The singing is buoyant, smooth, and occasionally rich enough for soul, the instrumental backing snappy, precise, and all-too-often slick enough for megachurch sanctuaries if not Vegas. Yet somehow, that combination, mixed with the undeniably biblical sentiments striating the praise and the well-paced surges in rhythmic and vocal momentum, adds up to something akin to devotional sincerity. “We live to praise you,” goes “We Lift Your Name.” “We are not ashamed.” As long as what happens in church doesn’t stay in church, it’ll do.
Christianity has played a large role in this country superstar’s life—from his churchgoing Georgia youth to the reason he and his wife of nearly 25 years are still married. (Also, his first volume of evangelical hymns has sold almost 2 million copies.) So this sequel is no surprise. And neither are any of its arrangements, which hew strictly to the pew. Hence the unlikelihood that they’ll appeal either to an increasingly unchurched music-listening populace or an increasingly tradition-averse generation of evangelicals reared on “praise choruses.”
Why this album is being given the deluxe-reissue treatment on its numerically insignificant 22nd anniversary (and only in the U.K.) is anyone’s guess, but suffice it to say that in 1991 a supergroup consisting of New Order’s Bernard Sumner, Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr was a cause célèbre. More razzle than dazzle, the whole proved less than the sum of its parts—except on the single “Getting Away with It,” which, now as then, stands astride a world of its own.
Now 41, married, and a mom, Dido is just the singer to harvest afresh that mature middle ground once tilled by the likes of Helen Reddy and Anne Murray. Unlike her foremothers, however, Dido’s pop sense looks forward: None of these songs recapitulates her or others’ past glories. And, unlike Madonna, Dido flirts with electronica rather than selling it her blue-eyed soul. So it is that her voice and words imply depth rather than flout it. About Rizzle Kicks’ discordant cameo rap, alas, neither can be said.
Whether solo or with Roomful of Blues, the Legendary Blues Band, or the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Duke Robillard has spent 46 years earning the respect of his fellow bluesmen and acquiring an enthusiastic fan base of his own. Now, due mainly to his role as Bob Dylan’s current lead guitarist, he’s finally getting mainstream attention and capitalizing on it by releasing a new album, Independently Blue (Stony Plain).
Credited to “The Duke Robillard Band with Special Guest Monster Mike Welch,” Independently Blue justifies Robillard’s reputation—not so much as a singer (the somewhat rusty bucket in which he carries a tune has no holes, big deal) but as a guitarist adept at stroking many shades of blues to vibrant new life. In short, it’s easy to hear what attracted Dylan to him, especially on the instrumental “Stapled to the Chicken,” the title of which provides the punch line to the joke that begins “Why did the punk rocker cross the road?” —A.O.