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MUSIC | Reviews of four albums
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Bellsburg: The Songs of Rich Mullins
Recorded in the Tennessee house that this tribute’s subject occupied before his death in 1997, these performances bypass the polish (and the drums) that Mullins was happy to apply to his finished products in favor of a spontaneity more attuned to his compositions’ early stages. They also favor his introspective side: There are two Mullins-sung demos (“Whitewater,” “Holy Pretenders”) but no “Creed,” “Awesome God,” or “Sing Your Praise to the Lord.” Most of the singers and instrumentalists are or have been stars in the CCM firmament. In true Mullins fashion, they sound content, maybe even relieved, to have checked their egos at the door.
In the Stillness: A Merton Christmas
Girl Choristers and Lower Voices of Merton College, Oxford; Benjamin Nicholas
What sets this choral Christmas album apart isn’t the singing (if it weren’t lovely, Delphian Records wouldn’t have released it) or the Chapel of Merton College’s acoustics (otherworldly but not uncommonly so) or the organ or harp (both respectfully subdued). It’s that “Carol of the Bells,” “There Is a Flower Springing” (aka “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”), and Holst’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” are the only three selections that risk overfamiliarity, leaving 20 lovely, otherworldly selections spanning approximately 400 years that don’t.
Where Did My World Come From?
The Glass Harp
This power trio eventually replaced its bassist, deleted the “the” before its name, and flirted with the major-label big time. It also launched the career of Phil Keaggy, whose earliest studio work these 1969 recordings document with impressive clarity. Keaggy wouldn’t profess faith in Christ for another year, but his dedication to the electric guitar was already in full swing. And speaking of swing, say a prayer for drummer John Sferra, who is battling kidney failure and whose solo in “Save Me” is a highlight.
James MacMillan: Christmas Oratorio
Mark Elder, Lucy Crowe, Roderick Williams, London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir
This majestic oratorio lingers just long enough in the various styles through which it sojourns to avoid feeling hectic, developing a momentum under Mark Elder’s baton that the orchestra infuses with mysterious power. Mirroring the musical catholicity are texts from the Latin liturgy, poets (Milton, Donne, Southwell), and the Gospels according to Matthew and John.
As he continues aurally refurbishing his father’s work with the Beatles, it’s worth asking whether Giles Martin should quit while he’s ahead. Yes, his just-released “Super Deluxe Edition” mix of Revolver (cut for cut, possibly the Fab Four’s best) supersedes previous mixes in definition and depth, and two of the three bonus discs provide interesting glimpses into Lennon’s, McCartney’s, Harrison’s, and Starr’s internal chemistry. But who needs Disc 4 (Revolver in mono again)? And what will Martin do for an encore?
OK, an enhanced Rubber Soul would be nice. But after that, the returns would diminish. Slowly at first—half of Help! and over a third of both Beatles for Sale and A Hard Day’s Night inhabit the great group’s canon and might therefore motivate the diehard to shell out. But they’re not exactly long on latent sonic wonders awaiting discovery. Neither is With the Beatles nor Please Please Me. And could all of the technology in the world dent the impenetrability of Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg? —A.O.
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