Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SLC Concerts on The Yellow Stereo

So Salt lake City, Utah isn't exactly the indie music capital of America, but there's more going on at the venues here than many might expect. I don't make it up for as many shows as I would like and it's difficult to keep track of who's playing where, so I was excited to come across The Yellow Stereo. It's a blog that focuses exclusively on Salt Lake concerts, specifically the indie stuff, and it has a good list of upcoming shows as well as videos, chances to win tickets, etc.

Anyway, check it out The Yellow Stereo if you're in Utah.

First up on my list to see is Fanfarlo with April Smith & The Great Picture Show. Fanfarlo is a band I fell in love with last year and April Smith is a new talent I've only just had the pleasure of hearing, but I'm expecting both to be excellent.

They're going to be at The Urban Lounge this Saturday, Feb 27th.

Fanfarlo - MySpace

April Smith & The Great Picture Show - MySpace

Movie Loves a Screen

Three for Wednesday: Uniform Motion, Charlie Alex March, The Heligoats

Uniform Motion

Uniform Motion was first described to me as "our favorite Anglo-French illustrated indie folk band," and I suppose since I have no other Anglo-French indie folk bands to compare them to, they've become mine as well. But speaking less specifically, Uniform Motion has recently released a lovely album called Life that I think just about anyone would enjoy no matter the comparisons. The group's smooth and subtle sound isn't just easy on the ears, it's filled with soft hooks and engaging melodies that make the eight tracks of the record pass far too quickly. The delicate harmonies comprising opener "Saving Up For Sundays" and the more upbeat pop of "Roll Over" are two great examples of what makes this band and this record worthy of our time and attention.

Check out a video for "Saving Up For Sundays" below:

Saving up for Sundays from Uniform Motion on Vimeo.


Charlie Alex March

"It's a beautiful glockenspiel and string-led instrumental that gently comes and goes in under three minutes. Delightful." So said David Bowie of one of UK musician/producer Charlie Alex March's previously released songs, and while I don't know which song it was, similar praise could appropriately be ascribed to much of March's full-length debut, Home/Hidden. Mixing cool electronic elements with warm strings and percussion, March creates relaxing, yet intriguing soundscapes over the 31 minutes of his new record. And while it's not, due to its subdued nature, an album that is likely to garner much attention this year, it's a shame that it will be overlooked by so many because the music is truly gorgeous. Highlights include the spacey, clap-happy "Cortot N° 7," it's majestic counterpart "Cortot N° 6" and the spare piano number "Son of a Joe."

Cortot N° 6 (MP3)


The Heligoats

They've now been around for over ten years, but The Heligoats have kept a low profile for the entirety of their existence. Led by Chris Otepka, the band has taken various forms over the years, sometimes existing as a solo project for Otepka outside his former main gig, Troubled Hubble. I haven't heard their earlier material, but I can certainly recommend the group's latest, Goodness Gracious, a solid indie rock record with strangely compelling songwriting and hooks to spare. Whether playing earnest power-pop ("Fishsticks") or delicate balladry ("Goodness Gracious"), Otepka's even tenor voice and unique musical personality make for a winning combination and provide plenty of reasons to listen again and again. Ten years is far too long, don't let these guys go undiscovered any longer.

Fish Sticks (MP3)


You Should Know: Local Natives

If you haven't already been introduced to Local Natives, allow me the honor of doing so right here, because it's quite necessary. Already heralded as one of the next big things by Pitchfork, these LA natives have crafted an excellent debut record, Gorilla Manor, which combines the folk harmonies of Fleet Foxes with a blend of modern influences (borrowing from psych-rock, surfer pop, etc.) for exceptional results. Their pedigree may be easy to hear, but the band never sounds repetitious or uninspired, and their songs are so fantastically executed it doesn't matter much anyway - they've produced the best debut so far this year and you should hear it.

Local Natives use afro-pop-esque guitars, shimmering piano, and all sorts of excellently played percussion to create their rich, warm sound. But while there always seems to be a great deal happening, the songs never feel crowded or overstuffed. Instead, the boys prove themselves to be not only talented musicians but intelligent ones as well, who restrain themselves when necessary and hit you with everything they've got when the moment is just right. Their songs are often joyful and sunny, even when there's darkness lurking below the surface, and there's surprising emotional depth here to discover after multiple listens. No matter how deeply you dive into the music, however, it's just about endlessly enjoyable. Highlights from the record include most everything from Gorilla Manor's first half, especially the entrancing "Sun Hands" and the beautifully melodious "World News."

You can download "Sun Hands" over at Pitchfork's Forkcast, which of course I recommend you do immediately. Also, check out the group's MySpace page for more.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: Yeasayer - Odd Blood (* * *)

The sophomore slump; well documented and probably over-discussed, but a genuine phenomenon experienced by many of the most impressive new bands. Of course, there are many reasons why a band may disappoint with their second effort, but the most frustrating reason for all involved is ambition, which plays a great deal into the mixed results of Yeasayer's latest, Odd Blood. When the group arrived on the scene a couple years ago with the surprisingly fantastic All Hour Cymbals, they immediately proved themselves a talented and confident (also, strange) bunch, one unlikely to try the same thing twice. And so the new record is exactly what we'd expect in that regard - an album that reaches for something much greater than what preceded it no matter the consequences. And while the results of this grandiose approach occasionally impress, the results are a scattered, uneven affair.

Anyone (like me) expecting something like the band's more pop-oriented track, "Tightrope," from last year's Dark Was the Night compilation will immediately be confused at Odd Blood's opener, "The Children," a creepy, drippy introduction that throws away melodic sensibility for outright weirdness in its garbled vocals and eerie instrumentation. Fortunately, the boys rebound with the album's two strongest cuts, the single "Ambling Alp" and the equally accessible "Madder Red," which show a sharper, more direct side to the group than we heard on All Hour Cymbals. Their expansive, polished new sound works well here while maintaining a familiarly distinctive edge, but things get mixed quickly thereafter. Most of the remaining tracks aren't complete misfires, but still feel like missed opportunities. This is especially true of the soaring ballad "I Remember" and the driving "Mondegreen," which squander interesting stylistic concepts with similarly lame lovemaking-themed lyrics and ultimately bland execution. A few genuinely enjoyable moments crop up along the way, but Odd Blood's ten tracks never attain a real momentum or consistency.

So it's hard to fault a band for their need to explore and expand, but it's impossible to ignore the fact that Odd Blood doesn't pack nearly the same punch that Yeasayer's debut surely did. Ambition is admirable, and I imagine it will ultimately serve this young band very well as it does occasionally here, but they're going to need to harness their talent and ideas to make them truly effective the next time around.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Monthly Clean-Up: January

I can't get to all the good stuff (or bad stuff, for that matter) in any given month, so I thought I'd sum up my experience with music in the month of January (and hopefully other months too if I decide to make this a more permanent feature). I'll go over a few of my favorites and provide some reviews in brief of things I haven't covered yet. The year got off to a great start, so there's plenty to go over here.

The Best from Chewing Gum for the Ears, January (link to full reviews):

Owen Pallett - Heartland (4.5 Stars)
Owen Pallett's most accomplished album is fittingly released under his own name. It's a unique captivating experience and one we'll certainly be talking about at year's end.

Patty Griffin - Downtown Church (4 Stars)
Griffin's foray into gospel music is a resounding success and easily among her best work. No matter your religious viewpoint, there's something to love about Downtown Church.

Surfer Blood - Astro Coast (4 Stars)
The embodiment of a college rock record, Astro Coast is an exciting debut from surf-rockers Surfer Blood, who recorded the album in their college dorm.


What I missed in January:

Spoon - Transference (4 Stars)
Spoon's latest feels like both the culmination of all that has gone before it and a new chapter in the band's career, with their signature style covered in a rougher, darker edge that makes Transference a compelling experience.

Laura Veirs -
July Flame (4 Stars)
July Flame is a gorgeous album from an artist I wasn't previously familiar with (unfortunately), Laura Veirs. Her twisting melodies and engaging songwriting makes this of my early favorites for the year.

Ray Wylie Hubbard - A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is No C) (4 Stars)
Hubbard's "Enlightenment" is a gritty, strange, and consistently great folk-rock record rooted in gritty blues and soul music. One that will probably go largely unnoticed this year, but not for lack of quality.

Four Tet - There is Love in You (3.5 Stars)
Hypnotic and sometimes stunning, Four Tet's There is Love in You is my favorite effort from electronic musician Kieran Hebden, whose music I've always appreciated but rarely loved before.

Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM (3.5 Stars)
French film/music star Gainsbourg teamed up with Beck (who wrote and produced the record) to release her best effort by a long shot, IRM. It's eclectic, weird, and often amazing.

Lindstrøm & Christabelle - Real Life is No Cool (3.5 Stars)
With singer Christabelle, Lindstrøm takes his "space-disco" music in a decidedly more pop direction with this danceable and very cool collection of tunes on his latest.

The Magnetic Fields - Realism (3.5 Stars)
The remarkably consistent Stephin Merritt releases another solid effort with The Magnetic Fields, Realism, which doesn't give us much we haven't heard before yet includes plenty of reasons to listen just the same.

Beach House - Teen Dream (3 Stars)
One of the more acclaimed record's of January, Teen Dream didn't impress me like it did so many others. But it's a beautiful album and consistent as well, another fine addition to the band's catalog.

OK Go - Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky (2.5)
You gotta hand it to the guys for branching out a bit from their former releases, but the results of OK Go's latest just doesn't excite often enough to be memorable.

Review: Owen Pallett - Heartland (* * * * 1/2)

The shedding of the Final Fantasy moniker that once marked the solo work of Owen Pallett, regardless of what instigated it, is one I imagine won’t be as disruptive to his career as some. Pallett’s notoriety within the indie community, built both from the quality of his own releases and the gorgeous string arrangements he’s created for the likes of Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear, has assured any work he now does to be quite transparent. Perhaps it’s fitting if not convenient, then, that Heartland should bear his own name, as it would seem to represent the completion of his transition into something more than a distinguished composer and arranger or even a violin virtuoso (though those skills are certainly on constant display throughout the record). The exquisitely crafted 12 tracks of the record make a solid case for Owen Pallett as songwriter, musician, and performer of considerable talent, one that has made his most accomplished and cohesive album with this latest release.

Right from the outset of opener “Midnight Directives,” Pallett introduces an approach quite different from his last two outings, with skittering electronic beats and synths now complimenting the signature violin and vocal combo that has so long characterized Final Fantasy. The effect shouldn’t be off-putting to longtime fans as the music retains a familiar edge, but songs like “Midnight Directives” and a similarly stylized track, “The Great Elsewhere,” are less obvious in their showcase of instrumental talent and more a compliment to Pallett’s songwriting and compositional abilities than many of his previous tunes. And while electronic instrumentation isn’t completely foreign to Pallett’s music, the frequency and depth with which he incorporates these elements throughout Heartland, even on the more organic songs, makes this project a progressive one in regards to his personal portfolio and results in an enjoyably inimitable listening experience by any standard. The lyrical peculiarity, familiar vocals, and swirling strings still evoke the unique musical personality that has and perhaps always will identify Owen Pallett, but he’s creating distance here, refusing to simply rely on past (and mostly successful) tricks and opening up a refreshingly ambitious new chapter.

Evolution alone isn’t what makes Heartland such a thoroughly stunning album, however, it’s the way Pallett so comfortably and confidently introduces this new approach while simultaneously offering his strongest collection of songs that truly impresses. While the record finds him delving even further into the depths of his fantastical imagination in the odd and twisted concept that winds its way throughout the album, the tracks themselves actually work as stand-alone pieces more consistently than before while remaining integral pieces of the story. Two clear standouts are “Lewis Takes Action,” with its Beach Boys-esque harmonies and engaging melody, and its companion piece and perhaps the most accessible track, “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” both excellent example of the warmer, more expansive “pop” sound Pallett embraces here, with the latter being very much removed from the sparse, classical style that classified his earlier releases. Between the swirling, energetic tracks that comprise the majority of the album, there are moments of familiar subtlety on balladry like “Heartland, Up Yours” and the heartbreaking “E is for Estranged” serving to give the record near perfect balance and pacing.

As is par for the course with Pallett, each moment of Heartland is exquisitely crafted and presented, and even with the complexity of more instruments and sounds, he restrains himself just enough to create consistently lush, detailed backdrops without overcomplicating things. There are many ideas revealed throughout the record, but never does it feel weighty or bloated during its 46 minutes. And while it’s probably accurate to say that the Pallett isn’t playing to his previously established strengths as often, Heartland doesn’t come across as a truly exploratory or experimental album. Rather, its progress simply shows that his considerable reach in no way exceeds his grasp and that his ideas sound just as wonderful in practice as they surely did in their conception, which is a rare thing indeed.

Last Word: Owen Pallett’s first album under his own name is his most accomplished release to date, a progressive and thoroughly entertaining record that combines remarkable musicianship with a newly found pop aesthetic.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Fredrik - Trilogi (* * * 1/2)

Swedish collective Fredrik impressed me a couple years ago with the release of their debut, Na Na Ni, so I was obviously quite excited when word reached me that their second LP was on it's way. Then came a release delay that put it nearly out of mind for a couple months until recently when I finally got a chance to hear the new record, much later than I had anticipated. Though it doesn't perhaps reach the high standard set by its predecessor, Trilogi was worth the wait, a strong sophomore record which makes some improvements and shows a band willing and able to progress beyond their initial boundaries. This sophomore effort is named for the way in which it was conceived, starting as a series of three EPs that the group eventually combined to form the 13 tracks of a full-length album that works very cohesively despite its scattered origin and should help to establish Fredrik as yet another noteworthy Swedish musical export.

The most important improvement Trilogi makes upon Fredrik's debut has more to do with its presentation as a whole than with the individual tunes. Na Na Ni was entertainingly inventive and successfully so, but its variation also caused the album to feel pieced together and occasionally slight - at least on first listen. The group's latest is considerably more substantial and purposeful, with a darker musical and lyrical theme. The band still experiments with a wide array of organic and electronic elements, switching between seemingly nonsensical lyrics and moody instrumental pieces, but the record flows convincingly in one direction where before it never felt settled. Perhaps as a result of the album's focus on unity, the songs on Trilogi don't impress as immediately and the music is slightly more predictable in its execution, but the way in which it all comes together is gorgeous.

Various and unique instruments ( including harp, bells, xylophone and plenty which I couldn't accurately identify) comprise the music of Trilogi, and when composed in such a beguiling way, Fredrik truly sounds like nobody else. Highlights from the album include the delicate, spare "Milo," the edgier "Ner" and the constantly shifting "Locked in the Basement," with each tune revealing more upon the repeated listens that the album seems to demand. And though the pace occasionally drags over a weak track or two, the whole of this immaculately composed and impressively detailed record is an experience worth having and the second consecutive example of Fredrik's considerable talent and inspiration.

Locked in the Basement


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Three for Saturday: King of Prussia, The Brunettes, Mux Mool

King of Prussia -

The idea of combining pop and country western music may make some cringe, and rightfully so; we've all heard plenty of bad examples of the marriage of those two genres. But indie rock band King of Prussia offers a much more appealing side of just that blend. With laid-back pop hooks and a decidedly country presentation (banjos, slide guitars, etc.), the collective has created a remarkably beautiful three-song EP called The Time of Great Forgetting that I simply can't stay away from for long. From the lovely waltz "Waitin' For SOmething" (available below) to the bouncy "Psychic Powers," King of Prussia waste no time in qualifying themselves as a band to watch going forward. Highly recommended.

Waitin' For Something (MP3)


The Brunettes -

The Brunettes had a breakthrough of sorts with the release of their previous disc, 2007's Structure & Cosmetics, but they remain well below the radar for most. I imagine their latest effort may do more to change that, however. Paper Dolls is a joyful and upbeat set of tunes from the New Zealand indie pop duo, one that plays around with many digital and organic elements with consistently fun results. It may be a little sugary for some, but tracks like the sharp, energetic opener "In Colours" and the tropically-tinged "It's Only Natural" are nearly impossible not to enjoy. Definitely worth a listen if you're into boy/girl pop harmonies and a little ambition in your pop music.

Red Rollerskates (MP3)


Mux Mool -

Brian Lindgren, or Mux Mool, is an electronica artist you probably don't, but definitely will soon, know. And to help things move along, Mux Mool and Ghostly International are giving away an MP3, "Lady Linda," and an entire EP, Viking Funeral. Lindgren is quickly showing he's got the talent and inspiration to be worthy of our attention with tunes like the spacey "Drum Babylon," the completely outrageous "Goblin Town" and a sweet version of a song called "Death 9000" featuring Prof and the inimitable P.O.S. He's got a full-length out on March 23rd called Skulltaste, but you really should hear his stuff soon as possible, it's an excellent introduction to an exciting talent.

Lady Linda (MP3)

Viking Funeral EP

@ In Review Online: Best Albums of the Decade (20 -1)

The best of the best unveiled at In Review Online:

Also check out individual staff lists (including mine) here.

20 - 11
Personal Picks:
20: Radiohead - In Rainbows
19: The Avalanches - Since I Left You
17: The Books - The Lemon of Pink
13: TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
12: The National - Boxer

10 - 1
Personal Picks:
10: ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Source Tags & Codes
8: Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
7: Arcade Fire - Funeral
5: Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
3: Panda Bear - Person Pitch
2: Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica
1: Radiohead - Kid A

Thursday, February 11, 2010

@ In Review Online: Best Albums of the Decade (50 - 21)

Alright, we're getting close to the grand finale, here's 50-21 of In Review Online staff's picks for best albums of the decade. As I did last time, I'll list my personal picks below.

Personal Picks:
50: Sleater-Kinney - The Woods
49: Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
48: The Wrens - Meadowlands
44: The Mountain Goats - Sunset Tree
42: Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
41: Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

Personal Picks:
40: The Strokes - Is This It
35: Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
33: Devendra Banhart - Rejoicing in the Hands
32: Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
31: The National - Alligator


Personal Picks:
29: The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
27: Grizzly Bear - Yellow House
26: Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary
25: Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
24: Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
23: Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender
22: Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days

Review: Malachai - The Ugly Side of Love (* * * *)

Bristol duo Malachai make an awful lot of noise for just two people. Of course, coming after famously loud duos like The White Stripes and The Black Keys, perhaps the considerable volume produced by Gee Ealey and Scott Hendy shouldn't be surprising. But something in the explosiveness and variety of the band's debut, The Ugly Side of Love, makes it seem like there's just more people behind it.Their first effort is a brief blast of rock 'n' roll covering 13 tracks in just over 32 minutes, combining 80s punk swagger with 60s psychedelic rock (along with just a hint of Sublime's white-boy funk) in an often frenzied, consistently surprising blend that makes a fine introduction to these two gifted and ambitious musicians.

The primary ingredients here are scuzzy guitars, jazzy keys and Ealey's gritty vocals over simply effective drums, and though the boys occasionally throw in an unexpected flourish (the horns on "Lay Down Stay Down," for instance) the duo are effective with a fairly limited palette in ensuring the music never feels lacking for substance or style. The songs twist and turn in unexpected ways,and they often end before you'd like them to, but each subsides into another strange, yet hook-filled moment so the momentum never sags. At their best - the groovy opener "Warriors," the crunchy "Snowflake" and the breezy "Moonsurfin'" - the band manage to channel the best of their influences with their own unique spin to a consistently fun and enjoyably messy end that begs for repeated listens immediately.

The Ugly Side of Love may not make the broad impact that many of this year's more notable releases surely will, but there's no denying it's one of this year's best rock records thus far. And I wouldn't be surprised come year's end of the year if I'm saying the same thing.

Fading World (MP3 via Domino Records)


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

@ In Review Online: Best Albums of the Decade (100 - 51)

The next installment of our "Best Albums of the Decade" series, 100-51. I'll highlight those albums that also find themselves in my personal top 100, but check out the links to the pages for the complete article.

100 - 91
Personal Picks:
97: Life Without Buildings - Any Other City (2001)
96: Cat Power - You Are Free (2003)
95: Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker (2000)

90 - 81
Personal Picks:
87: The Antlers - Hospice (2009)
81: The Walkmen - Bows + Arrows (2004)

80 - 71
Personal Picks:
76: Sonic Youth - Murray Street (2002)
75: Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006)
73: The Dismemberment Plan - Change (2001)
72: Radiohead - Amnesiac (2001)

70 - 61
Personal Picks:
68: Yo La Tengo - And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000)
67: Beck - Sea Change (2002)

61 - 51

Personal Picks:
57: Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)
56: LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (2007)
55: The Clientele - Suburban Light (2000)
54: Bloc Party - Silent Alarm (2005)
53: The Notwist - Neon Golden (2003)

Monday, February 8, 2010

@ In Review Online - Best Albums of the Decade (Intro + Honorable Mentions)

After putting in some serious time over the past few weeks, the staff of In Review Online presents "The 100 Best Albums of the Decade," according to us. Much deliberation went into this selection and we think we've got a list that represents the interests of the staff as a whole - it's definitely worth looking into. I contributed some of these write-ups along with others of our staff to attempt to relate to you why these records deserve so much acclaim at the end of the decade for their contributions.

To start we have the introduction and the "honorable mentions" section - more to follow during the week. Please read and enjoy!

The 100 Best Albums of the Decade

Honorable Mentions (including two of my favorites, Mass Romantic by The New Pornographers, and The Tyranny of Distance by Ted Leo & The Pharmacists. Also featuring Taylor Swift - seriously)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

You Should Know: Postdata

Paul Murphy, the singer and songwriter behind Postdata, more frequently operates with the Canadian band Wintersleep, who have received critical acclaim and even a Juno Award for their efforts. But Postdata, the band and the album, is a very different and perhaps more important project for Murphy - one that hits decidedly closer to home. With his brother Michael, Paul wrote and recorded a deeply personal collection of tunes relating to different members of their family. Over time, these recordings eventually took shape in the form of a nine-song folk album filled with intimate, gripping details and a great deal of emotion. The results are often melancholy, sometimes wistful, and always gorgeous, and the origin of these songs conveyed through the vivid songwriting make this album a striking one that really shouldn't be missed this year.

With a limited palette of acoustic guitars, keys, and vocals, the Murphy brothers make simple, yet stunning music on Postdata, but the focus is, of course, on the lyrics and melodies. And it's here that the record draws you in, with brief but captivating stories of love, contemplation, and heartbreaking loss. My personal favorites include the rolling "Tracers," which is upbeat and nostalgic, and the quietly sad "Warning," which deals with the complex emotions caused by death over lonesome guitar and the soft hiss of tape. It's only 27 minutes long, but there's enough weight to the material that Postdata certainly doesn't feel light on substance. It's also consistently interesting throughout and avoids coming across as too withdrawn or depressing, and the songs are quite tuneful and warmly presented. I've no idea if the brothers plan on continuing this project or if this will be a one-time thing, but you really should hear this regardless.

Home Page

Friday, February 5, 2010

Review: Patty Griffin - Downtown Church (* * * *)

I can't say I've thought about his enough to actually do it, but if I were to make a list of the singers I would most like to release a gospel album, I'm certain Patty Griffin would be very near the top. That's not to say that I have an extensive collection of the genre, but I do enjoy a great gospel record on occasion, and Downtown Church hits that spot just right. That's because Griffith went about making this album all the right ways, paying homage to soulful, classic gospel records while retaining her familiar musical personality, so while she explores some new (for her) territory here, she avoids removing herself from what made her such a special talent to begin with. Recorded, like the title suggests, in a Presbyterian church in downtown Nashville, the singer/songwriter's latest and sixth effort is a fantastic collection of covers, traditional numbers, and a couple originals - all of which are beautifully presented with the help of guests like Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, and Buddy Miller.

It should be said here that Downtown Church, while obviously dealing with mostly Christian themes throughout its 14 songs, isn't meant just for the faithful few. While believers such as myself may fall more deeply for the record than others, it's apparent that Patty Griffin did not intend this to serve as a praise and worship album, and if you've got any interest in the origin of blues, soul, and country music, you should find plenty to pique your interest. Because what comes across loud and clear on Downtown Church is Griffin and company's genuine love of and reverence for the album's musical and thematic elements, of which there are many (some quite old), ranging from the fire 'n' brimstone stomp of "Death's Got a Warrant" to somewhat more modern-sounding country ballads like "Never Grow Old." Each performance feels carefully conceived but freely executed, and the production allows plenty of the open chapel space into the music, resulting in an appropriately raw, unpolished feel. Highlights abound, including Griffin's own "Little Fire," a gorgeous duet with Emmylou Harris that is heartfelt and deeply emotionally, and the unexpectedly brash "I Smell a Rat," which allows Griffin to showcase the grittier, soulful side of her amazing voice as she whips around lines like "you won't tell me where you been, whiskey running all down your chin" with a venomous edge.

She only penned two of these tracks (the other being the yearning "Coming Home to Me"), but Patty Griffin makes Downtown Church her own by mostly resisting making a "gospel by the numbers" kind of record, instead crafting one that views faith through multiple lenses and isn't afraid to have some fun. The company she keeps to present these songs should also receive generous credit for their role in making a varied and consistently wonderful selection of tunes that most anyone can relate to or at least appreciate on some level - a true achievement, I believe, given the subject matter. As she closes with the sparse, stirring hymn "All Creatures of Our God and King" (a favorite of mine, I'll admit), Griffin leaves us with a tangible impression of the power of spirituality, faith, and devotion - and it would be a hard heart indeed that isn't warmed by such a sincere and thoughtful message.