Of Bowie reissues there will apparently be no end, and not even calling them "Special Editions" will make them any more special than they were the first (or second) time. What's different about this latest go-around for the 1976 album that established Bowie as an artist (as opposed to a mere rock star) is two discs of contemporaneous live recordings, extended notes, and some postcards. What's special is what was never anything less: 34 minutes of metamorphic space-rock worthy of surrounding all four minutes of "Golden Years."
For 20 years now, the Irishman Neil Hannon has been delighting his mostly U.K. audience with music that combines show-tune panache and chamber-pop elegance and delivering it with a drollery as waggish as it is refined. And if when all is sung and done his music has remained too European for America, it's America and not his music that has suffered. "Have You Ever Been in Love" and "I Like" are sophisticated love songs the likes of which Rogers and Hammerstein fans were sure they'd never hear again.
Those impressed with Griffin's performance as second vocalist on Robert Plant's Buddy Miller-produced, folk-roots Band of Joy will be equally impressed with her performance as first vocalist on this Buddy Miller-produced, folk-roots foray. But whereas the gospel content of Plant's album is merely one strand in a tapestry, here it's the entire spool. Public-domain covers and joyful noises (Griffin's Dolly Parton-meets-Maria Muldaur voice chief among them) predominate, but it's the quiet Griffin original "Coming Home to Me" that will move prodigal sons and daughters everywhere to soul-cleansing tears.
"Once letting go," sings Karen Peris on this album's opening track, "rain sails us in a leafy boat, / down the street." And those lines pretty much capture the increasingly diaphanous sound of this Catholic progressive-folk (not to be confused with "progressive-Catholic folk") group. They capture a lot of the subject matter too: Rain, leaves, and birds abound. The Catholicism drifts surface-ward only once ("God Is Love"), but it probably explains the music's contemplative stillness. Even the one called "Shout for Joy" sounds like peace that passeth understanding.
Robert Plant was a favorite target of anti-rock evangelists in the 1970s because of the alleged backward messages in the Led Zeppelin songs he sang and the occult interests of his bandmate Jimmy Page, but for the second album in a row he has entrusted himself to a Christian producer. Last time it was T-Bone Burnett (Raising Sand). This time it's Buddy Miller, who with his wife Julie has done yeoman's work in keeping Americana music connected to its gospel roots.
So maybe it was inevitable that Band of Joy (Rounder) would include something along those lines. But who'd have thought those lines would've intersected at 90-degree angles to form a crossroads where Plant would stand and deliver a spooky, deeply heartfelt, banjo-accompanied rendition of "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down"? "I'm gonna pray 'til they tear your kingdom down," he sings, and not even by playing it backwards could one accuse it (or Plant) of sympathy for the devil.