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Listening to the calm

Music

Listening to the calm

Noteworthy new or recent releases

Departures by Jon Foreman: “Departures from what?” you ask. The Switchfoot sound, for one thing. None of these introspective meditations on faith, hope, love, and mortality—not even the chipper ones—rock. And because they’re introspective, they depart from the typical Switchfoot perspective as well. Rather than aiming at the back row of sold-out arenas, Foreman lets his audience overhear one side of intimate conversations between himself and loved ones, himself and God, and himself and himself. “The Valley of the Shadow of Planned Obsolescence” is the wisest song of 2021 so far, even if it does require the melody of “Daydream Believer” to get aloft. And the himself-and-God songs Foreman might as well be singing on his knees. 

Celebration: The Complete Roulette Recordings 1966-1973 by Tommy James & the Shondells: One doesn’t need all 141 of these songs. The 15 Top 40 hits previously compiled on numerous anthologies will do. But, singles act though they were and James’ precipitous solo decline notwithstanding (see Disc 6), these guys did make one pretty good psychedelic-pop album (Crimson & Clover, Disc 3). Meanwhile, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “Sweet Cherry Wine,” inspired (as we now know) by James’ incipient Christian faith, along with his 1971 solo outing Christian of the World (Disc 5), greased the wheels of Jesus rock. Ultimate verdict: more “authentic,” soulful, and world-historic than the Monkees for sure, and every bit as catchy.

Catspaw by Matthew Sweet: Don’t believe the “power pop” tag being attached ex post facto to Matthew Sweet by journalists too young (one hopes) to have been sentient when Sweet was toeing the fine line between “alternative” and “mainstream” in the ’90s. There was power, and there was pop, but the guitar sounds that he made, the guitar sounds that he hired, and his overall gestalt were too unkempt to stuff into a box. They still are, and even more so now that he’s producing and playing everything except drums himself. They’re also slower on the whole—none of these cuts exceed “mid-tempo.” An inevitable result of Sweet’s having hit middle age? Perhaps. Or maybe he simply has enough faith in his latest batch of hooks to let them linger.

Dale Watson Presents the Memphians by Dale Watson: Does the insanity of the 21st century have you down? These 10 original instrumentals totaling 29 minutes and 43 seconds will blast you all the way back to the days when Bill Black’s Combo and other equally cool (or uncool as the case may be) cats were honking and rumbling their way through melodies and rhythms guaranteed to keep the sock hops hopping and the jukeboxes juking. And, oh, are Watson and his Memphians clever, weaving “Telstar” into “Alone Ranger,” “Heartbreak Hotel” into “Agent Elvis,” and both “Peter Gunn” and “The Trolley Song” into “Deep Eddy” (as in Duane). They do slow songs too, the prettiest of which is called “Serene Lee” because that’s exactly how they play it.

Encore

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the force behind the scenes for the Beats who recently died at the age of 101, was best known as the owner of San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore and the publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. But it’s in his poetry that his spirit shines through most clearly, and it’s in A Coney Island of the Mind, the spoken-word recording that he made of poems from his 1958 collection of the same name for Rykodisc in 1999, that his poetry most brightly shines.

Atop ambient jazz supplied by Morphine’s Dana Colley, Ferlinghetti takes palpable delight in freeing his free verse from the page. A true son of Whitman, he could be sexually frank, but he was seldom vulgar and, on this recording, never profane, preferring instead to engage the listener (and the world) with whimsy and wit. Begin with the final three tracks (“Dog,” “Christ Climbed Down,” “#11 from ‘Pictures of the Gone World’”) if you think he has nothing to say to you. And be prepared to admit you were wrong. —A.O.