On The Record: Collective Soul, Jeff Slate, Ruth Moody, & J.M. Kearns

Collective SoulHere to Eternity. Atlanta-based Collective Soul has been around for three decades but on the evidence of its sprawling 20-track latest release, this rock group isn’t even close to running out of fresh musical ideas. Here to Eternity, the self-produced follow-up to 2022’s Vibrating, is brimming over with them, and the vast majority are terrific. 

If you’re looking for anthemic ear candy that grabs you on first listen and won’t let go, you’ve come to the right place. Highlights on the CD – which the group mostly recorded at Elvis Presley’s Palm Springs, California estate – include “Bring on the Day,” “Not the Same,” and “Words Away,” three melodic rockers that are as well-hooked as anything from ELO or Oasis.

Also outstanding are “La De Dah,” an acoustic guitar–driven, ultra-catchy ditty; and two solo tracks from the band’s prime mover, Ed Roland: “Be the One,” a love song in which he accompanies himself on piano, and “Bob Dylan (Where Are You Today),” a live recording from Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium that features acoustic guitar and harmonica and seems to urge Dylan to revisit political themes.

Roland, who wrote all the material on Here to Eternity, has called this CD (also available on two vinyl LPs) the best of Collective Soul’s 12 studio albums. It would be hard to disagree. 

Jeff SlateThe Last Day of Summer. Jeff Slate – the long-time rock journalist whose credits include the 10,000-word essay included with Bob Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks box set – is also a veteran singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who founded the 1980s band Mindless Thinkers and co-founded the 1990s group the Badge. 

On this latest solo release, he garners support from such guests as guitarists Earl Slick (David Bowie, John Lennon) and Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), as well as Guns ’N Roses bassist Duff McKagan and ex-Byrd Gene Parsons, who plays mandolin. Slate wrote all the songs aside from “The Poacher,” which the late Small Faces and Faces co-founder Ronnie Lane composed.

The 14-track CD embraces numerous home runs, including “Heartbreak,” the irresistibly hooked lead-off track, which recalls Willie Nile and appears in album, single, and “stripped” versions. Over layered ringing guitars, Slate sings, “I took your love, I took everything / And in return I gave you nothing but heartbreak.” Arguably even better – and certainly more lyrically upbeat – is the exuberant “World of Your Love.” which sounds redolent of Tom Petty. Among other winners are the seemingly Beatles-influenced “Man on the Moon” and the sweet “Till New York City Dies.”

This album ought to propel Slate onto the list of A-list rock acts.

Ruth MoodyWanderer. This is only the third solo album from Wailin’ Jennys co-founder Ruth Moody, whose sophomore record, These Wilder Things, came out way back in 2013. Her sound has altered a bit over the years, with the new album (co-produced by Moody and Dan Knobler) featuring relatively lush and atmospheric backup that incorporates organs, mellotron, accordion, synth, pedal steel, violin, mandolin, clarinet, cello, and more. Moody’s impassioned, ethereal vocal work remains mostly unchanged, however, which is good news. 

You won’t find a weak track on the 10-song, self-penned program, much of which could be well described by the singer’s surname. The best moments include the sensual, languid “The Way Lovers Move”; the exquisite “Seventeen,” a reportedly true story of unrequited teenage love; and the touching title cut, where Moody confronts fears of commitment and concludes that love is calling her home. 

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 11 years for her next offering.

J.M. KearnsBefore the Coffee Gets Too Cold. New Jersey–based J.M. Kearns is a late bloomer. He has been writing songs for more than 40 years but according to his website, didn’t get his first real gig (which paid $27.50) until he was 55. In the years since then, he has endured hard times, “narrowly avoiding homelessness,” but never stopped writing music. Now, in his seventies, he is finally issuing his debut solo album, most of which he recorded last year, though several of the numbers date from much earlier.

While some of the tracks feature accompaniment on drums, bass, and electric guitar, the instrumentation consists mostly just of Kearns’s own guitar, harmonica, and bass work. His pleasant voice and memorable lyrics remain front and center throughout.

Many of the songs seem to stem from personal experience and to reflect the hard times that Kearns has endured. Among them are “My Soul in Your Hands,” which he describes as a “true story of a journey out of hell,” and the confessional “I Never Wanted to Be Him.” Another winner is “Nashville Will Teach You,” about trying to make it as a songwriter in that city. Kearns says this one “isn’t about me,” but it surely draws on his 13 years of experience as a struggling artist in that city. “If you don’t know how to lose,” he sings, “Nashville will teach you.”

(Audio and videos are available here.)

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains five decades’ worth of music reviews, interviews, and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and EncountersLennon on Lennon: Conversations with John LennonLeonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.