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I Need a New War

Craig Finn

The pleasures of these intimately observed vignettes are primarily verbal—“You travel your whole life / just to get out to the place you’re gonna die” is a real attention-getter. But the murky mix gives up details too—soulful horns, keening organs, telltale heartbeats. The stakes reach their peak in “Grant at Galena,” in which a modern-day Ulysses S. fights a losing war of ontological attrition. The connection between that warfare and the cover art remains implicit. But that cross is a real attention-getter too.

In League With Dragons

The Mountain Goats

The guitars are back. Yet whether acoustic or pedal steel, they’re quiet enough not to encroach on the trials and tribulations of the latest cast of characters from whose points of view John Darnielle writes: Ozzy Osbourne, Dwight Gooden, a homicide detective with a strong stomach, and—in what’s surely a first—a possum as alert to the gospel as he is to the likelihood that he can end up as roadkill. The funniest lines are the saddest and vice versa. And somehow every single one rings true.

Fever Breaks

Josh Ritter

Ritter’s his own man and all, but, for what it’s worth, this commendable album’s weakest cut and its strongest bear more than a passing resemblance to Dylan’s “My Back Pages” and “It’s Alright, Ma” respectively. The weakest is “All Some Kind of Dream,” a plea for immigration anarchy that, despite (or maybe because of) its allusion to Matthew 25:40, even Emma Lazarus might’ve considered heavy-handed. The strongest is “The Torch Committee.” In it, a judge with a comatose conscience lays down the law. Kafka would’ve understood.

Young in My Head

Starflyer 59

If the data that Jason Martin provides in this album’s super-catchy title track is accurate, he’s 47. Hence his amazement at feeling “just 28” and, by extension, at having a son who, at 16, is now old enough to be his drummer. And he’s a good one, punching up the intimations of mortality that increasingly haunt his father’s songs. The overall effect is salutary as shoegaze goes. Only on “Crash,” which borrows Blue Öyster Cult’s most famous melody, does Martin’s awareness of the Reaper taint with fear. 

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Celestial strings

Four Harp albums will leave listeners wanting to hear more

In the popular imagination, few musical instruments have become more closely associated with Heaven than the harp. It’s a conception to which the latest releases by Anneleen Lenaerts, Helene Schütz, Rachel Talitman, and Vanessa Gerkens—their primarily secular intentions notwithstanding—pose little if any threat.

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New or recent albums

The 20-Man Music Machine

Peter Clark

If you’ve ever wondered what a 21st-century big band would sound like, one that had absorbed the intervening decades’ rhythmic and syncopative developments without surrendering to gimmicks or sacrificing its capacity for unified swing, wonder no more. Tight, bright, brassy, and classy, Clark’s corps digs in and stretches out (six of the 14 cuts exceed six minutes), pacing itself with guest vocalists and standards and peaking with mini drum solos. Clark has a sense of humor too. The title of Track 1: “All the Things You Aren’t.”

Open Sesame

Joe Fiedler

Although the trombonist Joe Fiedler has been Sesame Street’s musical director and arranger for only a fifth of the show’s soon-to-be-50 years, his love for and understanding of its spirit, as well as his night-job jazz chops, make him just the man to locate the blues and funk at the core of “Rubber Duckie”—to make, in other words, grown-up jazz for the young at heart. It’s a demographic to which Fiedler and his saxophone-bass-drums (plus guest-trumpet) combo obviously belong.

It Rains Love

Lee Fields & the Expressions

People seem to consider it an insult to call the 60-something Fields a “throwback.” It isn’t, and he is—a throwback, that is, specifically to the days when Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding ruled the soul-music roost. The reason that such comparisons don’t always work to Field’s advantage is that the closer you listen, the more you notice the relative shortcomings of his material. It’s not bad by a long shot. But neither would any of it have merited A-side status back in the day.

RCA Sessions (1968-1976)

Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton

Only one of this duo’s many hits is included, and it’s just as well—Wagoner-Parton best-ofs abound. So whence come these songs? Mostly from the “previously unreleased” portions of Bear Family’s 2014 box, Just Between You and Me: The Complete Recordings 1968-1976. The funny thing is, except for the misbegotten “All Aboard America”/“Here Comes the Freedom Train,” this collection holds up. The takeaway: If what these two brought out in each other wasn’t always their best, it was close enough more often than not.

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