Having segued from a mystically Christian folk phase into a militantly left wing electric phase, Cockburn now comes full circle. The instrumentation (except maybe the bass) is acoustic, and the instrumentals (four) could pass for bonus cuts on reissues of his pre-breakthrough work. As for the lyrics, while stopping short of praising the Lord of the Starfields, they traffic in an articulate and world-weary puzzlement that's at least three parts reverence. Only the extended Nixon joke ("Call Me Rose") falls flat. But then humor never was his strong suit.
As all Krauss fans know, the presence of "and Union Station" on her album covers means that every third song or so is sung by Dan Tyminski, a solid-enough bluegrass stalwart but not the real reason that Krauss fans shell out. This time Tyminski is down to three tracks, leaving Krauss singing eight more cuts to add to the best-ofs that her fans are constantly updating on their iPods. None of those eight will disappoint. Richard and Linda Thompson's "Dimming of the Day" will thrill.
When Robertson was wrapping up his career with the Band 35 years ago, he was almost regarded on par with his former employer, Bob Dylan, as a wellspring of roots wisdom. Now, with yet another not-all-that-impressive solo album under his belt, sager heads admit that maybe he should've stuck with the Band or quit altogether. Not that he's boring exactly, but there's a reason he never sang lead until he had to: He can't sing. And "Madame X" sounds suspiciously like Benmont Tench's "Unbreakable Heart."
Critics are already calling this album, Simon's minor-label debut, his best work since Graceland. And it is, but less because it's up to Graceland's unmatchable standards than because it's better by a nano-emotion than his last major-label album, 2006's Surprise. Pushing 70, it's no surprise that he's pondering eternity any more than it was a surprise that he was pondering mutability at 36 (when he recorded "Slip Slidin' Away"). What is a surprise is that, as a self-described "wandering Jew," he leads with "Getting Ready for Christmas Day."
Billy Joel isn't the only rock 'n' roller incapable of distinguishing between his strengths and his weaknesses. But, to paraphrase the title of one of his many hits, he tends to go to extremes. Consider his two latest Columbia/Legacy releases-The Hits and Live at Shea Stadium: The Concert. To his credit, he leaves "Just the Way You Are," one of his least-appealingly smug songs ever (he does have appealingly smug songs) off both and includes "Only the Good Die Young" (his most dramatically effective song) on both. He also opens The Concert with "Prelude/Angry Young Man," one of the best songs he ever wrote.
But then he turns right around and includes "Captain Jack," the worst song he ever wrote, on The Concert-and dilutes the pleasure of that album's Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett cameos with cameos by John Mayer and Garth Brooks. Really, he means well. But if discretion is the better part of valor, he's a coward.