John Paul White – Beulah
Joy Williams’ first post-Civil Wars record last year was more of a mellow pop album with hints of folk around the edges, so purists who liked the often stark acoustic sound that the duo found so much success with will probably find more to relate to in White’s solo work than in Williams’. Personally, while I appreciate White’s voice and songcraft, something feels missing when he’s all by his lonesome, with no one to harmonize. That’s probably why the guest appearance of fellow Alabama musicians The Secret Sisters makes their collaboration on “I’ve Been Over This Before” an instant standout. The inclusion of electric guitar on a few tracks brings to mind the grittier approach of “The One that Got Away” and “I Had Me a Girl”, but White’s more sensitive side is effective on tracks like “I Hate the Way You Love Me” and “I’ll Get Even” that don’t sound from their titles like they’d be so darn tender.
Out of the Grey – A Little Light Left
Out of the Grey remains a nostalgic favorite of mine for their early 90’s CCM albums, the first of which I’m still quite comfortable labeling as an example of “the perfect pop album”. But unless you count 2009’s Voyage, which was really more of a Christine Denté solo album, they hadn’t put out anything as duo in almost a decade and a half, up until this new crowd-funded effort was quietly released last year. Since under-the-radar indie-funded releases often don’t make it into Spotify’s database, I had no chance to hear this one without actually buying it, but not having a whole lot else new to listen to this month, I finally took the chance and got it from iTunes. Like Voyage, it’s a very mellow effort centered mostly around Christine’s piano and Scott’s acoustic guitar, but unlike the devotional focus of that record, these songs are very relational, and unlike the bulk of Out of the Grey’s work, Scott’s vocals are much more prominent in the mix this time, making them feel like a true vocal duo and not just “she sings, he does his guitar magic”. I still miss the old glossy 90s pop sound, though I would never expect such a thing to come back into style or want an artist to feel stuck in the genre they started out with. I am pleasantly surprised by the country overtones and the interesting lyrical turns a few of these songs possess. Despite how different they sound now versus how they sounded in 1991, it still feels like a welcome visit from old friends whenever I hear them perform, so I’m happy that they’re still at it after all these years.