Skip to main content

Culture Music

Sound and meaning


Sound and meaning

Folk-friendly faith and a musical missing link highlight new releases

Early Work, Volume 1: 2002-2005 by Josh Garrels: During the last decade, Garrels has emerged as one of Christendom’s most consistent singer-songwriters, developing a folk-based approach to musical faith mining that has grown more ornate with each release while remaining tethered to his acoustic guitar and dark tenor voice, the upper range of which would endear him to Joan Armatrading fans should they ever lend him an ear. These 15 selections, 14 of which first appeared on Underquiet (2003) or Stone Tree (2002) with now-excised samples that Garrels hadn’t legally cleared at the time, evince similar qualities. The main and most endearing difference: slacker-pop/hip-hop drums that drop-kick everything except “Community Song,” “Going Home,” and “Candlenight” (each good in its own mellow way) through the goal posts of life. 

See You Tomorrow by The Innocence Mission: If Karen Peris’ enunciation remains frustratingly inscrutable, it’s also her clearest in years and maybe ever. You can make out almost every word of “The Brothers Williams Said” and “On Your Side” without cheating and peeking at the lyrics. So say that she’s meeting her critics halfway and admit that even if she remains determined to use her voice more for sound than for meaning, it’s a really lovely sound, the kind that might be made by the offspring of a violin and a flute were such things possible. Meanwhile, the lyrics of “Movie” and “This Boat” are worth peeking at. And Karen’s husband Don, during his three minutes in the spotlight, sings with a scrutability entirely befitting his folk-friendly pipes. 

Masterpeace by Montell Jordan: Released just one month after Kanye West’s headline-hogging Jesus Is King, this faith-fueled album (as opposed to “faith-proclaiming album,” although it’s a little bit that too) by a pop-R&B hitmaker who last made the charts in 1999 stood little chance of gaining serious media traction. Yet, in its humble way, it too conveys the joys, graces, and blessings of turning over one’s life to the Master, especially where marriage is concerned. Taken individually, most of these bouncy tunes could pass for little more than positive love songs from a silky-voiced singer who knows how to put them across. But from the intact-family assumptions of “Throwback” to the aisle-walking implications of “Change Your Last Name,” the context is obviously, and refreshingly, matrimonial. 

Jon Savage’s 1969-1971: Rock Dreams on 45 by various artists: Rock Dreams on 45, the subtitle of this latest two-disc installment in the British rock journalist Jon Savage’s decade-by-decade-survey-of-rock series, is somewhat misleading in that “45” usually connotes “hit single,” something that almost none of these 43 songs ever got anywhere close to becoming on either side of the Atlantic. (Two that did: Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” and the Guess Who’s “American Woman.”) So the catchiness is at a premium. What isn’t is a kind of protean willingness to experiment common to musical missing links such as these. And what were they linking? Rock ’n’ roll and rock for one thing, rock and “rock” for another—differences, like the charms of these recordings, as real as they are subtle.


For their first dozen years, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and Dave Gregory—the core of the British band XTC—enlivened an art-pop niche of their own chiseling in England’s post-punk wall of sound, releasing a string of critically acclaimed albums and provoking dismay when they forwent touring at their peak. Even their singles, underappreciated though they were, held up fine when heard back to back on the early-’80s compilations Waxworks and Beeswax

In 1985, as a lark, Partridge, Moulding, and Gregory recorded a six-song tribute to the psychedelic pop of 1967 called 25 O’Clock and released it (on April Fool’s Day no less) as the unearthed recordings of a forgotten ’60s band called the Dukes of Stratosphear. The ruse didn’t last long. The music’s appeal, however, has not only lasted but grown. And now Partridge’s Ape House label has reissued the Dukes’ entire output (25 O’Clock, the 10-song 1987 follow-up Psonic Psunspot, nonalbum cuts, demos, and instrumentals) in its most deluxe format to date: the CD-plus-5.1-surround-sound-Blu-ray-Disc package Psurroundabout Ride.

The set’s main selling point—besides the superlatively catchy nature of the songs themselves, that is—is new stereo mixes that come close to doing for the Dukes what Giles Martin has been doing for the Beatles. Purists insist that gussying up music that was supposed to sound old is counterproductive, and they have a point. But, ultimately, it’s rendered moot by the music, which if it really had come out in 1967 would’ve given Sgt. Pepper a run for its money.