Fiction Family Reunion/Rock Ridge Music
When Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins combined forces to release their self-titled debut in 2009, they stumbled onto a bold and brilliant idea. Mixing Foreman’s rock sensibilities and lyrical prowess with Watkins’ acoustic pop and bluegrass leanings, they created a surprisingly magical release. Their sophomore album, Fiction Family Reunion, has proven that their debut was no fluke. Foreman probes the depths of love, struggle, and life’s unknowns in the first single “Up Against the Wall,” and “Give Me Back My Girl,” sounds like it was recorded during Switchfoot’s Hello Hurricane sessions. Watkins holds his own on “Damaged,” about the struggle to keep your pain and scars hidden from the world. “God Badge” is the album’s highlight track as Foreman and Watkins give listeners food for thought with respect to religion: “Put your god badge down/And love someone/Let it free your soul/There is no us and them/There’s only folks that you do or don’t understand.”
Fourth Corner/Strong Blood Records
Brooklyn-based alternative soul singer Trixie Whitley plays by her own rules. The husky vocal quality and genre-busting sensibilities on Whitley’s debut album, Fourth Corner, serve notice that she is a talent on the rise. The melancholic, down-tempo “Morelia” features hypnotic piano and simple acoustic guitar with vocals that head for the heavens. “Hotel No Name” is one of several examples on the album where Whitley breaks into spoken-word and catches you off guard. “Irene,” and the title track, combine subtle percussion with eerie, ethereal background vocals, and slightly off-kilter instrumentation, while “Need Your Love” brings in crunchy, bluesy electric guitar riffs, and piano-led orchestration, lending the song an almost operatic feel. Elements of soul, R&B and alternative music create variety throughout the record, and while Whitley makes a few vocal decisions that don’t work, more often than not she leaves you enthralled.
Desire Like Dynamite/Self-released
Whether releasing her own albums, or writing for the likes of Caedmon’s Call, or her husband Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken has been entrancing listeners with thoughtful, well-crafted music for over a decade now. Her latest, Desire Like Dynamite, is arguably her best album yet. Entrenched firmly in the realm of music with a message, the album is a poignant lyrical experience touching on parenthood, faith, and the impact of our choices. “Gridlock” reveals that change can’t happen while our hearts are stuck in a bad place, while “Dynamite” plays up the power of consequences and how we owe it to ourselves to be mindful. McCracken shines with her quiet and staid vocals one moment before she bursts into a powerful proclamation the next, as in “Hourglass”: “I’m hurtling towards the future/With a bullet in my chest.”