Style: Alt-country; compare to Neil Young, R.E.M., Over the Rhine

Top tracks: "From the Beats Down to the Buddha," "Spring in Your Spirit," "Wide Awake With Orphan Eyes (Mirror Ball Moon)"

With over 40 releases under his belt, Bill Mallonee is an accomplished singer-songwriter who doesn't need to prove himself to anyone anymore. But like his inspirations Neil Young and Bob Dylan, age will not stop Mallonee, 56, from releasing new music. Great artists are often prolific, and Mallonee is no exception. The Power & The Glory, his latest full-length, is proverbial, pensive, and poetic. The first studio-engineered record Mallonee has produced in years, his signature Americana sound is bigger and clearer than ever as a result. Influences of R.E.M. and '90s college rock like Pavement and Built to Spill are strong here.

Mallonee's voice is unique and convicting. One cannot casually listen to his music with a neutral opinion, for his vocals strike hard and fast like a desert rattlesnake. Reaction is insistent. At times harsh, his southern twang (especially when delivered via sing-talk) is as "country" as Hank Snow or Townes Van Zandt.

His Christian faith is expressed poetically, even cryptically at times. But even when Mallonee breaks out the Christianese, it still feels original without any hint of cliché: "You may come back like a prodigal son … to your Father's home / or ya may steer clear for a thousand years … till the Shepherd finds his own."

The greatest strength of The Power & The Glory is Mallonee's lyrical aptitude. Never short on metaphors, his stories are like southern literature. On "Just to Feel the Heat," Mallonee sings, "You never told me your house was haunted / and it's cold in the places you sleep / And I dunno if I'm just what you wanted / I burned it down just to feel the heat." And then there's the closing verse of "Bring You Around": "Baby, you be the diamond / Make all those people talk / I'll be that blade of grass growing / from the crack in your sidewalk."

The former frontman of Vigilantes of Love was a hero in the Christian underground scene, before David Bazan and Sufjan Stevens made it cool. Unsurprising that Paste magazine named him one of the 100 greatest living songwriters.

Mallonee is and always has been a grassroots legend. Most of his music is self-produced, self-released and independent through and through. Like a bright green blade of grass pushing through a gray sidewalk crack, his naturally cultivated vitality breathes through a hard-hearted music industry. Mallonee's earnest artfulness is manifest in The Power & the Glory. It's a new peak in a career that shows no signs of descending.

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