It may have been 13 years since John Philippidis and Steven Delopoulos released their only other Burlap to Cashmere album, but the balance of pop-lite soundscapes and soul-deep lyrics is a reminder-as if the steady pace of these songs weren't enough-that patience is a virtue and that virtue is its own reward. And inevitable though the Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel comparisons are, it should be noted that by blending the two, Philippidis and Delopoulos transcend them. And their subtly biblical lyrics keep sentimentalism at bay.
Those put off by Derek Webb's solo obsessions with Fred Phelps and homosexuality needn't worry about his return to Caedmon's Call or his role as this album's producer. From "Sometimes a Beggar," which reminds capitalists tempted to follow in Judas' footsteps that "30 coins can bury you," to "Free," which celebrates the bearing of one another's burdens with just enough confusion to remind us that we see through a glass darkly, this is music that cuts tune-deep the better to pour in the salt of the earth.
Only three of this compilation's 13 songs were also included on Al Green's first gospel-years compilation, which came out in 1990 and relied overmuch on his first two gospel albums. This album culls from seven of those eight, inexplicably nixing 1981's "Where Love Rules" but otherwise doing the soul-singer-turned-reverend's Word Records output justice. To a not-insignificant part of pop-music fans, he was bigger than Dylan, and he sang mainly gospel for nine years longer. He was a lot funkier too.
Having recovered from his September 2009 stroke, the ex-Kansas leader Kerry Livgren picks up where he left off, disseminating orthodox Christian sentiments to what might be called old-school progressive rock (if all progressive rock weren't old school by definition). The beat is a more prominent than in vintage Yes, ELP, and Barclay James Harvest, but not so much that despisers of "new school" Genesis will feel excluded. Musically, it's a balancing act without a safety net. Theologically, it's a Fellowship of Christian Athletes' slam dunk.
As part of Disney's lead-up to the new Muppets film, Walt Disney Records has commissioned a dozen alternative acts to have a go at some of the Muppets' best-known songs. And although the title of the results-Muppets: The Green Album-smacks of environmental consciousness, there's nothing any more obnoxiously "green" than Andrew Bird's cover of Kermit the Frog's "Bein' Green," which was always more about being judged and feeling ostracized because of the color of one's skin instead of the color of one's character anyway.
As performed by the likes of OK Go ("The Muppet Theme Song"), Alkaline Trio ("Movin' Right Along"), and the Fray ("Mah Nà Mah Nà"), these anthems to infectious innocence feel neither excessively cute nor cloyingly childish. In other words, ironically condescending hipsterism isn't anywhere within earshot. These acts truly dig this music, and therein lies hope for all but the most intransigently un-childlike of us all.