By BRUCE DENNILL
Gateway Worship Voices: Kari Jobe 6
Disturbed: Immortalized 5.5
Aretha Franklin: Sings The Great Diva Classics 5
Bon Iver: 22, A Million 6.5
Kari Jobe is one of the standout voices of her generation – in any genre. This repackaging of some of her work is a convenient way to discover or reconnect with the artist, but it plays like the marketing exercise it is, rather than the worship enhancing purity of her finest moments in their original contexts. That said, there are some songs here – No Sweeter Name, You Are Good, Revelation Song and O The Blood (the crescendo of which is almost impossible to beat in terms of vocal performance) – that bear repeated playing in any scenario, and which will never age. If you have few or no Kari Jobe songs or albums, this is worth a punt. Otherwise rather listen to them in the milieu and the running narratives of the original albums.
Metallers Disturbed kick off their most recent album with a misleadingly quiet instrumental. Fittingly, it’s called The Eye Of The Storm, and it’s a primer for what comes next – the whirlwind of guitars and drums that ushers in the title track, which, after that impressive introduction, settles into a pretty standard hard rock thumper. The Vengeful One offers the first reminder of singer David Draiman’s vocal versatility as he switches briefly from his default setting – immaculately controlled roar – to a softer keening. Open Your Eyes begins with a propulsive explosion of rhythm that will get whole venues head-banging, and couples that power with an accessible melody. The next track, The Light is more mainstream, recalling Creed in its combination of force and finesse. What Are You Waiting for is a fine summary of Disturbed’s whole approach – tight, compact instrumental arrangements connected by Draiman’s impressive voice, showing off superior musicianship without necessarily giving mainstream playlist compilers a sufficiently compelling argument to include their compositions, other than a few isolated clauses. For this reason, the inclusion of a judiciously chosen cover may not be the worst idea in order to give the collection some balance. Simon & Garfunkel’s ageless classic The Sound Of Silence would certainly not be an obvious first choice, but it turns out to be a superb match, with Draiman giving a nuanced vocal performance that allows listeners to hear him sing first quietly – an unusual phenomenon – and then build via clean, clear notes so his usual howl. It’s the standout track of the album in terms of wide appeal and its arrangement and will be the release’s biggest hit, which will likely be a touch galling to the band.
Aretha Franklin is rightly regarded as one of the all-time great singers and performers, with her trolleyful of Grammy Awards justone of the markers of that quality. Which makes this collection of interpretations of songs by peers and young pretenders an idea of dubious value. It’s often the case that artists considered to be past their prime are not encouraged to release new material because of the damage a dud release could do to their legacy. Choosing solid gold hits and making them the signature songs of a range of famous ladies from Adele (Rolling In The Deep) to Sinead O’Connor (Nothing Compares 2 U) via Gladys Knight (Midnight Train To Georgia) and Barbra Streisand (People) is almost like taking out two insurance policies. And yet it’s possible that listeners will feel alienated rather than included, as Franklin does nothing to suggest that her take on anything here will become the definitive treatment of any of the songs. Her performances reflect the inevitable decline in the power of her famous voice and, while the combination familiar favourites and Franklin’s unique presence means there’s enough here to sustain a listen or two, there’s nothing to really thrill.
Bon Iver‘s 22, A Million is not an easy album to like upfront, but it is far easier to commit to liking than something like Radiohead’s Kid A, which was a similarly contrary collection – for them the turning away from guitars and anthems; for Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, the leaving behind of traditional song structures and haunting folk melodies. Vernon has already used autotune as a differentiating tool on previous albums, but here he takes that technology and much more besides – including the Messina, a contraption invented by the singer and his engineer. The result is a wide range of different vocal and instrument sounds, with just a handful of them natural and familiar. It’s good that there is a range, as a whole album as fractured and distorted as 10 (all the tracks are represented by numbers rather than titles) would be very alienating indeed. 715 recalls fellow sonic trailblazer Imogen Heap with its harmonised versions of Vernon’s digitalised voice, before 33 offers the first satisfying coalescence of the many ideas and philosophies being brought together here. Later, 8 (track eight, creatively) sees Vernon drop his register from the usual falsetto to an expressive alto for a song that’s almost Coldplay-accessible before heading off at a tangent two-thirds of the way through. A challenging listen, by design, this collection could interest a swathe of new fans or just as easily keep Vernon as the cult concern he is for now.