direct songs address don’t so much abate as one grows up as take different forms. In the end, the childlike melodies and singing make perfect sense, facilitating as they do wisdom such as “But the very same people who are good sometimes / are the very same people who are bad sometimes,” which never gets old. —A.O.