Camera Obscura (4AD, 2013)
Jim James (ATO Records, 2013)
Local Natives (Frenchkiss Records, 2013)
Low (Sub Pop Records, 2013)
The release of a new Low album often feels like an unexpected gift. Not that all of their albums are unqualified masterpieces, but each of them contains a few gems that remind you of the evocative and poetic power of good songwriting.
Sing the Delta
Iris DeMent (Flariella Records, 2012)
O' Be Joyful
Shovels and Rope (Dualtone Music Group, 2012)
The band name suggests a Western movie scene of hanging and burial while the album title sounds like a line from a psalm of praise. On O’ Be Joyful, Shovels and Rope make a noise that is rough and rustic but at the same time downright jubilant. The lyrics tell tales of poverty and hardship that also celebrate a life of love and creativity.
Rodney Crowell, Mary Karr, et al. (Vanguard, 2012)
Over the past 16 years as I’ve read Mary Karr’s three memoirs, I’ve always heard Rodney Crowell’s music as the soundtrack. Now these two great East Texans have found each other and delivered an album that stands up to the best of either artist’s previous work.
Just what the title and artist name suggest, Rappalachia by Gangstagrass is a fusion of rap rhythm tracks and old-time mountain music instrumentation and melodies. And it really, really works.
Marley: The Original Soundtrack
Bob Marley and the Wailers (Tuff Gong, 2012)
Bob Marley, who took reggae music from Jamaica to the world, is one of the pop culture saints of our age—on par with Elvis, Che Guevara, Malcolm X. Marley died of cancer at age 36 in 1981, but his image is better known today than it ever was in his lifetime. Now there is a documentary about Marley’s life (called simply, Marley) and this soundtrack compilation of live and studio recordings to introduce his work to yet another generation.
(Nonesuch Records, 2012)
In the deranged days of 1968, New Orleans musician Mac Rebennack decided to join the fun by dubbing himself Dr. John the Night Tripper, taking to the stage in a Mardi Gras Indian-inspired costume and making music thoroughly marinated in his hometown’s Afro-Caribbean musical traditions and religious lore.