Sleeping at Last – Atlas: Enneagram – I’m just trying to see myself through someone else’s eyes.

Artist: Sleeping at Last
Album: Atlas: Enneagram
Year: 2019
Grade: B

In Brief: While there isn’t as much interactivity between these songs as I had imagined there might be, the musical diversity and attention to detail in exploring each personality type makes it a worthwhile series of character studies. And with nine tracks exploring a consistent theme, it’s the closest thing to a traditional album that SAL has put out since the Space series during Year One.

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Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet: History Forgets the Moderates

Artist: Andrew Bird
Album: My Finest Work Yet
Year: 2019
Grade: B

In Brief: While the songwriting on this album certainly features some of Bird’s finest words yet, on a musical level it seems to be mostly in the same comfort zone he’s established on his last several albums. That’s not a bad thing, particularly when Bird gets more playful with his rhythms, or leaves space for a bit of his trademark whistling and noodling on the violin. But as always, there’s the issue of certain songs being too low-key to fully deliver on the virtuoso instrumental talent we all know Bird possesses. This has the side effect of helping us to focus more on the lyrics, perhaps… but I’d really love to see an album where Bird really goes for broke on both fronts.

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Taking the Scenic Route: My Top 20 Jars of Clay Songs

“Jars of Clay? Are they still around?”

I’ve gotten that reaction from a lot of people when I tell them that Jars of Clay is my all-time favorite band, or when they notice me wearing one of the old, raggedy shirts I bought at one of their concerts ages ago. I try to take it in stride, because to most of the world, the band is considered a one-hit wonder. (Heck, there’s even a YouTube show about one-hit wonders that I got into because they did an episode on the band’s mid-90s crossover hit “Flood”.) Even to folks who were super into Christian rock and came of age around the same time I did, who are more familiar with the band’s work than just the one song, they tend to like the band’s first album and not really know or care about much of their work after that point. It gets difficult to explain to folks that: (a) Yes, they still make music after all these years, (b) Yes, they’re all still Christians, (c) No, they never had another mainstream hit and they were probably better off not angling for one, and (d) They’ve massively improved as artists since that already excellent first album.

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Umphrey’s McGee – It’s Not Us: Half Delayed

Artist: Umphrey’s McGee
Album: It’s Not Us
Year: 2018
Grade: B

In Brief: Another strong release from UM that effectively straddles the line between their jam band noodling and more progressive, exploratory song structures. As usual, the instrumental pyrotechnics and stylistic diversity are a much bigger draw than the lyrics. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

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Andrew Peterson – Resurrection Letters, Volume 1: The last enemy to be destroyed is Death.

Artist: Andrew Peterson
Album: Resurrection Letters, Volume 1
Year: 2018
Grade: B-

In Brief: In celebrating the resurrection of Christ, which is the middle part of a three-part story he’s been working on since 2008, Andrew Peterson delivers an upbeat and triumphant set of songs, which can sometimes be rather middle-of-the-road and mildly corny, but I still appreciate the thematic resonance it has with the first (last?) entry in the trilogy.

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Andrew Peterson – Resurrection Letters: Prologue – Famous Last Words

Artist: Andrew Peterson
Album: Resurrection Letters: Prologue
Year: 2018
Grade: A-

In Brief: This mellow but exquisitely constructed prelude to Resurrection Letters, Part 1 might actually be superior to its parent project. This is a nice little meditative morsel, ideal for Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, or any time the listener wants to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross.

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Sleeping at Last – Atlas: Intelligence – We were designed to send mixed signals.

2017_SleepingatLast_AtlasIntelligence

Artist: Sleeping at Last
Album: Atlas: Intelligence EP
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: Three songs about the body, heart, and mind, in Sleeping at Last’s expected baroque pop style. The electronic pulses and plethora of subtle sounds working in tandem on “Mind” are an excellent touch, but aside from that, there’s not much new here.

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