Album reviews: Sam Bush and Kathryn Caine, Ed Kowalczyk, Mason Jennings

Album reviews: Sam Bush and Kathryn Caine, Ed Kowalczyk, Mason Jennings

Sam Bush and Kathryn Caine

Love and Mercy/Self-released

Love and Mercy will stoke the embers of even the most jaded cynic’s heart during the cold holiday season. This collection of covers succeeds in inspiring listeners to hope, even in the darkest times. Employing an engaging folk rock sound, Bush and Caine wind their way through spine-tingling renditions of Wilco’s “Blood of the Lamb,” and offer a soulful take on the Jeff Tweedy/Mavis Staples number “You are Not Alone.” The duo provides a powerful performance on the Johnny Cash track “Redemption,” and on their version of Tom Petty’s “Square One” Bush sounds like Petty’s vocal doppelganger, and it’s a nice surprise. The tracks are earthy and stripped-down, making them feel like humble offerings, and that’s the point; these songs are meditations on God, man, relationships, and how we intersect. They are presented simply and honestly. A CD release show is scheduled for December 11 at Christ Episcopal Church with all proceeds going to benefit The Haiti Mission.

Ed Kowalczyk

The Flood and the Mercy/Soul Whisper Records

Former Live frontman Ed Kowalczyk has always been something of a lightning rod for music fans. Either you love his earnest performances and cryptic lyrics, or he leaves you puzzled. His solo work, including his latest, The Flood and the Mercy, continues the trend and keeps the diehard fan happy. The build-ups to raucous choruses still abound (“The One”) and Kowalczyk still wears his heart on his sleeve as he cries to the heavens on tracks like “Angels on a Razor.” The alternative rock of his former releases is tempered on this album, though tracks like “Parasite” prove he can still rip through a track. Religious imagery is everywhere (“Supernatural Fire,” “Holy Water Tears”) and Kowalczyk wrestles with God (“Seven”) as much as ever despite his own faith. Kowalczyk has never been one to shy away from emotional moments and questioning belief systems, but on The Flood and the Mercy you get the sense he is finding some hard-won answers.

Mason Jennings

Always Been/Stats and Brackets

Always Been may not appeal to everyone because it is almost entirely devoted to love and relationships, however, a lot of the numbers have an earthy folk vibe to them (“Lonely Street”) or are just downright easygoing (note the combination of ukulele and whistling on the closing track “Just Try”). The album works through familiar themes—living up to the one you love (“Instrument”), a woman willing to put up with your crap (“So Good”)-—in the name of love’s power. There are fun moments that add balance, like when Jennings riffs on revival songs as in the  countrified “Witness.”