Carlozo, Louis R., The Christian Century
SPANNING, THE SONIC globe, this roundup of recent albums highlights compelling music in different genres. Alongside some popular names are lesser-known artists who deserve notice. Only some are explicitly Christian. What caught my attention were challenging lyrics, an uplifting spirit--or simply a joyful noise.
Rain, by New Direction (GospoCentric). Modern gospel.
This youth gospel choir's debut, Get Your Praise On, was nothing short of magical. It put the group in the same class as the much-acclaimed God's Property. New Direction proves the debut was no fluke, melding R&B beats worthy of Prince or Kirk Franklin with lush, thrilling gospel harmony. Horns, wah-wah guitars and organ swirls set the stage on the opening track, aptly named "New Direction."
Circles, by The Autumn Defense (Arena Rock). Postclassic pop.
Fans of the four classic rock Bs--Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds and Big Star--will find this dreamy pop confection overflowing with lilting hooks and shimmering harmonies. A collaboration between Wilco bassist John Stirratt and producer Pat Sansone, the disc manages to sound heartfelt without stooping to sentiment, as on "The Answer," a song that couples a hypnotic acoustic guitar arpeggio with Abbey Road-style harmonies and a lovely string arrangement.
Foly! Live Around the World, by Habib Koite & Bamada (World Village). Afropop.
Born into a family of West African griots, or oral storytellers, this singer-guitarist from Mali brings a distinct flavor to Afropop (his influences rim the gamut from American soul to British art pop). This double disc, culled from live recordings, boasts infectious dance energy and brains to match. One cut, "Cigarette Abana,'" became an anti-smoking anthem in Koite's native land.
Full Circle: A Celebration of Songs and Friends, by Charlie Peacock/various artists (Sparrow). Contemporary Christian music.
To mark 20 years as a Christian music producer and solo artist, Peacock teamed with some 20 artists to yield a retrospective album that, while at times overly eclectic, crackles with celebratory spirit. Guests include the three members of de talk (who appear separately) and jazz banjo picker Bela Fleck, who backs up Peacock on the album's peak flight: a rustic version of "In the Light" that sounds like it fell off the back of a Carolina hay wagon.
Ohio, by Over the Rhine (Back-porch/ Virgin). Adult alternative rock.
Karin Berquist and Linford Detweiler produce some of the most intelligent music found on either side of the river inspiring the title. This ambitious double album melds Christian and spiritual themes to sepia-toned textures. "Jesus in New Orleans" casts the savior in a dusty-road soundscape of honky-tonk piano and slide guitar: "He's still my favorite loser/Falling for the whole entire human race."
Songs for Dustmites, by Steve Burns (PIAS America). Modern rock.
Burns turns up the volume and brandishes a self-styled, solitary quirkiness on this poised debut. He explores alienation (the soaring, roaring "Mighty Little Man"), wonder and introspection from an airplane seat ("Troposphere") and forlorn longing (the tender "A Reason," in which hand drums, acoustic guitar and a lone organ note provide the musical backdrop). …