On his newest album, Daniel Martin Moore breathes new life into hymns he heard his mother and grandfather singing while he was growing up in Kentucky.
Along with his band the Dynaflows, Big Joe Maher, right, doesn't offer much new on his latest CD, and that's just fine with longtime fans of his mix of R&B, swing and Texas blues.
Lori McKenna's songs have been recorded by everyone from Tim McGraw to Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban. But McKenna's songs are done best by McKenna herself, as she proves on her new album.
Daniel Martin Moore
“In the Cool of the Day”
The jazzy fourth cut on Daniel Martin Moore's new album swings on a marching snare beat, and Moore's voice, a burnished croon in Harry Connick territory, gives the whole thing a sweet New Orleans vibe.
It's takes half a minute to recognize it, but there it is, the dusty old hymn, “In the Garden.” Moore's fresh take is a revelation, not only of how inherently fine a song it is, but how far Moore has come in three albums as a singer and arranger.
Moore grew up in Kentucky listening to his mother and grandfather sing hymns at home and in the church choir. As he proved on his first two albums, he's got a keen ear for songs with a simple beauty.
That's what he heard, and felt, in those old family hymns, updating several of them ever so slightly, adding a few new verses here and there, all without ever betraying any of the spiritual glow of the originals.
On “Softly and Tenderly,” Moore's reverent tenor floats just above the slow chords of a piano and acoustic guitar, with harmony vocals from Haley Bonar. “Lay Down Your Lonesome Burden” speaks for itself as an instrumental.
“Just a Closer Walk With Thee” gets a little more of an up-tempo treatment, while “Dark Road” positively jumps with the full band kicking in fiddle, mandolin and upright bass.
Old pals Jim James and Ben Sollee pitch in, but not much, with James on banjo and Sollee on cello.
Lori McKenna's songs have done better in Nashville than she has.
While her big label shot on Warner Brothers was one and done, her songs have been recorded by everyone from Tim McGraw to Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban. And, Faith Hill, who has long been a champion of McKenna, included three of her songs on one of her albums.
It's just as well. McKenna's own folky brand of country is better than Nashville's anyway.
McKenna has a throaty alto, finishing some notes with a twangy little curl that sounds nothing like the Boston scene she came up in. Her songs are gentle and filled with faith, glimmering snapshots of domestic and suburban life with all their mix of sadness and bliss.
On the hymn-like piano and cello ballad, “Still Down Here,” McKenna prays to her long-dead mother. “Don't forget about me/I'm still down here/Here where we must learn to live with what we live without,” she sings.
In “Buy This Town,” she celebrates her blue-collar neighbors and in one song, when she sings, “all I ever do is work,” it's not a complaint.
Big Joe Maher and the Dynaflows
“You Can't Keep a Big Man Down”
Big Joe Maher has been knocking around now for more than 40 years, mixing R&B with swing and Texas blues.
Maher doesn't mess with that formula one bit on his newest outing, a blend of originals and classics.
As always, the drummer, vocalist and bandlander is all over the place stylistically and totally pulls it off, thanks to his crack Dynaflows, a pick-up band of session players and road warriors, many of them veterans of Delbert McClinton's group.
The new set rolls effortlessly from the swinging “Bad Case of Love,” to the horn-sweetened, New Orleans-flavored “Evangeline.”
“Property Line,” with its Hammond B3, drips with soul, while Maher's run through Jay McShann's “Confessin' the Blues” gives B.B. King's version a run. And, King's “Bad Case of Love” gets a fresh run.