Listen Up: Kevin Gordon, Amos Lee, Mitch Ryder
This week in music
By Jerry Shriver, Elysa Gardner, Steve Jones and Brian Mansfield, USA TODAYFebruary 13, 2012
The sheer brilliance of the lyrics to Colfax/Step in Time alone justifies a top rating for the first album in seven years from this Southern-raised poet/rocker. Gordon sketches a not-so-simple portrait of a junior-high marching band on a bus trip, and every single image feels, tastes, smells and sounds absolutely true. Oh, and Pecolia's Star — about a quilter! — is nearly as fine.
Arriving just over a year after Lee's superb Mission Bell, this EP showcases six tracks recorded during sessions for that album. The songs are alternately haunting and comforting in their rootsy grace; if none seem like mistaken omissions from Bell, all are executed with the gentle soulfulness that distinguishes Lee from so many other latte-generation troubadours
Saxophonist Whalum delivers a beautifully seductive valentine by remaking the revered 1963 standards album John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman and adding a handful of contemporary ballads. His brother Kevin's urbane vocals are warm and heartfelt, and Whalum respectfully updates the six arrangements.
Ryder doesn't go full throttle like his old band, the Detroit Wheels, on his first U.S. album since 1983. Instead, it features midtempo rock 'n' soul, including a live cover of Jimmy Ruffin's What Becomes of the Broken Hearted. It's gritty and greasy, but lines like "My child will have doctors; my child will have good schools" from the title track bring the blues into everyday life.