Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “Ghosteen” (Bad Seed)
“I’m transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m glowing, I’m flying, look at me now,” Cave sang six years ago on the pivotal “Jubilee Street.” The six-minute track planted the seeds of the fully realized 68-minute song cycle that is “Ghosteen.”
Since the feral fury and dark humor of the Grinderman era (circa 2007-10), Cave has done a little transforming himself. With “Push the Sky Away” (2013), Cave started recording music that somehow felt different, more open, consoling. The death of his 15-year-old son Arthur shadowed the release of “Skeleton Tree” (2016), and “Ghosteen” bears the full weight of that loss.
“Ghosteen” is a hushed, intimate work. There’s an industrial rattle at the outset of “Waiting for You” and barely-there percussion on “Leviathan,” a rumbling bass in “Hollywood,” but otherwise the arrangements are focused on floating keyboards and electronic textures. The album tells a two-part tale — an eight-song batch of “children” and a three-track set of “parents,” a before-and-after cycle of grief, mourning, acceptance and redemption.
At a distance, the album can feel like an ambient mood piece with some pretty moments rising from the mist. Listen closely, however, and something changes. The album becomes a meditation on pain and wonder, an apparent duality that Cave’s narrator turns into an acceptance of what it means to live.
In losing love, Cave also rekindles it in songs such as “Waiting for You,” “Night Raid” and the epic “Leviathan,” all ostensibly directed at his grieving wife. In the end, his quiet compassion speaks loudest of all. He universalizes that impulse in the staggering “Sun Forest” and the shimmering “Ghosteen Speaks,” an echo of “Jubilee Street”: “I am beside you. Look for me.”
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
Vince Gill, “Okie” (MCA Nashville)
With this album, the 62-year-old singer and guitar virtuoso uses his well-earned artistic freedom to occasionally go where mainstream country rarely does. “Forever Changed,” for example, tells the story of a girl victimized by an adult sexual predator (though it’s based on an incident that actually happened to Gill himself). “What Choice Will You Make” lays out the wrenching dilemma facing a pregnant teen. And “Black and White” questions the country trope that things were always better in the old days.
To be sure, Gill also puts some affecting new turns on bedrock country themes, whether it’s the salvation found in family and religion, the joy of love or, at the other end of the spectrum, “The Price of Regret.” He also pays tribute to his musical heroes Guy Clark and Merle Haggard.
These exquisite Gill-penned compositions unfold gracefully in unhurried, mostly acoustic-based settings, and help to give “Okie” its understated but undeniable power.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Gucci Mane, “Woptober II”
• Jim James, “The Order of Nature”
• Alter Bridge, “Walk the Sky”