Much to my chagrin, I don’t have much time for just sitting down to listen to music anymore (let alone blogging). I miss the days when I could put on an album and listen to it in its entirety, uninterrupted and undistracted. How many of us actually do that anymore? Background music doesn’t count. I feel I am doing my favorite musicians a disservice by only peripherally hearing and not actively listening to some of their latest works. Here are three albums that I have been heavily rotating lately, and three that I have actually had time to just listen to straight through.
Thad Cockrell’s To Be Loved
Since I bought this album, it hasn’t left rotation. It’s a fantastic album from the beautifully layered opener “Pride (Won’t Get Us Where We’re Going)” to the subdued closer “Oh to Be Loved.” Cockrell’s album is an eclectic yet unified mix of classic country, folk, pop, and even gospel. As a fundamental Baptist preacher’s kid, many of Cockrell’s songs subtly explore religious themes like the Willie Nelson-esque (but better) “A Country of My Own,” while others explicitly reflect old-time gospel hymns like “He Set Me Free.” Others are realistic reflections on life and love, like “Rosalyn,” “Look Up Sara,” and “Beauty Has a Name.” As a whole, Cockrell exhibits great songwriting and musicianship with a unique sound, which, when combined with the sincere, poetic lyrics, really resonates with me. I can’t get enough of this album. As an aside, Thad has a few other albums that are high on my list, and he has been featured on other musicians’ albums including Sandra McCracken and Jars of Clay.
Matthew Smith’s Watch the Rising Day
Matthew Smith is a founding member of Indelible Grace, and has released a few solo albums as well, with his most ambitious album being released late last summer. Staying true to his roots of writing new music to old hymn texts, this album is a loosely thematic album on persevering in trials through the power of the gospel. Musically, it’s a fuller sound than Smith’s previous releases, as he includes strings and electronic beats to his usual catchy choruses and strong vocals. Fans of his earlier releases and early, folksy Indelible Grace might not be on board with the more poppy, electronic, and produced feel of this album, but it has grown on me a lot. Smith did a great job in writing appropriate music for the lyrics, especially the driving tunes “The War” (“For some it may have been a moment’s conflict / For me it has been sore and long”) and my favorite on the album, “At Eve It Shall Be Light” (‘Not to the last’ Your Word has said / If we could read aright / ‘Poor Pilgrim, lift in hope your head / At eve it shall be light”). Mixed in with these are some very good slower songs, including “Lord Jesus, Comfort Me,” and the encouraging victory over death anthem “Goodnight.” Overall, a solid effort by Smith, and I most appreciated the unified feel of the album with the appropriate music and thematic lyrics.
Railroad Earth’s self-titled album
Railroad Earth released a new album this fall, and, like Matthew Smith, this album takes their sound to uncharted waters. This album is much more electric than any of their previous offerings with fewer bluegrass selections. This album took a while to grow on me, though there are a couple excellent songs that I immediately loved. These include the lively “The Jupiter and the 119,” a song about the completion of the transcontinental railroad, and “Spring-Heeled Jack,” their longest instrumental piece on a studio album, and arguably their best musicianship to date. Todd Sheaffer’s song-writing is again on display throughout this album, especially “Day on the Sand” and “Long Walk Home.” He has the unrivaled ability to tell a story through song that is up there with the best of any contemporary songwriters. My brother and I recently saw RRE perform over Thanksgiving weekend, and the entire first set was comprised of this album for recording purposes. The good songs on the album were made even better live, and the mediocre songs (like “Too Much Information”) were even more mediocre live. A good, but not great, release by my favorite band, and I don’t dislike the direction they are heading, but I find myself wanting more from this album.