China is getting aggressive toward adversaries in the face of coronavirus criticism
John Adams: Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? by Gustavo Dudamel, Yuja Wang, Los Angeles Philharmonic: Red herrings abound, starting with the title’s reference to “good tunes”—rhythms and dynamics are the obvious organizing factors—and extending to the first movements’ descriptors. However much the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the pianist Yuja Wang might shine in other contexts, they couldn’t bring off “gritty” or “funky” to save their lives. Still, taken at face value and not as a link in some post-Stravinsky continuum, the concerto’s generous helpings of sound and fury are never boring even if ultimately they signify nothing. What signifies something: the lovely and minimalistic four-minute encore “China Gates.” Whether it signifies great walls or a globalist merger involving Microsoft, however, remains unclear.
Years by John Anderson: The producers David “Fergie” Ferguson and Dan “Black Keys” Auerbach steer the music clear of honky-tonks, situating it instead somewhere between Don Williams and the Eagles. And the 65-year-old Anderson sounds happy to comply. On the three mortality-haunted songs that open the album, he assures those betting “that [he’d] be dead and gone” that he’s “still hangin’ on,” prays the Lord “gives [him] one more day,” and identifies “years” as ballast (“Everybody knows you gotta let ’em go”). The reasons have nothing to do with COVID-19 but with “serious medical issues” that Anderson began dealing with in 2017 and that he has apparently overcome. On the seven songs that follow, he relishes his newfound lease on life.
Early Morning Rain by Steve Forbert: The inconsistency of his own copyrights notwithstanding, Forbert has always been smart about songs and songwriting, and now he shows off his good taste in other people’s material with selections that for the most part suit his battered, husky whisper of a voice just fine. He’s better with the songs that you can imagine him living in and through (“Early Morning Rain,” “Box of Rain,” “Someday Soon”) than those that you can only imagine him liking (“Suzanne,” “Dignity”). But the only outright misstep is “Your Song.” Can we all agree that “Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean, / yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen” is the worst lyric ever to hit the Top 10?
Saturn Return by the Secret Sisters: Their last name isn’t “Secret,” but Lydia Slagle and Laura Rogers are sisters. And, whether harmonizing or doubling each other’s melodies, they sing like sisters. What distinguishes this album from the latest by the categorically similar Haden Triplets, Lily & Madeleine, and First Aid Kit is its diversity. Folk, country, soft pop, and various combinations thereof rotate in and out, emphasizing the complexity of a struggle between darkness and light that climaxes with “Water Witch” followed by “Healer in the Sky.” Holding it all together is Brandi Carlisle’s dusky production. And although Christine Blasey Ford inspired the righteously indignant “Cabin,” its open-endedness leaves room for supporters of Juanita Broaddrick and Tara Reade as well.
The worst you can say about the British pop veteran Paul Carrack’s new five-disc Live 2000-2020: The Independent Years (Carrack UK) is that at its smoothest it sounds like the kind of pop that callers to 1-800 lines have to listen to while on hold. (Blame a nearly ubiquitous sax that’s more Kenny G than Raphael Ravenscroft.) Those passages, however, are outnumbered by others that illustrate why, generally speaking, live Carrack beats studio Carrack: In meeting an audience halfway, he often stretches his comfort zone.
“How Long,” “Tempted,” “The Living Years,” “Silent Running,” and “Don’t Shed a Tear”—hits that Carrack minted on his own or with various bands—have never sounded fresher. And his determination to give a second chance to good songs that radio chose to ignore when they were singles borders on the heartwarming. The irresistibly upbeat “Happy to See You Again” and the irresistibly sad “I’m Losing You” don’t come around until Disc 5, but they’re worth the wait.