Thursday, November 15, 2012

Weekly Musicality

The number of bestselling musicians working in the contemporary Christian music category who are Roman Catholic is probably not large, but Audrey Assad stands out near the front of the field for more than alphabetical reasons. Her debut album The House You're Building was's Best Christian Album of 2010, and the February 2012 follow-up Heart continued to build her reputation for delivery of thoughtful spirituality via mid-tempo, piano-based folk pop.

Music teachers may lament how many young women who sing follow the Taylor Swiftian pattern of sticking with a bare handful of notes and rarely challenging themselves vocally. Assad does not have that problem, using her voice as one of the instruments in helping to set the tone and mood of her songs. They all rest on the keyboard, of course, but here and there are touches of some different rhythm instruments underlying the melody that offer a few distinctive flavors.

Her songs display a wide level of reflections on the Christian life  -- "Blessed Are the Ones" contemplates the intricacies of being a newlywed and "Wherever You Go" voices God's encouragement to the ones who may have found themselves, like the prodigal son, in a far country after the party's over and the money's run out. And her songwriting gift allows her to couch these reflections in three-minute bites with symbolism and words that stick after the music itself fades out.
It's interesting how quickly we can forget that bands from other countries which make it big in the U.S. aren't the only bands on those other countries' music scenes. Record stores in Australia, for example, have more on their shelves than AC/DC, Kylie Minogue, Men at Work, INXS and the Divinyls. Siblings Chris and Annalise Morrow, for example, enjoyed a tidy little run in the late 1970s and early 1980s as The Numbers, with an Australian Top-40 single, several appearances on Australian television and stints operning for quite a few international acts on the Aussie legs of their tours. But you'd have to be someone with a serious power-pop New Wave jones to run across them in the U.S.

If you were such a person, you would probably enjoy their debut album, The Numbers, from October 1980, which while a product of its time is also a surprisingly durable quick slice of the guitar/poppy side of the New Wave genre. The Morrows, along with drummer Simon Vidale, create several 11 zippy toe-tappers that rely on their harmonies, Annalise's ability to move between bright and gloomy tones and Chris's solid jangly strings.

The pop format doesn't prevent reflection or some nice wordplay; "5 Letter Word" is a rumination on how being separated from a loved one (by estrangement, circumstance or time) is a little like being dead as far as the other is concerned. In "Mr. President," Annalise Morrow lets a would-be controlling fellow know, "You're running for President/But you're not even a resident/In my world."

A Numbers retrospective called Numerology collects several tracks from their singles, EPs and two studio albums. Otherwise, you might find them while vinyl diving at used record stores, either here or, I suppose, in Australia.
In the late 1990s, Fargo, North Dakota (of all places) offered the world a pair of teenage wunderkinder who played the blues like performers at least three times their age. On the fellow's side was Jonny Lang, and for the young ladies, Shannon Curfman did the honors. Lang played on Curfman's 1999 debut, Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions and continued to record regularly, including some recent output that's definitely gospel-influenced.

Curfman also continued to record, although not as frequently. She was 15 when Guitars came out and 2010's What You're Getting Into was only her fourth studio disc. By then 26, Curfman was less able to rely on the uniquness of being talented for her age and was expected to be more or less just plain talented. She's succeeded well, carving out a sound of her own while making obvious nods to lady guitar slingers before her, such as Bonnie Raitt. Curfman's voice has some of the same rock swagger, mixed in with a little honky-tonk feel, that has made Raitt's work appealing for many years.

She co-wrote six of the songs on the album, including the cautionary tale of the title track and the hard-rocking "Free Your Mind." And she didn't shoot low for her covers, including Eric Clapton's "The Core," Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" and Queen's "Dragon Attack." Several of the tunes would be well-served if Curfman would dial back the intensity a notch or two, but if she continues to develop and add dimension to her work as a musician, then subsequent releases could be something special.

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