Hymns That Are Important To Us

Joey + Rory

Joey Martin, of the wife-and-husband duo Joey + Rory, opens the couple’s gospel album with an a cappella rendering of the first two verses of Precious Lord, Take My Hand.

When her liquid alto intones “I am tired, I am weak, I am worn,” the starkness of those beautifully rendered lines will be all the more powerful for those who know Martin is in hospice care with cervical cancer.

The couple recorded Hymns last fall, after Martin discovered her prognosis was terminal. Throughout, her voice maintains its full, burnished tone; although she rarely flashes the vocal strength that once came naturally to her, the intimate tone fits the setting.

The 13 songs lean on standards: I’ll Fly Away finds Martin at her most spirited; Softly And Tenderly is surprisingly robust; and a jazzy, bass-led Old Rugged Cross is the standout track. The duo also includes a 2010 recording, When I’m Gone, which contrasts the agony of losing a loved one with the beauty of the world that remains.

Hymns speaks to life’s virtues, to Christian values, and to how music soothes and uplifts. It’s a touching parting gift from a woman known for her generosity and humility.

— Michael McCall

Associated Press

Interior Darkness

Peter Straub

If the only mass-market horror writer you’ve ever read is Stephen King, you should check out Peter Straub. His latest book, Interior Darkness, compiles the best of his previously published short stories and adds three new ones.

Straub has created some truly creepy characters here, all haunted by demons of some sort.

The best of the new works is The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine, a tale of a kinky couple who explore their fantasies over the years while living among cannibals on the Amazon River.

This being a collection, it does sometimes feel uneven. The stories span 25 years in Straub’s career. He likes to experiment with writing styles and readers may have to pause and think more than they do with pulpier fare. Little Red’s Tango, for example, is written like a faux gospel, with lists of “Beatitudes” attributed to the title character.

But the more straightforward narratives in the collection — like Blue Rose and Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff — reveal Straub’s gift for illuminating the darkness in everyone from a cruel child who hypnotizes his brother to a spurned financier who plots to punish his wife.

The horror here is both real and supernatural. For every boy serially molested in a movie theater (The Juniper Tree) there’s a man who makes a blanket out of baby bottles and loses his soul inside books (Going Home).

These stories take a while to work on you. Reflection and rereading is sometimes necessary.

But readers who invest in this collection will feel more rewarded than not.

— Rob Merrill

Associated Press

Lola

Carrie Rodriguez and the Sacred Hearts

On Lola, singer Carrie Rodriguez alternates between English and Spanish, sometimes switching in midsentence as she creates a distinctive musical language.

The melding of cultures can be a beautiful thing, especially when orchestrated by such a talented cast. The Sacred Hearts includes bassist Viktor Krauss and the ubiquitous guitarist Bill Frisell putting their special stamp on the material.

And then there’s Rodriguez, a versatile singer who does her best work yet here. The Austin, Texas native cites her great aunt, 1940s Chicana singer Eva Garza, as an inspiration, and it’s clearly a labor of love.

Rodriguez mixes ranchera-style songs she co-wrote and familiar tunes by Mexican composers. She sings with the passion of a telenovela actress on Si No Te Vas, and applies feminist roadhouse sass to the autobiographical Z. There are fine duets with Raul Malo and Luke Jacobs, and on The West Side, Rodriguez slyly addresses the topic of bigotry by using a childlike melody.

While the word immigration is never uttered, in English or Spanish, Lola makes a case both forceful and tuneful for diversity.

— Steven Wine

Associated Press