The coronavirus challenged compassion-providing ministries in new ways
Across the Universe by Al Di Meola: None of these 14 Beatles tunes is the one after which the album is named. Yet the title fits if only because Di Meola, who plays everything but the brass, the violins, the tablas, the chak’chas, and the accordion, achieves gravity-defying flights of fancy not evoked by the titles of the songs that he does include. “Julia” and “Dear Prudence”? Too narrow. “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”? Too earthbound. “Here Comes the Sun” and “I’ll Follow the Sun”? Too monadic. In layering between two and four guitars per song he does risk clutter. But his percussive gypsy-jazz and flamenco effects open melodic and rhythmic vistas, and they come together in a magical mystery dance.
Mixing Colours by Roger Eno and Brian Eno: This latest entry in Deutsche Grammophon’s crossover line targets the ambient crowd by way of synesthesia (almost every piece is named for a color). Roger Eno gets top billing because, although his brother Brian is more famous and credited with programming, production, and “sound design,” it’s Roger who’s actually depressing the keys—whether electronic or acoustic—that turn these compositions into songs. Technically, they’re miniatures, the musical equivalent of haiku, their simple chord progressions broken down into slow-motion arpeggios and moistened with echo. The mood is, without exception, bittersweet: sweet in that it’s beautiful, bitter in that the beauty somehow sounds remembered rather than present, imbuing the entire suite with a feeling of loss as inevitable as it is irretrievable.
While Looking Up by Jimmy Greene: Yes, one still senses the spirit of this jazzman’s daughter, a casualty of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and the inspiration for his last two albums. But even in the track with her birthday for a title (“April 4th”), her presence comes off more evanescent than haunting. Dramatically, Greene reverses the ratio of evanescent to haunting for his rendition of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” a Whitney Houston smash that he slows down by a few hundred percent, his saxophone breathily elongating the melody into a shadow of its former self. Contextualizing these elegies are a Cole Porter standard, a Billie Holiday standard, and six exploratory Greene originals that even at their most corporeal suggest spiritual dimensions.
Robin Hood by Jan Krist: The subjects of the songs about real-life people include a sister, World War II veterans, and someone who can’t forgive or forget. The subjects of the songs about larger-than-life characters include Frankenstein (the monster, not the creator) and a glowing graveyard icon of the Virgin Mary. Two songs address the outsize role of vinyl LPs and their attendant details in baby boomer memories. And the acoustic, contemporary-folk settings accommodate every detail. Not for nothing does Krist conduct songwriting workshops. And she sings effectively too, her voice breaking in ways that connect wizening with wisdom but not so obviously that her occasional forays into didacticism feel unearned.
When Bob Dylan released the 17-minute “Murder Most Foul” on March 27, critics lunged at it like meat-starved piranha. What did it mean, this brooding meditation on the JFK assassination, this stream-of-consciousness dirge—more spoken than sung—with enough pop-cultural references to fill several American pies? Some commentators declared it an indictment of America’s habit of avoiding reality by escaping into entertainment; others declared it a celebration of entertainment’s capacity to heal. By the time the hilarious parody “Murder Most Fowl” appeared on YouTube, the bones had been picked clean.
Then Dylan released the 4½-minute “I Contain Multitudes.” The lyrics continued in the same name-dropping vein while the melody recalled several on Dylan’s 2006 album Modern Times. In most other contexts, the song would’ve seemed like a charming trifle. Dylan’s voice, however, had never sounded so soothing. In times like these, such trifles go a long way.