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Hey Clockface by Elvis Costello: Don’t be put off by the opening recitation or the electronically clattery “No Flag” that follows thereupon. The former goes by quickly, the latter reveals itself to be an incisively satirical and insidiously hooky indictment of what pollsters call the “nones,” and both signal how far beyond his many previous comfort zones Costello will wander before he winds down 12 tracks later with the slow-motion, vortex-like melancholy of “Byline.” “No Flag,” meanwhile, keeps resonating, most notably in “We Are All Cowards Now,” in which belief in nothing culminates in surrender to tyranny, and “Radio Is Everything,” in which an Orwellian “sole of a jackboot in a broken brace” ends up “poised above a human face forever and ever.” Amen.
A Love Supreme Electric: A Love Supreme & Meditations by Vinny Golia, John Hanrahan, Henry Kaiser, Wayne Peet, Mike Watt: Like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is a landmark recording. But its most zealous proponents oversell its “spiritual” properties. They implicitly equate those slow to “get it” with the kinds of Christians whom some charismatics disparage for not speaking in tongues. Three of those advocates belong to the sax-drums-guitar-organ-bass collective responsible for this exhilarating reboot. Bypass their liner essays. Concentrate instead on their heterodox willingness to take this formerly acoustic music beyond the walls of a “church” it was never supposed to belong to anyway.
Merry Christmas by Roger McGuinn: In the 40-plus years since he became a Christian, Roger McGuinn has recorded only one musical testament to his faith, an original called “Light Up the Darkness.” He didn’t exactly keep it under a bushel—by the time it finally appeared on 2018’s Sweet Memories, he’d performed it live hundreds if not thousands of times. Still, hearing him sing song after song about Jesus as he does on this album feels special. With his gentle way with stringed instruments honed by a troubadour’s commitment to keeping tradition alive, he delivers these carols and Christ-based folk tunes with a stirring simplicity entirely appropriate to the birth of his Savior.
Gospel by Mica Paris: Paris, known in some quarters as the “U.K. Queen of Soul,” has a big, almost brawny voice, and she knows how to use it. She also knows gospel music, having grown up Pentecostal. Stylistically, she can be conservative. Her “Amazing Grace,” “Oh Happy Day,” and “Take My Hand, Oh Precious Lord” sound pretty much as you’d expect. Somehow, though, neither they nor the spirituals “Go Down Moses” and “Motherless Child” come off atavistic, not even with U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” for company. The two that she wrote herself aren’t bad either. One advocates the power of positive thinking. The other dives headlong into the reasons that people need such power in the first place.
Hey Clockface isn’t the only fascinating new release by an Elvis. There’s also From Elvis in Nashville (RCA/Legacy), a four-disc box compiling highlights of the all-night Nashville sessions that Elvis Presley undertook in June 1970 with James Burton, Charlie McCoy, Norbert Putnam, David Briggs, Jerry Carrigan, and Chip Young. Many of the results would surface with postproduction accretions on various nondescript Presley albums. These new, accretion-free remixes remind us how riveting Presley could be when he bore down and tried.
The musicians were focused too. At one point, Presley spontaneously sings a line from Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law,” and the band falls right in. “It doesn’t take much to spark you guys off,” he chuckles. “A couple of words, and you’re off and runnin’.” The energy, in other words, flowed both ways. No wonder the country songs feel as immediate as the rock ’n’ roll and the rock ’n’ roll as invested with genuine feeling as the gospel. —A.O.