Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

MUSIC REVIEWS AND NEWS

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Before This World - James TaylorBefore This World – James Taylor
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This is “JT’s” first album of new material in thirteen years since October Road, which was released in August, 2002. The 67 year old member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hasn’t been idle during this time, regularly touring and releasing a Christmas album, two albums of covers, two live albums and a greatest hits compilation. The album was recorded primarily at the Barn, his recording studio just down the hill from his home in the woods in western Massachusetts, with his longtime touring band featuring Steve Gadd on drums and Jimmy Johnson on bass. The album is produced by Dave O’Donnell.

By pre-ordering the album, I’ve been able to listen to “Today, Today, Today”, “Angels of Fenway”, and “Montana” for several weeks now. Last week, the album was streamed in its entirety by The New York Times, so I’ve been able to listen to the entire album several times now. In addition, last June in his wonderful concert at the Ravinia Festival in the Chicago area, he debuted “Today, Today, Today”, “Stretch of the Highway”, “You and I Again”, and “Wild Mountain Thyme”, all included here.

So what can I tell you about the long-awaited album? Well, it will remind you of the best songs of Taylor’s early 1970’s catalog. JT’s signature storytelling skills are matched with his signature vocals surrounded by a mostly mellow mix of folk, light rock, and acoustic blues. It’s like hearing from an old friend who has been gone for a long time.

Before This World is an intimate, largely autobiographical album of nine new Taylor songs, plus the classic Scottish folk tune “Wild Mountain Thyme”. Close friends Sting and Yo-Yo Ma guest on the album. So, put on some coffee and take a listen. Here are a few brief thoughts on each song:

Today, Today, Today – was the first single released from the album. Taylor’s friend and collaborator Don Grolnick, a jazz and pop pianist who died in 1996, inadvertently helped inspire the song title years ago during a car trip out of Manhattan. Taylor states “One day, driving out of the city, he held up traffic at the Triborough Bridge toll booth, looking for quarters. Behind him, a cabby rolled down his window and yelled at him, ‘Today, TODAY!’ Grolnick would say that whenever he grew impatient: ‘TODAY!’”

You and I Again – is a beautiful tender piano ballad about his wife Kim that features some wonderful accompanying strings.

Angels of Fenway – is a tribute to his Boston Red Sox and his grandmother who was a big Red Sox fan as well. After 86 years of frustration, the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004. Unfortunately, it was against my St. Louis Cardinals, and I was at the clinching game in St. Louis as the Red Sox swept the Cardinals. It features harmony vocals from wife Kim and son Henry. Even though I’m not a Red Sox fan, I’m a baseball fan and I love this song, which is one of my favorites on the album.

Stretch of the Highway – this song features light horns, some effective backing vocals and has a bluesy feel to it. It is a road song. The song references Chicago, the President and GMC. Taylor describes the song as “a theme I keep coming back to, the pull of home and the pull of the highway, a big part of my life, the ‘Dad Loves His Work’ theme, the tug of war between your family and going out to work. It’s a split life in a way, something every touring musician, merchant seaman, soldier, traveling salesman and oil-rig worker experiences.”

Montana – is a beautiful song of contentment as Taylor sings of the slower life of being in his cabin high upon a mountain in Montana.

Who can imagine the scale of the forces
That pushed this old mountain range up in the sky?
Tectonic creation, erosion, mutation;
Somethin’ to pleasure God’s eye.

Watchin’ Over Me – is an upbeat tune which features a fiddle. JT sings of his thankfulness for those who have watched over him on his path to recovery from depression and addiction. He is grateful for a second chance. He realizes the damage he has done and the debt he owes. He has learned his lesson again and that there is only way one to surrender. Although dealing with difficult subject matter, this is a celebration and one of my favorite of the new songs.

SnowTime – has a tropic feel to it. Taylor describes the song as being about people who are economic exiles to Canada in the midst of a freezing Canadian winter who are trying to re-ignite this flame. A frozen Yankee comes across this and is transformed. Taylor states that ultimately the song is about the power of music. The guitars on the chorus reminded me of his classic “Mexico”.

Before This World/Jolly Springtime – Taylor describes this as a spiritual agnostic song. It features beautiful cello work from Yo-Yo Ma.

Before this world was as we know it now
Before the land and sea were formed at all
Before the stars were made to burn and shine
Little love of mine, darling one
Who can pretend to understand at all
No one can both inside and outside be
Who can suppose he knows the way this goes
Little lamb, never mind

Sadly, he sings that the world is old, will never last and that our share of joy is in this moment past.

Jolly Springtime – contrasting the music and pessimistic lyrics of “Before This World” is this upbeat and happy song, celebrating spring in the merry month of May with effective backing vocals.

Far Afghanistan – Taylor describes this song as an “out-of-my-experience fiction piece,” dealing with a soldier leaving for the war. This is the one song that doesn’t fit with the rest of the album, and is my least favorite of the collection.

Wild Mountain Thyme – a beautiful cover of a classic Scottish folk song. Wife Kim and son Henry contribute harmony vocals.

Although Taylor may not profess to be a Christian, he offers an album full of Christian themes as God and Jesus are mentioned and themes of love of family, thankfulness for those who have helped him, appreciation for creation, etc. resonate from these songs. I can’t tell you how good it is to finally have some excellent new music from JT. Welcome back JT. Can’t wait to hear some of these new songs in concert.

Live at Red Rocks – Amos Lee with the Colorado SymphonyLive at Red Rocks – Amos Lee with the Colorado Symphony
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I had never heard of Amos Lee until he appeared locally in 2007, opening for Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello. Between Costello’s and Dylan’s sets we ran into Lee in the foyer, where we visited briefly and he signed an autograph for us. A friend lent me Lee’s first two albums and I was hooked. I picked up Last Days at the Lodge when it came out in 2008, and I’ve picked up everything he’s released since that time.

Last August 1, Lee appeared with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in a sold out concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, about 15 miles from Denver. At that time, he had been on tour for almost a year in support of his fifth studio album Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song. In the concert, he performed some of his most popular songs from his five studio albums, along with one new song, in a 14 song career spanning set, with five songs from his former #1 album Mission Bell and four from his debut Amos Lee. The album’s track list, and the original album they were included on is listed below:

Windows are Rolled Down – from his 2011 Mission Bell.

Jesus – Mission Bell

Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight – from his 2005 debut Amos Lee

El Camino – Mission Bell

Violin – Mission Bell

Colors – Amos Lee

Trickster, Hucksters, Scamps – from his 2013 Mountains of Sorrow, Rives of Song

Flower – Mission Bell

Won’t Let Me Go – from his 2008 Last Days at the Lodge

Sweet Pea – from his 2007 Supply and Demand

Street Corner Preacher – Last Days at the Lodge

Game of Thrones Theme – Not previously available on an Amos Lee album

Encores:

Black River – Amos Lee

Arms of a Woman – Amos Lee

While the addition of the Colorado Symphony makes this recording special, it’s Lee’s incredible and versatile voice that is the real highlight here (check out his vocals on “Sweet Pea” as an example). If you are not familiar with Amos Lee, this is an excellent introduction to his music. If you are familiar with him, sit back and enjoy these incredible versions of some of his best songs. I hope this recording propels Lee to the level of popularity that he deserves.

 Song of the Week

One of my favorite new songs is “Abide with Me”, co-written by Matt Maher and Matt Redman. It is included on Maher’s Saints and Sinners album and Redman’s Unbroken Praise album. Here’s a video of Maher performing the song, a prayer really, in a recent concert. Follow along with the lyrics below.

I have a home, eternal home
But for now I walk this broken world
You walked it first, You know our pain
But You show hope can rise again up from the grave

Abide with me, abide with me
Don’t let me fall, and don’t let go
Walk with me and never leave
Ever close, God abide with me

There in the night, Gethsemane
Before the cross, before the nails
Overwhelmed, alone You prayed
You met us in our suffering and bore our shame

Abide with me, abide with me
Don’t let me fall, and don’t let go
Walk with me and never leave
Ever close, God abide with me

Oh love that will not ever let me go
Love that will not ever let me go
You never let me go
Love that will not ever let me go
Oh You never let us go

And up ahead, eternity
We’ll weep no more, we’ll sing for joy, abide with me

musicnewsMusic News

    • You can now pre-order Toby Mac’s This is Not a Test album on iTunes and receive the download for the song “Backseat Driver”.
    • “Abide with Me”. Matt Redman’s new Unbroken Praise album releases this week. Last week, those who pre-ordered the album received the download of Redman’s version of Matt Maher’s excellent “Abide with Me”, which was included on his Saints and Sinners album, my top release of the year, thus far. Watch the lyric video here.
  • Matt Maher Covering Crowder’s “Come as You Are”. Watch the video here.

music quoteMusic Quotes

We should be careful about the words of the music we sing and ensure that those words communicate truth. R.C. Sproul

Older doesn’t always mean wiser. Sometimes older means more cynical & stuck in our false ways. Andy Mineo

The system didn’t plan for this. Lecrae

Grace, it’s a name for a girl, it’s also a thought that changed the world. U2

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Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence ~ married to my best friend for more than 37 years, a St. Louis Cardinals fan, a manager at a Fortune 50 company, a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, and in leadership at my local church. I enjoy speaking about calling, vocation and work. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop to their fullest potential and to utilize their strengths more fully. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinders themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony and Achiever, and my two StandOut strengths roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book and Colossians 3:23 my favorite verse. Some of my other favorite books are Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, The Prodigal Son (originally titled A Tale of Two Sons) by John MacArthur and Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I enjoy Christian hip-hop/rap music, with Lecrae, Trip Lee and Andy Mineo being some of favorite artists.

One thought on “MUSIC REVIEWS AND NEWS

  1. I’m enjoying reading all the reviews.

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