Big Love: Hymnal

January 06, 2009|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

David Byrne

[Todo Mundo] ***

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With Big Love: Hymnal, David Byrne pens a batch of clean but knowing paeans to the polygamist lifestyle featured on the HBO show starting its third season this month.

The compositions conjure images of Byrne performing - his silver hair, an owlish expression, upright and robed - in front of a congregation.

But this is Byrne we're talking about, so most of these pieces, with their teasing, witty titles ("Exquisite Whiteness," "The Breastplate of Righteousness") and mannered precision would be better performed under gallery lights than stained glass.

Many of Byrne's short but articulated songs grapple with the mysterious, confounding nature of faith and the suspicion that underlies the Henrickson household at the center of the series.

"Great Desolations" is a sliver of unease with suspended riffs of guitar and xylophone that folds into the tight-lipped Christian cha cha of "A House on Sand." Salvation Army marching band instrumentation (baritone horn, fluegelhorn) lines a handful of tracks with solemn or joyful reserve.

Nothing on the album applies to the outer edges of religious experience, no loss of faith or nirvana or shivering redemption.

Instead, Byrne concerns himself with austere, private expressions of pride or wonder, feelings a religious person frequently might have - but not share.

Big Love: Hymnal is made of these small moments, but collectively they have the crisp, eye-catching shine of a gold crucifix tucked into a modest blouse.

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