Skip to main content

Culture Music

Influences and impressions


Influences and impressions

Noteworthy new or recent releases

John Zorn: Virtue by Bill Frisell, Julian Lage, Gyan Riley: John Zorn’s latest guitar-trio compositions were inspired by Julian of Norwich, the medieval Christian mystic and anchoress of whom A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Long before Reformation times she was, in spirit, an evangelical.” As was the case with Frisell, Lage, and Riley’s prior Zorn recording, Nove Cantici Per Francesco D’Assisi, the connection between their spiraling interplay and Zorn’s source material resides mainly in the titles. Would anyone infer from the Satie-like second cut something as specific as separation for Christ’s sake if it weren’t titled “Apart From the World”? Probably not. But it is titled “Apart From the World.” And, inclining as they do more to active than to passive listening, Zorn’s audience will eventually put two and two together.

Nick of Time by the James Hunter Six: Even if you think that his commitment to late-’50s/early-’60s R&B makes James Hunter a nostalgia act, you have to admit that he’s really good at what he does. Not only does he sing and arrange like someone intent on giving Sam Cooke and Ben E. King a run for their money, but he writes his own songs too, songs that imply that pop culture moved on too fast when it abandoned their kind for the British Invasion and that there’s something to be gained from sifting through what got left behind. “Till I Hear It From You” might borrow its time signature from the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five,” but where it goes from there it goes on its own.

Lay It On Me by Nick Lowe: Lowe’s latest EP with Los Straitjackets is also his slightest—three songs lasting only nine minutes, one of them a cover (the Brenda Lee B-side “Here Comes That Feeling”). But add those to the four apiece on Tokyo Bay (2018) and Love Starvation (2019) and you have 11. So consider Lay It On Me the final installment in Lowe’s first pop-rocking album since The Quality Holiday Revue (also with Los Straitjackets) and marvel at how effortless Lowe still makes the writing and the choosing of “pure pop for now people” (or “then people” as the case may be) seem. As to the meaning behind the northern pike and the G.M. Skinner fishing lure on the cover, think “hooks.” And getting caught.

Magdalen Accepts the Invitation by Mark Olson & Ingunn Ringvold: The melodies, the husband-wife vocals, and the delicate, psychedelic-’60s instrumentation add up to a “chamber folk” that the lyrics, which deal mainly in impressions, keep fresh long after the hooks have sunk in. Phrases seem to connect with each other in new combinations every time that they come around. They don’t, of course, but the illusion is real enough to lend the trick an air of magic. Conceptual open-endedness definitely plays a role: What if anything, for instance, does the song “Silent Mary” or the reference to the “fisherman of men” in “You’ll Find the Morning” have to do with the Magdalen or the invitation of the album title? Expect at least a slightly different answer every time you ask.


With his latest album, Hermitage (Cooking Vinyl), the Canadian ­singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith adds 14 more McCartney-esque melodies—each with carefully wrought, form-fitting ­lyrics—to his already impressive oeuvre. As one might expect, the reviews, which began appearing in April, have been glowing. So why was the release postponed until mid-June? Presumably, to leapfrog the COVID-19 lockdowns. Instead, Hermitage goes on sale in the aftermath of the George Floyd conflagrations. So much for outguessing life’s vicissitudes.

Yet there is one song that explores the current unrest, and it does so with a scalpel rather than a bludgeon. It’s called “Dig Nation,” and it goes like this: “In Dig Nation, you will never be befriended, / not by the humorless or easily offended. / It all depends on the self-­righteous in Dig Nation.” And if you think that stanza’s spot on, try this one: “In Dig Nation, how they mean to divide us. / ­Without forgiveness, they never will unite us. / There’s no love in sight, / only self-righteous ­indignation.”