James McMurtry - Saint Mary Of The Woods

James McMurtry is the quintessential Texan songwriter: Laconic, dry-witted, rich on detail, sparse on flamboyance. Just like his novelist-father Larry McMurtry, James observes his fellow Texans with a mixture of sympathy, amusement and disgust. On his sixth album - just like on its five predecessors - he regales us with sharply observant stories, told in an unagitated drawl and set to countryfied midtempo-rock. The first listen will bring about a few chuckles over "vibrato you could've thrown a cat through" or "a great big hard-on like a fencepost". It takes a few more spins of the disc to let these songs grow on you, though. Then you'll find comfort in the melancholia of "one red rose in the candlelight" (from "Broken Bed") and you'll be moved by the desperation disguised as humor in "soon as I get my hands on him, he's gonna wish he'd never been born ... again" (from "Goin' To The Y"). You'll also find that the Dave Alvin-cover "Dry River" is the perfect counterpart to McMurtry's own Texas hymn "Levelland" from his third album. The singer's irony and deadpan delivery turn his rather bleak picture of life "Out Here In The Middle" into a cinema-verité-style road movie.

Grainy color is added by the keyboard contributions of pianist Earl Poole Ball and organist Ian McLagan and the guitar mastery of David Grissom and Stephen Bruton. "Saint Mary Of The Woods" is a great beauty but it's not a knockout-at-first-sight-type bombshell.

by Markus Rill

Bruce Springsteen - The Rising

Contrary to most reports, Springsteen hasn't written an entire album about 9/11. Between songs about fires, firemen, smoke and empty skies are party tunes that seem strangely out of place. In other words, The Rising is more of a musical mixed-bag like "The River" was than a thematically coherent album like "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" or "Tom Joad" were. That said, The Rising is not a letdown. True, the whole album cannot be as convincing as the four E-Street-Band-reunion songs on Greatest Hits were but parts of this album are as good as anything that Springsteen has done. "Mary's Place" is every bit as joyful as "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" or "Rosalita" and it's bound to be a crowd pleaser live. "You're Missing" is a gem. The apparent no-brainer line "everything is everything" becomes a statement of profundity in the context of the song. In more than one song, Springsteen prays for strength, faith, hope and love; most convincingly on the beautiful album closer "My City Of Ruins". The Boss's boldest move, however, was not to call on the E-Street-Band, it was to push its envelope by employing producer Brendan O'Brien. As if three-guitar lushness wasn't enough, O'Brien adds strings to most of the songs - and succeeds. He also captured Springsteen's best overall vocal performance ever and put the spotlight on drummer Max Weinberg. Thus, the New Jerseyans manage to sound mature, rocking and subtle at the same time.

by Markus Rill