New albums of hushed intensity from Knopfler, Mitchell, Gonzalez
Mark Knopfler, Joni Mitchell, and Jose Gonzalez offer music for the quiet hours.
Mark Knopfler – Kill to Get Crimson (Warner Bros.): Fans of this reliable songsmith will embrace his fifth solo effort (not counting soundtracks), the first since 2004's "Shangri-La." It's all here: the unmistakable regular-bloke voice, the ringing Stratocaster, the dusty characters vividly rendered. Apart from the pop of bongos on "Punish the Monkey," there's less mood variation here than on albums past. With no rollicking tracks, it's kicked back, boots-on-the-porch-rail material. But Knopfler is at his best as folk balladeer; he seems to inhabit the penny-a-sheet musician in "Madame Geneva's." On "The Fish and the Bird" you can hear echoes of Irish folk. The CD title cops a line from "Let It All Go," in which a painter pines for a perfect red. That's Knopfler, too: tireless and complex. Grade: A – Clayton Collins
José González – In Our Nature (Mute): In Europe, Swedish songwriter José González is a prized commodity. Stateside, he's just that dude who sang on the last Zero 7 disc. The disparity has almost everything to do with González's recording ethos, which favors hushed vocals, subverted choruses, and flat acoustics (here in the US, we like it overt and accessible, thank you very much). A couple years ago, I caught González's live show for the first time; before that, I figured the ethereality was a studio trick, a glossy sleight of hand. It's not. González simply plays with a light touch and a sharp ear. Here, he's doubled down, in some cases omitting choruses and bridges in favor of a sustained verse. Fingers brush against guitar strings and breaths are slowly exhaled. By the time he arrives at the fifth track, a spare take on Massive Attack's "Teardrop," González has revealed his hand: it's all in the economy, stupid. Grade: A– – Matthew Shaer
Joni Mitchell – Shine (Concord/Hear Music): Since she announced her retirement several years ago, it seems that Joni Mitchell has been stewing over, well, you name it: urban sprawl, the war, religious fundamentalists, loud cellphone users at the mall. "Shine," Mitchell's first new material in nine years, repeatedly rails against societal ills and, though the furrowed brow-beating grows wearisome after a while, the tunes are beautiful. It's mostly spare stuff – squiggles of sax from regular collaborator Wayne Shorter, swashes of dated synths, piano, and acoustic guitar – but "Night of the Iguana" is Mitchell at her most vibrant, and the title track is poignant and even wryly humorous. The rousing closer, a take on Rudyard Kipling's "If," is a reminder that Mitchell is peerless at translating poems into song. Grade: B+ – Stephen Humphries