Friday, January 2, 2015

Greatest Albums 2014

Kirk's 12 favorite albums for the year 2014.   (You will see my tastes run gospel-centric - not so much as a sound, but as the fountain of inspiration.  

This was a very good year.

Uncountable Stars: Joanne Hogg   
Longtime frontwoman for the Celtic-fusion group Iona, Joanne Hogg strays from her normal sound territory (of incredibly beautiful, delicate and somewhat melancholy chamber piano) with an offering that is at once jubilant, amorous, and even frightening.  Joanne writes with a heart saturated with the very cheer and wildness of God.  See my earlier review here.   Or sample some of her music here.  (not my favorite song, but the only one I could find.)   Or find her on Spotify here.

(Should I pick my absolute fave of the year, this would be it.)

Winnowing: Bill Mallonee 
There are just SO many adjectives you can use to describe the music of Bill Mallonee -  tender, bitter, strident, vulnerable, faithful, doubtful, deep, dark, confessional, fully alive etc - cause over the course of many years he has tapped pretty much every kind human emotion.  Even so, the Winnowing is just extra dimensional.  I love the slowed-down almost regal pace of this autumnal work.   Review here:   Or hear the album on his Bandcamp site here.

Crimson Cord: Propaganda
Propaganda was introduced to the world as spoken word artist, Now he turns his attention to dallies with sound.  Man, do I love this guy's intensity.  (Propaganda manages to work through all kinds of novel themes, from cell-phone idolatry, God's management or purpose for evil, and even white-angst in the race arena.  I have yet to write a review but you can hear Propaganda's EXcellence here, or download his music from Noisetrade here.

All Creatures: Jacob Montague
A genuine "Noise-trade" surprise.   My mind, my spirit, go absolutely bonkers with creative possibilities everytime I hear this song: In Him was Light.  (This may be my favorite song of the year.   Read my mini review here, or hear more here.

There's a Light: Liz Vice 
Liz was born almost forty years late.  Except she wasn't.  We need a glorious re-discovery of the Mo-Town sound, made all the more lovely with gospel applications.  I simply adore this woman's voice, attitude and timing.   Read my mini-review here, or hear a glorious rendition of Empty Me Out. (Then download her album here.)

Instruments of Mercy: Beautiful Eulogy
Could it be that a 55 year old white man is listening to and loving rap.  Well sorta.  Not just any rap, but I have found a special niche inside of rap, with folks like Propaganda,  Sho Baraka, and Beautiful Eulogy - who specialize in bringing outside influences (jazz, choral, chamber insturmental etc) to the medium.   Instruments of Mercy is theologically rich (Augustinian) and given to a sound that is part rap, part Oregon coast new music upright pianno-grunge.  Watch a video clip here,
Or listen to the WHOLE album here:  or download it here.

Let us Run: Arthur Wachnik
This would be my only "praise album" of the group.  (Actually not,  but in the most immediate sense) But what Wachnik does is run his praise through some kind of gypsy, zydeco, klezmer, modern music filter, that just lifts this stuff to a whole new plain.   Think of David dancing in his underwear. Or maybe not.  This stuff will make kick your heals.  Video here.  NoiseTrade download here.  Mini Review here.

Broken Gazing - Jeff Johnson (of Ark Music) 
I tried to say this somewhere else, but sometimes I think of the liturgical church as producing works of great beauty, but which are sometimes lean of passion, while the low church is given to bold dallies of the heart, but not so much to transcendent beauty.   In this album, Jeff captures all exquisite beauty of the liturgical world, and does so with the heart of a revivalist.  I couldn't find any video samples of Jeff's new album to show you, but here are two links to earlier works that catch the spirit of his music.   Watching Clouds or,  Christ has Walked this Path  But then, you can sample quite a bit right at his own site:     Or read my review here.

These are the Days: Mo Leverett
Stripped down, autumnal folk, from a man who has been through the wringer... and now thanks the friends who have journeyed with him.  I think of Mo as part pirate, part old-world Puritan, and part gash in the tent of heaven.  He is a breath of fresh air, in a world of high production-pretty music.  No new music samples for Mo, so you get this medium-new one. It's Alright.  Review Here:

VA: The Last Bison
Should I pick one band for raw sound-craft -- passionate delivery, and period costumes - The Last Bison remains my favorite Mountain-jamboree New Music band.  Ever. This family and friends operation is the band I keep waiting to be discovered.  But I guess we are going to go for one discovery at at time.   Listen to a "bad" road song here.  Or,  You can read about the time the Bison folk stayed in my home here, or read and sample music in my review of VA, here.

It's Christmas Time: Carolyn Arends
Easily my favorite Christmas album of 2014, and made all the easier because Carolyn just exudes sanctified femininity.   (She is charming, funny, thoughtful, and sentimental (in the best of ways.)       This music shimmers with old world sound craft (ie, dulcimers, banjo's and such) and packs some big thoughts along the way.   Album review here.  Other folks who agree with me here:)

20: Jars of Clay
Twenty years in the business, Jars let the fans pick their favorite songs from 10 ten albums (roughly two per album) then performed the lot in a stripped down acoustic style with hints of jazz.   This is pure melancholy ambrosia (for those who are given to such) and lets me hear words in some of these songs that I never heard before.   (I started to say something about the spiritual journey of lead singer Dan Haseltine, then scratched it.)   Suffice it to say, I have deeply appreciated Dan's transparency as he wrestles with his place in the kingdom.  There is nourishment here, even for Dan.  No review yet, but you can read what others say here.

Mo Leverett: These are the Days: Album review by Kirk

Artist: Mo Leverett:
Album: These are the Days
Genre:  Folk/ Blues/ Singer Songwriter
Release: December 2014

I might have said that this is Mo's twelfth “studio” album, but there does not seem to be too much studio here.   “These are the Days” may just be Mo’s sparest offering ever:  Quintessential, autumnal folk -- One man with lone guitar or small ensemble, bearing his innards for dimes.    (I can see Mo wince… there is a LOT of skilled music craft here, and glorious contributions from a host of talented and giving musicians, playing everything from fiddles to organs to upright bass to chimes to...etc.  But with the one exception of “All the Same"  -- which simply blazes with blistering sound-craft and BIG guitars  – These are the Days is an understated musical offering, given to honed simplicity in both word and sound.

In contrast to his last several offerings (see reviews here and here and here),  These are the Days does not appear to have an overarching theme.      But then it does.  Only more subtle.  In the wake of a few years now marked by relative stability, Mo is marked by a thankful heart.   It creeps up through the arthritis and smoke.  


It is my sincere hope that Mo has many more albums up his sleeves.   But dollars and new-music challenges being what they are, Mo may be finishing a chapter.   I sense that Mo wants to thank the people -- and the Person -- who have held him through his tangled, pocked, detour of days.  Listen for the gratitude that he feels toward his wife, mother, brothers, fans, and those friends and a church community who walked with him through the dark hours of his soul.   This is an album soaked in appreciation.   This is an album given to the people who walk with him.

At this point in my “writing career” I am going to assume you know the name Mo Leverett.   Which may be a bad assumption; cause about as many people read my reviews as listen to Mo’s music.  All dozen of you.

Actually, I know that is a bad assumption, because (and this will surprise you) MO is the most sought after name in any of my music reviews!  I know this, because my blog has a counter and I get to see both what people read, and the words folks use to find my stuff.   As is, Mo gets far more hits than do my reviews of a  band like U2, and his “hit-count” is still much ahead of my second-place searched-for name --  Audrey Assad (who got a big boost when the other Assad was in the news).    And so, I try to figure, Why would a pretty much obscure singer song-writer get that many more hits?

I figure some of the Mo-popularity  is due to a kind of weird math.  The more popular an artist, the more people there are in the world to write reviews, and my little reflections don’t compete with folks like Rolling Stone.  So inversion sets in, and my lone Mo Review makes his work a much bigger target.

Mo Lookalike: aka Leonardo DaVinci
Then of course, there is that stuff of raw talent.  In the case of Mo, really raw.  As a vocalist, Mo sounds like part nervous breakdown, part pirate, and part gash in the tent of heaven.   I will get this more in a bit, but Mo brings to the table the gift of honest lamentation.  His writing is desperate, concrete, and treasured by folks like me, who yearn for writing that pushes past the glossy-fluff stuff that inhabits so much of Gospel world.

Actually there is a final reason that Mo gets more hits.  I hate to bring it up.  But several years after the fact, a conservative Presbyterian pastor who gets a divorce, then remarried  is still a source of concern or intrigue.  And lest I sound like your judge, I know that I too have looked up other artists, trying to get the skinny on what went down,  why so and so split, is there blame to toss –  have they acknowledged their sins etc.   I figure when a preacher-man with taint comes to town, folks wanna figure out the taint.

Or as Mo once said.   (Find Facebook quote.)  

find quote about how folks who believe in grace as their only ontological hope, are often the last to grant it to others.

Truth is I don’t know Mo’s full story, but I do know that Mo exudes… then, now and forever, one deep awareness of his own personal frailty.  And our profound need of extravagant mercy.  If this review ends up sounding like some other reviews, it is because Mo keeps singing about the desperation of his soul…the absolute bankruptcy of his being… then offering thanks to God, and the many folks through whom God works… to bring him into the completeness of his salvation.   (Personal note: I figure that there is part of our salvation that is instantaneous and outside of time, and another part that is all process, warts, community and finish line.)


Having spit out a few paragraphs,  Not sure how much more I have to say. 

I like Mo.   Should I ever meet him I know I will love him.    I love his music.  Everyone in the world should listen to it all the time.

I like this album.  In as much as it is a disparate collection, I find I respond more to some songs than I do to others.

I love Love  LOVE the third and somewhat atypical track “All the Same” with its snarly coal train rhythm, shark-tank  guitars, and that bad-boy crooning.   Kind of reminds me of Johnny Cash at his meanest.   What really puzzles me about this song, is its intent.   Is is a blessing... being poured out on an enemy, the self, or a truest friend?   The words seem to say one thing, the delivery another.

All the Same
mo leverett
June 18, 2013
Jacksonville, FL

May the longest arms defend you
And the strongest charms befriend you
All the same, all the same
May a peaceful light attend you
And the darkest night amend you
All the same, all the same
May the heavens always send you righteous fame
May the thunder and the lightning be your name

May this sacrifice appease you
May these sacred spices please you
All the same, all the same
May my countenance remind you
And move your weaknesses behind you
All the same, all the same
May the masses always cast me in the blame
And the thunder and the lightning be your name

May bright mornings rise to greet you
In white royal dress complete you
All the same, all the same
May your righteousness commend you
And sweet benedictions send you
All the same, all the same
May the sacraments conceal your vilest shame
And the thunder and the lightning be your name

(Mo, Since I do not know who you are singing this to, I am claiming it for myself…J)

Second Fave.  My Brother.   What a splendid mingling of voices.  I see and hear the dudes' names, but is that you daughter in the first verse?  I don’t see her name, but I know that sound.  That is one glorious blend of kindred souls.

Oh, and that song: Only Love.  It is like the essence of boiled-down Mo.  Pain and love in one great dance.

Beyond that, I love the ongoing tenderness you express to Lori-Lee.  There are several charming songs here... but You Belong to Me just makes my heart ache with the depth of God's provision in your life.

Finally, I think the second-to-last song, a hymn to God “I Will Worship You Alone” is about as direct, personal and naked as a hymn can get.  It's like listening to David… or Mo.  (Cause God knows Mo’s name.)   I simply adore this song; I hope you do not mind if use it as a listening prayer.

I like that you closed with a song to your mom (though I would have switched tracks 9 and 10.)


Mo, Not sure where you are going from here, or how many songs you have left.   But you have left an indelible mark on my soul.  I feel blessed to count you as an audio friend and cousin in the soul.    Your audience may be small, but to the knowing, we find a treasure of great worth and beauty in your brokenness – and continual healing.

Ps.  Final Note.  If you do not yet follow Mo on Facebook, do yourself a favor and search him out.  He is a  songwriter’s songwriter, and the same craft he brings to verse, he brings to his “status” reports.   In fact, if Facebook ever figures out a way to monetize wit and wisdom, Mo will be a wealthy man.


For all things Mo, and to order.