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Friday December 19th 2014

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Ears & Fingers 4/10/14

Sisyphus-Sisyphus
In Greek Mythology, Sisyphus was a king who was punished for frequent lying by being forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and then have to push it back up. Forever. The only way this is comparable to the new Sufjan Stevens/Son Lux/Serengeti collaboration, “Sisyphus,” is that we Stevens faithful are forced to bear through much of Serengeti’s seemingly ever rotating style of throwback hip-hop to get to moments of sheer Stevens. But when those moments come, they are golden. In no way am I hating on Serengeti, as his verses bring to mind some of the hip-hop greats of the past and flow seamlessly over the output of their resident beat master, Son Lux, but when you love something as much as I love Stevens’ songwriting, you want as much as you can get.

The majority of this album plays out as a work of artistic alternative hip-hop, with the moments where Sufjan takes control sounding a lot like his style on 2010’s “The Age of Adz,” however the trio make it very difficult to pin them down or typecast them, which is good and bad in this case. ‘Rhythm of Devotion,’ a track right around midway through the album, is an eye opener with its pseudo-Daft Punk/Kanye West brashness, and really does a great job of shaking up the album. ‘My Oh My,’ another track stuck right in the middle of the action, is at its best, creative, but mostly at its worst, confusing. There are points where the album soars and what these three talents are doing together is really working, and then there are points where it seems like they are trying way too hard. I definitely would recommend giving it a listen if you’re a fan of any of their individual work, as it is a worthwhile spin, but don’t expect anything life changing. “Sisyphus” is out now via Asthmatic Kitty/ Joyful Noise Records.

Johnny Cash-Out Among the Stars
Within the first fifteen minutes of Johnny Cash’s second posthumous release, “Out Among the Stars,” it all becomes very familiar, to the point that it feels like we never lost him. The opening title track glorifies the humanity of an armed robber. ‘Baby Ride Easy’ is an upbeat duet with the love of Cash’s life, June Carter Cash. ‘She Used to Love Me a Lot,’ which was the album’s first single, is a melancholy jaunt reminiscing over lost love. ‘I’m Movin’ On’ is a freewheeling collaboration with one of Cash’s frequent partners in crime, Waylon Jennings. This album was originally recorded in the early ‘80s and never saw the light of day until Cash’s label and his son finally and thankfully unearthed it.

This LP finds Cash in a really good portion of his career. This was well before his American Recordings revamp from Rick Rubin. This was also considerably after his golden years at Sun Records, carving out his reputation as ‘The Man in Black.’ This was a comfortable section of Cash’s legendary career, because he still knew what America wanted from him, and he knew how to deliver it with effervescence and a perpetual sense of freshness. He was a dark rider, who demanded justice for all and understanding for those who could never get ahead in life. He knew the pain of loving and losing and had no problem entertaining memories, all the while also knowing the importance of moving on. He embraced America’s history and told stories about the Old West. Cash was the troubadour America needed and “Out Among the Stars” is a welcomed addition to already unbelievable catalog and legacy. It also has one of the greatest Minnie Pearl cameos of all time. “Out Among the Stars” is out now via Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings.