Aja was the 1977 Steely Dan album that yielded the hits "Peg" and "Deacon Blues" and made the marriage of pop and fusion jazz sound like one made in heaven. The Darcys are a Canadian indie band whose eponymous 2011 debut made the straining of minor-key melodies through an electronic haze sound like a promising courtship at least. To hear Aja as strained through an electronic haze is to hear it recollected imperfectly but fondly in semi-tranquility. That eponymous 2011 Darcys album was pretty good too.
Like other T-Bone Burnett-produced soundtracks (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), you can enjoy and emerge hopeful from these 16 songs whether you like or know anything about the box-office smash to which they're attached. The enjoyment stems from both the musical quality (arresting, female-sung, alternative folk predominates) and the sequencing (the noisier cuts are few and far between). The hope stems from young females' apparent willingness to gravitate toward roots or something like them, given the choice.
One reason McCartney has given for not recording a standards album before now is that he didn't want to be seen as cashing in on the trend started by Rod Stewart's Great American Songbooks. Another is that, by waiting, he could identify and avoid redoing the trend's most over-recorded songs. As a result, not only is neither of McCartney's Frank Loesser selections "Baby, It's Cold Outside," but one of them, "The Inch Worm," is the second-sweetest song in the bunch. The first? His own "My Valentine."
According to Paris, this latest reminder of her singular talent isn't "just a greatest-hits album." It has two new recordings, after all ("God of Our Fathers," "America the Beautiful"), and she, not her label, chose the rest. But with four of those ("The Warrior Is a Child" included) already on multiple anthologies, it is a "greatest-hits." What makes it not "just" one: She's recontextualized the songs around a free-exercise-of-religion theme, thus giving them election-cycle teeth. Alternate title: The Woman Is a Warrior.
On Feb. 1, George Beverly Shea, the Canadian-born singer best known for performing at practically every Billy Graham crusade since 1947, turned 103, thus giving baby boomers who grew up hearing him one more opportunity to celebrate what made him unique: his solid, unpretentious baritone voice (one-part opera, three-parts Tennessee Ernie Ford), his preference for songs conducive to altar calls, and his having beaten Elvis Presley to "How Great Thou Art" with a version that was still definitive after Elvis cut it.
The straightforward hymnody that Shea exemplified is no longer in style. But in Christ there is no past or future, and Shea collections and reissues proliferate apace. The 50-track I'd Rather Have Jesus (Jasmine), the 24-track The Love of God (Vintage Music), and the 20-track The Ultimate Collection (Word), for instance, have all come out this year. For some, they're a trip down memory lane, for others a foretaste of glory divine.