Considering the gusto with which he throws himself into these original Southern Gothic country songs based on famous Bible heroes and villains, you’d never know that Everett no longer identifies (much) with the conservative evangelicalism that shaped his adolescence. His empathetic first-person Judas song, “Love Cut Me Down,” isn’t as sharp as James Wright’s empathetic first-person Judas poem, “St. Judas,” and some names and details have been changed to protect the guilty. But, compared, say, to Jesus Christ Superstar, the results feel deep and wide indeed.
With 23 uniformly excellent songs highlighting Groves’ first 15 music-making years and four new songs foreshadowing her next, The Collection is all anyone who has missed out on this gifted CCM singer-songwriter needs to start catching up. The only problem with experiencing so much uniformity—excellent or otherwise—in one place is that a midtempo, melancholy sameness accumulates, de-emphasizing what’s most special about Groves’ most special moments. Not until Track 20, “Setting Up the Pins,” does playfulness leaven her intense, relentlessly introspective piety.
Roberto Carlos Lange’s best-known musical pseudonym is Spanish for his wife’s favorite dessert and his childhood nickname respectively. The presumption that Lange is a Christian derives from his albums’ appearing on Sufjan Stevens’ label, not from his lyrics, which heretofore Lange has sung exclusively in Spanish, or his music. Neither is anti-Christian. Instead, both burble electronically and catchily along in a gently dreamy world of their own. It’s no small compliment to say that they look great on the iTunes visualizer. It’s no big compliment either.
Perry’s less overtly trashy this time than on Teenage Dream. Only “Birthday” celebrates sex to the exclusion of most else. But beware covert trash. In “This Is How We Do,” she “shouts out” various party-hearty demographics, confident that by eating, drinking, and being merry they can forestall a tomorrow in which they (and she) just might die. And she’s dialed back Teenage Dream’s residual Christianity. “By the Grace of God” turns out to be nothing but a 21st-century “I Am Woman.” Title of first single: “Roar.”
Andy Fairweather Low has paid his bills for the last 35 years by playing guitar and singing on albums or tours by more famous performers, but he wouldn’t have gotten those gigs if he weren’t money in the bank. And with Zone-O-Tone (Proper), officially credited to “Andy Fairweather Low & the Lowriders,” he reconfirms his worth.
Low excels at conversationally recontextualizing blues, soul, and gospel tropes and tunefully setting them to pop styles that, in addition to the aforementioned genres, include a few that would’ve seemed right at home in the days of vaudeville. Whether exhorting (“If you can’t have what you want, / hold on tight to what you got”), criticizing (“There’s too much la-la music goin’ ’round,” “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have sold out to the rich”), supplicating (“Take me to the river and wash my sins away”), or devoting an entire acoustic waltz to “Love, Hope, Faith & Mercy,” he drinks from an ocean of wisdom. —A.O.