New and noteworthy
MUSIC | Four throwback albums reviewed
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My Hope Is Found in a God Who Can Raise Up the Dead
Does anyone but Jehovah’s Witnesses use the New World Translation of the Bible? If not, then John Davis, the Superdrag frontman who made headlines for his conversion to Christianity in 2005 and who cites the NWT in this album’s Bandcamp notes, has joined the JWs. Or maybe he simply has wide-ranging tastes when it comes to the Scriptures in English. He certainly has wide-ranging notions of how to keep his rock indie. There’s shoegaze, there’s spot-on Big Star imitation, there’s psychedelic folk-gospel—and there’s “Jesus Gonna Build Me a Home.” It sounds as much like a lost country-blues classic as it did when Davis first recorded it 18 years ago.
These playful, creative interpretations of Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Chopin, Mozart, Bizet, Khachaturian, Donizetti, Saint-Saëns, Dvořák, and Gershwin will appeal to lovers of jazz, funk, rock ’n’ roll, electronica, and, yes, classical—in short, to just about everyone. Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre” surf-rocks like the Ventures. The three vocal numbers could move cabaret audiences to tears. Israelite plays everything but the harmonium. And whether inside joke or dog whistle, the album title protesteth just the right amount.
The Beautiful Letdown (Our Version)
Taking a page from Taylor Swift, Switchfoot has rerecorded one of its albums (the one, as it so happens, that launched the group into the mainstream 20 years ago). And guess what? This version sounds as good as the original, mainly because it sounds almost exactly like the original. There is, however, one obvious instance of updating: The “Lexus cages” in “Gone” are gone. They’re Tesla cages now.
For her first album in five years, Victory Boyd delves into her gospel roots, putting her low-key, jazzy alto at the service of hymns (“His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”), spoken interludes (Psalm 27 and 2 Corinthians 10 among them), and intensely hushed originals in which she seeks solace in the knowledge that God has already won the fight, in the assurance that no weapon formed against her will prosper, and in the doctrine of imputed righteousness. And when no amount of solace seems enough, there’s this refrain: “I don’t have to pretend like everything’s OK. / That’s not what Jesus meant when He said to have faith.”
The Easy Star All-Stars specialize in reggae versions of classic rock and pop albums, and they’ve never put their gimmick to better use than they have on their latest, Ziggy Stardub. Not only does the artifact that they’re reimagining—David Bowie’s 51-year-old The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars—benefit from the production of their founder, Michael Goldwasser, but the estimable strengths of the collective and their guests (Steel Pulse, Maxi Priest, Fishbone, Macy Gray, others) deflate the pretentiousness of the “concept” too.
In other words, by extracting Bowie’s songs from their arid and increasingly dated glam-rock settings and replanting them in reggae’s perennially fertile soil, the All-Stars end up harvesting a bumper crop of bouncy riddims and catchy tunes, making it easier than ever not to take seriously the silly lyrics about the efforts of a decadent alien (to whom Bowie circa 1972 bore an uncanny resemblance) to save the world from doom. —A.O.