(Young Turks *** 1/2)
Magdalene is the first album by the British singer-producer-choreographer since her 2014 full-length debut LP1. It’s a significant leap forward for the artist born Tahliah Barnett, who acquired her Twigs stage name from the sound her cracking joints made as she started in the music industry as a dancer in the early ‘00s.
Twigs attained a level of celebrity during her relationship with Twilight vampire Robert Pattinson, which ended in 2017, and in many ways, Magdalene is shaped by that personal drama. Its lead single, “Cellophane” — accompanied by a video showing off Twigs’ acrobatic pole-dancing skills — is a stark, graceful song about being unable to escape prying eyes (“They’re waiting, they’re watching”). It could apply to predatory paparazzi, or the lack of privacy that’s comes with the 24/7 connectivity of daily life.
Magdalene is about rebuilding after heartache and finding independent strength. Twigs, who was raised Catholic, pulls from the New Testament story of Jesus’ companion, celebrating her as a feminist hero in “Mary Magdalene.” That song starts off with a nod to Kate Bush, clearly a model for the songwriter as she explores faith and desire while moving between ethereal atmospherics and harder-edged sounds that are in sync with the physicality on display in her videos.
Magdalene draws from electronic music and hip-hop — Atlanta rapper Future is a guest on “Holy Terrain,” produced with Jack Antonoff and Skrillex. But Twigs uses those elements to make art-pop that tells a personal story, proudly going its own way. — Dan DeLuca
The Gospel According to Water
(earMUSIC *** 1/2)
A year ago, Joe Henry learned he had prostate cancer that had metastasized to his bones. That experience colors the songs on The Gospel According to Water, his beautiful and understated 15th album. Henry wrote the songs quickly last spring and recorded them soon after, and while their pace is leisurely and calm, they possess an immediacy and vibrancy — not an urgency, but a deliberate and earnest thoughtfulness, a wisdom, even, something akin to early Leonard Cohen or recent Nick Cave songs.
Like Cohen and Cave, Henry writes lyrics that foreground their prayer-like cadence and patterns of imagery. “There’s little we can leave behind / will truly mark this earth, / but treachery and love are ours / to keep for all they’re worth,” he sings in “Bloom.” References to water and prayer, passing time and lasting love link these songs, as do Henry’s gentle acoustic guitar picking and his son Levon’s woodwinds. The songs are affirmations of mortality, full of gratitude and grace. Thankfully, Henry’s cancer is currently in remission. That’s a gift, as is this album. — Steve Klinge
(Drifter’s Church/Thirty Tigers ***)
“I just keep doing the only thing I know,” Chris Knight declares on “Go On.” It’s been seven years since the Kentuckian’s last album, but not much has changed, art-wise. He’s still collaborating with old associates such as Dan Baird and Gary Nicholson, and the main musical approach is deliberately paced country-rock that manages to be both brawny and delicately textured.
Likewise, the characters in Knight’s songs are also familiar: restless and/or haunted small-town souls struggling to fill a vague emptiness. They can be aware of their own flaws — “The girls around here want a guy that’s rich / Even if I was I wouldn’t be no catch” — and even if they find some fulfillment, there’s a likelihood of “Trouble Up Ahead.”
The set closes with terrific versions of two non-originals: an acoustic, fiddle-caressed take on Johnny Cash’s “Flesh and Blood,” and a slowed-down, bluesy makeover of John Prine’s “Mexican Home,” a duet with Prine himself in a matchup of finely weathered voices.
Along with the advice articulated by the singer of “Go On,” the covers help underscore the ultimate sense of stubborn resilience at the heart of the album’s songs. Sure, it can get pretty dark, but there’s comfort in knowing daylight is coming. — Nick Cristiano