There's a bittersweetness to any album of "hymns and sacred songs" that's part of a recovery program-especially when, as in the case of this Sixpence None the Richer vocalist, part of what's being recovered from is the ramifications of divorce and remarriage. But it's a good sign that the material with which Nash has chosen to inaugurate her renewal is the evangelical equivalent of roots music (and inventively arranged evangelical roots music at that). The last thing that the world needs more of is self-expression.
In the 15 months since this debut album by the 32-year-old London-based Pakistani singer-songwriter came out in Europe, it has become lazy-critic shorthand to describe it as what Karen Carpenter might've accomplished had Burt Bacharach been her producer. Now that it's been released stateside, U.S. fans of Bacharach and Carpenter will have to admit that the description is pretty accurate. Except that there's some Dusty Springfield in Rumer's mix too, which in a way explains why the most striking song is called "Aretha."
It's too bad that Walker sings as if he's plugged into an electric socket. His over-intense vocals distract from his guitar playing, which is about as fiery as blues guitar playing gets these days. Ditto for his juxtaposition of sin and salvation. On the title cut he's practically resigned to damnation, but by "What's It Worth" and "Soldier for Jesus" he's fighting back and then some, and by "Don't Cry" he's asking for prayers to help him "make it to the other side." Sometimes he's even funny.
David Lee Roth is older but not wiser. And though you'd never know the former from the sound or energy of his first Van Halen album in 28 years, his lyrics make the latter undeniable. Not that he hasn't thought about the verities. In "Stay Frosty" he recounts his flirtations with Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, TM, and Islam. None of them took. So, at 57, he sticks to what he knows: chicks and jokes. And because Eddie and Alex Van Halen stick to what they know, the album rocks.
As the last third of its title suggests, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan-Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International is an Amnesty International fundraiser. So pro-lifers who love Dylan's songs enough to be tempted by a four-disc, five-hour collection of cover versions will probably think twice before deciding it's all right to buy. But they'll certainly want to hear it. And there's something-a lot, in fact-for everyone: greatest hits, obscure album cuts, aficionados' favorites, head scratchers.
The main attraction, however, is the pleasant surprises: Ziggy Marley, Jackson Browne, Dierks Bentley, and Pete Seeger, for instance, doing as much for "Blowin' in the Wind," "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," "Señor," and "Forever Young," respectively, as those songs do for them. And given that 2012 marks 20 years since Sinéad O'Connor refused to sing "I Believe in You" at Dylan's 30th-anniversary concert, her full-throttle version of "Property of Jesus" feels penitentially appropriate.