Sunday, April 18, 2004

CD reviews

Various Artists

The Passion of the Christ: Songs Inspired By

Universal South, $12.98

Like the film, Songs Inspired By is about messages, and as these sorts of compilations go, it stands out for its faithfulness to the bigger motif. There's little proselytizing in these tracks. The carefully paced album does quietly latch on to the crucial themes of falling from grace and finding redemption.

This isn't a collection of traditional sacred music. In fact, aside from the Blind Boys of Alabama, none of these artists is known for overtly religious work. Holly Williams wraps a gossamer vocal around her grandfather Hank's classic, "How Can You Refuse Him Now." From bluegrass-tinged material (Ricky Skaggs) to rock (Nick Cave), the album asks that you tap both brain and heart

Bob Dylan's stirring closer, "Not Dark Yet" from 1997's Time Out of Mind, makes you realize that the album honors God with a lofty celebration of man's artistic gifts.

Brian McCollum, The Detroit Free Press

RJ Helton

Real Life

B-Rite Music, $11.98

Helton, one of the 10 finalists on the first season of American Idol, was the best male singer in that admittedly weak field, but he's taken his time to release his first album. The only problem is that the time he took was the 1990s. Real Life, on the Contemporary Christian label B-Rite, could be any late '90s boy band pop album with its gushing love songs, the "I would die for you" lyrics and the token Spanish-language "bonus" cut.

What puts it ahead of awful albums by fellow Idol's Justin Guarini and Ruben Studdard is Helton's vocal range and the catchiness of some of the material. Ultimately, though, Helton lacks star wattage. Sometimes a good voice can take you only so far.

Howard Cohen, Miami Herald

Modest Mouse

Good News for People Who Love Bad News

Epic, $12.98

On its sixth full-length release, Modest Mouse swings from uplifting indie pop anthems to makeshift electronic disco to angry Appalachian blues.

At first, the album glistens with fresh poppy numbers like the first single, the optimistic (without being corny) "Float On." Quickly the band turns dark with a distinctive death and funeral theme. Enter the quintessential three-tempo Modest Mouse song, "Bury Me With It," and "The Devil's Workday," with its guitar-picking blues and blasts of wailing horns. Throughout there's heavy bass, sharp-sounding guitars, soundscapes that twinkle with strings and traces of Beach Boys harmonies, all strung together with lyrics that make you play the album twice to be certain that singer Isaac Brock really said what you thought he did.

At times, the switches in genre, pace and tone can be jolting - especially when they occur mid-song. Jewel Gopwani,

Detroit Free Press

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