For proof that Irish singer-songwriter Hozier has hit the big time, look no further than who he’s singing with these days: Mavis Staples and Booker T. Jones.
Their soaring song — “Nina Cried Power” — is a fitting opening to his second full-length album, “Wasteland, Baby!” It’s a stunning 14-track collection — assured, unrushed, complex, soulful and passionate, with his specific Irish stew of R&B, rock, gospel and folk. It’s a reminder that enduring music is possible in 2019.
Hozier — born Andrew Hozier-Byrne — emerged in 2013 with his anthem against religious hypocrisy “Take Me to Church” and an excellent self-titled debut album that mixed confessional lyrics and progressive politics.
The new album kicks off with Hozier, Jones and Staples paying tribute to such activist-artists as Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, John Lennon and Staples herself. “It’s not the waking, it’s the rising,” Hozier sings.
Then, it’s on to his valentine to music with “Almost (Sweet Music),” which cleverly name-drops song titles from the likes of Duke Ellington and Chet Baker. Hozier segues to the slinky “Movement,” dripping with desire, then the fuzzy guitar-led, blissed-out gem “No Plan.”
Next up is a pure songwriting master class in “Shrike,” named for a bird that impales insects on thorns. “Remember me, love, when I am reborn/As the shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn,” Hozier sings.
A few weaker songs might have been left out. Still, there are far more joys here, including “Be,” a gospel-flecked call to stem environmental disaster.
“Wasteland, Baby!” is filled with dread and doom but also — as the cheeky title suggests — humor and light. Hozier sings about the joy of music in the sunny “To Noise Making (Sing),” which has references to Prince and The Waterboys.
Every song but one was written exclusively by him. And he plays guitar, organ, synth and electric piano. He also supplies bells, snaps, claps, beatbox, tambourine, shaker. And, on a few songs, he’s playfully credited as “Sex Weasel.”