ELECTRIC by Richard Thompson
True, Richard Thompson's 14th solo album does contain more expansive lead guitar work than fans of the 63-year-old fretboard fiend have heard in quite some time. Credit that in part to producer Buddy Miller, a like-minded Nashville cat who's a perfect fit for the acerbic Brit. Still, "Electric" is somewhat misleadingly titled, since it's rife not only with plugged-in rockers such as "Stony Ground" and "Good Things Happen to Bad People," but also deftly picked acoustic ballads and brooding bummers like "Salford Sunday" and "Another Small Thing in Her Favour," not to mention the closing "Saving the Good Stuff For You," as tender a love song as the former Fairport Convention folkie has written. Still consistently excellent, after all these years.
GRACE by Tasha Cobbs
Raw power doesn't come only from Iggy Pop recordings, punk rock or grungy heavy metal. On occasion, God's might - or at least His music, when it comes to gospel - has a gorgeously unrefined resonance.
Tasha Cobbs, the worship pastor at the dReam Center Church of Atlanta, has that fresh, unbridled force in her voice and in the way she manipulates a song's every nuance - each lyric and twist of phrase. That voice, to say nothing of her improvisational skill, goes well with the will of the Holy Spirit.
For her major-label debut, Cobbs recorded in a live church setting. Between the room's natural ambience, the familiarity of her surroundings and the rush of a live performance, these hallowed tunes come across like conversations among Cobbs, her savior and their congregation. Really loud conversations.
Oddly (and thankfully, for nonbelievers) these songs of praise have a contagious pop feel. When Cobbs sings, "There is power in the name of Jesus" at the beginning of "Break Every Chain," she's practically kicking down the chapel doors. The aptly named "Confidence" and the richly enchanting "Get Up" seem to bubble up from Cobb's toes and burst forth from her vocal cords.
PUSH THE SKY AWAY by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
In December 2011, Nick Cave claimed to have disbanded Grinderman, his noisy, raunchy reconfiguration of his longstanding band, the Bad Seeds. But his libidinous thoughts live on in "Push the Sky Away," Cave's 15th album with the Bad Seeds (and, it turns out, Grinderman lives on, too: They will reconvene for this spring's Coachella festival). This is an album of quiet tension and fatalistic resignation, with Cave in darkly poetic mode singing about seductive sirens and the men who long for them.
The songs cross metaphoric and mythic overtones with 21st century details. Cave mentions Wikipedia, Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus. He titles one song "Higgs Boson Blues." He describes iPod-wearing "city girls/ with white strings flowing from their ears." The music is thoughtful and restrained, full of sustained minor chords; slow, deliberate rhythms; and ominous, subtle beauty. "And some people say it's just rock and roll/ Oh but it gets you right down to your soul," he sings in the title track. He's right.