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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.

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Music

A little of everything

Christian releases from earlier this year bend genre boundaries

Coby James by Coby James: With John Mayer–level talent and similarly infectious bluesy pop-rock, the buzz around Coby James makes sense. The kid himself (he was only 17 when the album released) even admits, “I’ve got finesse,” when facing his haters in “No Trouble.” Tooting your own horn is an incomplete answer to bullying, but “Pressure” shows the singer and multi-instrumentalist ascribing the source of his strength more clearly to God, amid sticky rhythms and a great hook. In “Paradise,” finding satisfaction outside of God is like “a thousand miles chasing / but it’s always outta reach.”

Backroads & Small Towns by Whosoever South: Whosoever South returns with an electrifying combination of hip-hop and country that band members dubbed “Country Crunk.” The rousing “We All One People” features searing banjo licks and explosive rap that rail against the political divide: “We talking and talking, but still we missin’ / It’s shocking how awful we never stop and listen.” With full-throated expression of patriotism and faith, this Southern-fried fusion will prove comfort food to many. But amid so much weaving together the love of country and love of God, it’s hard to tell where one leaves off and the other picks up.

Citizen of Heaven by Tauren Wells: Wells’ dance-worthy pop prowess and slick vocal stylings already beg comparisons to Michael Jackson. Melodious whoops in the title track only bolster the comparison as Wells marvels, “You grow the lilies with Your majesty / and You don’t even love ’em like You love me.” But on “Miracle,” with its arrestingly tight beat, ambient keys, and R&B fills, Wells goes full Jackson-esque. Unlike Jackson, however, Wells contrasts a secularism that leaves “all these conversations filled with doubt” with faith that “no one can deny / what I’ve seen with my own eyes.”

Supernatural by Paradise Now: While others chase hip-hop and club vibes, Paradise Now stands against the musical current by offering unabashed hard rock in the vein of Skillet. Also like Skillet, the Wales-based outfit incorporates spiritual themes in a general way that can resonate with a wider audience. The title track blasts off with propulsive drumming and the observation that, despite internal and external forces fighting against faith, the supernatural finds a way into the world. “Young Guns” includes moments of machine-gun rhythms and lyrics that effectively express the intensity and upheaval of youth.

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Ross D. Franklin/AP

Curly Neal
Ross D. Franklin/AP

Music

The Globetrotters’ magic

Anniversary album pays tribute to a great American force for good

In 1970, the Harlem Globetrotters were at the peak of their popularity. Between the unit led by Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal and the unit led by Geese Ausbie and Marques Haynes, the roundball wizards played to stadiums full of ecstatic fans, spreading laughter and goodwill as only they could.

Perhaps the most striking proof of their stature as entertainers was Harlem Globetrotters, a CBS Saturday-morning cartoon in which animated versions of the players defeated hapless opponents while solving mysteries and crimes à la Scooby-Doo.

Each episode’s climactic montage was accompanied by a song. And each song came from a soundtrack album simply called The Globetrotters.

Released on the pop-music-mogul Don Kirshner’s Kirshner Records, The Globetrotters should’ve been a hit. Not only had its way been paved by the success of Kirshner’s other cartoon band, the Archies, but The Globetrotters also had more musical muscle. A lot more.

Three of the songs were written by Ron Dante (the Archies’ real-life lead singer). Six were written by the dynamic Brill Building duo Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. The suppliers of the remaining four were the R&B veterans Rudy Clark and Kenny Williams, a team that three years later, along with the Cadillacs’ J.R. Bailey, would earn a Grammy nomination for composing the Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool.”

Was the music bubblegum? Soul? Doo-wop? Rock ’n’ roll? Comedy?

Yes.

Clark, Williams, and Bailey (joined by the session singers Sammy Turner and Robert Spencer) also provided the vocals. But neither they nor the musicians appeared in the credits, the bare-boned nature of which served to create the impression that it was the Globetrotters themselves who were making such joyful noise. (Lemon participated but only as a barely audible background singer.)

The album didn’t sell, although one of its singles, the Sedaka-Greenfield-penned “Rainy Day Bells,” has gone on to become a staple of the Carolina “beach music” scene.

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