K.T. Tunstall, “Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon” (Blue Note)
“We are fighters in our prime,” K.T. Tunstall sings to her father on her new album, and the words resonate with poignancy now that he’s gone.
“Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon” focuses on the death of Tunstall’s dad last year, and from her sorrow sprung perhaps the best set of songs yet by the Scottish singer. She recorded the album in Arizona, where the stark desert landscape depicted in the cover art perfectly matches the musical mood.
Tunstall finds beauty amid the bleakness, and her intimate alto eloquently expresses her emotions as she contemplates mortality. Co-producer Howe Gelb provides graceful support with sparse but distinctive wow-and-flutter arrangements.
“We’re all made of glass ... with one eye on the clock,” Tunstall sings in “Made of Glass,” and there’s comfort in her candor. The songs are neither sentimental nor heavily spiritual, although the final composition offers an epitaph for her father as a choir swells, singing with angelic fervor at the end about the end.
The Civil Wars, “The Civil Wars” (Columbia)
It’s hard to listen to Joy Williams and John Paul White sing lyrics like “don’t say it’s over” on The Civil Wars’ new disc and not think of the big picture.
Just as they release their self-titled second album — one that consolidates their strengths — comes word that their professional relationship may be irretrievably broken. No one knows if they will work together again.
If that’s the case, “The Civil Wars” will go down as a pop music tragedy.
Williams and White add more power to their acoustic base here, and the lead single “The One That Got Away” fits comfortably within the music driving the current folk-rock commercial boom. Some increased instrumentation does not sacrifice the beauty of their vocal chemistry.
Their songs cast love and loss in spiritual terms. “Oh, Lord, what do I do,” Williams sings on “Devil’s Backbone.” “I’ve fallen for someone who’s nothing like you.” Prince would appreciate White’s sentiments on the sensual “I Had Me a Girl” when he sings: “That woman taught me to pray. I saw heaven every day.”
A little taste of success made this duo confident, not timid, as is often the case on second albums.Steven Wine, The Associated Press David Bauder, The Associated Press