New Recordings: Brandy Clark, Joe Grushecky, Juana Molina
Ratings: **** Excellent, *** Good, ** Fair, * Poor
(Slate Creek ***1/2)
- Dan DeLuca
Somewhere East of Eden
(Warner Nashville ***1/2)
Joe Grushecky could be a character in a song by his pal Bruce Springsteen - a working- class family man juggling dreams and responsibilities. The Pittsburgh rocker (and special-ed teacher) has long written from that perspective himself, and on Somewhere East of Eden he does so with as much heart and plainspoken eloquence as ever.
"I Can Hear the Devil Knocking" is a snarling rocker that opens the album with a blast of anger and frustration. "Who Cares About Those Kids" portrays the heartbreaking results of neglect, while the title song follows a veteran haunted by his time in Iraq.
Not that Grushecky is a one-trick pony. He has some fun with his age in the lighthearted, bluesy "I Still Look Good (for Sixty)," and he presents a romantic saga of cinematic sweep with the Latin-flavored "When Castro Came Down From the Hills." Two non-originals highlight his range and power as a singer: an a cappella "John the Revelator" steeped in gospel grit, and a hushed, tender "Save the Last Dance for Me." On "Magnolia," Grushecky sings of a small-town misfit with aspirations. The singer's wish for her might sound trite, but it gets to the heart of what keeps Grushecky going and makes his music ultimately uplifting: "Keep chasing those dreams and I know you will catch them someday."
- Nick Cristiano
(Crammed Discs ***)
Juana Molina's songs sound constructed rather than written. They layer loops, often starting with a steady bass line or a languid vocal and gradually adding guitars, keyboards, and rhythm tracks while building to a polyphony of melody. When touring, the Argentinian uses a sampler to record loops live and build songs from the ground up. On her albums, songs follow similar contours: They develop through addition and subtraction, whether delicate and mostly acoustic (as on 2003's Segundo) or impressionistic and ecstatic as on 2006's Son. The edges are harder on Wed 21, her sixth album and her first since 2008's Un Día. The guitars are more electric, the shifts more abrupt, the rhythms more accelerated, the tones more dissonant. It recalls late-period Björk or, at times, Stereolab. Molina's albums always foreground a sense of attention to detail, but on Wed 21, those details are bolder.
- Steve Klinge
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SOURCE: SoundScan (based on purchase data from Philadelphia and Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, Chester, Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties). Billboard Magazine 11/16/13 © 2013