Recorded before an enthusiastic Big Apple crowd and touching on eight different albums, this nearly three-hour, 13-song, three-disc, two-DVD document only scratches the surface of what the Christian prog-rocker Morse has been up to since 1999. (There’s nothing, for instance, from the five worship albums he’s released between 2005 and 2010.) Of course, with four songs that last over 20 minutes apiece (one a Martin Luther encomium), space is at a premium. Fortunately, the cover of the Osmonds’ “Crazy Horses” made the cut.
Of the 11 songs that last less than two minutes, nine last less than one minute and total just 2:23. Of the 14 that last longer, only “Call You Mom” (a three-minute, six-second examination of “mommy issues”) and “Icky” (two-and-a-half minutes of misanthropy) are instantly irresistible. But the slow, sad “Sometimes a Lonely Day” will comfort the forsaken. The slow, pedagogical “Tesla” will instruct the ignorant. And “Didn’t Kill Me” needs only 24 seconds to call the wisdom of Nietzsche into question.
As acoustic-guitar players of sacred music go, Ryan Tilby falls somewhere between John Fahey and John Michael Talbot. With the harder, faster-picking Fahey, whose 1980 Yes! Jesus Loves Me still defines the genre, Tilby shares an affectionate familiarity with American hymnody in general and “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” “For All the Beauty of the Earth,” and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” in particular. (Also like Fahey, Tilby doesn’t sing.) With Talbot, Tilby shares a meditatively reverential lightness of touch. As such combinations go, it’s potent.
Subtitled “Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music 1923-1936,” this thematically organized, three-disc set of proto-country-folk will prove to future historians that—contrary to the laziness, malaise, and secularism of the USA’s decline and fall—work, play, and prayer were once a recipe for seeing folks through a Depression. And coming as they do between the “work hard” songs and the “pray hard” songs, the (often) hilarious “play hard” drinking songs hint at the futility of Prohibition and one’s need of redemption simultaneously.
Most of what Richard Thompson recorded when he was married to his first wife Linda still sounds better than most of what he has recorded in the 30 years since the divorce. Enough of the latter, however, has been compelling enough to keep alive the hope that someday he’d turn out a full-length work on par with his youthful folk-rock best, and with Electric (New West) he has.
He has credited the producer Buddy Miller with greasing the skids, but it was Thompson himself who wrote the Richard-and-Linda-worthy “Another Small Thing in Her Favour” and “Good Things Happen to Bad People” (“but only for awhile”). He also played the junkyard organ on the garage-rocking “Straight and Narrow” and had so many good songs he needed a “deluxe edition” bonus disc to accommodate them all. And while Alison Krauss’ cameo is OK, it’s Siobhan Maher Kennedy’s five harmony turns that really recall the old days.