This album sounds like most of the others Morrison has released in the last 30 years—lots of emoting about opening one’s heart and achieving peace of mind while jazzy blues or bluesy jazz plays in the background. Pleasant, even soulful, but hardly newsworthy. Even the bluesy blues “Pagan Heart” has clear Morrison antecedents. What’s different are “Educating Archie,” which blames global capitalism, the media, and constitutional indifference for endangering the individualism of the “working-class white,” and “If in Money We Trust,” which repeatedly asks “Where’s God?
The Byrds had Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker. Mumford & Sons have Winston Marshall’s banjo. And, the possession of a signature sound aside, there’s little in common between the folk-rock of yore and the folk-rock of today. The Byrds didn’t seem to be repeatedly writing the same song, for instance, or inflate their music with martial rhythms and over-earnest singing. They did, however, popularize “Jesus Is Just Alright,” a sentiment with which Mumford & Sons apparently concur. As for this album’s F-bomb song, it’s empathy for the devil.
Sufjan Stevens fans impressed by their hero’s recent collaboration with this Chicago rapper on the EP Beak & Claw will understandably be interested in what Serengeti has to say on his own. Alas, how he says it is more interesting: His articulate enunciation, imaginative rhymes, and kaleidoscopic soundscapes set him apart from the hip-hop competition. It really is too bad, therefore, that only on the opening and closing cuts (“Greyhound” and “Uncle Traum,” respectively) does he forgo profanity, especially since he’s plenty funny, observant, and insightful without it.
Her solo soul-baring behind her, Leigh Nash sounds as if she’s relishing sharing the spotlight with a band again: Her singing is as pretty and carefree as ever, no matter how convincingly she sings “Time’s not my friend anymore” in “Failure.” Meanwhile, although “Radio” may be the only track hooky and universal enough to hold its own beside the songs that made Sixpence two-hit wonders last century, the tunefulness and introspective acuity of the others, “Failure” included, suggest that time is still friendlier than Nash thinks.
Paul Carrack is currently celebrating his 40th anniversary as one of the world’s most diversified and gifted blue-eyed soul singers, and he’s celebrating it in style. First, there’s Collected (Universal), a three-disc compilation containing not only the hits he sang with Ace (“How Long”), Mike + the Mechanics (“The Living Years,” “Silent Running”), Squeeze (“Tempted”), and under his own name (“Don’t Shed a Tear”) but also his many often equally noteworthy misses.
Second, there’s Good Feeling (Carrack-UK), his follow-up to the album he recorded in 2012 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, A Different Hat. Of Good Feeling’s 12 tracks, only one, a lovely rendition of the Thad Jones-Alec Wilder jazz classic “A Child Is Born,” could’ve fit A Different Hat’s sumptuous settings. But no matter. The infectiously finger-poppin’ R&B tempos that predominate provide Carrack’s voice—often self-overdubbed into rich, street-corner vocal-group harmonies—with an equally flattering showcase in which to shine.