Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song/Blue Note Records
Amos Lee knows what an Americana record ought to sound like and Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song is it. This exploration of the simultaneously universal and individual nature of life is put together in dazzling fashion. The track “Johnson Blvd” details the hard times that have ravaged a small town, while “Stranger” has a groovy roots rock sound augmented by Lee’s lyrics about the transient nature of life. “Tricksters, Hucksters and Scamps” is a fun piece of ragtime rock, “High Water” has an oddly pleasant, kooky vibe to it, and “The Man Who Wants You” is soulful and sexy all at once. “Burden” features Lee apologizing for being a burden to someone, the soft rock track “Indonesia” finds him asking, “When will I be free?” and his duet with Alison Krauss on “Chill in the Air,” details a fragmented relationship. Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, is a deeply personal, surprisingly affecting piece of work.
Blind Boys of Alabama
I’ll Find a Way/Sony Masterworks
I’ll Find a Way is the latest reminder of why Blind Boys of Alabama have endured for over 60 years as a band. To begin, there are gospel covers such as “God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds,” an upbeat rendition of “Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave it There,” and the down-tempo, soul-stirring piano jazz number “My God is Real.” But there are surprises too. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver duets with the Boys’ Jimmy Carter on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand,” and the chilling results will bring you to tears. Toss in guest appearances from Patty Griffin on the bluegrass gospel track “Jubilee,” and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs on “I’ve Been Searching,” and you end up with more than a few delightful curveballs on a recording that mixes the old with the new in fresh ways that will stick with you.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
The Speed of Things/Warner Bros.
The sophomore album from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., The Speed of Things, is a great piece of nostalgia if you love ’80s-era pop. “Beautiful Dream” sets the tone for this record with its dreamy vibe, and between the heavy use of a beat machine on tracks like “A Haunting,” and the inclusion of xylophone flourishes on “Gloria,” the album has a generally lively, upbeat tone. The danceable electro pop of “Run” keeps things going at a nice clip, and “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t on the Dance Floor)” is insanely catchy. This album won’t change your world in the lyrical department (“Knock Louder,” for example, includes cliché sentiments like “I will never share my world with anyone but you.”), but that doesn’t seem to be the band’s focus here. The Speed of Things just wants to revel in the glorious sounds of a time gone by.