Deluge: New Records from Allison Moorer, Courtney Barnett, Sufjan Stevens, and More!

down to believingIn a perfect world—one in which, I presume, I wouldn’t have to sleep—I would write extensively about all the new records that have been in heavy rotation around here, but alas: I have a newborn in the house, the first issue of Cahoots coming out tomorrow, and—oh yeah—a day job, which translates into a mountain of new music that I simply haven’t the time to do justice.

I hope to write more about some of these at some point; in the meantime, don’t assume this cursory treatment to be a lack of enthusiasm. I quite like all of these albums, and recommend them to you all.

  • Down to Believing, the phenomenal new record from Allison Moorer, is a tremendous, personality-packed country and Americana album, heavy on heartbreak but also willing to dip its toes into bleak humor, ferocious blues, and hard-won optimism. It’s lovely and soulful, and while it runs a bit long—as country albums seem to do, these days—every chapter feels integral to the story, including the graceful CCR cover. This is her best album yet, I think, by some distance.
  • There are actually several recent releases from tough, vivacious women, and two that I particularly hope don’t get lost in the shuffle. Short Movie—immediately my favorite Laura Marling album—finds her broadening her palette to include moody electric effects, but what impresses the most is the drama implicit to these songs; her amazing authority as a vocalist, tender and vulnerable but still strong and magnetic. She even does a talking blues number here and just kills it.
  • Also of note: The Firewatcher’s Daugher, from Brandi Carlile and, once again, a personal best. If her previous albums were all tasteful and immaculate, this new one is messy and rough and unhinged in all the right ways, at times careening with kinetic energy and at times swaying with beautiful close harmonies, all of it teeming with life and blurring the lines between country, rock and roll, and burnished folk.
  • Courtney Barnett has rightly made waves with Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, a 90s-loving record in the best sense of the term: When it rocks and rolls it does so in a way that’s hip and weird and above all fun, and when it slows down the songs are deeply felt and soulful. This is such a funny and addictive record; it is making its auteur into a Very Big Deal, and deservedly so.
  • Meanwhile, over on the Blue Note label, bassist Marcus Miller has just released a deliriously funky record called Afrodeezia, which features an international cast of guest musicians, among them Chuck D.; it’s a blur of jazz, West African music, R&B, gospel music, and hip-hop, Robert Glapser’s presence on it tipping you off to just how hip and genre-defiant this thing is, but the big story is that it’s just a joy to listen to, full of big melodies and monster grooves.
  • Finally, there is Sufjan Stevens and his new record Carrie & Lowell. I must confess to not being the world’s biggest Sufjan guy, but the things that often keep me at a distance from the man—like his thin, brittle voice and self-conscious lyrics—work quite well here on an album that’s deliberately a bit awkward, tender, and vulnerable. It’s a modest and seemingly personal collection like none of is previous ones, and as such it’s the one that moves me the most deeply.

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