Martha Redbone Roots Project, “The Garden of Love” (Blackfeet Productions)
You probably think you know whether or not you’re the type who’d appreciate a whole album of William Blake poems set to Appalachian roots music – but if you’re already saying “Meh, not for me,” you also may be wrong. At least if the album in question is “The Garden of Love,” a thick, satisfying stew of twangy Americana and chugging harmonies sent soaring by Martha Redbone’s earthy, gospel-infused vocals.
Redbone has got charisma and sincerity to spare, and clearly feels Blake’s poetry in her skin and bones, from its naturalistic splendor to its melancholic but ultimately celebratory take on the human experience. In fact, the only track that seems extraneous is “Why Should I Care for the Men of Thames,” with Blake’s poetry recited by John Spottiswoode – by that point Redbone herself has more than made the verse come to vibrant life.
MUST HAVE: “I Rose Up At the Dawn of Day,” a gospel stomper
Ben Folds Five, “The Sound of the Life of the Mind” (ImaVeePee Records)
Ben Folds seems to understand the “Spinal Tap” truism that there’s a fine line between clever and stupid, and on the occasions where he happens to step over it, I’d venture he knows exactly what he’s doing. Case in point is “Draw a Crowd,” which goes from the juvenile recommendation that “if you can’t draw a crowd” you should “draw d-cks on the wall” (hint: not ducks) to beautifully describing a hipster as “so smooth you can hear the beard.”
The album – the group’s first since Folds went solo in 1999 – similarly goes back and forth from the silly to the sublime, but mostly sticks to the latter, buoyed as always by Folds’ galloping piano, melodic arrangements and oddly endearing if affectedly nerdy vocals. Folds shows here that he’s still an adept and clever chronicler of fractured lovers, social anxiety and life’s random occurrences. Even when he’s being stupid.
MUST HAVE: “Do It Anyway,” a rollicking ode to, well, doing it anyway
Kendra Morris, “Banshee” (Wax Poetics Inc.)
If you’re still looking for the next Amy Winehouse and Adele is just a little too torchy for your tastes, you could do a lot worse than putting your money on Kendra Morris. If anything she’s almost too derivative of Winehouse, backing her retro-soul delivery with familiar hip-hop beats – but she does it with such sultry verve you can tell there’s an original artist in there bursting to get out.
And for now, there’s still plenty to enjoy on “Banshee,” which drips with minor-key sexiness, soulful harmonies and acerbic lyrics. “It’s one more bite till I’m out of snakes,” Morris sings on “Right Now,” and she more than makes you want to get bit.
Page 2 of 2 - MUST HAVE: “Today,” a dark, organ-driven slice of hip-hop soul
Peter Chianca blogs for Gatehouse Media’s Blogness on the Edge of Town and is author of “Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums.” Email him at email@example.com.