As we are lulled into late summer, it feels like the right time to take a look at some recent EPs:
Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken | Ampersand
The ampersand has always been a cute, lo, romantic, way to join parties, particularly those in love. William Shakespeare may have penned it as Romeo and Juliet, but Romeo & Juliet is always the one that looks right. And Ampersand is an appropriate title for Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken's first duo effort. It is definitely romantic, though rarely cute. D&S are far beyond the puppy love of R&J. Ampersand is a chronicle of a couple that has had a few rough patches and fights, and even found that as ugly as those can be, perseverance over them can serve as confirmation that the bond is strong. This is an adult album, not in the sense that there's any R-rated material, but in the sense that people who are where Webb and McCracken are will most strongly identify with songs such as Watch Your Mouth, that ode to the affirming power of conflict which will have a familiar edge to Webb fans. If you've found Webb's solo material abrasive, this EP softens him, and it's a nice introduction to McCracken, if you haven't heard her before. The couple met when Webb was member of Caedmon's Call and he saw her playing at coffee shop near a recording studio. Ampersand is affirmation that they can make beautiful music together, particularly a cover of Bob Dylan's If Not for You.
Jars of Clay | Closer
This is our introduction to post-Essential Records Jars of Clay, and it's interesting, if not entirely satisfying. While Jars' recent albums such as their 2006 masterpiece, Good Monsters, and live efforts have been trending toward more rootsy rock and acoustic sounds, this EP is very electronic, starting with the chirpy looping keyboard sounds of the title track. There are also heavily ornamented versions of Flood and Love Song for a Savior. The EP's closing track, Prisoner of Hope, sounds the most like a progression from Good Monsters, both lyrically and stylistically, as opposed to a departure or even return to some early career styles, which is what you hear in most of this disc. This is just a brief offering before Jars' new album, slated for release next year. In many ways, Closer leaves you wondering what to expect from indie Jars of Clay.
Speaking of indies: GRITS, which has carried the banner for Christian hip-hop for nearly a decade, is striking out on its own with its forthcoming album Reiterate. It will be their first disc on their own label, Revolution Art, and away from TobyMac's imprint, Gotee. Lest we think there's any friction there, T-Mac will lend his voice to Reiterate as will Jars of Clay's Dan Haseltine and Third Day's Mac Powell. The album drops Sept. 16.
U2 blast from the past: Many U2 fans' first encounters with the band was the Live Under a Blood Red Sky EP and video from Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheater. The pair are being rereleased Sept. 30 in a package that includes the remastered CD and the concert video on DVD for the first time. The new Live at Red Rocks DVD will feature several new tracks from the 1983 concert including Surrender, Two Hearts Beat as One and Out of Control.
Speaking of U2: St. Michael's Episcopal Church is holding a U2Charist, which is a Eucharist (communion) using the music of U2, at 5 p.m. Aug. 24. All the funds will go to Espicopal Relief and Development, a member of ONE, which U2's Bono founded to address poverty worldwide. U2charists started in a Maryland (see the comments section for a little more info). St. Michael's officials believe this is the first time this has been done in Lexington.