Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

MUSIC AND CONCERT REVIEWS

The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert – Bob Dylan
****

The album’s rather strange title is based on the fact that for decades a famous Bob Dylan bootleg known as The Royal Albert Hall Concert was incorrectly labelled, having actually been a performance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall on May 17, 1966.  That performance was officially released in 1998 as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall Concert”. This is actually the recording of the Royal Albert Hall concert, recorded May 26, 1966, and originally recorded by Dylan’s CBS label for a live album. This is the 2-CD version, which is also included in the massive 36-CD 1966 Live Recordings box set.
From a historical context, Dylan was fresh off of the release of his classic Blonde on Blonde double album just ten days prior to the concert. His set included material from his incredible trio of albums from that period Bringing It All Back Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
The first CD is the acoustic set and contains seven songs, including an epic version of “Desolation Row”. Dylan’s voice sounds great, and he is backed only by his acoustic guitar and harmonica. The sound quality is excellent, and you hear the crowd’s appreciative but somewhat restrained applause.
The second CD is the electric set and has Dylan backed by the Hawks, who would become better known as The Band. The sound quality is not as a good as the acoustic set for some reason. The set begins with Dylan and the Hawks ripping into “Tell Me Momma”, a song he would never release a studio version of, and would play only 15 times on the 1966 tour, the final time being the concert after this one at the Royal Albert Hall. The music is raw and intense, led by Robbie Robertson’s guitar, and Dylan’s expressive vocals, spitting out the lyrics, quite a difference from the acoustic set. The crowd is energized and you hear Dylan interacting with them, stating before the start of a blistering “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”, “Are you talking to me?  Come on up here and say that”. The blistering eight-song electric set ends with “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Like a Rolling Stone”.
Recommended for Dylan fans and music fans who might not already have heard the earlier The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall Concert”.

Triplicate – Bob Dylan
****

You can never put Bob Dylan in a box. He will always surprise you. After 2015’s Shadows in the Night, he followed up with 2016’s Fallen Angels, a similar album of his unique interpretation of standards that had been recorded by Frank Sinatra. His last album of newly written material was 2012’s Tempest. So after winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, what does the 75-year old legend follow Fallen Angels up with, just over 10 months following that album? One might expect a stunning new album of songs about the state of our nation (racial tension, election of Trump, etc.). But Dylan rarely does what we expect him to do.  Instead he returns with the excellent Triplicate, his 38th studio album, a 30-song, three-album (his first triple album), project of newly recorded covers of mostly pre-World War II/rock and roll music songs known as the Great American Songbook.
Dylan, his touring band – guitarists Charlie Sexton and Dean Parks, bassist Tony Garnier, drummer George Recile and steel guitarist Donnie Herron – and arranger James Harper, went to Hollywood’s Capitol studios to record live (vocals recorded with instrumentation) hand-chosen songs from American songwriters such as Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Harold Hupfield, and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. The project is thematically-arranged in three 10-song albums titled “’Til the Sun Goes Down,” “Devil Dolls” and “Comin’ Home Late”, each 32 minutes in length, which Dylan has said is the number of completion, a lucky number, and symbolic of light.  Dylan has stated that the albums came out at the same time because thematically they are interconnected, one being the sequel to the other and each one resolving the previous one.
Interestingly, Sinatra released Trilogy in 1980, a three-album which too had a different theme for each album, “The Past,” “The Present” and “The Future.” The new project was produced by Dylan, under his usual pseudonym Jack Frost.
The 30 songs on Triplicate include classics such as “Stardust”, “As Time Goes By,” “September of My Years,” “Stormy Weather” and “Sentimental Journey” as well as less well-known songs such as Alec Wilder and Edwin Finckel’s “Where Is the One” and Jack Lawrence’s “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me.”
While many of the songs are slow ballads, often solemn and about loss, there are also a handful of more upbeat songs here as well. Dylan’s now road-weary voice, always an incredible instrument in itself, and which sounded really rough on Tempest, seems perfectly fitted for these songs and arrangements. He delivers vocal performances on these last three standards albums that I never thought I would hear from him again. Listen to his vocal and phrasing on “My One and Only Love”, for example. His touring band never gets in the way of Dylan’s heart-felt vocals within Harper’s intimate arrangements. Herron’s steel guitar is a highlight throughout. Horns are used sparingly, but effectively on songs such as “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Sentimental Journey”, and “My One and Only Love”.
I preferred the more upbeat songs on the album, with some of my favorites being “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Stardust”, “Day in and Day Out”, “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me”, “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans” and “That Old Feeling”. Dylan ends the album with “Why Was I Born?” written by Kern and Hammerstein in 1929. It includes the introspective lyrics “Why was I born? Why am I living? What do I get? What am I giving?”
While I would prefer new music from Dylan, I enjoyed and appreciated Triplicate, songs that Dylan says are meant for “the man on the street, the common man, the everyday person”. Will you enjoy it? My assessment is that if you enjoyed Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels, you’ll enjoy Triplicate. If you didn’t, you’ll probably want to pass on this one, though I would encourage you give it a listen before immediately dismissing it.

The Misadventures of Fern and Marty
****

The Misadventures of Fern & Marty is the first Social Club full-album release on Capitol Records after being independent artists, and their fourth studio album overall. The fifteen songs include themes of marriage, family, the grace and love of God and plenty of fun. There are a number of special guests such as Andy Mineo. Unless otherwise noted, the songs were produced by 42 North and Wit.

I really enjoyed this album. Below are a few comments about each of the songs:

Vibes Vibes Vibes – This song is written by 42 North, Wit, and the Social Club Misfits. It features a good beat right out of the box, with Fern and Aha Gazelle trading verses on this autobiographical track.  It includes reference to their being signed to Capitol Records:

Now they say that we great
I just say that you late

Independent so long when the labels would call we thought it was fake

The song closes with a spoken word piece by about what it mean to be a misfit.

Pop Out Revenge – This song is produced by Amarl, and was the first single released from the album. It was written by Amarl and the Social Club Misfits and features some good beats. Amarl, Marty and Fern all take a turn at the lead vocals. Includes another reference to them being signed by Capitol.

Love 4 Real– This was the second radio single released. It was written by Wit, 42 North, Daramola and the Social Club Misfits. It’s a love song about dating, marriage and family. It has more of an easy-going vibe. Fern, Marty and Daramola share the lead vocals.

Who Else
– This is a fun song that features Andy Mineo and includes lines like “Bout to make chubby fellas cool again” and “Come to your door like I’m Newman”. It was originally made for their Friends and Family Tour.  It’s has a good beat throughout, and is my favorite track on the album, reminding me of the excellent collaboration Marty had with Mineo on “Paisano’s Wylin” from the latter’s Neverland EP. The track is produced by 42 North and written by Mineo and the Social Club Misfits.

Different People ft. Tree Giants
– This is a more serious song about relationships, the cost of love, and what it looks like to maintain a healthy relationship, appreciating what you have. It is written by 42 North, Wit and the Social Club Misfits.  It features Tree Giants, who share lead vocals with Marty and Fern. It’s a slower song with a heavy beat.

Maybe
– This song features Chris Baston, who shares lead vocals with Marty and Fern. It was written by 42 North, Wit, Chris Baston and the Social Club Misfits. This song features a slower groove and some autobiographical lyrics:

Wish that I could go and just reverse time
And right wrongs in the worst times
But it’s over now, just verse rhymes
Just pour out what I went through
In the hopes that y’all won’t get caught up
In the same things I got into

How Good – This songs was produced by Ruslan and written by the Social Club Misfits. This is a song about sharing the love of God with others because they have struggles as well.  The song has a great beat, and a hook that you won’t be able to get out of your head.

A Song For Cami – This song was written by 42 North, Wit and the Social Club Misfits. It encourages hard work and was written for Fern’s five-year old daughter. Fern handles the vocals. I liked the quick drum beat and keys. Fern sings that whenever he’s not around they don’t have to worry about him.

One With The New Yorkers
– This song features Amari and Wordsplayed. It was written by Wordsplayed, Amari and the Social Club Misfits. Wordsplayed, Amari and Marty, all of whom have lived in New York City at one time, share the vocals. The idea behind the song is that people lie. We put our best foot forward. On social media we make people think that we are better than we are, but it’s a lie. “I think they live for the ‘likes’”. It opens with piano, and has a slow groove with a heavy beat.

Usual Suspects
– This song features Willow Stephens, who shares the lead vocals with Fern and Marty. It is written by Willow Stephens and the Social Club Misfits. It open with Stephen’s sweet, haunting vocals before going into a rap by Fern. Fern and Marty have said that this can be a life song that gets you pumped up or it can be for a movie trailer.

Time 4 That
– This song is written by the Social Club Misfits and is about their love stories. It opens with piano before going into an easy going vibe with Marty and Fern trading vocals.

Social SZN
– This song is produced by Black Knight and written by Black Knight and the Social Club Misfits. Marty and Vern trade vocals on this energetic track. “I’m about to level up”. The song features a good beat and synths that sound like horns.

Wayyyyy Back
– This song is produced by Ray Rock. It opens with an organ sound, and features a relaxed beat that looks back on their lives when it was much simpler.

I remember days when we used to play back when
Everything was simple, I just wanna go back and
I know the times have changed, but I wish that they all would just stay the same


Misfit Anthem
– This song features Riley Clemmons, who shares vocals with Fern and Marty. The song is written by Clemmons and the Social Club Misfits. The hook samples the hymn “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, and the song is about the grace of God in the lives of the Social Club Misfits.

Extra Wavy – This bonus track is written and produced by the Social Club Misfits.  It opens with Marty stating “This song is loud and offensive”. It’s a fun song with a catchy hook:

They ask us how we do it
Ask us how we do it, woo!
Misfit gang gang

rolling-stones-blue-lonesomeBlue and Lonesome – Rolling Stones
****

In their first studio album in eleven years, the Rolling Stones return with an album of twelve mostly Chicago blues covers, the type of music that they cut their teeth on when they started out. Having been largely introduced to the blues by my brother-in-law, I really enjoyed this album; it was one of my favorites for 2016. To read more about the blues music from a Christian perspective check out Stephen Nichols book Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation.    

This wasn’t the album that the band intended to record. While in the studio to record new material, they would play a few old blues songs to warm up. They had so much fun playing them they recorded this album with co-producer Don Was last December over just three days. As an added bonus, Eric Clapton, who was recording in the studio next door, came over and played guitar on two of the songs. Overall, the album feels like a labor of love for the Stones, who are joined by bassist Darryl Jones, who has been playing with the band since 1993, and pianist Chuck Leavell.

Below are a few comments on each of the songs on the album:

Just Your Fool – This song was written by and recorded by Buddy Johnson in 1953 and a Chicago blues version recorded in 1960 by Little Walter. This is the first of four songs on the album credited to Walter, a large influence on Jagger’s harmonica playing style. It’s Jagger’s harmonica that is the first sound you hear on the album. Richards’ and Woods’ guitars and Watts’ drums propel the song along. A great start to the album.
Commit a Crime – This song was recorded in 1966 by Howlin’ Wolf. It later showed up (titled “What a Woman!”), on 1971’s London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, which included Stones Charlie Watt and Bill Wyman. The song features some great guitar work as Jagger spits out that a woman poured poison in his coffee. He’s gonna leave her before he commits a crime. Jagger adds some excellent harmonica work here.
Blue and Lonesome – This slower sad song was recorded in 1959 by Little Walter. It again features Jagger on harmonica, who Richards once referred to as probably the best blues-harp player that he had ever heard, up there with Little Walter.  The song also features some excellent guitar work.
All of Your Love – This song was Magic Sam’s debut single in 1957 as “All Your Love”. He updated and retitled the song “All of Your Love” in 1957, just before his death from a heart attack at age 32. The slow blues song opens with some excellent guitar work and beat provided by Watts and Jones, which sets the pace for the song. Leavell adds some tasty piano work in the middle of the song and Jagger adds a brief harmonica solo before the song ends with a guitar solo.
I Gotta Go – This song was recorded in 1955 by Little Walter with the Jukes. The song opens with Jagger on harmonica and gets going right away, propelled by Watts’ drumming. It’s a real toe-tapper, and it’s impossible to stay still listening to it. He’s got the blues and he can’t stay here no more. A great take on the song. One of my favorites on the album.
Everybody Knows About My Good Thing – The newest cover on the album, this slow blues song was recorded in 1971 by former Mighty Clouds of Joy member Little Johnny Taylor. The song opens with great slide guitar work from Eric Clapton, which makes this song another highlight for me. While the focus in on the guitar work, I also enjoyed Leavell’s piano.
Ride ‘Em on Down – This song was a 30’s era original by Delta blues legend Bukka White, then titled “Shake ‘Em On Down”. It was recorded with this title in 1955 by Eddie Taylor. It starts with some great guitar work, and a driving beat from Watts, which sets the pace for the song. The song features a blistering guitar solo mid-song and a harmonica solo from Jagger near the end.
Hate to See You Go – This song was recorded in 1955 by Little Walter. He got his start in Muddy Waters band before going solo in 1952. He would die at age 37 and is the only artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame specifically as a harmonica player. The song immediately grabs your attention with a driving beat propelled by harmonica, guitar and drum.
Hoo Doo Blues – This song was recorded in 1958 by Lightnin’ Slim, a good example of his stripped down, swampy style. The song opens and features Jagger on harmonica, and the slower beat is driven by Watts’ drumming and Jones’ bass.
Little Rain – This song was recorded in 1957 by Jimmy Reed. The Stones have long admired Reed, having covered his “Honest I Do” on their first album. This is a slow blues song featuring some excellent guitar work before the bass and drum kick in behind Jagger, who adds a lengthy and restrained harmonica solo.
Just Like I Treat You – This song was recorded in 1961 by Howlin’ Wolf as the B-side to his single “I Ain’t Superstitious”.  It starts out with a great beat right from the start, and amazingly sounds like it could fit nicely on a mid-1960’s Stones album (reminding me of 1964’s “It’s All Over Now”). It features some nice guitar work, tasty piano from Leavell along with some harmonica work from Jagger. One of my favorites on the album.
I Can’t Quit You Baby – This song was written by Willie Dixon for Otis Rush, who recorded it with him in Rush’s first sessions in 1956. You may recognize it as a heavy blues cover from Led Zeppelin’s debut album, which they built off Rush’s 1966 version. This slow blues song begins with a guitar and the bass drives the slow beat. He can’t quit her but he’s gonna have to put her down for a while. The song features some excellent guitar work from Clapton, and Jagger offers some of his most expressive singing on the album.

phil-keaggy-all-at-onceAll at Once – Phil Keaggy
****

Phil Keaggy is one of our greatest guitarists. He has released more than 50 albums, has won seven Dove Awards for Instrumental Album of the Year and is a two-time Grammy Award nominee. Although his instrumental albums are a frequent companion of mine, I hadn’t heard one of his vocal albums for some time. So this fan-funded album of thirteen vocals and one instrumental was a pleasant surprise. And though he is now 65, his sweet McCartney sounding vocals haven’t aged at all. Keaggy wrote or co-wrote all songs with the exception of the title song (written by Gordon Kennedy and Ben Cooper) and the closing hymn “I Must Tell Jesus”.

Below are a few comments about each song on this excellent album which features Keaggy’s superb guitar playing and contributions from strong backing players. In addition, the production is top-notch, giving the songs a live feel.

Mercy – The album starts out with a bang with this blues rocker. It features some great guitar, organ, drum and some backing vocals. There is no one like the Lord. Everybody wants and needs mercy all around the world.  A great opener.
Undertow – This rocker features some excellent guitar work and a driving drum beat. Tell me about where you’ve been and what you know, your dreams. Grab ahold and don’t let go you’re not alone here in the struggle. Keep fighting in the undertow. An encouraging song that features some good backing vocals.
Call the Doctor – Keaggy slows it down a bit on this song that features some excellent blues guitar, backing vocals, organ and drums. Somebody call the doctor, the Great Physician, because this old world is a troubled soul. Ring that number straight to the heavenly throne. There is so much pain and hurt.
All At Once – Keaggy keeps it slow on this title track that starts with him singing a McCartney-like vocal over piano. It builds with drum, bass and guitar. How do you deal with the pain? All at once. It breaks the heart, but puts it back together stronger than it was.
I Love the Way You Love Me – This easy-going, joyful catchy love song starts with piano, drums and keys. He can’t wear a frown whenever she’s around. He loves the way she loves him. Features some good backing vocals and guitar work.
La La La Love You – This is another joyful love song. He could never write a song to say everything that she means to him, so he just says “La, La, La Love You”. Includes a nice guitar solo.
My Guitar’s In Love – This is a blues rocker that features some great guitar playing. She (his guitar) won’t do what she’s told. He’s lost control. They had been so close like a hand in glove. It includes tongue-in-cheek lyrics such as “don’t string me along”.
Stay Home Baby – This toe-tapper opens with drums, blues guitar and organ. He’s satisfied with everything he’s got and just wants to stay home with his baby and be by her side. Reminds me of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago”. Features some great blues guitar playing, organ work by the legendary Al Cooper, and backing vocals.
Fearless Love – This rocker opens with piano, guitar, and driving drum beat. I believe there is a way. We have to make a few adjustments to keep the ship on course. We need to show fearless love across the great divide. A love that is compassionate and slow to judge. What unites us is greater than what divides us. Features some great piano and guitar. Also features some good backing vocals.
Not Be Moved – This song features a Dylan-like “Gotta Serve Somebody” sound. We’re living in a world of trouble. It can get the best of us. Bad news and darkness. Trials and temptations that try to bring us down. He knows that there’s an answer that helps him stand his ground. But we stand on solid ground and we shall not be moved. Features an excellent guitar solo and some good organ work.
Ezekiel – This blues rocker features the exemplary vocals of Ashley Cleveland, which blend well with Keaggy’s. They sing about the valley of dry bones from chapter 37 of the book of Ezekiel. This is the Lord, this is the God who saves. The song features some excellent guitar, drums and organ.
I Prayed For You – This slow blues number is about him praying for someone not to give in. He pleaded with the Father until the answer came. Don’t give in to darkness before the battle is won. He prayed for them when they needed strength and were losing the fight. Features some good blues guitar.
Breathe – This is the one instrumental track on the album. Those familiar with Keaggy’s instrumental albums such as his classic The Master and the Musician will enjoy this.
I Must Tell Jesus – Keaggy closes out the album with a version of this 1893 hymn written by Elisha Albright Hoffman. The focus is on the vocal, but it also features some nice guitar playing and backing vocals.

hits-deep-liveHits Deep Live – Toby Mac
****

Eight years after his Grammy winning live album Alive and Transported, Toby Mac returns with another high energy live album Hits Deep Live recorded at the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City, Louisiana. The 16 songs (64 minutes of music), are pulled primarily from his last two albums 2015’s This is Not a Test (9 songs), and 2012’s Eye on It (4 songs). There are also 2 songs from 2010’s Tonight and one song from 2007’s Portable Sounds.

Having seen Toby play many of these songs live, I’m convinced that his music is best experienced live in concert, and the sound quality here is excellent. He is backed by his Diverse City band and joined by several special guests – Colton Dixon, Britt Nicole and Hollyn. For “Love Feels Like”, former D.C. Talk bandmates Michael Tait and Kevin Max are not present, but their voices from the recording of the song are included, giving the feel of a live reunion.

With Hits Deep Live you get excellent songs performed well in a live setting, which adds to the energy. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I always thought that “Feel It” would sound great live and it doesn’t disappoint here.

This will be appreciated by Toby Mac fans and would also serve as a good introduction to the artist for those wanting to check out his music.

trip-leeThe Waiting Room – Trip Lee
****

This 10-song mixtape is the multi-gifted (musician, author, pastor) Trip Lee’s follow-up to 2014’s excellent Rise, and it gives us some new music until his next full-length studio album, which he has said will be coming soon. The mixtape features excellent writing and musicianship, weighty topics, and some familiar friends (GAWVI, Tedashii, Alex Medina, etc.).

As far as the title, Lee has said that he wanted to give us music, a soundtrack that feels like the world we live in. One of the themes that kept coming up for him was how much waiting we have to do in this life. Themes of waiting, longing for God to heal him, what’s it’s like to be a Black man at this time in our country, and longing for Heaven come through in these ten excellent songs.

Below are a few comments about each of the new songs:

Clouds – This song is written by Dirty Rice, GAWVI and Lee and produced by !llmind, Dirty Rice and GAWVI. It has a great beat that grabs you from the very beginning. It takes you through his ups and downs of dreams and aspirations – from being ready to conquer all the monsters in his way and walking in his calling, to saying he needs a new dream because this one has become a nightmare, and then back again.

Too Cold – This song was written by Natalie Lauren, J.Monty, GAWVI and Lee and produced by GAWVI. It was the first single released. Musically, the beat is very satisfying. He’s not going to let the world mould or pressure him. He’s not going to make decisions about who he is, and what he does based on just what people want him to do and just how people respond to it.

Lord Have Mercy – This song is written by Lee and GAWVI and produced by GAWVI. He slows down the pace a bit as he sings that life this side of glory can be a mess. He first focuses on himself and his sin and then moves out to the world and the problems black men like himself are experiencing. In both cases he needs the Lord’s mercy. He’s waiting for Heaven and until then he’ll be be praising God in the waiting room.

IDK – This song (“I Don’t Know”) is produced by Keyzbaby. The beat is more laid-back. The song is a modern day psalm of lament (think of Psalm 13), as Lee painfully and honestly expresses that life is difficult, and his frustration that God is silent to him and others when they reach out to him for his help.

Ready – This song is written by Joseph Prielozny, Dirty Rice, Dimitri McDowell, John McNeill, Joel McNeill and Lee, and is produced by 42 North and Dirty Rice. The song features McDowell. The laid back tune finds Lee wrestling with his father’s death, the dying process, how he misses him and how he wishes that his father could know his two children. Lee is ready for death himself. Death has already been defeated. He’s ready. He’ll be ready when it’s his time.

Still Unashamed – This song is written by Dirty Rice, Alias (USA), Swoope, Tedashii, Alex Medina and Lee. It is produced by Dirty Rice, Alias (USA), Swoope and Alex Medina. It features Tedashii and samples Andre Crouch’s “We Are Not Ashamed”. The song is bold and has an infectious beat. Lee wants us to know that though the world is a mess, and people have said they have changed, he and Clique ten years later are still unashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16). A great song, and my favorite on the album.

Money Up – This song is written by Alex Medina and Lee, and produced by Medina, with additional production by Joseph Prielozny. This song features a good beat and lyrically is a bit different, with Lee role playing from a typical rapper’s perspective. He thinks that once he gets paid, once he makes good money, all of his problems will disappear. But he finds that with more money comes more problems.

Out My Way – This song is written by Alex Medina and Lee and produced by GAWVI. This defiant song is addressed to Satan, a hater, who wants his hope in the Lord destroyed. He owes him no favors, and is going to throw him overboard. But he also admits his own sin, and that not all of his problems are outside of him. The song features an infectious beat and hook.

Longer – This song is written by Natalie Lauren, India Shawn, Dirty Rice, Joseph Prielozny and Lee. It is produced by COBRA and features India Shawn. The laid-back track has similar themes as “Lord Have Mercy” and “IDK”, with him asking again “How long?” as he lets others (label, publisher, etc.) down. The focus here is on the soon to be 29 year-old Lee’s physical ailment (chronic fatigue). The theme of waiting comes up here again as Shawn sings the hook from God’s perspective, asking him to wait a little longer.

Billion Years – The closing song is written by Alias (USA), Natalie Lauren, Tyshane, Taylor Hill and Lee. It is produced by Alias (USA) and Tyshane and features Hill. Over a good beat, Lee longs for Heaven, he’s on his way home and not looking back.

Ain’t no joy that I want that I can’t get
Life as we know it will change
I’m in there with my gang
To be with the Lamb who was slain

Keep Me Singing - Van MorrisonKeep Me Singing – Van Morrison
****

This is the 71-year old Morrison’s 36th studio album and his first for Caroline Records. He produces the album, his first of new material since 2012’s Born to Sing: No Plan B, which I really enjoyed. The album includes 12 new original songs, as well as a cover of the blues song “Share Your Love with Me”. Many of the songs show him in a reflective mood, looking back at his life. The musicianship is excellent and Van’s one of a kind voice sounds great here.  I really enjoyed this album and you can tell that Van loves making music. Below are a few comments on each of the songs on the album, one of my favorites of the year:

Let it Rhyme – The opening song has an easygoing tempo. It features some light horns, drums, piano, organ, backing vocals and excellent harmonica.  He sings that in time, you’ll be mine.

Every Time I See a River – This song has Morrison collaborating with lyricist Don Black. Every time he sees a river, hears a train or a sad song, it reminds him of a past love and he feels like he is back in love again. There are good horns and nice guitar and organ solos here. Van delivers a great vocal.

Keep Me Singing – This song is about his joy in singing. He references a few Sam Cooke songs. He wants to be singing when the day is done. He’s doing just what he knows what to do. The song features a nice harmonica solo.

Out in the Cold Again – This song features piano, strings, light percussion, and a nice guitar solo. He was “Mr. Nice Guy” for too long, playing the losing role. Now he’s standing all alone, out in a cold black night in this “dog eat dog world”. The focus is on Van’s expressive vocal.

Memory Lane – This song features strings, light guitar and percussion as Van is looking back at his past. He’s stuck here back again on memory lane, where it’s getting dark. He’s back with questions and answers standing in the pouring rain.

The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword – This blues songs is driven by guitar (including a nice solo), organ, light drums, some good backing vocals and Van’s strong lead vocal. Van’s vocal reminded me somewhat of Dylan from his Slow Training Coming album. He can’t tell you what you’re supposed to do, but he’s gotta live by his pen because it’s mightier than the sword.

Holy Guardian Angel – This song features strings, light drums, good backing vocals, and nice piano and guitar solos. He was born in the midnight hour.  He quotes the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” – nobody knows the trouble he’s seen. Nobody knows his sorrow, nobody but him. He prays to his holy guardian angel in the witching hour (midnight to 2:00 am), long before the break of day. Van gives a strong vocal in this song that has a gospel sound.

Share Your Love with Me – This is a cover, and a tribute to Bobby Bland, who did the original recording of the song. The song was made popular by Aretha Franklin in 1970. It features a nice organ solo, light horns and drums. It features a great vocal from Van as he stretches his voice here more than on most of the songs on the album. It’s a shame if you don’t wanna share your love with me.

In Tiburon – The fog is lifting and he’s in Tiburon, a town across the bay, just north of San Francisco. Over piano, he sings about memories of places and people he likes there, including a place that Chet Baker used to play his horn. He wants to go back to Frisco. They need each other more than ever to lean on.  Features a nice sax solo.

Look Behind the Hill – This song has a great beat, opening with piano and horns, featuring an upbeat and optimistic vocal from Van. When your troubles are a burden let your mind be still. The sky is clearer just above the ridge. When facing troubles you need to look beyond the hill.

Going Down to Bangor – A blues song that opens with a harmonica solo over guitar and drums. A strong blues vocal by Van, sounding years younger than he is.  There is a guitar solo in the middle, and it ends with another harmonic solo. A highlight.

Too Late – The first single, this upbeat and instantly likeable song features excellent organ, horns, a sax solo by Van, drums, backing vocals behind a strong lead vocal from Van, which turns gruff on the final chorus. As he lets go of old hurts, he sings that it’s too late for a sorrow, and tomorrow just can’t wait.

Caledonia Swing – This upbeat instrumental features Morrison on sax and some great horns, piano and organ over a good drum beat. Caledonia was the name that the Romans gave to the area now known as Scotland/Northern England. Van formed the Caledonia Soul Orchestra in 1973. It would be fun to see Van and his band play this song in a live setting.
acoustic-christmasAcoustic Christmas –Neil Diamond
****

I’ve loved Neil Diamond’s Christmas music since his The Christmas Album in 1992. But I have to admit that when I saw the title of this album I wasn’t excited. I generally don’t like stripped down releases. However, I’m happy to admit that I really loved this mostly folk-styled new release!

First of all, the 75 year-old Diamond’s voice sounds great on this Don Was and Jacknife Lee produced record. The pair produced Diamond’s 2014 album Melody Road. It was during those sessions that the idea for this project took shape. Diamond recorded the record with a handful of musicians sitting around a circle of microphones and Christmas lights.

The album features traditional well-known Christmas songs, two new songs and some lesser known songs. For the most part, the songs features piano, acoustic guitar and no backing vocals. The album starts out with “O Holy Night” (my favorite Christmas song), “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and the new Diamond penned “Christmas Prayers”. The latter is a bittersweet song about remembering those close to him who are no longer here to celebrate Christmas with him.

The album continues with “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, “Mary’s Boy Child” and “Silent Night”, before going into a higher gear with my two favorite songs on the album “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and “Children Go Where I Tell Thee”, which both feature backing vocals from The Blind Boys of Alabama.

The upbeat Irish-inflected “Christmas in Killarney”, best known for Bing Crosby’s version, follows. The album closes with a the joyful three-song “Christmas Medley”, including the upbeat “Almost Day” (written by Pete Seeger and others), the Diamond-penned “Make a Happy Song” and concluding with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.

If I had one critique it would be that the standard ten-song edition goes too quickly. Perhaps a few more songs could have been included. Otherwise, I loved this new Neil Diamond Christmas album.

chapter-and-verseChapter and Verse – Bruce Springsteen
***

This album is the musical companion to Springsteen’s massive new autobiography Born to Run, which I’m currently reading. Springsteen personally chose the 18 songs to reflect the themes and sections of the book; songs recorded over a 46-year period from 1966 to 2012, and are included here in chronological order. Of most interest to Springsteen fans will be the first five songs included, which have not previously been available and “Growin’ Up” from 1972, previously available only on the 1998 Tracks box set. The five previously unreleased songs are:

Baby I – This rather crude recording was made with his high school band the Castiles in 1966. Written by Bruce and Castiles’ guitarist George Theiss, this rocker features some good guitars and backing vocals.
You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover – This song was recorded by the Castiles in 1967, just four months after “Baby I”. It is a cover of a 1962 Willie Dixon song that was made popular by Bo Diddley. Again, this is a rather crude recording. It features some good organ work.
He’s Guilty (The Judge Song) – This song was recorded by his pre-E Street Band group Steel Mill in 1970. It features some excellent guitar that kicks off the song, as well as a solo later in the song, as well as the late Danny Frederici’s organ. We can also begin to more clearly hear Springsteen’s lead vocal here, as well as some good backing vocals.
Ballad of Jesse James – This song was recorded by the short-lived Bruce Springsteen Band in 1972. It features some excellent guitar work and features some good backing vocals. Springsteen was 22 at the time of the recording. He sings “Don’t you want to be an outlaw”? It was recorded 40 years before Springsteen wrote “Outlaw Pete”. The band featured future E Street players Steve Van Zandt, Garry Tallent, Vini Lopez and David Sancious.
Henry Boy – Musically, this is an early version of Springsteen’s classic “Rosalita”, recorded in 1972, though the song has its own story to tell. This solo demo as well as “Growing Up”, was recorded shortly before he began recording his debut album Greetings from Ashbury Park, N.J.  It features Springsteen solo on vocals and acoustic guitar.

The remainder of the album features some of Springsteen’s most popular songs such as “Born to Run”, and focuses largely on his more personal work. Many Springsteen fans will already have most or all of these songs already. While any Springsteen music is worthy of our library, the real attraction of this new collection will be the five previously unreleased songs as well as the connection to the new autobiography.
Never Lose Sight - Chris TomlinNever Lose Sight – Chris Tomlin (Deluxe Edition)
****

Chris Tomlin is one of my favorite artists. We get the benefit of his music on the annual Passion releases as well as his solo albums. His worship songs are sung by an estimated 30 million people in churches around the world each week, leading some to refer to him as America’s worship Leader. This highly anticipated release is his eleventh studio album and first album of all new non-Christmas songs since 2014’s excellent Love Ran Red.  Tomlin has stated that joy is at the heart of the album because of what Jesus has done for us.

Every well-crafted and performed song on this album is excellent, resulting in what most artists would be proud to have as a “Greatest Hits” collection. It will most likely (short of an unexpected release), be my favorite album of the year.

Below are a few comments on each of the songs on the Deluxe Edition of the album:

Good Good Father – This song was written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown, and has been recorded by a number of artists, including Housefires. It is probably the most popular song that Tomlin has ever recorded, winning the 2016 Dove Award for song of the year. The single was released a year ago and is still near the top of the Christian charts. The song was also the inspiration for the children’s picture book of the same name co-written with Pat Barrett. 
Jesus
– Written with Ed Cash, this was the second single released from the album. This is a straight forward worship song about our Savior:
Who walks on the waters
Who speaks to the sea
Who stands in the fire beside me
He roars like a lion
He bled as the lamb
He carries my healing in his hands
Jesus

Impossible Things – Danny Gokey, a third place finalist on the eighth season of American Idol, joins Tomlin on this song. He recently won the Dove Award for Christmas album of the year for his album Christmas is Here. The songs starts an infectious beat with Tomlin singing over acoustic guitar and drum. Gokey joins him on verse 2 which is from Psalm 23. Our God is with us, we will fear no evil because He does impossible things. This joyful song will be wonderful to sing in a worship service.
Home – Written with Ed Cash and Scott Cash, this song is about longing for Heaven, our ultimate home and where we belong. This is an upbeat, joyful song that opens with hand claps and is instantly likeable. It is based on Revelation 21 and will sound great in concert or a worship service.  
God Of Calvary
– Written by Tomlin, Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman, this is Tomlin’s favorite song on the album. The song takes us from the cross to the resurrection. It begins with what takes place on the cross at Calvary and then moves into a triumphant chorus. We are set free by His wounds and redeemed by His blood. Christ crossed the great divide for us. Redman provided the bridge, from which Tomlin takes the title of the album. He will never lose sight of the cross and Christ. The song then moves to Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
He Lives – This power ballad starts slowly with piano and synth and gradually builds. Christ rose from the grave to life. He lives reigning in power. He lives name above all names. He lives in me. 
Glory Be
– This is an upbeat praise song version of the Gloria Patri. It’s a song from his lips from the time he rises about the Trinity.
Glory be to God, the Father
Glory be to God the Son
Glory be to God the Spirit
All Glory to the One  
Come Thou Fount (I Will Sing) – Like he did with “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” Tomlin merges a classic hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, written by Robert Robinson in 1758, with some new lyrics. He starts with the hymn over acoustic guitar. The new section is about how God’s mercy yet pursues us, His mercy never fails. Till the day we die we will sing of Him. Features some good backing vocals.    
Yes And Amen
– This song is also featured on Housefires III, and was written by Nate Moore, Chris McClarney and Tony Brown, the latter of which co-wrote “Good Good Father” with Pat Barrett.  He is faithful and all of His promises are yes and amen. Features some good backing vocals. This is one of many songs that will sound good in corporate worship.
All Yours
– This is a worship song about the God of creation. God reigns over all of creation, it’s all His, the earth, sky, the day, the night and every breath we take.  All creation praises him – the mountains, oceans, everything is His. Features a good drum beat as the song builds to a worshipful chorus.  
First Love
– This is a duet with Kim Walker-Smith of Jesus Culture.  It starts with piano and acoustic guitar and slowly builds. Jesus is still our first love and all we are is His. He is our anchor and guiding light and greatest joy. Musically, this is a bit of a departure for Tomlin.

Deluxe Edition Only:
The God I Know – This praise song opens with guitar and drums and builds with a good beat. He sings of God’s goodness and mercy. God will make a way, whatever comes, whatever we face. He is strong to save. He is the Lord and conquered the grave. He works all things for our good (Romans 8:28).      
God And God Alone
– This song was also included in the Passion album Salvation’s Tide is Rising released earlier this year. It is written by Jason Ingram, Jonas Myrin and Tomlin. It opens with an acoustic guitar. It is sung to the Lord that He is forever God and God alone, and forever seated on His throne. Nothing can separate us from the amazing love of the God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39). Every knee will eventually bow down to the Lord.
Kyrie Eleison
– This wonderful song features the vocals of Matt Maher, Matt Redman and Jason Ingram. Their voices merge well on this song that begins with piano and synths. Lord have mercy and Christ have mercy, hear our cry. Let God’s kindness lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Who is this God who pardons all our sins, so ready to forgive? He delights to show His mercy.

these-christmas-lightsThese Christmas Lights – Matt Redman
****

This is singer, songwriter and worship leader Matt Redman’s first Christmas album.  He is perhaps best known for his song “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”. To help with the songwriting for the record, Redman went on a retreat to Israel. He walked through the old roads that Jesus would have walked, and went to some of the key places where key events of the gospel happened when Jesus walked this Earth. During this time he thought a lot about Jesus coming as a little newborn baby. His intent is not just to tell the story of Christ’s birth, but to make sure we put ourselves in the story as well.

As always, Redman provides us with biblically based worship music that we can enjoy and also sing in corporate worship this Christmas season.  Below are a few comments on each of the songs:

These Christmas Lights – In the title song, he sings of the lights shining bright as the cry of the angels sing for the glory of the King (Luke 2). We need to sing that sacred song again. This is really a prayer that our eyes be opened and our hearts believe that the wonder of that Christmas night be born in us, and that our Christmas lights will shine for Him alone.   
His Name Shall Be – Written with Jonas Myrin. His name shall be Jesus, it’s the name that came to save us. The joyful chorus for this song comes from the angel’s song in Isaiah 9:6 that we can sing now:
His name shall be called Wonderful,
Counselor
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace for all eternity oh,
His name shall be
O Little Town (The Glory Of Christmas) – This is a new version of the traditional Christmas hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. It opens with Redman singing with piano, and it gently builds with the help of a backing choir. The glory of Christmas is the glory of Christ and the story of his love.
Angels (Singing Gloria) – This song features vocals from Redman’s long-time friend and occasional collaborator Chris Tomlin. It features keyboard, acoustic guitar, horns and choir. It is based on Luke 2:14 – Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Help From Heaven – This song features strong vocals from British singer and songwriter Natasha Bedingfield who shares lead vocals with Redman. It begins with piano and builds gently with strings, and then powerfully with the help of a choir. Every heart needs a rescue, every soul needs a breakthrough. We all need help from Heaven. The song is a bit of a departure for Redman.
Hearts Waiting (Joy To The World) – This song opens with a hand-clap and a sample of the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World”. The chorus joyfully proclaims joy to the World, the Lord has come to us. It closes with a sample from Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”, “And He shall reign for ever and ever”.
Glory To You In The Highest (O Come Let Us Adore) – This song features the vocals of urban contemporary gospel singer Tasha Cobbs. It is a song of adoration to Christ, based on Luke 2:14. Christ came to bridge the great divide. To us Christ has been born and to us He has been given. He is the hope of all the earth and the highest name in Heaven. The song builds including a choir and includes a sample of the hymn “O Come All Ye Faithful”.
How Far – This beautiful song has Redman singing with just piano and strings. There is a theme of “how far”? He asks how far is it to Bethlehem where hope was born and sin conquered, and the great divide bridged with perfect grace and sacrifice. How far love has come to bring us home. How far Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem and how far Christ went for Calvary. No greater grace was ever known. No great love was ever seen.  From Bethlehem to Calvary, our hearts will always follow Him. This simple, but powerful song is my favorite on the album.
Glory Hallelujah – This song begins with a heavy beat, piano, guitar and adds good backing vocals. It is simple lyrically, has a live sound, and would be excellent for corporate worship as we raise our voices high to join the angel’s choir singing the praises of our God.
The Name Of Emmanuel – This song looks at God coming as a man. It opens with keyboards as he asks can it be that the voice that said “Let there be light” is now in the newborn cry of the Christ child. He is God with us (Emmanuel). The holy One is one of us.  Can it be that the almighty God who never rests is lying here in perfect peace? It’s the amazing miracle of Christ’s incarnation, Son of Man and Son of God. The song builds powerfully and features good backing vocals that can lead to nothing other than praise.
Holy Night – This song is about the sacred holy night in the fields of Bethlehem that includes a heavenly symphony from the angels. God has come. God’s glory is shining bright on this holy night. It builds with keys, drums and choir. Let Your Glory shine on us just like on that holy night.

American Prodigal CrowderAmerican Prodigal (Deluxe Edition) – Crowder
****

After a successful sixteen-year run leading the David Crowder Band that ended in 2012, David Crowder, now known simply as Crowder, released Neon Steeple in 2014, one of my favorite albums of that year. He returns now with American Prodigal, and what he calls “swamp pop”. The album features recurring themes of sin and forgiveness, chains, freedom, being a prodigal and Heaven.  Below are a few thoughts about each of the songs on the Deluxe edition of the album:

American Intro – This brief minute and a half opener features Crowder with a simple piano backing. He wants Heaven to be opened and all of the angels of Heaven to sing along Come on Hallelujah!

Keep Me – This is a prayer to the Lord to keep him walking as the devil keeps calling him back. But the Lord keeps calling him home. It features a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, heavy beat, banjo, fiddle, good backing vocals and even some rapping from Crowder.  The chorus reminded me a bit of Toby Mac’s “Move (Keep Walkin’).

Run Devil Run – The first single, this is a rousing toe-tapping rocker. He sings that he has something that’s going to make the devil run. He has three (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and the devil has none. We have revival. A song that will really be fun in concert.

My Victory – Was included on the Passion album Salvation’s Tide is Rising. This is a great song that will be sung in churches around the world. It features more of a Passion band sound than Crowder’s usual “folktronica” sound. It starts slow and then builds to a powerful chorus and the line “A cross meant to kill is my victory”. Amen! One of my favorite songs of the year.

Prove It – This song features Christian rapper KB. It has a foot-stomping, driving beat. It’s about freedom. He sings that if you’re free, prove it. If not, loose the chains on your soul.    

All Your Burdens – This song opens with banjo and then goes into a driving rocker with excellent guitar and drums. He sings that all his burdens weigh him down, but the chains will be broken and we shall overcome and have victory.

Back to the Garden – This song is from the perspective of Adam. He sings that he was born to be royal and made for glory, but was torn from the garden when the devil lied to him.  It starts slow and builds powerfully. He longs to go back to the garden when he walked in the presence of God. The song features a blazing guitar solo.

Forgiven – A powerful worship song that begins with guitar and piano, then builds with banjo and drums. He sings that he was the one who held the nail, hid in the garden and denied Jesus with his lips. Despite this, we can receive God’s unconditional love and find freedom by falling to our knees and receive forgiveness from our sins.

Promised Land (Glory, Hallelujah) – This is a triumphant worship song featuring Crowder’s swamp sound. Who has the power (to save, heal, raise the dead, make me whole, etc.)? It’s his sweet Lord. He’s longing for the Promised Land. It features a rap from Christian rapper Tedashii, who will be touring with Crowder.

All My Hope – This song has the feel of an old-time gospel song. It opens with piano, and builds slowly with light drums and finishes with a great backing choir. He’s been held by the Savior. All his hope is in Jesus. All of his sins are forgiven. He’s been washed by the blood. The chains are removed, he’s freed and forgiven.  One of my favorites on the album.

Shouting Grounds – This song features the swamp pop sound. He should be dead but he’s alive. He’s a prodigal, who was lost but now is found. He wants to be taken to shouting grounds, where it’s going to get loud. No grave is going to hold him down. This is a triumphant, victory song.  Features some Native American chanting toward the end of the song.

Shepherd – The worship song is an adaptation of the 23rd Psalm. It features banjo, light drums and backing vocals. When his heart is prone to wandering, Jesus shepherds him.

All We Sinners – Was also included on the Passion album Salvation’s Tide is Rising. The song begins and ends with acoustic guitar. It’s a triumphant song that starts slow and then builds. The keys to the grave have been stolen and the gates of heaven are open.

American Outro – Begins with him singing Come on Hallelujah from “American Intro”. He’s out of the ruins and back in communion with God. Starts with piano and builds. Includes some distorted vocals.

Praise the Lord – This song, written by Sean McConnell, features an acoustic guitar and builds gently. He sings that as he gets to know the Lord more, he realizes that He’s not who he thought He was. Praise the Lord!

Great Rejoicing – This celebratory worship song infectiously repeats the lines “There’s gonna be, a great rejoicing”, and “There’s gonna be a great joy river”, as the troubles and tears of this world fade away.  It features some excellent lead and backing vocals. It’s a wonderful song about that grand reunion.

American I/O – On this closer he repeats from American Intro and Outro the line Come on Hallelujah. He is out of the ruins and back to communion with God.

i-still-doI Still Do – Eric Clapton
****

I Still Do is the 71 year-old Eric Clapton’s 23rd (and perhaps last) solo studio album. Clapton has said that he “kind of might be saying goodbye” here. Much of the excitement about this release was around Clapton reuniting with veteran producer Glyn Johns, who produced Clapton’s classic 1977 album Slowhand and 1978’s Backless. The album features mostly cover songs with some new material written by Clapton. The cover is a painting of Clapton by Sir Peter Blake, who previously provided artwork for Clapton’s 1991 live album 24 Nights, and is best known for co-creating the famous cover design for the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. There has also been a lot of attention around a mysterious guest on “I Will Be There”. More about that later.
The band includes Clapton, Henry Spinetti, who has played with George Harrison and Paul McCartney among others, on drums and percussion, Dave Bronze on bass, Andy Fairweather Low on guitar, Paul Carrack on Hammond Organ, Chris Stainton on keyboards, Simon Climie on keyboards and guitar, Dirk Powell on accordion, Walt Richmond on keyboards and Angelo Mysterioso on acoustic guitar and vocals on “I Will Be There”.
Here are a few comments about each song on this fine album:
Alabama Woman Blues – an excellent slow blues version of Leroy Carr’s 1930 recording, featuring guitar, piano, organ and accordion.
Can’t Let You Do It – this is a J.J. Cale song that Cale’s wife Christine provided to Clapton on a CD of his unreleased songs after Cale’s funeral. It has a “Lay Down Sally” guitar sound. Features some good backing vocals, accordion and organ.
I Will Be There – this song features Angelo Mysterioso on acoustic guitar and vocals. Much has been made of this as the name is very close to L’Angelo Misterioso, a pseudonym used by George Harrison when he recorded anonymously, including with Clapton when he was in Cream on the song “Badge”. This led to speculation that the song would include vocals from Harrison, which Clapton has denied. However, could the vocals and guitar be from Harrison’s son Dhani? The lyrics could serve as a tribute to Clapton’s relationship with George.
Spiral – an original slow blues song, it features the line “You don’t know how much this means to have this music in me”.
Catch The Blues – an original song that has a light Latin feel with nice guitars and female vocals. He sings that he has been living in a world of pain. One of my least favorite track on the album however.
Cypress Grove – a cover of Delta Blues artist Skip James, who died in 1969. This slow blues song features some excellent accordion work by Powell.
Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day – This tender lullaby shows off Clapton’s tender voice and features acoustic guitar. The song was written by Mabel Wayne, Al Hoffman and Maurice Sigler and first recorded by Elsie Carlisle in 1934.
Stones In My Passway – a Delta Blues song that Robert Johnson recorded in 1937. Features some excellent guitar as well as Powell’s accordion.
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine – an excellent cover of Dylan’s song from his 1967 album John Wesley Harding album, again features Powell’s accordion, some tasty guitar and good backing vocals.
I’ll Be Alright – this is a version of the traditional hymn “We Shall Overcome”. Features excellent backing vocals and guitar.
Somebody’s Knockin’ – this is another slow blues J.J. Cale song that Cale’s wife provided to Clapton on that CD of his unreleased songs after Cale’s funeral. Clapton has used this song to open his concerts in recent years. Features some excellent guitar and piano and organ.
I’ll Be Seeing You – This beautiful rendition of a post-war standard popularized by Billie Holiday, takes on special meaning if this is indeed the last song on his last studio album. Features soft percussion, piano and acoustic guitar and Clapton’s tender vocal.

Spirit - Amos Lee

Spirit – Amos Lee
****

On his sixth studio album, and first since 2013’s excellent Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song, Amos Lee serves as producer for the first time and transforms his sound from the previous album’s folk/country sound to a full-band gospel-soul-R&B sound. Lee builds on his concert experiences to make his new sound more dynamic, including an effective use of horns, organ, and background vocals. In addition to members of his road band, he brought in drummer Mark Colenburg and bassist Adam Blackstone to punch up his rhythm section. Lee’s voice has also never sounded better on this album recorded at a converted Nashville church.  I liked this album and the energy in the music a lot, though lyrically many of the songs are about relationships that have gone bad.

This is one the top releases of 2016 thus far. Here are a few comments about each of the songs on the album:

New Love – Opens with piano and then shows off the new full-band sound, particularly the horns with Jeff Coffin on saxophone and Rashawn Ross on trumpet. The song is about the joy of new love, while at the same time showing off the band’s exciting new sound.
Running Out of Time – Since hearing of his “new found faith” on “Windows Rolled Down” on Mission Bell, I’ve been looking for signs of faith and spirituality from Lee.  You find it here on this gospel song, featuring hand claps and a repeated refrain of “Lord have mercy” as he is running out of time. This song is about the brevity of life. Lee called it “A reminder and a recognizing of the impermanence we share here on earth”. The upbeat song includes a reference to a train, a common theme in Lee’s music. It also features some excellent horns and organ. 
Spirit
– Lee has stated that he wrote this song after being moved by a New Orleans street singer he encountered who had a deep connection with his music. He refers to the “pain that she gave to me”, one of several references to a painful breakup that Lee writes about on the album. The song features piano, organ and background vocals. Lee sings that he just wants to feel the spirit wash over him.   
Lost Child
– One reviewer compares this song to Stevie Wonder from his Innervisions period. I don’t disagree. Through the pain he can see the clouds drifting away for a celebration day. The music is upbeat and catchy, featuring a great vocal, horns, drums and background vocals. 
Highways and Clouds
– Lee has stated that for this song he didn’t want to just do the standard waltz feel that’s led by the acoustic guitar, but wanted to add dimensions to the arrangements and try to transform them, rhythmically and instrumentally, so that the album was cohesive.  This song opens with acapella vocals, followed quickly by Lee’s and Luther Dickinson’s guitars, and then drums, keyboards and horns. This is another story song. The singer is from the Badlands. Highways and clouds meet in the middle. Features some effective backing vocals.
Lightly – This is another of Lee’s “story songs”. He is from “all over”, was born in the wind, and has learned to travel lightly, living alone, and if he moves fast enough the darkness can’t catch up to him. Features some good background vocals and guitar.    That comes through beautifully on a striking ballad called Lightly, which Lee builds around a surprisingly elegant banjo riffThat comes through beautifully on a striking ballad called Lightly, which Lee builds around a surprisingly elegant banjo riffThat comes through beautifully on a striking ballad called Lightly, which Lee builds around a surprisingly elegant banjo riff
One Lonely Light – This beautiful song starts as an acoustic number and gently builds. The singer states that there are times when he doesn’t feel like he is “a damn bit of good”. He sings of pain on this gospel flavored song, which features good backing vocals. He sings of storms in the night with waves raging and crashing and winds howling. What is the lonely light he sings of? Is it a woman? Is it God? Who is he singing to as he sings “Oh I’ll sing for you, what more can I do, Oh I’ll sing for you”.   
Wait Up For Me
– This songs features an acoustic guitar, piano, accordion, mandolin and gentle backing vocals. The singer encourages a woman to wait up for him so she doesn’t have to be alone. He is on the road, lost in the world, ragged and blue. But he’s coming home. Musically, this song would fit on Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song.  
Til You Come Back Through
– Lee sings in falsetto here as he delivers an outstanding vocal performance.  He sings to a woman he has been waiting his whole life for, but she is leaving forever. He has no choice but to say good-bye until she comes back through. Features acoustic guitar and keyboards, but the focus is on Lee’s emotional vocal.     
Hurt Me
– This song features punchy strings. It’s another song about a relationship that has gone bad. He’s feeling blown away and is at the breaking point. He doesn’t know how he will make it through the day. He doesn’t want mercy tonight and asks if she is strong enough to watch him die. He sings that he’s begging her to free the pain that locks me up inside.  
Vaporize
– The first single from the album, this is another song about a painful relationship that has gone bad. Programmed beats and piano open this song. In an emotional vocal, he sings that he’s going to vaporize everything that’s inside and get “high, high, high….”    
Walls
– Lee sings this song about a failed relationship in falsetto. It has a soft beat punctuated by keys. He sings that she’s writing on his walls that she’s not in love with him anymore and has found someone new. Features some good backing vocals.   
With You
– This song opens with acoustic guitar and features some amazing strings and vocal from Lee. He is singing to a woman that he doesn’t want to lose. He wants to see another summer and sunsets with her.  He’s going to keep her with him wherever she goes.

Pure McCartney by Paul McCartney
****

I grew up as a huge Beatles fan and have followed the band members solo careers as well, by far the most commercially successful and prolific being Paul McCartney.  That’s not to say that there haven’t been some pretty uneven albums along the way (Pure McCartneythink of 1971’s Wild Life by Wings, for example).  Recently I saw McCartney on tour for the twelfth time. One of the things I always look forward to is what songs he will pull from his impressive Beatles, Wings and solo career to play on the tour. Several songs from his compilation show up on his new “One on One” tour set list. This compilation, his fourth, after 1978’s Wings Greatest, 1987’s All the Best and 2001 Wingspan, includes songs from his 1970 debut McCartney to his 2014 single “Hope for the Future” and his 2015 remix of “Say Say Say”, a hit with Michael Jackson.

The collection comes in multiple formats, with the deluxe edition including 67 (25 of which have been newly mastered), solo, Wings and Fireman songs, more than 40 of which were Top 40 hits. McCartney had more than 300 songs to choose from – from 17 solo, 7 Wings and 2 Fireman studio albums.   McCartney and his team came up with the idea of putting together the collection “with nothing else in mind than having something fun to listen to”.

There will always be songs left off that you would like to see on an artist’s compilation project. I was surprised that no tracks from his fine 1989 Flowers in the Dirt album or 2001’s Driving Rain were included, for example.  On the other hand, 8 songs were included from his 1997 Flaming Pie album and 5 from his latest, 2013’s New, were included. I would also have liked to see some more rarities, such as “Girl’s School” and “Spies Like Us”.  One rarity does show up, the children’s song “We All Stand Together”, as well as several “deep cuts” from McCartney solo, Wings and Fireman albums, a particular favorite of mine is “Warm and Beautiful” from the mostly forgettable but best-selling 1976 Wings at the Speed of Sound, where McCartney let all band members take a turn at lead vocals.

Despite the above minor concerns, I enjoyed listening to these songs, all but “We All Stand Together” I once had, but many of which I didn’t have in a CD or digital format. Sit back and enjoy these songs covering McCartney’s amazing now 46-year post-Beatles career.

Note: Pure McCartney gave me the idea to make my own McCartney mixtape, using my favorite Beatles songs he sang lead on as well as my favorites from his solo career. Although I still am adding to the mixtape/playlist, it currently has 233 songs on it.

A good companion to this compilation for McCartney fans would be Philip Norman’s new biography Paul McCartney: The Life.
Stranger to Stranger by Paul SimonStranger to Stranger by Paul Simon
****

Never one to rest on his impressive laurels, 74 year-old Paul Simon returns with Stranger to Stranger, his thirteenth solo album, five years in the making, and his first studio album since 2011’s excellent So Beautiful or So What. The album is produced by Andy Smith and 81 year-old Roy Halee, a longtime collaborator whose relationship with Simon goes back to the original Simon and Garfunkel days in 1964.

This risk-taking album takes many listens to fully appreciate. It includes two instrumentals and is in many ways experimental, pushing boundaries and featuring a wide variety of instruments, electronic beats, loops, samples, a gospel music quartet, horns and synthesizers.  The album is heavy in percussion, with four of the album’s first six songs not even using a guitar. Simon was influenced by the works of Harry Partch, an American composer, music theorist, and creator of musical instruments. Partch experimented with microtonal tunings. In fact, Simon has said that there is not a lyrical theme to the album, but rather a sound theme, though like his last album, God and the afterlife are recurring themes here.

Here are a few brief comments on each of the songs on the standard edition of the album:

The Werewolf The opening song is about a werewolf, an angel of death. She is looking for other victims to kill. It’s the end of the rainbow, midnight, and she really has the appetite. It is the first of three songs that Simon collaborates with the Italian electronic dance music artist Clap! Clap! A good beat plays behind Simon’s vocal.

Wristband This also features Clap! Clap! It’s one of my favorite songs on the album, about a musician who goes out for a smoke, and then is unable to get back into the venue he is playing at because he doesn’t have the required wristband.  The song then pivots about the homeless and lowly who can never get through the door. Again, an infectious beat behind Simon’s vocal along with some good horns.

The Clock A short instrumental, the first of two instrumentals on the album that were originally written for John Patrick Shanley’s play Prodigal Son. Simon said that he decided to insert them in the album to give a little space after songs.

Street Angel The third song that features Clap! Clap! The central character from this song also appears in “In a Parade”, the first time a Simon character appears on two songs of the same album.  Simon samples 1939 gospel vocals from The Golden Gate Quartet, a favorite of his.  An interesting verse that doesn’t seem to go along with the rest of the song is:

If God goes fishing
And we are the fishes
He baits his lines
With prayers and wishes
They sparkle in the shallows
They catch the falling light
We hide our hearts like holy hostages
We’re hungry for the love, and so we bite

 Stranger to Stranger Simon slows it down on what could be a song to musician wife Edie Brickell. He asks that if they met for the first time could they imagine falling in love again. He is jittery, it’s his way of dealing with his joy. Features some effective horns.

In a Parade The singer may be in an ER, which tonight feels like every wounded soul, or in a parade and can’t talk now. Street Angel reappears, as does the line from the song “Street Angel”, “I write my verse for the universe”.  Features an infectious percussion beat.

Proof of Love This song was inspired by Simon’s visit to a spiritual healer in Brazil when he was suffering from reoccurring violent nightmares. He asks the Lord for proof of love, and hears a voice telling him not to be afraid that his days won’t end with night.

In the Garden of Edie This song is about Simon’s wife Edie, and is the second instrumental included that was originally written for Prodigal Son.

The Riverbank The mostly upbeat sound contrasts with the subject matter here. The song was inspired by a teacher that Simon knew who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, 2012 and also depicts the funeral of a veteran who committed suicide.

Cool Papa Bell A favorite, this song is partially about a center fielder in the Negro league baseball from 1922 to 1950. He is considered to have been one of the fastest players ever to play the game. Simon sings that most will get to Heaven someday, but not the person he is singing to. They will have to stay and explain the suffering and pain they caused. The song, which has a Graceland vibe to it, includes some adult language.

Insomniac’s Lullaby This acoustic song features the use of instruments created by Harry Partch. It has a melancholy feel to it as he sings for the Lord not to keep him up all night with questions he can’t understand, such as how the builder of bridges will deliver us all to the faraway shore.

Where The Light Shines ThroughWhere the Light Shines Through (Deluxe Edition) – Switchfoot
****

Switchfoot is one of my favorite bands, second only to U2. This is their first full-length album since their chart-topping 2014 album Fading West. An EP of songs from the Fading West sessions The Edge of the Earth, was also released in 2014.  Lead singer/songwriter Jon Foreman also released four solo Wonderlands EPs in 2015.

This is the band’s 10th album in their 20-year career. It is also the first time in ten years that the band has worked with producer John Fields, who worked with them on their 2003 breakthrough album The Beautiful Letdown, as well as 2005’s Nothing is Sound and 2006’s Oh! Gravity. Bassist Tim Foreman has said that the band went through a dark season and the record become a source of light in the middle of that dark season. He stated that the album rose organically out of the ashes of adversity.

This is an excellent new release from the band that always sounds fresh. Jon Foreman’s vocals are excellent and Chad Butler’s drums really stand out. I would have liked a few more rockers, but still love the album.

Below are a few comments on each of the songs on the deluxe edition, which debuted on iTunes Top Albums chart at #2:

Holy Water – a strong opener with grungy drums and guitars that reminded me of the band’s raw Oh! Gravity sound. Jon sings that he has fought the fire with fire and he wants to taste the Lord’s love again.

Float – features an infectious funky beat. I liked this song instantly. Jon sings “Turn it up so I can feel it. Loud enough so I can get near it.” He sings don’t let them tell you what to feel like, and that money’s going to leave you broken-hearted. It can’t finish what we started.  A favorite.

Where the Light Shines Through – opens with guitar, then quickly goes into drums and the full band. Jon sings encouragingly that we can’t run away from ourselves. He sings that our scars shine like dark stars and that our wounds are where the light shines through, it’s where the light finds us.  The band describes it as “a gospel song – an open palms altar call – bring your scars and abuse and bruises with you”.

I Won’t Let You Go – opens with acoustic guitar. Jon offers a vulnerable Bono-like vocal as the song builds. This song works on different levels, including being a song in which the Lord is speaking to us about trusting Him.

If you could only let go your doubts
If you could just believe in me now
I swear, that I won’t let you go

Another line that was powerful was “pain gives birth to the promise ahead”.

If The House Burns Down Tonight – begins with Jon singing over an acoustic guitar. He sings that the truth is what remains and what you save from the fire. The songs turns into a driving rocker, featuring excellent drums. It could be a song about his wife. He wants passion, the fire. If he loses everything (the house burns down tonight), he still has everything he needs with her by his side. The rest can burn.  A powerful line is “ashes from the flames, the truth is what remains”.

The Day That I Found God – a lighter song musically, this one starts slow and builds. A key line is “I found out the day I lost myself was the day that I found God”.  Another highlight.

I found strength but it wasn’t what I thought
I found peace in the places I forgot
I found riches ain’t the things that I had bought
I found out
The day I lost myself was the day that I found God

Shake This Feeling – opens with guitars. A mid-tempo rocker about a relationship that is falling apart. You can feel the pain. Words have been said that can’t be taken back. They are going to have to fight to fall back in love again.

Bull in a China Shop – a rocker that starts with a screeching guitar and great drums with good backing vocals. The chorus us “I wanna rock this block like a bull in a china shop”. Jon asks what we are waiting for as the future is here. It’s a bold songs, he sings that fear is all he’s got left to fear.

Live it Well – in this encouraging and uplifting song Jon sings that life is short, he wants to live it well. He wants to burn brighter than the dawn. He wants to take full advantage of what he has been given, and we should as well.

Looking for America – a powerful song featuring Lecrae, this song is about America. The song acknowledges that the Lord knows we need plenty of change in our country. Features a great beat molding Lecrae’s and Switchfoot’s sounds with challenging, bold lyrics. It reminds me thematically of Lecrae’s “Welcome to America” from his Anomaly album.

America, who are you?
Is God still on your side?

Healer of Souls – an out and out rocker with great guitars and drums. Jon acknowledges that we have problems. We are a nation torn by the clashes. We need to turn to the Lord, the healer of souls. This song will sound great in concert.

I want more than just a crutch to lean on
Yeah I’m looking for that freedom
So let’s go there
To the healer of souls

Hope is the Anthem – a slower song featuring synth, keyboards and light drums.  Jon sings that sometimes what we need is what we fight. He sings that God’s love is what he was running from. The Lord’s hope is the anthem of his soul.

Light and Heavy – was first played live by Jon in 2009, when he dedicated it to a friend and fellow musician who had recently died of cancer. Starts with Jon singing with bass and drum and then builds. Jon sings that he is travelling light with a heavy heart. A personal song, perhaps to a friend, as he sings “I hope you find what you were looking for”.

Begin Forever – A light rocker. It appears to be about a relationship that has gone wrong. Jon sings that it’s never too late to try. It’s never too late to begin forever.

When was the Last Time – a light rocker with a good beat driven by the drums. A key line is “When was the last time you tried something for the first time?” Life is difficult but he would rather be happy than typical. Take chances. Step out. A good challenge to end the album with.

H A R D L O V EH A R D L O V E – NEEDTOBREATHE
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NEEDTOBREATHE returns with their sixth studio album, following 2014’s excellent Rivers in the Wasteland, which was followed by their hit single “Brother” with Gavin DeGraw.  Although the band was in a dark place when that album was recorded, lead singer Bear Rinehart has stated that the new album is mostly a story of redemption.  Keyboardist Josh Lovelace has spoken about this album being more accessible lyrically and the band taking some chances sonically, using a lot of new sounds and synth throughout.  The album was co-produced by the band and recorded in Charleston, South Carolina.

Below are a few comments about each song on the new album that debuted at #1 on iTunes Top Albums chart:

Mountain, Pt 1 – the album starts with this less than one minute song, with a new sound for the band featuring electronically distorted lyrics. This short song then quickly transitions into the title track.

Hard Love – this driving song features a strong vocal from Bear. It opens with a great line “Trading punches with the heart of darkness”, but we find that his strength is in the love he has found. It features a memorable and encouraging chorus that will sound great in concert:

Hold on tight a little longer
What don’t kill ya, makes ya stronger
Get back up, cuz it’s a hard love

Money & Fame – this song features some great horns. Bear sings with regret, perhaps to young musicians about the negative effects of money and fame. A great line is “I found the bottom from the top somehow.” Perhaps in speaking of personal compromise, he sings that everybody’s got a price, and it’s even lower than you think it is.

What do you kids wanna know about now?
I made enough to make a young gun proud
Money and fame bring a man to shame

No Excuses – this song opens with acoustic guitar, and then builds with bass, keys, hand clap and backing vocals. It’s a sad song. He is singing to a girl he has known since high school. There are no excuses for what she is doing, tightening the rope around his neck.

When I Sing – this song immediately grabs you (and holds you) with a good beat, featuring drums, keys, horns, hand clap and backing vocals.  This one will sound great in concert as the crowd sings along.

When I sing
You’re the song that I’m singing
In my moment of weakness
When I sing
It’s just my way to tell you I need you

Happiness – this song opens with hand clap, backing vocals and keys. There is a light he sees, but it’s far in the distance. He is asking for forgiveness, which he states is “all for you in my pursuit of happiness”.  He encourages the listener by singing that the song ain’t nothing if it can’t set you free. He sings:

These days are tough, these days are long
Sometimes it’s hard, you carry on
But I hear a voice singing and I know it’s true

Great Night – this song features Shovels and Rope, a duo from the band’s hometown of Charleston, composed of husband Michael Trent and wife Cary Ann Hearst. It features a driving beat from the beginning, driven by strong drums. This song is fun musically, and will sound great in concert, but is weak lyrically (about having a great night on the dance floor).

Be Here Long – this is a serious song that deals with grief and love lost. It’s a good reminder that our time on earth is short, as we don’t get to be here long. It features keys, light drums and effective backing vocals.

I gave you the best of me
Loved you more than anything
But we don’t get to be here long  

Don’t Bring That Trouble – this song features a screeching guitar, keys and a driving beat. He has been through that fire. He wants us to hold on but not to hold him back. He’s going home and everyone is invited but don’t bring that trouble with you. Features some Creedence-like guitar.

Let’s Stay Home Tonight – this is a personal and romantic song that is simple musically, featuring some good keys and acoustic guitar. It’s a song to his wife about slowing down. He suggests that they just stay home, put some records on, put a fire on and dance till dawn. They don’t even need clothes on.  It’s my least favorite song on the album.

Testify – this is a wonderful worship song which will find play on Christian radio and be sung in worship services. Come to the fountain and you can be satisfied. Let me hear you testify.

Clear – the closing ballad sounds like it could be a song to a woman or God, but I believe it’s the former as he refers to “Honey”. It features acoustic guitar and keys. It tends to drag on too long and is not one of my favorite songs on the album.

This is another strong album from the band. It features some great songs and a few I didn’t like too much. The pacing could have perhaps been better as my two least favorite songs come near the end.

Keith and Kristyn GettyFacing a Task Unfinished – Deluxe Digital Edition
****

This is the first album of mostly new material from the pre-eminent modern hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty since 2012’s Hymns for the Christian Life (though they have released a Christmas album, live album, an EP and a live Christmas album since that time). The studio album, recorded in Nashville’s historic Ocean Way Recording studio, champions mission and congregational singing, features the Getty’s excellent band, live congregational singing and a few special guest appearances (Chris Tomlin, Fernando Ortega, John Patitucci and Ladysmith Black Mambazo). The album is produced by Nathan Nockels.

The Deluxe digital edition features 17 songs. Here are a few brief comments about each of these wonderful songs, a true gift to the church:

Facing a Task Unfinished – This hymn was originally written in 1931 by China Inland Mission (now OMF International) worker Frank Houghton with music by Samuel Wesley. The Getty’s were asked by OMF to add a new chorus to the hymn, and they were joined by Ed Cash, and Fionan de Barra. An estimated one million believers in more than 5,000 churches in 100 countries joined together to sing this new hymn on February 21. The chorus below was added to the original hymn, and the recording features some excellent congregational singing:

We go to all the world
With kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord

May the Peoples Praise You – This is an upbeat hymn that features the Getty’s “green grass” band feel.  Inspired by Psalm 67, this hymn is a call to worship and mission.

May the peoples praise You
Let the nations be glad
All Your blessing comes
That we may praise
May praise the Name of Jesus

Living Waters – The mid-tempo song was released as a single a few weeks before the album release.  Christ is calling to those who are thirsty, empty, tired and broken, to come to Him, our living waters.  This song is an invitation to come and be filled and healed, and to walk in life and freedom.

O Children Come – featuring the vocals of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. A live version was included on their 2015 album Joy – An Irish Christmas LIVE. Originally written as a Christmas carol, this invitation song challenges us both to follow Christ and to go with the good news of Christ in words and in deeds of mercy to a needy world. The songs features an infectious beat and also the children of some of the band members singing along.

My Worth Is Not in What I Own – This is a wonderful hymn that we often sing in our church that was first included on their 2014 EP The Greengrass Session. It features one of my favorite artists Fernando Ortega.

My worth is not in skill or name
In win or lose, in pride or shame
But in the blood of Christ that flowed
At the cross

For the Cause – This hymn was written with Stuart Townend on the call to missions and the cause of the Kingdom around the world. It is dedicated to Danny Akin and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The song showcases the excellent band and their greengrass sound, featuring some good percussion work.

For the cause of Christ we go
With joy to reap, with faith to sow
As many see
And many put their trust in the Son

Lift High the Name of Jesus – This is the third version of this wonderful upbeat hymn that has been released. It was first included on the album recorded live at the Gospel Coalition Conference and later on the The Greengrass Session EP. The band gets to show off on this version leading to the celebratory chorus:

Oh sing my soul,
And tell all He’s done,
Till the earth and heavens are filled with His glory!

The Lord Is My Salvation – This is a song of testimony, inspired in part by Psalm 27. The piano slowly builds.

Who is like the Lord our God?
Strong to save, faithful in love
My debt is paid and the vict’ry won
The Lord is my salvation

We Believe (Apostle’s Creed) – This song features an old melody of Keith’s that has been refreshed with a song based on the Apostle’s Creed. They collaborated on this song with their friend, John Patitucci, in a fusion of music influenced both by Jazz and the folk music of Scandinavia and Ireland. The band really shines on this song.

He Will Hold Me Fast – This song is written by Matt Merker, adapting some original lyrics by Ada Habershon. The Gettys felt it would be a comfort and encouragement to God’s people as we live out our faith in these difficult times, whether in suffering, persecution or death. The music is beautiful, with piano and strings supplemented by some effective congregational singing.

Psalm 24 (The King of Glory) – With this song, written with Chris Tomlin and Ed Cash, the Getty’s tried to capture a sense of Christ’s victorious rule of all the earth and the joy this brings to His people, as told in Psalm 24. The song has a bit of a different sound with some Eastern musical influences.

He reigns, He reigns
Jesus the Lord
He reigns, He reigns
Forevermore

O Church Arise (Arise Shine) – This song was originally included on their 2007 album In Christ Alone, and also included in their live Gospel Coalition album.  It features Chris Tomlin on backing vocals.

Beyond These Shores – This is an instrumental track featuring John Patitucci.

Consider the Stars – This is a beautiful piano-based lullaby that John Patitucci wrote for the Getty’s three daughters to help them go to sleep at night.

Jesus Tender Shepherd Hear Me – The words of this hymn were written by Mary Duncan in 1839. It was a hymn that she composed for her children.  Kristyn sings accompanied by only an acoustic guitar. Some new lyrics have been added to Duncan’s original hymn.

Let the Earth Resound – This is a 2004 song written by Keith and Stuart Townend, recorded for the first time by the Getty’s. It features some good congregational singing.

King immortal, Faithful God
Crowned with splendour, rich in love.
Let the heavens and the earth resound
With songs of praise to You.

Those who Wast Rich Beyond All Spendor – This 1934 hymn, is another one written by Frank Houghton. It begins with beautiful strings, and only a piano is added as we focus on the lyrics sung by Kristyn.

Lyrics to these songs (with the exception of “Jesus Tender Shepherd Hear Me”) can be found on the Getty’s site here.

Dylan -Fallen AngelsFallen Angels – Bob Dylan
****

Bob Dylan’s 37th studio album is his second volume of songs that he has recorded that have been mostly sung by Frank Sinatra. In fact, of the twelve songs here that were personally picked by Dylan, only “Skylark” was not recorded by Sinatra.

The album was primarily recorded at the same time and with the same core band as 2015’s acclaimed Shadows in the Night, which reached the top ten in seventeen countries and debuted at number one in the U.K. So Shadows could have been a double album. Should we consider Fallen Angels an album of songs not good enough to be included on Shadows and only released because of the success of the initial release? Are these the leftovers? No, this album is a triumph, a masterpiece, from an artist that never fails to surprise.  Dylan, who will turn 75 four days after this album is released, has done something like this before with two albums of folk covers, 1992’s Good As I Been to You and 1993’s World Gone Wrong.

The low-key arrangements of the songs, with Dylan being backed by his excellent touring band, with great work by Donny Herron on pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitar and light drum, puts Dylan’s weathered but effective voice up front and center. It was self-produced by Dylan using his Jack Frost pseudonym. As with Shadows, his voice sounds the best it has in years.  If you enjoyed Shadows you’ll enjoy this excellent new album.

Here are a few thoughts about each of the twelve songs:

Young at Heart – Written by Johnny Richards and Carolyn Leigh, it was recorded by Sinatra in 1953.  Features guitar, some light bass and a particularly expressive vocal by Dylan.

Maybe You’ll Be There – Written by Rube Bloom and Sammy Gallop in 1947 and recorded by Sinatra in 1957. The band is supplemented by strings and some light horns.

Polka Dots and Moonbeans – Written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke it was Sinatra’s first hit with the Tommy Dorsey band in 1940. The song begins with an extended acoustic guitar and pedal steel opening as it leads to a light breezy beat.

All the Way – Written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn and recorded by Sinatra in 1957. This was the second single released from the album and features an excellent vocal from Dylan over the pedal steel guitar of Donny Herron and a relaxed beat.

Skylark – Written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer and recorded by a number of artists including Bing Crosby.  This is the one song on the collection that was not recorded by Sinatra. It opens with an acoustic guitar and strings moving to a light breezy beat that really shows off the band.

Nevertheless – Written by Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar and recorded by Sinatra in 1950. It features light percussion, pedal steel guitar, and a nice guitar solo near the end of the song.

All or Nothing at All – Written by Arthur Altman and Jack Lawrence, and recorded by Sinatra in 1939. Was included as part of Dylan’s set list during his recent Japan tour dates.  A bit of a faster pace than most songs on the album, featuring a nice guitar solo near the end of the song.

On a Little Street in Singapore – Written by Peter DeRose and Billy Hill and recorded by Sinatra with Harry James and His Orchestra in 1944.  It opens with a guitar solo and Dylan shows some vocal flexibility here.

It Had to Be You – Written by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn and recorded by Sinatra in 1980. Features a particularly good Dylan vocal here over a subdued backing, featuring some light, muted horns. A nice acoustic guitar solo comes in the middle of the song.

Melancholy Mood – Written by Walter Schumann and Vick R. Knight, Sr. and recorded by Sinatra in 1939. Was the first single from the album and was included in Dylan’s set list during his recent Japan tour dates.  It opens and closes with a nice extended guitar solo over a light drum.  Some of Dylan’s best vocal work on the album as he sounds very comfortable here.

That Old Black Magic – Written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer and recorded by Sinatra in 1961. Was included as a part of Dylan’s set list during his recent Japan tour dates.  A faster pace than most songs as the light percussion is more pronounced here as they drive the pace of the song. Definitely a standout. Dylan delivers a great vocal performance.

Come Rain or Come Shine – Also written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer and recorded by Sinatra in 1961. Features a relaxed pace and some tasty guitar.

TedashiiThis Time Around – Tedashii
***

Tedashii follows his 2014 album Below Paradise with this 7-song EP.  He describes the project as completely different from anything he’s ever done before, but still authentically who he is. It features the kind of optimism that comes from overcoming the tragedy of losing his one-year old son in 2013. The project shows his growth in all ways – the sound, lyrics and themes. It shows his growth as an individual and artist, his progression as an artist and being himself.  Although he is still dealing with the tragedy, the new music exemplifies who he has become after everything he has gone through.

Tedashii worked with several producers on this effort, including GAWVI.  Three songs were released prior to the EP release date, the first of which was “Be Me”, produced by GAWVI, in which he states “No matter what happens, I’m still unashamed”.

The second single released, my favorite on the EP, and favorite song thus far this year, is the celebratory “Jumped Out the Whip”, which he debuted at the 2015 Dove Awards. It is also produced by GAWVI.   Watch the video here. The third single was “808”, a slow jam that is a love song for his wife. She makes his heart beat like an 808 drum machine.

You, you got my heart
You got my heart goin’ down in flames
And it’s beatin’
And it’s beatin’ like an 808
Like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom  

The other new songs are:

This Time Around – opens with news clips from today’s headlines, with him singing that with all that is going on in the world these days, we can make it better this time around. He’s tired of all of the funerals taking place around him. He’s realistic, but optimistic as well about a better future.  This is a slow jam that includes some backing female vocals.

I Get It – he really brings it on this track, which features some additional vocals. He gets it, and hopes we do too.

In My Life – a very different track from the others, this acapella number features a female lead vocal, with effective backing vocals. She sings that as long as you’re here with me, I can do anything. Though creative and different, it’s still my least favorite of the seven new songs, and perhaps the one misstep here.

I’m Good – Tedashii sings lead and backing vocals over a guitar backing. It’s an optimistic closer with a very catchy chorus that will leave you humming it throughout the day and will sound great live in concert. Behind “Jumped Out the Whip”, it’s my favorite of the new songs musically, and my favorite lyrically.

Selected Songs – Propaganda Selected Songs Propaganda
****

Propaganda has been described as a poet, political activist, husband, father, academic, and emcee.  In the song “Don’t Listen to Me”, included here, he also tells us that he is the son of a Black Panther with a Mexican spouse and Caucasian best friends. He is a college graduate with teaching credentials, and a rapper who brings a bold message through aggressive battle raps to smooth introspective rhythms. I first heard him via his contributions to some of Lecrae’s songs.   The first of his albums I purchased was his excellent 2014 release Crimson Cord. Five songs from that album are included here in this compilation of eleven of the best songs from his work to date, which includes five studio albums.

Propaganda’s style of rap (poetic, spoken word, etc.) and his excellent use of percussion distinguish him from some of the other artists (Lecrae, Trip Lee, Andy Mineo, KB, Tedashii) that I listen to.  He brings passion to his subject matter, as varied as public education (“Bored of Education”), or what it feels like to a black man when pastors quote the Puritans (“Precious Puritans”), the latter of which particularly got my attention. You see, I love the writings of the Puritans (Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Matthew Henry, etc.), and use The Valley of Vision (which he mentions in the song) as part of my daily devotional reading. It was good for me – as a middle-age Caucasian male, to hear how pastors quoting some of these writers can impact African Americans (he raps of them being chaplains on slave ships, etc.), something I hadn’t thought of before.

Propaganda will challenge you with his bold messages. It may stretch your mind and heart.  That’s good for me. I highly recommend his music, and this compilation is an excellent introduction if you are not currently familiar with him.

 Worship and BelieveWorship and Believe (Deluxe Edition) – Steven Curtis Chapman  
****

This is Steven Curtis Chapman’s 23rd studio album and the first worship album in his wonderful career that to date has resulted in 10 million albums sold, 46 Christian radio number one songs, 5 Grammy Awards and an incredible 58 Dove Awards. The album is available in three different formats, the standard edition with eleven studio songs, and deluxe editions including either four or six of the songs recorded live.  I think worship music sounds good in a live format, but you’ll have to decide if the live versions are worth the additional cost.

It was when Chapman was on The Story tour with Pastor Randy Frazee that he first heard about BELIEVE, a 30-week church curriculum that Frazee was working on as the follow-up to The Story. Chapman wrote these songs to accompany the BELIEVE curriculum to be used by thousands of churches, but the songs certainly stand on their own as a worthy addition to Chapman’s outstanding body of work.

Chapman collaborates with some of the best artists in the worship music genre – Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and Matt Maher, as well as Rend Collective and the drummer for One Direction. Long-time fans will enjoy his signature sounds in these songs addressed to God that I’m sure are already starting to appear in congregational worship.

Below are a few brief comment on each of the new songs:

We Believe – starts with acoustic guitar as Chapman sings of creation praising the glory of God. It builds into a bold song that will sound great in congregational worship.

One True God – a highlight, this track features Chris Tomlin in a song that would comfortably fit on a Tomlin release, as the two artists trade verses in a wonderful song about Christ as the one true God.

Amen – the first single, this high energy song features Rend Collective. It builds with a chorus that concludes in worship with “And all that we can say is….Amen!” for all that the Lord has done for us.

Hallelujah, You are Good – another highlight, this one features vocals from Matt Maher, one of my favorite artists. It’s a straightforward song to God that starts slowly and builds about His goodness. The song has an effective use of strings.

More Than Conquerors – based on the wonderful truths of Romans 8, that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ and that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. The chorus has the same celebratory sound that “Amen” features.

Sing for You – beginning with acoustic guitar, this song is about the church making a joyful noise to the sovereign Rock of our Salvation. It starts slow and builds to a joyful chorus about glories of His grace and wonders of His love. A choir effectively joins Chapman near the end of the song.

Who You Say We Are – starting with a piano, this is a song of thankfulness to the Father for the greatness of His love and to the Son for the sacrifice He made for us. All we can say in response is “Thank You”.

The Body – we are the body of Christ. This song asks the Lord to empower us to do great things for Him.  He quotes part of the Lord’s Prayer and some lyrics directly from Chris Tomlin’s “God of this City”.

King of Love – starts slowly with just a piano, building with strings and drums, this is a song about believers serving for the Glory of our King Jesus.

We Are Listening – opens with miraculous works of God that take place at His powerful word (creation, healing). This is a prayer for us to hear the voice of our Trinitarian God. It’s a mid-tempo song that builds into a joyful chorus with some good backing vocals.

God of Forever – starts with acoustic guitars and builds to a joyful chorus with some good backing vocals. This is a song to our sovereign God ~ He is the first and last ~ He is forever and has saved us to be forever His. We will forever sing praises to Him.

steve taylorWow to the Deadness – Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil
****

Steve Taylor has been one of my favorite artists since his 1983 EP I Want to Be a Clone. I was a new believer, and his witty, honest and creative way of expressing his beliefs and the hypocrisy he saw in the church really resonated with me, and still does. Since that time, I’ve purchased all of his music (solo, Chagall Guevara, Perfect Foil), and seen him in concert several times. Hey, I was even a member of his Clone Club!

In addition to being a singer and songwriter, he is also a film director (The Second Chance, Blue Like Jazz), songwriter (Newsboys), producer “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer, and record company owner (Squint). Taylor’s excellent 2014 album Goliath, with the Perfect Foil (consisting of Peter Furler, Jimmy Abegg and John Mark Painter), was his first since 1993’s Squint. So it is a joy that Wow to the Deadness comes just two years later.

To support Goliath, Taylor and the Perfect Foil toured with Danielson. I was not familiar with Danielson. Danielson’s Wikipedia article describes them as an American rock band that plays indie pop gospel music led by Daniel Smith.

The friendship resulted in this collaborative effort as they entered the Electrical Audio studio in June 2015 with engineer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) using strictly analog gear. This EP, with cover art by Smith, is the result, which Albini described as being “really raucous and really great”. Smith states the recording rocks, but also moves around a bunch. He has stated “It can be delicate, but it’s rare. It mostly demands much, but it’s very inclusive and would really appreciate some singing and clapping along.”

The resulting product is something different from what Taylor’s fans may be accustomed to. But, we know that he has always been creative and pushed boundaries (who can forget the stir over the cover art on I Predict 1990 or the concern over his song “I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good”?

According to Taylor, their only rule was that if it sounded like something they’d already done, they would throw it out. He felt that they ended up with a recording that is not easily classifiable and hopefully doesn’t sound disposable.

Below are a few of my thoughts about each of the six songs after listening to each several times. Taylor handles most of the lead vocals with Smith handling some of them, plus backing vocals.

Wow to the Deadness – Begins with acoustic guitar before it takes off. Smith wrote most of the lyrics. Smith sings a response “We have a winner”, to Taylor’s lines. For example:

It was a battle to bring me around
We have a winner
Suddenly lilies appeared in the ground

Favorite lyric: Water seeps through these red flags right or wrong

Wait up Downstep – This one also begins with an acoustic guitar. Smith sings a recurring Wait and Step and Wait.

Favorite lyric:

Give me joyful liberty
Transcending up in awe of
How you go, oh can I know
Let us be known by our love

The Dust Patrol – Opens with a blistering guitar. The drums lead into Taylor’s lead vocal. The song slows down in the middle, with Smith taking over, before some great guitar work turns it back over to Taylor’s machine gun like delivery.

Favorite lyric: We’re gonna roll your thunder. (Could this be a nod to Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue?)

Nonchalant – Again opens with acoustic guitar. This is a mid-tempo rocker, slowing things down a bit after the previous song.

Favorite lyric: Turn the cheek that bruised, til’ the purple drains

A Muse – This is a scorching rocker with great drums, guitar and Taylor’s defiant vocals.

Favorite lyric:

It’s my party you’re lucky to be here
You’re no Dylan so don’t make me laugh

Drats – The song features more of Smith’s vocals than any on the EP as he and Taylor share lead vocals.

Favorite lyric:

Be still and speak
Day by day
My delight
My delight

And just like that, this unexpected collaboration is over. Here’s hoping it’s not the last we hear of Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil. I’d love to hear these songs in concert.

You can pre-order the EP, to be released February 5, at Amazon here.

Here is the promo video for the EP. You can watch the video of Wow to the Deadness here. (Apologies for the bad word in the article).

Hymns IIMusic Review ~ Hymns II: Shine on Us – Michael W. Smith
****

This is the follow-up to the multi-talented Michael W. Smith’s 2014 Hymns album recorded for the Cracker Barrel restaurants. This one could have been titled Hymns, Worship Songs and Patriotic Songs, as it includes some or all of these. As with all of Smith’s projects (and I’ve been a fan since his 1983 debut Project (a song from that album is included here), they are done with excellence. Here are a few thoughts about each song included on the project:

Down to the River to Pray – a fantastic version (musically and vocally with background choir), of a traditional song that was sung by Alison Krauss on the soundtrack of the 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou? It starts off the album on a high note. It’s my favorite song on the album.

I Need Thee – the traditional hymn written by Annie Sherwood Hawks in 1872, with the chorus written by Robert Lowry and music composed by Robert Lowry. Begins with Smith on piano and vocal with light strings and then builds with a backing choir.

Jesus, Only Jesus – this is Matt Redman’s excellent song from his 2013 Your Grace Finds Me album. Starts with Smith on piano and vocals, and then builds powerfully with light drums and backing vocals.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus – written by Helen H. Lemmel in 1922. Features backing vocals from Audrey Assad. Begins with Smith on the piano and vocal and some light strings.

I’ll Fly Away – An upbeat version with drums, fiddle, banjo, backing vocals and a bluegrass feel. Was written by Albert Edward Brumley in 1929.

I Don’t Know Why (Jesus Loves Me) – a wonderful Andre Crouch song. Smith brings a smooth black gospel feel with choir to it. Not the first time Smith has covered an Andre Crouch song, singing “Jesus is the Answer” on the 1996 Tribute: Songs of Andre Crouch album.

His Eye is On the Sparrow – the song was originally written in 1905 by lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel. The song is most associated with actress-singer Ethel Waters who used the title for her autobiography. Smith uses a scaled back approach, singing with piano and some backing strings.

Shine on Us – really a prayer to the Lord written by Smith and wife Debbie that has been covered by Phillips, Craig & Dean. It’ a ballad with piano, strings, light drums and backing vocals that gently builds toward a powerful ending.

That we may be saved
That we may have life
To find our way In the darkest night
Let Your love come over us
Let Your light shine on us

Nearer My God to Thee – a beautiful rendition of a hymn written by Sarah Flower Adams in 1841. Opens with violin and then Smith’s voice and piano. Features a duet with Susan Ashton.

I’d Rather Have Jesus – based on a 1922 poem by Rhea F. Miller, this was one of George Beverly Shea’s signature songs. Smith gives us a beautiful tender vocal, with piano and strings that builds gently with backing vocals.

O Sacred Head Now Wounded – Paul Gerhardt provided a German translation of Bernard of Clairvaux’s text in 1656, and about 200 years later James Waddell Alexander translated Gerhardt’s German text into English. Smith gives us a beautiful tender version with piano and strings that builds gently with backing vocals.

Be Still My Soul – This hymn was originally written in German by Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel in 1753. Smith’s vocal is paired with his piano and light strings that builds with backing vocals.

Great is the Lord – an excellent new version of Smith classic song from his first album Project in 1983. Features excellent backing vocals and instrumentation.

Great are you Lord
And worthy of glory
Great are you Lord
And worthy of praise
Great are you Lord
I lift up my voice
I lift up my voice
Great are you Lord
Great are you Lord

A Mighty Fortress is Our God – Martin Luther’s great Reformation hymn is based on Psalm 46. It is a celebration of God’s sovereign power over all earthly and spiritual forces, and of the sure hope believers have in him because of Christ. Smith gives us a beautiful and powerful version of this triumphant hymn, slowing down the pace and featuring excellent backing vocals and church organ. Definitely a highlight.

America the Beautiful – this is the one misstep as far as song selection is concerned. Its inclusion reminded me of when Cracker Barrel stuck “Cinderella” at the end of Steven Curtis Chapman’s excellent 2013 hymns project Deep Roots. Both songs are good, they just don’t fit on a hymns project. Like many of the songs this one starts simply with vocal and piano and then builds to a powerful ending with strings and backing vocals, with a bit of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the very end of the song. I can hear this song being played during 4th of July fireworks celebrations this year.

Most of the arrangements and instrumentation is kept simple, except where noted, and for the most part Smith chooses to goes with a light, scaled back production, different from his normal releases. The scaled back production and instrumentation at times expose his voice, never strong, as vulnerable and at times thin. But overall, this is a highly satisfying and wonderful new release which will be loved by those who love the hymns and Smith’s music.

Church Clothes 3Church Clothes 3 – Lecrae
****

On January 14 Lecrae dropped a surprise third volume in his Church Clothes mixtape series, following 2012’s Church Clothes and 2013’s Church Clothes 2. He really brings it with these ten excellent tracks with strong vocals and infectious beats. S1 (Symbolyc One), a platinum-selling producer (Kanye West, Jay-Z), served as executive producer. He had previously produced Lecrae’s songs “Welcome to America” and “The Price of Life”. Guest artists on the album include KB, E-40, N’Dambi, Propaganda, John Givez, JGivens and Jackie Hill Perry.

Below are a few comments on each track:

Freedom ft. N’Dambi (Prod. by S1/ Co-Prod. by Epikh Pro & VohnBeatz) – a strong opener with a hook from N’Dambi indicating that “Freedom isn’t free”. Lecrae touches on child porn and Honest Abe as “another man murdered for trying to free the slaves”.

Gangland ft. Propaganda (Prod. by S1/Co-Prod. by Shindo) – effectively uses spoken parts by Lecrae as it addresses gang issues. He states that originally gangs were created to protect everyone in the community. Propaganda offers “There’s a high school in Alabama named after Robert E. Lee, and it’s 89% Black. You don’t see the irony?” He ends with:

Yeah, we are truly a descendant of a King
Only his reign is infinite

Deja Vu (Prod. by S1) – Lecrae tones it down a bit for this track, opening with comments about how the whole world’s gone crazy, citing current events (riots, abortion and people being shot by the police). The hook offers this encouragement:

And some days are a nightmare
And some dreams come true
But the Lord’s still right here
It’s just deja vu

Sidelines (Prod. by Mykalife and Ryan Righteous) – Lecrae addresses his critics who are on the sidelines while he is in the game, doing what he was born to do. He doesn’t plan to fumble the ball, the opportunity he has been given by God.

Cruising (Prod. by S1/ Co-Prod. by Epikh) – a feel-good track about cruising through his day – reading the Bible, having breakfast, playing basketball and having dinner.

It Is What It Is (Prod. by S1/ Co-Prod. by Epikh) – Lecrae constantly hears that he has sold out. But he’s getting wiser with age, and knows that some just hate. Some say he has it all now, but he knows the Bible says that pride comes before a fall. Adding humor he raps about his third tape (Church Clothes 3) and that he might drop it on a Thursday – which is exactly what he just did. Fun.

Can’t Do You ft. E-40 (Prod. by Black Knight) – Lecrae raps that he has a master plan from the Master, so he “can’t do you, cause I’m doing me”. Good vocals from Dimitri McDowell and E-40 on this one.

Forever (Prod. by S1) – Lecrae slows it down on this track, a song to his wife, his queen to whom he’s locked down until the cemetery. He raps that while any guy can try to satisfy a girl for one night, it takes a real man to take one woman and satisfy her for her entire life.

Misconceptions 3 ft. John Givez, JGivens, Jackie Hill Perry (Prod. by S1) – There’s so much here as the lyrics come fast on this powerful third “Misconception” track in the Church Clothes series. Featuring John Givens, JGivez, Jackie Hill Perry and Lecrae each taking a verse. Lecrae states that he was created to make a statement. He encourages listeners to get their education and to let the Spirit lead like He wants to.

I Wouldn’t Know ft. KB (Prod. by GAWVI) – Features Elhae on the hook and KB, rapping slower than usual on one of the verses. People are talking about Lecrae, saying he’s gonna fail, but he doesn’t hear it. He just prays that the Father keep him grounded.

Lecrae has released a long-form video with a storyline that loosely touches on the life of a teenage gang member who gets shot and his friend contemplates revenge. The video includes four songs from the mixtape – “It Is What It Is”, “Gangland”, Déjà vu”, and Misconceptions 3”. Watch it here.

This surprise release was quite a blessing. Lecrae is at the top of his game. May this mixtape be used for His glory!

Lecrae’s first book Unashamed will be published May 3.

Floodplains by Sara GrovesFloodplain – Sara Groves
****

Sara Groves, a former school teacher, is a mom, wife, singer/songwriter and recording artist with a passion for justice and a heart of mercy. She has joined forces with International Justice Mission to advocate for victims of human trafficking for the past 8 years. Her latest album Floodplain, her eighth studio album overall, is another excellent release from her. Her honest, transparent and poetic lyrics (about life – depression, her husband Troy, children Kirby, Toby and Ruby, God, her faith, etc.), are bathed in piano and light percussion, guitars and strings. The focus is clearly on the lyrics and she delivers them well. She is backed by a strong supporting cast that includes Ellie Holcomb, Sarah Masen, Ben Shive, John Catchings and Matt Slocum. Groves produced the album in collaboration with others (Steve Brewster, Matt Pierson, Scott Dente, Daniel Phelps and Brown Bannister).

River is a theme that comes up in five of the thirteen songs. The album was inspired by a run along the Mississippi River in her hometown, and speaks of God’s provision. She talks in the liner notes of the beautiful boat, in the form of friends that came to get her in her season on the floodplain. Groves explains that the title song is first a metaphor for her journey with anxiety and depression and then in sympathy for people caught in cycles of generational poverty and violence (likely inspired by her work with International Justice Mission).

Hope, assurance, faith, family, questioning, doubt and grace are also themes I found in the lyrics of this excellent album. Don’t look for clichés that you might normally find in contemporary Christian music. These are mature lyrics from a mature artist.

This is a recording that you want to spend some time with. Put on the headphones and have the lyric sheet in front of you. She sings about “deliberate and slow” in “Expedition”. That’s how I would recommend you approach this new album, one of my tops of 2015.

Groves recently appeared on the Eric Metaxas Show to talk about Floodplain. You can listen to it here.

Dylan The Best of the Cutting EdgeThe Best of The Cutting Edge 1965 – 1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 by Bob Dylan.
****

In 1991 Bob Dylan released the first three volumes of The Bootleg Series, most of which I have in my collection. The Cutting Edge is the twelfth volume in the well-done series. It includes alternate versions, outtakes and some studio banter from an incredible fourteen month creative stretch from January 1965 to March 1966, when Dylan moved from folk to electric and recorded three extraordinary albums Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and the double album Blonde on Blonde with producers Tom Wilson and Bob Johnston.

There are three configurations of The Cutting Edge that have been released. The Best of The Cutting Edge is a two-disc, thirty-six track collection. There are also six and a massive eighteen disc versions available.

The production of these songs from fifty some years ago is amazingly clear. I loved hearing the organ coming through so clearly. We get an inside look into Dylan’s creative process during this period. Longtime Dylan fans will easily discern these versions from original album versions we have been familiar with all these years. Arrangements vary, such as up-tempo versions of “Visions of Johanna” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Take 8, Alternate Take)” or a very different take of “Just Like a Woman”. At times the lyrics differ from the original album version such as the rocking “Tombstone Blues Take 1”. This doesn’t surprise, as those of us who have seen him in concert several times know he often changes up the lyrics to songs.

Many of the songs will be very familiar to Dylan fans – “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man” (which ends abruptly with Dylan complaining about the drums), “Highway 61”, “Positively 4th Street” and “I Want You”, while others will be less known – “She’s Your Lover Now” and “Can You Please Crawl Out of Your Window?”.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this release, giving us glimpses into the genius of Dylan during arguably his most creative period. As a result, this is my favorite volume in The Bootleg Series. This version also comes with a 60-page booklet, with photos and liner notes. Highly recommended for all Dylan fans.

Behold the Lamb of GodBehold the Lamb of God 10th Anniversary 2-Disc Set – Andrew Peterson
****

I have to admit that I’m late to appreciate the music of Andrew Peterson. However, since seeing him in concert a few months ago I’m trying to make up for lost time by picking up After All These Years, his latest The Burning Edge of Dawn and this, his Christmas album Behold the Lamb of God.

This 10th Anniversary 2-disc set released in 2009, celebrates ten years that Peterson and friends have been performing the music on this album (recorded in 2004) live in annual Christmas concerts. This edition includes the original album remastered, plus the complete Behold the Lamb of God concert recorded live on the 2008 tour. See the dates for the 2015 tour on Peterson’s website.

Peterson has written that the album is a musical about the birth of Christ; an album that tells a story. The songs have the purpose of telling the true tale of the coming of God into the world. Justin Taylor of the Gospel Coalition, writes “Here are some YouTube videos for Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb album and live performance–a sort of biblical theology set to song by a talented musician and songwriter.”

He states: “What makes this bunch of songs unique is that I wanted to remind (or teach) the audience that the story of Christmas doesn’t begin with the birth of Jesus. Many people tend to forget or have never even learned that the entire Bible is about Jesus, not just the New Testament.

So the musical begins with Moses and the symbolic story of the Passover (Passover Us) and works its way through the kings and the prophets with their many prophecies about the coming Messiah (So Long, Moses) to the awful four hundred years of silence before God told Mary she’d be having a baby (Deliver Us). After the song called Matthew’s Begats, which lists the genealogy of Jesus, the story picks up in more familiar territory with Mary and Joseph and the actual birth (It Came To Pass, Labor of Love). The final song is called Behold, the Lamb of God, which ties together the Passover and the beauty and scope of the story.”

You may recognize some of the singers and musicians who contribute to this album, including Andrew Osenga, Ben Shive, Sandra McCracken, Phil Madeira, Derek Webb, Steve Hindalong (of The Choir), Laura Story and Fernando Ortega. The quality of the music (including a few instrumentals) and singing is excellent.

This is not your typical Christmas album. I look forward to enjoying this album for many Christmas seasons to come.

Neon Porch Extravaganza - CrowderNeon Porch Extravaganza (EP) – Crowder
****

This surprise new live recording available exclusively from iTunes from Crowder features six songs, five of them from his excellent 2014 release Neon Steeple (one of my favorites from last year), plus a video of one of them. The songs were recorded on the front porch of Crowder’s home church, Passion City Church in Atlanta, where Louis Giglio is the pastor. The songs came off so well Crowder decided to release them on iTunes. The album cover art features Kenny Rodgers, the Artic Fox, Crowder’s touring sidekick.

The album features excellent live high-energy versions of “My Beloved” (watch this video of the song being performed. Note: the video is not included on the EP), “I Am”, “Come As You Are”, and “Hands of Love” from Neon Steeple. It also features Crowder’s cover of Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home”. That’s right, Crowder covers a Drake song. Although Drake sings it to a girl, in his interpretation, Crowder sings to the Lord and to believers:

I got my eyes on you
You’re everything that I see
I want your high love and emotion endlessly
I can’t get over you
You left your mark on me
I want your high love and emotion endlessly

So just hold on we’re going home (going home)
Just hold on we’re going home (going home)
It’s hard to do these things alone (things alone)
Just hold on we’re going home (going home, going home)

Also included is a new version of “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains) featuring a powerful rap from Tedashii. A video of this performance is also included.

All in all, you get a lot of value (six songs, including the video) and 25 minutes of music for just $4.99 on iTunes. Can’t wait for the next studio release from Crowder.

Stevie Wonder ConcertConcert Review: Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life Performance Tour – Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis November 7

Stevie Wonder, who rarely tours, appeared last Saturday at the Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on his Songs in the Key of Life Performance Tour. This was the second time I had seen him in concert, the first being way back in high school, when Rufus featuring Chaka Kahn opened for him.

I remember the anticipation around the long-delayed Songs in the Key of Life album that was finally released in 1976. It is one of the greatest albums of all time, truly a masterpiece. The 21 song (originally a double album and four-song EP) included radio hits “Sir Duke”, “I Wish” and “Isn’t She Lovely”, and is #57 on Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list.

stevie wonder

The 65 year-old Wonder began the marathon concert – beginning at about 8:10pm and ending at 11:55pm, including a 15-minute intermission – by addressing the nearly full Banker’s Life Fieldhouse crowd, equally consisting of black and white (Ebony and Ivory!) fans, some of whom were really decked out for the show, accompanied by vocalist Latrelle Simmons. He said he was dedicating the performance to Amos Brown, a local radio personality and journalist who died two days earlier of a suspected heart attack.

Wonder was backed by a large and talented ensemble as he performed his classic album in its entirety. By my count this included:

  • 10-piece string ensemble, plus the animated conductor
  • 5 background singers, including Simmons
  • Four drummers/percussionists
  • 6-piece horn section
  • 2 keyboardists
  • Three guitarists, including musical director Nathan Watts
  • Gospel choir that joined in a few songs

As Wonder played the album pretty much, but not entirely, in order, beginning with “Love’s in Need of Love Today” and finishing with “Another Star”, he showcased his own and his band’s extensive talents, playing extended versions of some songs and giving each of the backing vocalists the opportunity to show off their skills. Highlights included “Sir Duke”, “I Wish”, “Isn’t She Lovely”, and the closing “As” and “Another Star”. He led a great sing-along on “Knocks Me Off My Feet”, having the women in the crowd singing “I don’t want to bore you with it” and the men following with “But I love you, I love you, I love you”.

While playing the harpejji, an electric stringed instrument that aims to bridge the gap in sound and technique between the guitar and the piano, Wonder played his classic “My Cherie Amour” and the Impressions’ 1965 song “People Get Ready”.

During the instrumental “Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)”, Wonder displayed his harmonica skills, leading into “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, often referred to as the African-American national anthem, and finishing with a moving version “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

After Wonder completed “Another Star”, he exclaimed “We did it!” Playing the entire 21 song album in its entirety was quite an accomplishment. He then did another set in which he insisted he be known as DJ Tick Tick Boom, ending the evening with high energy versions of “Do I Do”, Ribbon in the Sky”, “Signed Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours)” and “Superstition”.

Wonder ends this tour with a November 24 show at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and has said he will only perform it again for President Obama (should he ask). We thoroughly enjoyed this unique performance.

Getty's Christmas AlbumMusic Review: Joy: An Irish Christmas LIVE – Keith and Kristyn Getty
****

I’ve always heard great things about the Getty’s Christmas concerts, but as of yet we haven’t gotten to one. We’ve seen them twice in concert, and at an October, 2014 fall date of their “Hymns for the Christian Life” tour we did get to hear them perform “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” giving us a small taste of what their Christmas concerts are like.

If you are not familiar with the Getty’s, they are writers of modern hymns for the church. Kristyn handles lead vocals, Keith plays piano and acoustic guitar, and they have a very talented band made up of musicians from America and Ireland.

The Getty’s released their first Christmas album Joy – An Irish Christmas in 2011. I have a concern that this new live recording may get lost as it has an almost identical title and even some similar artwork as the 2011 release.

Keith has reflected on why Christmas carols are more than just sentimental songs at the end of the year: “We would do well as worship leaders to remember that non-churchgoers are far more inclined to attend a church service during the Christmas season where songs are easy and enjoyable to sing rather than a church trying to put on the slickest possible show. The music of carols, written by some of the finest hymn writers of all time (such as Wesley, Watts and Rossetti) and arranged by equally outstanding composers (Handel, Holst and Mendelssohn) speaks for itself. We have wonderful songs to use! And Christmas gives us a wide open door to use those songs to impact culture like no other time of the year.”

For this concert, performed in front of an enthusiastic audience, and featured on Public Television, they are joined by Irish dancers and a multi-generational choir. In a live setting, they bring some fresh and extended arrangements to the songs on the studio album, add some additional Christmas songs as well as some other songs such as “A Mother’s Prayer”, “Come Ye Sinners” and one of our best modern hymns that we sing often in our church “In Christ Alone”.

Despite the similar album name, this is not just a live version of the 2011 studio album. In addition to the three songs listed above, the below are songs not included on the studio album:

O Come Redeemer of the Earth
Here We Come A-Wassailing
Sleigh Ride (with Christmas Eve Reel)
Deck the Halls
Wonder
O Children Come
Irish Christmas Blessing
Go Tell It on the Mountain

Also available on DVD, this live concert recording is aptly named. I felt joy listening to it and worshiping our Savior and his birth. As with all of the Getty’s recordings, these songs feature theologically rich lyrics and top-notch musicianship. Along with Chris Tomlin’s new Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship, this is an excellent new Christmas album to help us worship our Savior this season.

Adore by Chris TomlinAdore: Christmas Songs of Worship by Chris Tomlin
****

This new live Christmas album was recorded at Ocean Way studios, a former church building, in Nashville, the same location that Tomlin recorded his first Christmas album Glory In The Highest: Christmas Songs Of Worship six years ago. Tomlin is one of my favorite artists, and consistently delivers quality worship songs. In fact, as this album releases he currently has the number Christian song in the country with “Good, Good Father”.

The album features several special guests, including Laura Daigle (who recently won the Dove Award for “New Artist of the Year”), Kristyn Getty, All Sons and Daughters and more. There are eleven songs included, a mixture of new, and traditional Christmas songs with Tomlin’s interpretation.

Below are a few brief thoughts about each song:

He Shall Reign Forevermore – This song was co-written with Matt Maher, who was unfortunately too ill to record it live with Tomlin, which is a shame. The song is still excellent and is the first single from the album. It has the sound and feeling of a traditional Tomlin worship song.

Adore – this worshipful song written by Graham Kendrick and Martin Chalk begins with a piano intro and builds into the chorus:

Adore, come let us adore
Adore, come let us adore Him!
The Lord, worship Christ the Lord
Let all that is within us
Adore

This would be a wonderful song for congregations to sing.

Midnight Clear (Love Song) – Tomlin takes the classic “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and makes it a song of love to Jesus. He sings that Jesus is the love song of God.

Noel – This song features Laura Daigle on lead vocals and is written by Tomlin, Ed Cash and Matt Redman. Tomlin is known for sharing the spotlight with others, such as including Audrey Assad’s “Winter Snow” on his first Christmas album. This time he give Daigle the lead vocal opportunity.

Hymn of Joy – With Ed Cash, Tomlin adapts “”Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel” into this acoustic Christmas hymn of joy.

Silent Night – This song features more of the congregation’s vocals than Tomlin’s. Kristyn Getty reads the famous Christmas passage from Isaiah 9 in the middle of the song.

What Child is This? This song features All Sons & Daughters on lead vocals and is primarily driven by acoustic guitar. I liked when they sang acapella toward the end.

It’s Christmas – This is probably my favorite song on the album. Written by Tomlin and Ed Cash, it’s a fun, jazzy medley with finger snaps that brings in “Away in a Manager” and “Go Tell It on The Mountain”. I loved the horns toward the end of the song.

It’s Christmas!
The angels are singing
And I know the reason,
The Savior is born

It’s Christmas!
The bells are ringing
And I feel like shouting
Joy to the world!

A King Like This – Written by Tomlin, Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman, this is an intimate ballad of worship that builds to include congregational singing.

He is Christ the Lord
He is Christ My Savior
I bow my heart before
No other name
I bow my heart before
No other king

Bethlehem – Written with Ed Cash, this ballad builds into the chorus:

Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Behold Your beautiful Savior!
Fall down, worship Him
The King born in Bethlehem

A Christmas Alleluia – This song features Laura Daigle and Leslie Jordan and is a fitting closer. Written with Jonas Myrin, the song builds powerfully into a worshipful song about the coming of our Savior, who has the highest name of all.

This album, like Tomlin, is a wonderful gift to the church. Highly recommended.

Jon Foreman Dawn

The Wonderlands: Dawn – Jon Foreman
****
This is the final of four Wonderlands EPs from Switchfoot lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter Jon Foreman, and follows Sunlight released in late May, Shadows in July and Darkness in September. The four “hourly” EPs were to each feature six songs, or one song for each hour of the day – though Darkness actually featured seven songs. Foreman indicated that he wanted “to sneak 25 songs into 24 hours.”

Each song on the project, that has been 10 years and more than 1,000 hours in the making, is co-produced with someone different. So there are 25 songs and 25 producers, certainly a unique approach from the always creative Foreman. He has stated in an interview that his collaborators would send him back their musical response: bass, clarinet, background vocals, etc. His challenge was to put those things together and make it sound like a cohesive statement rather than 25 different projects. Every hour had to be distinct and yet still feel like a cohesive body of work. Foreman celebrated the complete release of The Wonderlands by performing 25 shows in 24 hours in his hometown of San Diego on October 24 (which was in progress as I was writing this review), with proceeds benefiting charities.

Foreman had stated that the Wonderlands EPs would explore themes of faith and doubt, love and frustration, and everything else. I noted that Dawn has more explicit Christian lyrics than the earlier EPs in the Wonderland series. Below are brief comments and favorite lyrics on each of the six new songs:

Inheritance – This song begins with acoustic guitar then builds with light drums, instrumentation and backing vocals. It is a lovely song about the story of his relationship with his wife Emily, whose heart he sings, is a work of art. In the beginning they didn’t have anything to offer each other except for the rest of their lives.

I wanna be rich in memories, not money
Our love is our inheritance, honey

Run Free – This joyful song starts out with Foreman singing a paraphrase of Luke 4:18. It features keyboards, light drums, light brass, strings and backing vocals. Foreman just can’t keep quiet as he invites the listeners to run free and dance like a prisoner released. He sings of the Lord taking our shame away.

Inseparable – This songs is based on Romans 8:35-39, where Paul responds to the question “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Foreman sings of the love of his Savior.

Nothing can keep us away
Nothing can separate

The song features acoustic guitar, light drums, strings and echoing vocals.

When We Collide – This is another song written to his wife Emily. He writes that when they met their world was black and white. He’s waiting for the day when they collide. It features an interesting almost chime sound, light drums and backing vocals.

We’ve got our disagreements
Our separate points of view
But the line that runs between us
Could be the thread that pulls us through

Mercy’s War – This wonderful song has Foreman singing of the wonderful blood of Jesus and how “Because they broke you I am whole”. He sings that he went looking for ways out, but Christ showed him the way in. He thought Christ was a stranger, but instead Christ called him out by name. The song features a slow strumming acoustic guitar, a very likeable clarinet, and choir-like backing vocals.

Before Our Time – The last of the 25 songs in The Wonderlands series is an upbeat song about time with Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek. The catchy musical backing on the song reminds me of the Getty’s “Greengrass” (Irish and Nashville) fusion. About the song, Foreman has said “And then the whole thing ends on another song about the clock called “Before Our Time”, talking about things before our time runs out. And so that’s the way it ends, kind of the way it began, focus on the clock.”

Time is illusion
Time is a curse
Time is all these things and worse
But our time is now
Our time is now

Let us sing before our time runs out

Dawn is a great way to end “the day” with Jon Foreman. It’s definitely my favorite of the four Wonderlands EPs. Highly recommended.

I’ve heard that a box set containing all 25 songs will be released. At this time, the physical editions of Darkness and Dawn and Sunlight and Shadows are available for purchase on Amazon.

Don HenleyCass County (Deluxe Edition) by Don Henley
****

The first album in 15 years (and fifth overall) from the 68 year-old founding member, drummer and co-lead vocalist of the Eagles, recently debuted at #1 on Billboard magazine’s Country Charts, his first solo album to top the charts. The album is co-produced by Henley and Stan Lynch (former drummer with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), and features guest appearances from Mick Jagger, Merle Haggard, Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert, Dolly Parton, Trisha Yearwood, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Lee Ann Womack, Ashley Monroe and others.

The album was recorded in Nashville and also in Dallas where Henley lives, and took several years to complete. While many are calling it Henley’s “country album”, he says much of it fits better into the Americana format. The album title refers to the underpopulated area of east Texas near the borders of Arkansas and Louisiana, where Henley was born in 1947 and grew up in the 1950’s. The deluxe edition includes 16 songs, eleven of which were written by Henley and Lynch with others, and is solid from the opening cover of alternative country artist Tift Merritt’s “Bramble Rose”, featuring Miranda Lambert and Mick Jagger (who actually does country quite well), to the closing rocker “Where I Am Now”. Henley’s ballads include themes of the passage of time, looking at the past and also to the future, regret, acceptance and love, present and in the past.

McBride joins Henley for a duet on “That Old Flame”, as well as singing on the closing “Where I Am Now”. “That Old Flame” is a song about long-lost friends who were once lovers. “Where I Am Now” is a confident song in which Henley reflects on his life, liking where he is now.

I been east, west, north and south
But I made it through somehow
And I like where I am now

“Take a Picture of This” portrays the end of a marriage. Dolly Parton joins him on the Louvin Brothers’ hit from sixty years ago “When I Stop Dreaming”.

“A Younger Man” is about a younger woman falling for an older man, but he sings:

If you believe in better days ahead
For this crazy human race
That we will somehow be delivered
By goodness and by grace
And if you’re lookin’ for believers
In faith and hope and charity
Then, you’re you’re lookin’ for a younger man – not me

“Train in the Distance” is the album’s most autobiographical song as Henley reflects back on his childhood when life was simple and now the responsibilities of an adult as he sings:

You better make friends with your angels and your demons
They will be riding with you wherever you go

“The Cost of Living” with Merle Haggard is about dealing with getting older, but not regretting a single day as they sing: It’s the cost of living and everyone pays.

“Waiting Tables” is the story of a young girl who grew up in a small town, married a reckless fool, and is now a single mother waiting tables. She sighs: Dear Lord above, there must be more than this.

“Praying for Rain” is about farmers dealing with drought conditions and praying for rain soon:

I’m praying for rain
I’m praying for rain
Lord, I ain’t never asked for much
And I don’t mean to complain
But I’m praying for rain

In singing about pride in “Too Much Pride”, which features some tasty piano from Mike Rojas, he sings:

Some people tell you it’s a good thing
Some people tell you it’s a sin
Just like a weed in the garden
You’re askin’ for trouble if you let it in

I’m a longtime Eagles fan who saw them in concert more than 35 years ago in their prime. I’ve listened to this album several times, and it sounds better with each succeeding listen. I’ve always loved Henley’s voice and it is still excellent here. The songwriting and instrumentation are strong and the album benefits from the guest artists and their contributions. I found it to be one of the top releases of the year.

The Burning Edge of DawnThe Burning Edge of Dawn by Andrew Peterson
****

Singer-songwriter and author Andrew Peterson returns with his eleventh studio album, produced by friend Gabe Scott. In comparison to his previous studio album Light for the Lost Boy, Peterson has stated that the album is more joyful. Friends Ellie Holcomb and Caleb Chapman of the band Colony House add backing vocals on a few of the songs.

The album features 10 new songs written by Peterson with Scott between February and May 2015. The process of making this record was a departure for Peterson, since most of the songs were written during the recording process. Having just completed writing The Warden and the Wolf King, the final book in the Wingfeather Saga series, Peterson went into the studio with very few songs completed. As a result he has stated that “It meant that I had no choice but to write about exactly what’s happening in my life right now, in real time. And what’s happening is that I’m seeing the first glimmers of sunrise after what feels like a long, painful night. These songs are about joy.”

Andrew has stated that “This album is the result of looking hard at a lot of painful stuff and arriving at the conclusion that when God the gardener tears open the earth, he’s doing it in order to bring about something beautiful. If you want the joy of the harvest, you first have to plant the seeds; and anyone who has planted seeds knows that the soil must be torn open. That’s how joy works. I know that now.”

Here are a few brief thoughts about each song:

The Dark Before The Dawn – This is a song of joy and hope and of looking forward. He is ready for a change. I liked the thought that the same wind that does damage is going to blow the storm away and that darkness is a small and passing thing.

I believe that that light is going to come
This is the dark before the dawn

Every Star Is A Burning Flame – This is a story song with references to Idaho, Tennessee and Louisville. He sings of being on the inside looking out, and seeing the sky as it’s going to be again one day. He can imagine the host of heaven singing out loud.

We Will Survive – Andrew has stated that “’We Will Survive’ is a song I wrote for Jamie about a tough season I went through last year. She has been a steady reminder of God’s good intentions during long months of uncertainty”.

Tell me the story I still need to hear
Tell me we’re to make it out alive again
I need to know there’s nothing left to fear
There’s nothing left to hide
So will you look me in the eye
And say we will survive?

My One Safe Place – This is another song written for his wife Jamie. It is written from one broken person to another. He sings that she is his oasis in the eye of the hurricane. I like the idea of “running away home to you”.

I believe in the love of the father
I believe in the power of grace
I believe in that He brought us together
You are my one safe place

The Rain Keeps Falling – Andrew has stated that “This one was partly inspired by a Luci Shaw poem called “Forecast.” The song features his good friend Ellie Holcomb, along with his daughter Skye singing harmony. It is a very honest song (as all of his are), featuring piano and some strings. He is tired, there is pain in his heart, as the rain keeps falling during “a season of night” in North Carolina, while his wife was praying for him back home. I liked the line about Dying to live, but learning to wait. A calming “Peace, be still” refrain adds hope to the song.

Rejoice – This song is a bit more complex musically. It is hopeful and joyful, and based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice”.

I Want To Say I’m Sorry – Featuring an acoustic guitar, this is a song to a friend. He wants to say he is sorry, but he doesn’t know how. He has said words that he wished he hadn’t. He is sorry for his words that have hurt his friend. He drew the line and built a wall between them. He recognizes that the fault is his and he must trust in grace and give it time. He calls the song their communion hymn.

Be Kind To Yourself – This is a song to his daughter Skye who deals with self-condemnation. He performed this song when we saw him in concert on August 29 when he was accompanied on drums by his 15 year-old son Asher. He sings that he loves Skye just the way she is, and the way the Lord is shaping her heart.

How does it end when the war that you’re in
Is just you against you against you?

Gotta learn to love, learn to love
Learn to love your enemies too.

The Power Of A Great Affection – Andrew has said that “This is the closest thing I’ve written to a corporate worship song in a long time, and tells a little of the story of my life with Jesus. I read somewhere that about 100 years ago, when someone became a Christian they often said, “I’ve been seized by the power of a great affection.” That’s a beautiful sentence if ever there was one. That affection seized me and has never let go” Andrew wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the music with Gabe Scott. This is one of my favorite songs of the year.

This is now the theme of my song
And now I must forgive as I’m forgiven
And even when the shadows are long
“I will sing about the Son who’s risen.”
And his kingdom has no end
His kingdom has no end
So Father, I will give you thanks and praise
The Son has opened wide the gate of glory
He declared your mighty love and gave us grace
And I will tell his story, it is my story

The Sower’s Song – is a song about the leading of the Sower (God). Andrew sings “Abide in me Lord as I abide in You” It is a powerful and hopeful closing song that builds throughout, and is perhaps based on Isaiah 55:10-11:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

This is a very strong album. It is personal, serious and intimate about his what was going on in his life as he wrote these songs between February and May of this year. The songs fall into a soft rock, acoustic rock, and country genres. The music perfectly complements the lyrics. Highly recommended.

After All These Years by Andrew PetersonAfter All These Years by Andrew Peterson
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Andrew Peterson is not only an excellent singer/songwriter, but also the author of the four-book fantasy series for young readers called the Wingfeather Saga. After completing the latest book he was creatively spent and decided it was a good time to put out a collection of his music spanning his recording career which began in 1996. The result was this 20-song release, comprised of four new songs, eight of his classics re-recorded and eight favorites, specifically chosen by his fans on his Rabbit Room website. I found it similar in nature to Matt Maher’s 2013 All the People Said Amen and Jars of Clay’s 2014 20.

The new songs are:

After All These Years – This song was released as a single and features a light, folk-pop melody. Peterson sings of God’s faithfulness:

‘Cause you never let go. You never let go.
You led me by the hand into a land of green and gold.
You never let go. You never let go.
Your love endures forever wherever I go
after all these years.

Everybody’s Got a Song – This is a loving tribute to Peterson’s hometown of Nashville.

To All the Poets – This song was written with Gloria Gaither. Peterson thanks God for all of the poets he has known for sharing their gifts with him.

Romans 11 (Doxology) – Peterson puts Paul’s words to music. I can hear this being sung in a worship service:

For from Him, through Him,
to Him, is everything
To God be the glory forever and ever.
To God be the glory forever, amen.

Peterson’s lyrics creatively paint pictures over his acoustic backing. All of the songs are excellent here, so it’s really hard to pick favorites. Mine would be “Dancing in the Minefields”, “The Silence of God” (which I actually thought had been written by Peterson’s friend Michael Card, as it was included in his 2006 album The Hidden Face of God), and “The Good Confession”. Peterson was born in Illinois and I enjoyed the multiple references to the state, having lived here my entire life.

If you are an Andrew Peterson fan, this is a nice collection. If you are not familiar with this music, this would be an excellent introduction.

Andrew Peterson Concert Review

Andrew Peterson at Calvary Baptist Church in Normal, Illinois (August 29, 2015)

Andrew Peterson appeared in concert at the Calvary Baptist Church for their “Back to School Weekend” event. He was accompanied on drums by his 15 year-old son Asher. Andrew immediately built a good rapport with the audience with his warm smile and the stories he told about his songs, many of which are about his family.

He opened with “All Things New” and followed that up with his “legalism recovery song” “Rest Easy” from his most recently studio album, 2012’s excellent Light for the Lost Boy:

You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
So you can rest easy

Next was “God of My Fathers”, most of which was written by Ben Shive, with Peterson changing just a few words.

Peterson was born in nearby Monticello, Illinois, where his dad was a pastor and he lived his first seven years. He said that returning to the state and seeing corn fields and silos was for him like seeing the Grand Canyon.

He told a story about his Grandma Click who lived in Lakeport, Florida, and then sang “All the Way Home”. One of our favorite songs of the evening was about his uncle Steve (a dairy farmer), who had been diagnosed with cancer and had only a few months to live. He decided to drive with his wife Margie to Alaska to fish for salmon. Peterson said that he sang the song “Alaska or Bust” in front of his uncle’s casket at his funeral:

So get in, I’ll do the drivingIMG_0256
And your bag’s already packed and in the truck
So Margie, get in, put down those dishes
Well, the town will see us go if we’re in luck
So come on, it’s Alaska or bust

He played “Lay Me Down” next, which was the first song that mentioned Illinois:

I suppose you could lay me down to die in Illinois
Bury me beneath the rows of corn
Or in-between the maple trees I climbed on as a boy
Where in the Land of Lincoln I was born

Peterson has been married to Jamie for 20 years and they have three children. After a big fight at year 15 he wrote “Dancing in the Minefields”, which was what he called a “get outta trouble song” and is one of my favorite of his songs:

We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storm
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for

He then told of a song he wrote on a night when he couldn’t sleep. It had been his birthday and also a day when he released a new album. The only review on iTunes had ripped the album and given it a one-star rating. It bothered him all day and he wrote the song “Fool with a Fancy Guitar”.

Just before the break he played “Be Kind to Yourself”, his only song on the piano (all of the others were on the acoustic guitar) and the only song he played from the forthcoming album The Burning Edge of Dawn, which will be released October 9. The song, produced by Gabe Scott, was written for his daughter who deals with self-condemnation.The Burning Edge of Dawn

Peterson mentioned that he is 41 years old and on Father’s Day broke his leg hopping stones in a river in Asheville, North Carolina. This was his first show since having the boot removed.

The first of two songs about the Resurrection was “Day by Day”. Another “Illinois song” was “The Ballad of Jody Baxter”. This song was about the main character in the book, “The Yearling”. He also mentioned that Frederick Buechner is one of his favorite writers, and one of the things Buechner wrote about was listening to your life. In “The Ballad of Jody Baxter”, he looked at his childhood in Illinois as Eden and Florida as the Fall.

What was good, good, good
Is gone, gone, gone
And there’s a little boy
Who’s lost out in the woods
Always looking for the fawn

He then asked for requests and played a powerful version of “High Noon”, another song about the Resurrection.

He finished a wonderful concert with “Calling Out Your Name”, “The Reckoning” and “After the Last Tear Falls”, written with Normal native Andrew Osenga. It was my first time seeing Peterson in concert and Lord willing, it won’t be the last. I’m very much looking forward to the new album on October 2.

Uncomfortable - Andy MineoMusic Review: Uncomfortable by Andy Mineo
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27 year-old Andy Mineo follows up his 2014 Never Land EP with a very strong effort, one of my favorite albums of the year. It is an effort that has a variety of music styles with mature, transparent, serious, and at times, painfully honest lyrics. The album debuted at #4 on iTunes overall chart and #2 on the Hip-Hop/Rap chart. Mineo includes some special guests on the album, but surprisingly no Reach Records label mates (such as Lecrae, Trip Lee or KB). Ramon “Illmind” Ibanga serve as executive producer of the effort. Below are a few thoughts and key lyrics for each song:

Uncomfortable – Right off the bat, Andy sings that if you want live a comfortable life you should be sure not to love anyone, be selfish and never sacrifice. Key lyrics are:

My own people owned people, but they don’t own that
They say racism dead, man our president is black
Two terms in the White House, that don’t mean jack
If we still believe our present ain’t affected by our past

I apologize for Christians with pickets sayin’, “God hates fags”
I promise Jesus wouldn’t act like that

Uptown – I first listened to this Latin- flavored song while on vacation last week in New York City. It is a song about Mineo’s Washington Heights neighborhood located in uptown New York City. Key lyrics are:

Ain’t no other city make me feel this way
I been all around the world baby, but I’m here to stay

Now I Know – This song has a great beat, but it’s also about some serious things. Andy sings that the older he gets the more he realizes that almost everything he believed was a lie. This is the first of the less than positive references to his father. Although he feels jaded, he sings that he somehow still believes in God. Key lyrics are:

All that glitters ain’t made of gold
It’s the thing you’ve heard a million times before
It took a little time, now I realize
Now I know better, it’s better late than never
Now I know

Desperados – with guest Mali Music who handles the hook. Key lyrics are:

I’m sick and tired of songs that don’t dignify a lady

I gotta speak on my peace
Man, I can’t keep it a secret
The only way that you get acceptance is when you know you don’t need it, yeah

Hear My Heart – In this song Andy apologies to his sister Grace, who was born deaf, for never learning sign language. Key lyrics are:

My big sister Grace, I’m sorry I never learned to sign
And even though you were born deaf
I pray you forgive me for the years I lived blind

David’s Roof – This is a brief interlude sung in Spanish with soft horns. Translated it reads:

Prepare me for the war
Because comfort is the fall of kings
Is the fall of kings

The lyrics refer to King David on his roof looking at Bathsheba.

Rat Race – This song features Jon Bellion, known for his production on Eminem’s “The Monster”. Key lyrics are:

Tell ’em we don’t wanna play, yeah, yeah
We’re so okay with last place
We already won the game, yeah, yeah
No, we won’t run your rat race

And I ain’t tryna be another one of fame’s victims
Make a name for myself but never make a difference

Know That’s Right – Andy sings of knowing where he is going (Heaven). He also brings some of his humor here. Key lyrics are:

My Savior is Jewish, my lawyer is Jewish
My stomach is Buddhist
I’m trying to lose it, but I need to chill on Fig Newtons, I swear

There’s nothin’ left to say
I know where I’m goin’
We’re startin’ here today
And you know, you know that’s right

Vendetta – This song includes another reference to his father (and mother). It’s hard-hitting and features some of the best lyrics on the album. Andy includes part of the hook from 2 Pac’s song “Hail Mary”. Key lyrics are:

You wanna know the real problem in America?
Always has been and it always will be, me

Cause Pac did a lot more for me than Barack

I wanna snatch my generation out this apathy

Ghost – This song is about a close friendship that dissolved. You can feel Andy’s sadness as he tells us about it. Key lyrics include:

A thug changes and love changes
And them best friends become strangers (from “The Message” by Nas)

Love – Andy sings about what he’s learned about love, with references to his recent marriage. Key lyrics include:

Watch a man real close, what he choose to do with his money
That’ll tell you the truth about what he really (love)

Strange Motions – On this song, Andy states that that he taps into a psychedelic rock vibe trying some new stuff with Willow Stephens. Key lyrics include:

When these strange motions
They tell me don’t get lost in heaven

Make Me a Believer – This song features the incredible vocals of Third Day lead singer Mac Powell and addresses King David’s repentance after being confronted of his sin by the prophet Nathan. Key lyrics include:

Make me a believer
Cause all I’ve ever seen is pain
Make me a believer
Promise me I’m not the same
Make me a believer

I’ve listened to this album several times since its release. Each time I hear something new. Give this album multiple listens, it deserves it and you will hear something new and exciting with each succeeding listen as you experience Mineo’s growth as an artist.

The Wonderlands DarknessThe Wonderlands: Darkness by Jon Foreman
****

See my Amazon reviews of Sunlight here and Shadows here.

This is the third of four Wonderlands EPs from Switchfoot lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter Jon Foreman, and follows Sunlight released in late May and Shadows in July. The four “hourly” EPs were to each feature six songs, or one song for each hour of the day – though this EP actually features seven songs. Foreman indicated that he wanted “to sneak 25 songs into 24 hours.”

Each song on the project, that has been 10 years and more than 1,000 hours in the making, is co-produced with someone different. So there will be 25 songs and 25 producers, certainly a unique approach from the always creative Foreman. He has stated in an interview that his collaborators would send him back their musical response: bass, clarinet, background vocals, etc. His challenge was how to put those things together and make it sound like a cohesive statement rather than 25 different projects. Every hour had to be distinct and yet still feel like a cohesive body of work.

Foreman has stated that the Wonderlands EPs would explore themes of faith and doubt, love and frustration, and everything else. Below are brief comments and favorite lyrics on each of the new songs:

Come Home – this is a song that encourages one to come home to where the heart is. I liked the use of orchestration. A key line is “And nothing hurts worse than hope that’s deferred”.

Looking for reasons to try
A reason to live or to die
Won’t you come home
Back to where your heart is
This is the meaning of life
You were born for the dance not the fight
Won’t you come home
Back to where your heart is

Beautiful, Pt. II – I liked the echo call and response that begins the song. It features acoustic guitar, strings, atmospheric background vocals, light drums and building orchestration. Taylor York and Jon Howard co-produced the song with Foreman. The song represents 11:30pm. A key line states that the makeup covers the pain she can never control.

Look like a funeral, but I see right through
You’re so beautiful, You’re so beautiful

You Alone – Cubbie from Foster The People co-produced the song with Foreman. This song has a quicker pace, and is the most upbeat musically song on this edition of the Wonderlands EPs. It features acoustic guitar and atmospheric background vocals.

You alone, you alone, can heal my soul

She Said – This song begins with piano, light drums and acoustic guitar and then builds musically with atmospheric background vocals as the song progresses. Looking for answers is a theme here.

I hear her talking to herself in bed
All my tears are falling on the floor, she says
I’ve never felt it rain like this before, she says
I’ll sing these black eyed blues into the storm instead
I’ll be waiting for the new eyes to arrive
One breath at a time

Larger than Life – I liked the use of backing vocals and the unique use of strings. It is a song of encouragement to one who is down.

Do you feel the weight again?
Are you feeling like you’re caving in?
You’re larger than life my friend
You’re bigger than what you’ve been
Are you running away again?
Are you feeling blown by the wind?
You’re larger than life

June and Johnny – This song, which references singing June Carter and Johnny Cash songs as they drive down the highway, is a simple love song featuring acoustic guitar. The song is a duet with Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek, who Foreman collaborates with in his side projects with the Fiction Family.

And I’ll hold you all my life
Like a memory at the back of my mind

Inner Peace – This is the second shortest track at just over three minutes. Lyrically it’s my favorite of the new songs. He is searching for reasons (for pain, rain when he is alone, and longing for justice). He is at war inside, fighting all his life. He has a lot on his mind, and he longs for the water that will make him clean.

Inner peace is hard to find.
Peace of heart and peace of mind

How can we be ourselves if we don’t know who we are?

Jon Foreman is one of our most creative and prolific artists today. These songs have a great deal of complexity and will reveal more and more after each repeated listen.

We now have 19 songs in the Wonderlands series. The final EP, The Wonderlands: Dawn is scheduled to be released October 23.

The Wonderlands: Shadows by Jon ForemanThe Wonderlands: Shadows by Jon Foreman
****

This is the second of four Wonderlands EPs from Switchfoot (my second favorite band, just behind U2), frontman Jon Foreman, and follows Sunlight released in late May. See my Amazon review of Sunlight here.

The four “hourly” EPs will each feature six songs, in total one song for each hour of the day. Each song on the project that has been 10 years in the making will produced by someone different. So there will be 24 songs and 24 producers, certainly a unique approach from the always creative Foreman.

Shadows is darker, both musically and lyrically, than most of Foreman’s work. I’ve only listened to each song a few times. To get the full impact of these songs will take many listens. Below are my initial thoughts on each of the six songs:

Ghost Machine Produced by Jeremy Edwardson. Foreman sings of the ghost machine, referring to it as “she”. This song has a regretful feel. It is somber and features an acoustic guitar. What is the ghost machine he’s singing about? It’s sucking the life out of him. It’ a drug, in his blood and he can’t give her up.

My Coffin Produced by Ryan O’Neal of Sleeping At Last. Foreman wonders early in the song:

Is there someone buried
Beneath this skin?
And is he free when I am lost
In my coffin

The song finishes with:

Resurrection comes
But death comes first

And when I lose myself I’m safe
In my coffin

Fake Your Own Death Produced by Darren King. Features an interesting musical backdrop. With some strings, jazz instrumentation, and light drums I felt it had almost a Sgt. Pepper-like sound at times.

What would you live like if you had died
And been reborn with a second chance to live
Would you lose your fear of being dead?
And be afraid of something else instead?
Maybe you’d be more concerned with living it like you mean

Good For Me Produced by Andrew Wessen and Charlie Peacock (who has a long-time relationship with Foreman and Switchfoot).

This was the most musically interesting song on Shadows. Featuring guitar, drums, horns, it has a great beat to it. That doesn’t surprise me with the creative Peacock’s involvement.

Lyrically Foreman wonders if what he puts in his soul is taking a toll on him. Is it good for him? Does it keep him on his knees? Does it set him free?

Your Love is Enough Produced by Foreman and Seth Mosley. Foreman sings that only God can help him in times of doubt, longing, darkness. His love is enough. In a recent interview Foreman said “It’s a song that chronicles my lifelong battles with doubt and fear. Our roads in life can be painful at times – lonely, dark, and discouraging. But we are not alone.”

Siren’s Song Produced by Eric Owyoung from Future of Forestry.

This song features a nice orchestral arrangement. His love is at the edge of the ocean, wrapped in greens and blues.

Come to the sea
come and have me
my arms are open wide
come to the sea
come and cross me
we’ll reach the other side
come to the sea
come and take me
and have me for your bride
come to the sea
come and listen to the sailor’s lullaby

Again, give this release several listens to get to the full depth that Foreman intends. The final two EPs in the Wonderlands series are Darkness, due out September 4, and Dawn, set for release on October 23.

Concert Review: U2 iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour at the United Center in Chicago – June 25, 2015

U2The first U2 album I bought was 1983’s War. I was a relatively new Christian at the time and had read about this mainstream band in Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine in which some of the members were Christians. (Note: Bono mentioned in 2005’s Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas that all were now believers, with bassist Adam Clayton being the last to come to faith). Among the songs on War was “40”, which contains the words of Psalm 40, and is a song that the band has closed their shows with often over the years. I’ve been a fan of U2 ever since, especially enjoying the spiritual aspects of their music.

Thursday’s concert at Chicago’s United Center was the second of five at the venue on their iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour, featuring seven songs from their latest album Songs of Innocence, which Rolling Stone magazine named as the top album of 2014. The album, their first since 2009’s No Line on the Horizon, was also my top album of 2014, narrowly edging out Lecrae’s excellent Anomaly. This was the seventh time I’ve seen my favorite band in concert and the first in an arena setting since the 2005 Vertigo tour, with outdoor stadium shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field and St. Louis’ Busch Stadium since that time.

U2 often does unique things with their stage. This time, the stage had two large locations at each end of the arena, with a long walkway across the United Center floor connecting them, where just a few nights before the Chicago Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup Championship. Our seats were supposed to be in the lower section at the end of the main stage. Due to a mix-up (either the wrong floor map was posted when we purchased tickets through the band’s fan club, or the stage was flipped) our seats were actually behind the stage. Those sitting around us were all very disappointed with this, but as it turned out there were some benefits to sitting only about 25 feet from drummer Larry Mullen. It was amazing to watch him working (behind the scenes) throughout the show. The close proximity to the band was a stark contrast to my last U2 concert, when we were more than three hundred feet away from the U2 360 stage placed in center field at Busch Stadium.

The two and a half hour concert started with Bono in his trademark black leather jacket and sunglasses appearing alone on the far end of the arena. As he walked toward the main stage he began singing “Oh, Oh, Oh…” from “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” as the rest of the band (Edge, guitar and keyboards; Adam Clayton, bass; and Larry Mullen) took their places on stage. The concert did not include an opening act and had only a short intermission of Johnny Cash singing “The Wanderer” from Zooropa on the video screen; it featured twenty four songs, including three during the encore. Here is the complete setlist, which changes a bit each night as the band plays multiple dates in each city on the tour.

Although the concert featured seven songs from Songs of Innocence – which sounded even better in concert than on the too perfectly produced album – the band did a nice job of playing songs from throughout their thirty-five year career. Here are the albums that the songs originally appeared on:

Boy (1980) – Out of Control, I Will Follow

War (1983) – Sunday Bloody Sunday

Unforgettable Fire (1984) – Pride (In the Name of Love), Bad

The Joshua Tree (1987) – With or Without You, Bullet the Blue Sky, Where the Streets Have No Name

Rattle and Hum (1988) – Angel of Harlem

Achtung Baby (1991) – Even Better Than the Real Thing, One, Until the End of the World, Mysterious Ways

All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000) – Beautiful Day

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004) – Vertigo, City of Blinding Lights

No Line on the Horizon (2009) – Moment of Surrender (portions performed before and after “Bad”).

Invisible 2014 single (not available on an album)

Songs of Innocence (2014) – The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone); Iris (Hold Me Close), Cedarwood Road, Song for Someone, Raised by Wolves, Every Breaking Wave, Volcano

The band’s main stage was directly in front of us at one end of the United Center. A long catwalk/walkway with a huge see-through video screen above it, added much to the experience, but also created some challenges as only those on the sides of the arena could fully see the band when they were inside the screen. That’s right, the band would enter the screen and be part of the video experience. The screen would move up and down throughout the concert. However, when it was down, it made it difficult for people seated at the ends of the arena to see the band.

The band also set up at the far end of the arena for a few songs. By moving around and playing at a number of different places on their stage they added variety and gave everyone unique views of the band.

The show featured a few themes. The first half of the show featured many of the new songs from Songs of Innocence, so growing up was a theme – much as it was with Lecrae on his recent Anomaly tour – as Bono sang about his mother Iris (“Iris (Hold Me Close)” and his neighborhood growing up “Cedarwood Road”. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” with Larry playing a sobering snare drum effectively led into “Raised by Wolves”. Later, Bono would say that after grief comes anger as he led the band into “Volcano”. With songs like “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” there were references to “I can’t breathe”, Ferguson, MO and Charleston SC. Later, the theme of surrender came up with parts of “Moment of Surrender” sung before and after “Bad”.

A few other thoughts:

  • The couple in front of us were from nearby (to Chicago) Grayslake, Illinois. This was her thirteenth U2 concert. When Bono introduced their second song “Out of Control” as their first single, she was completely overcome emotionally, with tears streaming down her face during the entire song. I’ll never forget how the song impacted her.
  • “Every Breaking Wave” is my favorite song on the new album. I actually prefer the alternate version released on the deluxe edition, so Bono performing it with only Edge on piano at the far end of the stage was a highlight.
  • Bono pulled a young woman from Costa Rica out of the crowd to help him film “Mysterious Ways” and “Angel of Harlem” around the world as Twitter comments from literally around the world were projected up on the large video screens above us.
  • My favorite song was “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, which was followed by “Beautiful Day”. The energy in the building during those two songs was incredible.

Though Bono seemed less energetic than past tours (could be due to his recent bike accident, or what the Chicago Tribune referred to as his bout with “nagging bronchitis”), it would not have been noticeable to those who hadn’t seen him on previous tours when he would sprint around the stage.

Thirty-five years after their first album U2 is still relevant and going strong. Incredibly there have been no band member changes during that time. I hope to see them on the next leg of the tour with songs from the rumored Songs of Experience album.

Unbroken Praise – Matt RedmanUnbroken Praise, Matt Redman
****

Matt Redman, with the possible exception of Chris Tomlin, is arguably the most influential worship songwriter that the modern church has been blessed with. He chose to record his latest album live in front of an audience of about 300 (who participate in the live worship by singing along), at the legendary Abbey Road studios in London. The album cover features the signatures from everyone who made the album possible (songwriters, musicians, producers, technicians, etc.). Redman stated “”Unbroken Praise reveals a heart not wanting to be beaten down by the things of life, but to actually increase worship in those moments.”

Below are brief comments on each of these wonderful new songs:

Louder – an upbeat song to start the worship, featuring the chorus:

We lift our voices, lift our voices

Make Your praise so glorious, glorious

It is Well with My Soul – features the chorus from Horatio G. Spafford’s 1873 hymn.

Flames – compares our praise offerings to the flame of a fire.

Let all our hallelujahs be Yours

All our hallelujahs be Yours

From the altar of our hearts, O God

Let flames of worship rise

Unbroken Praise – a last minute addition to the recording.

We give our praise unbroken, praise unending to God forevermore

Abide With Me – co-written with Matt Maher. The song also appeared on Maher’s excellent Sinners and Saints album. This is probably my favorite new song of 2015 thus far.

King Of My Soul – an upbeat song that will be good for contemporary worship services. Redman’s desire is to let our lives be undivided in our worship of God.

Songs In The Night – a wonderful song that speaks of the sovereignty of God in the midst of storms. We will wait on the Lord praising Him, confident because He is our peace in the storm.

No One Like Our God – a song that speaks clearly about how there is no one like our God and Savior. His blessing and His love is great. A joyous song that will be wonderful for congregational singing.

The Awesome God You Are – a song that first appeared earlier this year on the Passion Even So Come album. Features the worshipful chorus:

God, let hope arise

And faith become

The fortress of my heart

I will lift my eyes

And see You as

The awesome God You are

Believe You as

The awesome God You are

No Longer I – Uses the refrain from Isaac Watt’s 1707 hymn “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” (sometimes known as “At the Cross”), changing the last line from “And now I’m happy all the day!” to “Now, no longer I but Christ in me”. The refrain was not actually written by Watts, but by Ralph E. Hudson in 1885.

Majesty Of The Most High – a mostly acoustic song. We bow before the majesty, holiness and amazing grace of the Most High God. Just one glimpse of God and we will be changed.

Redman has done it again. He is so very talented in giving the church the gift of songs that we can sing in worship of our God. I’m sure these wonderful songs will be sung in worship services around the world very soon.

James Taylor Before this WorldBefore This World – James Taylor
****

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
****

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.

 
Sunlight by Jon ForemanThe Wonderlands: Sunlight – Jon Foreman
****

This is the first of four “hourly” EPs from Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman, each featuring with six songs. Lyrically rich and musically diverse, the style will remind you of his four “seasonal” EPs (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter) from 2007-2008 or his music with Family Fiction, more so than it will his Switchfoot output. The songs feature acoustic guitars, strings and layered vocals. There will be one song for each hour of the day and each song is produced by someone different. Foreman has stated that the album has been ten years in the making, as he worked on the songs between stops on tour and between tours. The songs didn’t fit on any of his other projects (Switchfoot, Family Fiction or solo). The project was inspired by a moment in which potential chaos inspired a beautiful moment. Foreman has stated that with a project that is specifically geared toward light and darkness, many of the songs are going to be quite dark.

Here are a few brief thoughts about each of the songs:

“Terminal” – The most musically complex songs on the set. It is produced by Tyler Strickland. Foreman sings that we are fatally flawed in the image of God.

“The Mountain” – Produced by Anton Patzner, the song features acoustic guitar and strings. Foreman sings “I believe you (God) could move this mountain of mine”.

“You Don’t Know How Beautiful You Are” – Produced by Neal Avron. Foreman sings that “We’re the kids who’ve seen the darkness, always looking for light”. Where they are headed is a world apart from where they started. This is a very lyrically rich song. Was originally included in the album for the film To Write Love On Her Arms earlier this year.

“Caroline” – The first single from the project, it’s my favorite song. The opening line is “Caroline, the middle finger queen of the never mind.” It features a harmonica and is produced by Keith Tutt. In the chorus Foreman wonders out loud where Caroline’s heart is today.

“Patron Saint of Rock and Roll” – Produced by Aaron Roche, this song exposes some common counterfeit gods and Foreman sings that Christ alone can save his soul.

“All of God’s Children” – This is a song that dates back to Switchfoot’s Vice Verses writing sessions. It is a simple song featuring acoustic guitar and strings, as Foreman sings about believing in a world that is beyond him, a world he hasn’t seen. It is produced by Dan Brigham, Jeremy Lutito and Jason Morant.

The Wonderlands: Sunlight has me looking forward to the next EP, which is The Wonderlands: Shadows, due to be released July 17.

monkeyNo Pier Pressure - Brian Wilson

Music Review

No Pier Pressure – Brian Wilson
***

Originally intended to be the Beach Boys’ follow-up to their 2012 under-appreciated That’s Why God Made the Radio (until Mike Love “fired” Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks at the end of their 50th Anniversary Tour), No Pier Pressure ended up as the first solo album of all-new material from the 72 year-old legendary Brian Wilson since 2008’s That Lucky Old Sun. Those harmonies…..that’s what I loved about the Beach Boys, and that’s the best part of this new project, which can feel a bit disjointed and inconsistent. That makes sense, as four of the songs seem to have been for the Beach Boys album, a few are true Wilson solo songs, and the others feature guest artists, with mixed results.

Wilson joins the list of rock and roll veterans who have lately tried new approaches. Van Morrison and John Fogerty recently released duet projects. Paul McCartney has recently worked with Kanye West and Rihanna, and Bob Dylan released an album of songs that Frank Sinatra had recorded. None of these artists have anything left to prove and thus can experiment.

For Wilson’s eleventh solo studio album, he returned to Capitol Records, his longtime label with the Beach Boys. He also reunites with Joe Thomas, his frequent songwriting partner and co-producer.

The four songs which feature combinations of Beach Boys Al Jardine, David Marks and Blondie Chaplin – “Whatever Happened”, “The Right Time”, “Tell Me Why”, and “Sail Away”, feature stunning harmonies and are worth the price of the album (or you can just download those songs individually). Those songs will take you back to the best of the Beach Boys music. Jardine and Chaplin will be joining Wilson on tour this summer.

Wilson handles the vocals for the opening “This Beautiful Day”, “One Kind of Love”, and the closing “The Last Song” (a version of which was reportedly recorded with Lana Del Rey) himself.

“Runaway Dancer”, featuring Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities, has a dated 80’s disco feel to it and is my least favorite song on the record. Next least favorite is “On the Island” featuring She & Him. “Half Moon Bay” features beautiful harmonies and the trumpet of Mark Isham. “Our Special Love”, which was originally going to feature Frank Ocean, instead includes the vocals of Peter Hollens. “Guess You Had to Be There” is a catchy song featuring vocals from Kacey Musgraves. This would be my favorite of the songs featuring the non-Beach Boy guest artists. “Saturday Night” featuring Nate Ruess of fun., is likeable, but doesn’t feature enough of Wilson.

Throughout, Wilson’s voice is strong and the production is excellent. The genius of Wilson comes through on No Pier Pressure, but the album is uneven because of the varied styles and guests that are included.

CONCERT REVIEW

anomaly_tourLecrae, Andy Mineo and DJ Promote at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis April 30, 2015

DJ Promote opened the recent joyful three hour show before a mixed crowd of 3,000 mostly young fans at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, one of the final stops of the Anomaly tour.

We were seated in the second row of the balcony. As the crowd started moving at the beginning of DJ Promote’s set, so did the balcony – a lot! We had never felt anything like that before. Think of going through some turbulence on a flight, except you are sitting in the balcony of a theatre. The person sitting next to Tammy said it always happens. Later, in discussing this with an usher, we were told that the building was built that way to withstand an earthquake. They said we should have been there for the Lady Gaga concert when it was really shaking!

After a short set from DJ Promote, Andy Mineo came on to play an excellent high energy set, featuring songs from his Neverland EP and full-length album Heroes for Sale. Featured were such songs as “Neverland”, “The Saints”, “Bitter”, “Wild Things”, “Uno Uno Seis” (Spanish for 116), “Paisano’s Wylin”, “Rewind”, and “You Can’t Stop Me”.

Lecrae’s set contained mostly songs from his latest and chart-topping Anomaly album, beginning with “Welcome to America”. He effectively used video and song to tell the story of his life, as he was accompanied by a background singer, DJ Promote and a drummer. Other songs performed from the new album included “Outsiders”, “Fear”, “Wish”, “Dirty Water”, “Nuthin”, “All I Need is You”, “Good, Bad, Ugly” and “Give In”. This was more than just a concert, as Lecrae didn’t avoid the hard issues, including driving his girlfriend to an abortion clinic. He also played “I’m Turnt” and “Tell the World”. Andy Mineo joined Lecrae for a rousing “Say I Won’t” closer.

Along the way we had a marriage proposal by Lecrae’s former road manager (she said “yes”)! DJ Promote then led the crowd through some celebratory music.

Throughout the concert Lecrae talked about how much he loved St. Louis and how he felt that the city had adopted him. He thanked those from the St. Louis rap community who had helped him (including Thi’sl, J.R. and Flame), and then called on Thi’sl to join him for a powerful great version of “Fakin” from Gravity.

Lecrae is the real-deal. There is no artist I like or respect more. This was the second time we had seen him in concert, the first being a much shorter set at an outdoor festival. He and his fellow Reach Records artists are making a difference in an otherwise mostly dark genre by consistently producing high quality music.

Tomorrow We Live – KB

Tomorrow We Live – KB
****
Lecrae’s Reach Records continues its run of strong releases with KB’s (Kevin Burgess) second full-length album, and the follow-up to his 2014’s EP 100. The album was recorded in various location (Tampa, Atlanta, South Africa). It features strong production, powerful lyrics which ultimately offer a message of hope, and varied styles.

In interviews KB has said that he drew inspiration for the album from a trip to South Africa and that the album is a story that goes through the emotions of the day. Below are a few brief comments about each of the songs:

Rich Forever – features piano and acoustic guitar, this is a smooth jazzy/R&B song with an infectious beat. KB tells of growing up poor and that we will have riches in Heaven, which are better than riches in this world.

Sideways (featuring Lecrae) – this features a great beat as label owner Lecrae joins him on this excellent track, which looks at the way Christians are often seen by the world. My favorite track on the album.

They don’t know what to do with us
Degree in theology raps for a livin’
Black man in first class that is reading the scriptures
I put my tray table up
Smile why they lookin’ sideways?

And lately I’ve been hangin’ in the hood
Everybody lookin’ like what
You for the people, you pushin’ back evil
Not just in the steeple, you out in the woods
Where the lions and the wolves at?

I Believe (featuring Mattie of For Today) – features a chanting crowd screaming “I believe we will win.” KB addresses subjects from breast cancer and racism to the hope of Heaven. Features a joyful African chorus with drums.

9 AM – a short interlude with wife and baby and a reference to Lecrae’s “Dirty Water” from Anomaly.

Fall in Love with You – features a ukulele and some muted brass. The song is written to his son. It has a pop sound that demonstrates his versatility. It’s similar in theme to Trip Lee’s song about his children “Beautiful Life 2” from Rise.

Always & Forever – soul and funk with a 70’s/80’s sound. Upbeat and joyful, featuring female vocals. A love songs written to his wife. Could be a commercial success such as Lecrae’s “All I Need is You”.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know Who holds tomorrow.

Ima Just Do It (featuring Bubba Watson) – featuring two-time Masters golf tournament champion and one of my favorite golfers Bubba Watson. Has a great beat which will sound good live.

Bubba Wats on the mic now.
Can a golfer spit a rhyme?
Not a gangsta rapper, but my caddie got a knife.
KB need a verse,
Told him ain’t nothin’ to it.
Everybody ask me why, I just look ’em in the eye and say
I’m a just do it
Country boy from the panhandle
No golf lessons, just God’s blessin’s
Ain’t nothin’ He can’t handle,
Left-handed, funny swing,
Driver’s pink, ain’t nothin’ to me.
Got two Masters, a double major
But just one Master, our Savior.

Cruising – a short smooth track in which KB raps about Tampa, shrimp, garlic sauce, riding his bike and breaking bones in an accident.

Calling You – KB tells the heartbreaking story about an Iraq War veteran’s attempted suicide. Features some female vocals.

Save Me – short song that serves to bridge us from “Calling You” to “Drowning”.

Drowning – a laid-back beat with autobiographical content from KB.

Pull me up now before I drown
Save me before I drown.

Lights Go Out (featuring Bianca and Justin Ebach) – Could be another song about his wife. Features vocals from solo artist Bianca and composer/producer Justin Ebach. Has an excellent hook that sounds familiar.

When the lights go out it’s going to be me and you.

Crowns & Thorns (Oceans) – samples the popular worship song “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United. The song mixes hip-hop beats with violins and keyboard, and verses of despair and upbeat chorus:

My idols are mimickin’ Jesus
I bury my sin in 3 days, its back up again

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Find Your Way – a bonus track. KB tells women to look at their value in Christ, not in their looks or in the eyes of men. Features some effective drums.

This is a very strong release in which KB shows his flexibility, not only as a hip-hop artists but also incorporating funk and pop influences.

Into the Woods - NEEDTOBREATHELive from the Woods – NEEDTOBREATHE
****

This high energy live album, featuring seventeen songs, was recorded on the band’s Rivers in the Wasteland tour at the Woods at Fontanel Amphitheatre in Nashville on September 13, 2014. NEEDTOBREATHE has become one of my favorite bands over the past few years, and is a band that I really hope to see in concert soon as this recording demonstrates that they are an excellent live band, bringing new energy to their excellent studio recordings.

The album features the South Carolina band playing extended versions of some of their best songs from four of their five full-length studio albums (no songs from their 2006 debut Daylight are included), with the strong lead vocals of Bear Rinehart. Thirteen of the seventeen songs are from the band’s last two albums, 2014’s chart-topping Rivers in the Wasteland and 2011’s The Reckoning. The only exceptions are “Something Beautiful”, “Girl from Tennessee”, “Washed in the Water” and “The Outsiders”. Nine of the eleven songs from Rivers in the Wasteland are included here. Seven songs were released in advance for those who pre-ordered the set, so I’ve been enjoying those songs for the past few weeks.

Highly recommended for NEEDTOBREATHE fans, and a good introduction for those not familiar with the band.

Postcards from Paradise by Ringo StarrPostcards from Paradise – Ringo Starr
***

From the time I was eight years old I’ve loved the Beatles’ music, both as a band, and as solo artists. Ringo was the Beatles drummer from 1962 to 1970. This is his eighteenth solo studio album, along with several live albums and compilations. Last year I finally got to see Ringo and His All Starr Band in concert. It was a great evening as Ringo and the band really seemed to enjoy each other and performing for their fans.

This album features eleven new songs, and arrives just a few months before Ringo turns 75 years old on July 7. Ringo will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 18, appropriately by Paul McCartney, the only other surviving Beatle.

The album was produced by Ringo, engineered by longtime collaborator Bruce Sugar, and recorded at his home studio in Los Angeles. As on his previous albums, he is joined by a number of guest stars, such as Joe Walsh, Benmont Tench, Dave Stewart, Richard Marx, Peter Frampton, Nathan East and Glen Ballard. The album features the first song that Ringo has written and recorded with the members of his All Starr Band “Islands in the Sun” – Steve Lukather, Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie, Richard Page, Warren Ham and Gregg Bissonette, who plays percussion, trumpet and steel drums on the song.

Below are a few comments about each song:

“Rory and the Hurricanes” – another of Ringo’s songs about the past, which I particularly enjoy. Those songs actually date way back to “Early 1970”, the b-side of an early single. This song, co-written with Dave Stewart, pays tribute to the band Ringo was in prior to joining the Beatles in 1962 when he replaced Pete Best on drums. It is a rocker featuring a pounding piano and doo-wop girl-group backing vocals. The song begins in Liverpool and takes in an early visit to Soho’s Denmark Street with the band he refers to as “you know who”.

We were sleeping on the floor living on bread and jam
Because we thought we’d hit the big time
We didn’t give a d***
We were Rory and the Hurricanes

“You Bring the Party Down” – co-written with Toto’s Steve Lukather. In this song, which includes a sitar, Ringo goes back and forth between a reggae-like feel and a driving rock beat. This has an uncharacteristically dark streak to it. It makes you wonder who he is singing about.

Still living off your memories of when you were in the band
When you’re around you bring the party down

“Bridges” – features brother-in-law Joe Walsh on a guitar solo.
Down every road we come to bridges.
Crossing bridges is the best way to grow.

“Postcards from Paradise” – co-written with Todd Rundgren, this song creatively uses Beatle and solo song titles in the song lyrics with a George Harrison sound-alike guitar solo thrown in for good measure. Ringo also plays keyboards on this song. Here’s an example, with the song title in italics:

It’s all too much my little child.
If you would be my honey pie
Eight days a week you will be mine
And getting better all the time

“Right Side of the Road” – is a positive, upbeat, feel-good song. Features guitar work from Ringo and Peter Frampton. Ringo encourages the listener to choose another direction and “try it on the right side on the right side of the road. “

“Not Looking Back” – a loving tribute to Barbara, his wife of nearly 34 years. Features violin work from Ann Marie Simpson.

“Bamboula” – co-written with Van Dyke Parks. Ringo has said that they were trying to create the impression of a marching band, so he played every drum that he had in the studio, including three huge, hundred-year-old drums that Joe Walsh sent him from Africa. The title comes from the bamboula, a drum that Africans were playing 200 years ago. Ringo plays a syncopated New Orleans–inspired snare/tom rhythm, and the song includes some horns and background vocals.

“Island in the Sun” – the first song written by the entire All-Starr Band. Features some good sax work and background vocals with a Caribbean groove.

Don’t worry about the future
Don’t forget about the past
Don’t really matter where I’ve been or what I’ve done
I keep searching for the island in the sun

“Touch and Go” – the closest to an early Beatles sound on the album. Ringo wrote the song with his longtime collaborator Gary Burr. The song is an upbeat song with an effective guitar solo, in which Ringo sings about new love:

I knew from the moment we said hello
It had to be more than touch and go.

“Confirmation” – features guitar work by Steve Dudas, who has been contributing to Ringo’s albums for several years. It’s a positive song that features a laid-back Motown groove, with an effective use of horns and background vocals. This could be another song about wife Barbara.

If I knew then what I know now
I do it all again with you anyhow

“Let Love Lead” – features Frampton and Gary Nicolson on guitars. Was reportedly considered as the title song for album. A strong closing song with the simple positive message of “let love lead”.

Ringo’s effective drumming is mixed prominently throughout this release and his vocals sound as good as ever. Several of these songs will sound good live. I thoroughly enjoyed this album.

Van Morrison DuetsDuets: Reworking the Catalogue – Van Morrison
****

I was first attracted to the now 69 year-old Van Morrison’s music when I heard his song “Whenever God Shines His Light” with Cliff Richard on Christian radio in 1989. That song, as well as “When Will I Learn to Live in God”? were included on Morrison’s excellent album Avalon Sunset. Although his later albums haven’t had the same spiritual flavor, I’ve enjoyed each of his albums since, and have seen him perform in one of his rare U.S. concerts.

In general, I’m not a fan of duet albums, live albums or “Greatest Hits” albums, instead preferring all new music from the artists I like. As a result, I wasn’t overly excited when I first heard about this new album. But it is a very good album which reminds me of John Fogerty’s 2013 I Wrote a Song for Everyone in concept, though Fogerty tended to focus on his most popular songs, while Morrison’s album focuses on some of his lesser known songs.

The 16 song album got its start when Morrison, the late Bobby Womack (whose appearance on “Some Peace of Mind” is one of his final studio recordings), Mavis Staples and Natalie Cole played the BluesFest at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2013. Morrison recorded songs with each of them, and completed songs with the other guests over the next year. The album is produced by Morrison, Don Was and Bob Rock. In some cases Morrison had songs in mind for the guest artists and in other cases, such as Michael Buble with “Real, Real Gone”, the album’s first single, the artist had a particular song they wanted to record from the 360 songs in his catalog.

The songs date from 1970’s “If I Ever Needed Someone” with Mavis Staples to 2012’s Born to Sing” with Chris Farlowe. Most of the songs come from Morrison’s 1980’s and 1990’s albums. He has said that the project was about both the fun of singing with artists he admires and also going back to songs that aren’t so well known.

Other artists who joined Morrison for the project include Stevie Winwood, Mark Knopfler, Georgie Fame, Morrison’s daughter Shana Morrison, Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall, Taj Mahal, Clare Teal, PJ Proby (who joins Morrison for “Whatever Happened to PJ Proby”), Gregory Porter, George Benson (who Morrison recorded “Higher Than the World” live with Bensons’ band) and Joss Stone. Some of the artists I was very familiar with and a few I had not heard of before this album.

The album features the superb vocals of Morrison and his hand-picked guests, is well produced and the musicianship stellar. Since this album has come out I’ve been going back to listen to a lot of Morrison’s earlier music. I hope the new album results in others doing the same.

Saints and Sinners – Matt Maher (Deluxe Edition)
****
I was only vaguely familiar with Maher before seeing him open for Toby Mac last December. It was at that concert that I first heard “Because He Lives (Amen)”, which has been one of my favorite songs since that time. The original studio version of the song, as well as an unplugged version, appear on this new album.

It was years after I first enjoyed Chris Tomlin’s versions of “Your Grace is Enough” and “Lord, I Need You” that I found out that they had been written by Maher, who is a Roman Catholic, a rarity in contemporary Christian music. I much enjoyed last year’s All the People Said Amen, a live album of some of his most popular songs live with a few new ones mixed in.

The album title comes from an Oscar Wilde quote: “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future”. This is somewhat of a concept album. I picked up the phrase “saints and sinners” in the lyrics of a few of the songs. Many of the songs were inspired by saints and sinners such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, St. Therese of Lisieux, Bill Gaither, Mother Theresa, Maher’s grandmother and St. Francis. The album was produced by Paul Moak.

The deluxe edition of this new album includes nineteen songs. Here are a few comments or lyrics about each of them:

“The Field of Stars” – a less than a minute opener which features the album’s title in the lyrics.

“Future Not My Own” – features a heavy drum and bass sound. It was inspired by martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero.

This is a great unknown
Love is a long and narrow road
Come chase this heart of stone
I need a future not my own

“Deliverer” – co-written with Bo and Bear Rinehart of NEEDTOBREATHE. An upbeat song with interesting vocal inflections from Maher.

My God, from the flood and from the fire
You brought me out, I am alive
With a faith, just like a child
I’m not afraid, I’m running wildSaints and Sinners by Matt Maher
For everything that will be done
I am yours and you are my
Deliverer

“Glory Bound” – an upbeat modern country hand-clapper that is sure to be a favorite in concert.

Well I don’t know which way you’re going
And I don’t know if you’re lost or found
All that I know is you’ve been forgiven
I tell you this train is glory bound

So come on make some room in your heart for mercy
Come on make some room for a little grace
Come on make some room for the sinners and the saints

“Land of My Father” – upbeat and joyous. Another one that will be a good one to sing along with in concert, especially the chorus:

Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty
We sing Holy, Holy, my eyes have seen the glory
Of the great God Almighty

“Everything is Grace” – drums are dominant on this song. Maher pours out his grateful heart to the Lord on this song which features the words of St. Therese of Lisieux.

Whatever comes my way
I will walk through the flames
You’re turning my fear to faith
My doubt to praise
And everything is grace

“The Invocation” – a short prayer featuring piano and strings. Mentions “sons and daughters”, which is the title of the next song.

“Sons and Daughters” – portions of speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are featured on this song which Maher wrote with Jason Ingram and Ike Ndolo, the latter of which lived in Missouri during the Civil Rights movement.

All my brothers help each other
All my sisters walk together
No one is a stranger
We’re all sons and daughters

“Firelight” – this has a bit of a bluegrass feel, featuring excellent drums. It was inspired by words from Mother Teresa to be lights in the darkness.

If anyone remembers my name
If I’m ever known for anything
Let it be I ran into the night
Running with a firelight, firelight

“Instrument” – co-written with Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. I enjoyed the piano and strings. It begins as an intimate song; the drum beat kicks and leads to a powerful prayerful chorus and then back to an intimate ending.

To the Father and the Son
And the Holy Spirit, three in One
I offer you myself, though I’m broken and spent
Let me be Your instrument
Let me be Your instrument

“Abide with Me” – one of our pastors is leading a study on abiding, so this song is timely for me especially as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. It’s a beautiful piano driven prayerful song.

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

“The Waiting” – a short piano driven meditation. Maher again mentions sinners and the saints in the lyrics.

Because He Lives (Amen) – the first single. One of my favorite songs of the past few months, it is inspired by Bill Gaither’s classic song “Because He Lives”.

Amen, Amen
I’m alive, I’m alive
Because He lives
Amen, Amen
Let my song join the one that never ends
Because He lives

“Rest” – an acoustic guitar driven song. It features background vocals from the Vespers and is based on Psalm 23. It was written during a time when Maher’s grandmother’s health was failing.

You restore my soul and You give me rest

“Borrowed Time” – an upbeat song featuring piano and drums about the urgency to start living because we are living on borrowed time. Another that will sound good in concert.

“Because of You” – a prayer to the Lord saying that everything we have is because of the Lord. Excellent drums and bass on this song.

If I shine it’s because of You
If I love it’s because of You
If I’m strong it’s because of You
It’s all because of You

“Garden” – recorded live. Starts with just an acoustic guitar and then builds; it showcases Maher’s piano playing.

And You walk with me
You never leave
You’re making my heart a garden

Because He Lives (Amen) – an unplugged version of a wonderful song featuring his excellent piano playing.

This is an excellent album, with excellent lyrics and diverse and creative musical arrangements. It will be one of my top albums for 2015.

Passion - Even So Come

Even So Come – Passion (Deluxe Edition)
****
Each spring I look forward to the release of the latest Passion Conference album. This year’s album Even So Come, featuring twelve songs, was recorded live at three separate Passion gatherings in front of more than 30,000 college students (Passion’s focus is students ages 18-25), at Phillips Arena in Atlanta and the Toyota Center in Houston. The album features the usual Passion gang – Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Crowder, Kristian Stanfill, Brett Younker and new entry Melodie Malone. Tomlin and Stanfill each get four songs and Crowder three. The music tends to be a combination of worship ballads and high energy worship songs which are easy to get stuck in your brain after just a few listens. There are a number of excellent songs and performances on this year’s album.
I purchased the Deluxe Edition of the album which includes four songs recorded at a late night acoustic session. It features three well known worship songs: Tomlin’s “We Fall Down”, Redman’s “The Heart of Worship” and Crowder’s “How He Loves”, along with Stanfill’s cover of the hymn “It is Well”. The Deluxe edition also includes videos of the Redman and Crowder songs. Unlike past Passion albums, this year’s does not feature one of Louie Giglio’s sermons, which was fine with me.

Here are a few thoughts on the twelve songs on the standard edition:
“Even So Come” – Chris Tomlin. One of my favorite songs on the album. This reminded me of Tomlin’s excellent “At the Cross (Love Ran Red)” from last year’s Passion album Take it All. The song went a bit long, but an upcoming studio version may tighten it up a bit.

Like a bride,
Waiting for her groom,
We’ll be a church,
Ready for You,
Every heart longing for our King,
We sing…
Even so come,
Lord Jesus come

“Shout Hosanna” – Kristian Stanfill. This song has a big sing-along chorus and pounding drums.

The same power that rolled the stone away
The same power alive in us today
King Jesus we call upon your name
No other name

“Forever” – Melodie Malone. Passion newcomer covers the Kari Jobe song. Malone’s powerful vocals on this songs makes it one of the highlights of the album.

“Lift Your Head Weary Sinner” – Crowder. A live version of a song from his excellent Neon Steeple album.

“Draw Near” – Kristian Stanfill. This is one of those worship songs in which lines are sung over and over (and over and over). At eight minutes in length it’s probably my least favorite song on the album.

“The Saving One” – Chris Tomlin. Another wonderful song from Tomlin that will be great to sing in worship services.

Your love is amazing
Grace never fails me
You are the saving one
You reach from the heavens
Hope of the nations
You are the saving one

“The Awesome God You Are” – Matt Redman. I can’t get enough of Matt Redman’s music. The only disappointment is that this is the only new song of his that is included on the album.

God, let hope arise and faith
Become the fortress of my heart
I will lift my eyes and see You as
The awesome God You are

“My Anchor” – Christy Nockels. The only song on the album from Nockels. This song will be included on Let it Be Jesus, her upcoming live album recorded at the Passion City Church in Atlanta.

“Wonder” – Crowder. I love Crowder’s music and enjoyed this new song, the chorus of which is a reworking of my favorite hymn. This is another of my favorite songs on the album.

Oh Lord my God
When in awesome wonder
Sing my soul
Your song again
Oh Lord my God
When I’m lost in wonder
Sing my soul
How Great Thou Art

“The Way” – Brett Younker. He follows up “Burning in My Soul” from the Passion: Let the Future Begin album with this high energy song.

“You Found Me” – Kristian Stanfill. This song was written by Matt Maher, Jason Ingram, Brett Younker and Stanfill. It’s another high energy sing-along song.

“The Cross of Christ” – Chris Tomlin. The album closes with the most upbeat of Tomlin’s three new songs. It’s a wonderful song that is probably already being sung at contemporary worship services.

It is the cross my only plea
The blood He shed delivers me
Our Savior’s arms are open wide
A love so great
The cross of Christ

Lead Us Back - Third DayLead Us Back: Songs of Worship – Third Day
****

This is Third Day’s fourth Offerings album, comprised of three worship music albums and Christmas Offerings, released in 2006. While the previous Offerings albums were a mixture of live tracks, new songs and covers, the standard release contains all new worship music written specifically for this album (the Deluxe edition contains at least one cover).

One of my favorite songs of the year – “Soul on Fire” featuring All Sons and Daughters – is the first single. Third Day is an excellent live band that we have seen in concert a few times. I purchased the Deluxe edition of Lead Us Back, which features three additional new songs and eight songs, including “Soul on Fire” recorded in concert, for a total of 22 songs, well worth the extra few dollars.

Any discussion of a Third Day album starts with the powerful voice of lead singer Mac Powell, and his voice is in top shape on this release. The album also features excellent backing vocals from guest artists including not only All Sons and Daughters, but also Michael Tait (formerly of DC Talk and now the lead singer of the Newsboys), Michael W. Smith, Natalie Grant, David Crowder, Sarah MacIntosh, Daniel Bashta and others.

Here are a few comments about and lyrics from each of the new songs:
Spirit a song that could be used as a call to worship in church, with Powell and background singers pleading for the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Oh, Lord, fill us with Your Spirit
Guide us by Your presence
How we need You, God

Soul on Fire – the first single, co-written with Matt Maher, is an upbeat catchy song that you’ll have stuck in your mind, featuring the vocals of All Sons and Daughters. The song had its origins with South African worship leader/songwriter Brenton Brown who allowed the band to change the arrangement and add a verse. The band performed a great version of the song live on Fox and Friends on March 7.

God, I’m running for Your heart
I’m running for Your heart
Till I am a soul on fire
Lord, I’m longing for Your ways
I’m waiting for the day
When I am a soul on fire
Till I am a soul on fire

Your Words – a song about God’s Word that features female worship artist Harvest Parker and begins with a hammered dulcimer.

Let me hear Your words
Above all other voices
Above all the distractions in this world

Your words give us life that’s never ending
Your words bring us love that never fails
Everything else will fade away
But what will remain
Are Your words

Our Deliverer – one of the songs that was released early if you pre-ordered the album. The song looks forward to the second coming of Christ.

Our Deliverer is coming
With salvation in His wings
Our Deliverer is coming
Here to set His people free
Our Deliverer is coming
Coming back for you and me
Our Deliverer is coming

He is Alive – this would be an excellent song for churches to sing this Easter:

He is alive
Death is defeated
Sin has retreated
From the power of the Son
And He is alive
The enemy is faded
The battle still rages
But the war has been won

In Jesus’ Name – features vocals from Michael W. Smith, Natalie Grant and Michael Tait.

Name above all names
Savior and our Lord
Every knee will bow
And every tongue confess
No other name is given
By which we can be saved
Let us find our life and love
In Jesus name

Lead Us Back – a short song that contains the following lyrics:

Lead us back where we belong
Call us as Your very own
Lead us back
Safe into to Your arms

Maker – an easy-going acoustic song about the creator of all things.

Maker, there is none like You
Savior, no one else will do
Lord, there is no other God
Lord, there is no other God
Maker, there is none like You

Victorious – another of the songs that was released early if you pre-ordered the album. A piano driven song that will sound great in worship services.

Victorious, You reign victorious
Over sin, over death, over all, over us
Victorious, You reign victorious
In Your mighty name we trust
Let all proclaim You reign victorious
You reign victorious

I Know You Can – a song about trusting completing in our sovereign God that has a modern country sound to it.

Give me the words to say
Bring me the strength to stand
Take all the doubt away
Jesus, I know You can
For if I’m to follow You
It’s only by Your hand
Help me to make it through
Jesus, I know You can

Father of Lights – this song has very much a Crowder feel to it.

Father of truth, Father of grace
Be with us now fill this place

The One I Love – available only on the Deluxe edition. An acoustic guitar driven song.

Oh, you of little faith
Oh, how quickly and how often you have forgotten
Oh, you of little faith
Aren’t you tired of all the wars and battles you have fought in
And when all your world is gone
And you cannot sing your song
I will help you carry on
The one I love

Praise the Invisible – a cover of the Daniel Bashta song available only on the Deluxe edition.

Praise the Invisible, praise the Immortal One
Praise God Incarnate, praise Father, Spirit, Son
For He is God, for He is holy
For He holds the keys to the grave
And forever He will reign

Arise – the closing song is available only on the Deluxe edition.

Arise O God, lift up Your hand
Bring freedom and forgiveness
Arise O God, Help us to stand
For mercy and for justice

I’m a long-time Third Day fan. I look forward to hearing these songs on the radio and hopefully in concert.

Glory to the Holy OneGlory to the Holy One: Sacred Music for the People of God – Jeff Lippencott and R.C. Sproul
****

This is an exciting new sacred hymns project for the church from theologian R.C. Sproul and award-winning composer Jeff Lippencott (to find out more about Jeff to go to http://www.scphilharmonic.org/aboutjeff.html).

The music was premiered at Saint Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Florida, where Dr. Sproul serves as Co-Pastor, the night before the 2015 Ligonier National Conference. In addition, four songs were performed in a mini-concert on Friday evening at the conference.

For the most part, Dr. Sproul wrote the lyrics to the hymns and Jeff Lippencott wrote the music. Lippencott also arranged, orchestrated and conducted the music, as well as producing the album (and did not take any compensation for his work; when hearing him speak about it, it was clear that it was a labor of love). Dr. Sproul writes in the liner notes: “I have poured a lifetime of biblical study and reflection into this theologically rich music in order to encourage and equip the church”. The project was recorded during 2014 in Washington, Arizona, Saint Andrews Chapel, Canterbury, U.K. and the famous Abbey Road Studios in London. Below are a few comments about the project:

1517 is a spoken word piece by Dr. Sproul about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. He ends with:

“In every generation the gospel must be published anew with the same boldness, and the same clarity, and the same urgency that came forth in the 16th century Reformation. The church has always done this in both the spoken word and in song – producing hymns that tell us of the great salvation that has been wrought by God alone through Christ alone. These hymns that you hear today are sacred music for the church giving glory to the Holy One”.

Glory to the Holy One
“Holy, Holy, Holy”
Cried the seraph throng
Glory to the Holy One
Join in heaven’s song

Heavy is Our Savior’s Cross is a somber hymn about the beating and crucifixion of Christ.
Heavy is our Savior’s cross
Weighed down by human sin
His blood so pure, no earthly dross
Is borne by only Him

Highland Hymn. In one of the Ligonier National Conference “Question and Answer” sessions, R.C. Sproul Jr. became emotional about this song, saying as he listened to it he envisioned being united with his wife and daughter in Heaven. This song features musicians on Uilleann Pipes and Hammered Dulcimer that played on the scores for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films.
Above the mists of Highland hills
E’en far above the clear blue skies
The end of pain and earthly ills
When we shall see His eyes
Lutes will sing
Pipers play
When we see Him face to face
On that day

Watch this behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of “Highland Hymn”.

Viam Dei is an instrumental by Jeff Lippencott. Here’s how he explains the song:
“Viam Dei – a Latin title meaning “Way of God” – is a work that tries to express musically the struggles, the push and pull, the pain and peace that the Christian encounters on the road on which God has placed each of his beloved – the path toward sanctification”.

No More the Grave. This is a wonderful hymn that we sang at the conference and I’d like to sing at my church:
No more the grave can yield its sting
No more is death our foe
Our souls can now with gladness sing
Now gone all curse and woe He once was dead but now He lives
A groom now fit to wed
The Alpha and Omega reigns
Beginning to the end

Clothed in Righteousness. This is a hymn that we have sung at the past few National Conferences and at Saint Andrews Chapel:
Clothe us in Your righteousness
Hide filthy rags of sin
Dress us in Your Perfect garb
Both outside and within
No work of ours is good enough
For evil to atone
Your merit, Lord, is all we have
It saves, and it alone

These Great Things
What shall we say to these great things?
Of mystery sublime
That if He is for us we can sing
Now and for all time

Worthy is the Lamb – taken from the book of Revelation:
Ten thousand times, ten thousand more
The host of heaven cried
All blessing, honor, glory, and pow’r
To Christ, the Lamb that died

At the end of the album is a bonus conversation with Dr. Sproul and Jeff Lippencott talking about the project. Also included is a hymn Jeff wrote, “This Hymn, My Simple Gift”, which was inspired by the project.

The album is available on iTunes, Amazon.com and Ligonier.org. Read more about the new project here http://www.ligonier.org/blog/glory-holy-one-announcing-rc-sprouls-new-sacred-hymns-project/

Shadows in the Night - Bob DylanShadows in the Night – Bob Dylan
****

Shadows in the Night is the 73 year-old Bob Dylan’s follow-up to 2012’s excellent Tempest. Dylan produced the album under the Jack Frost pseudonym. The album consists of 10 songs that were recorded by Frank Sinatra in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Most of the songs are slow romantic/sentimental standards. They are tales of love, loss and sorrow. The album’s title is most likely a play on Sinatra’s song “Strangers in the Night.”

Dylan first let on about his intentions about this album when he released “Blue Moon and Empty Arms” on his website last May. He used “Stay with Me” as the encore on his recent tour. That song was released a few weeks ago, in advance of the full album release.

Dylan has done cover albums in the past. The much maligned Self Portrait (1970) Good as I Been to You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993). Listening to the album may remind you of Willie Nelson’s classic Stardust.

Although it may seem shocking that Dylan would cover these songs, in reality they are not much different than some of his more recent songs such as “Spirit on the Water” or “Beyond the Horizon” from Modern Times. In addition, Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour radio show demonstrated his affection for the music of the 30’s and 40’s. You can listen to some of those programs here: www.themetimeradio.com

Dylan did only one interview for the new record and that was with the AARP Magazine (insert jokes here). In that interview he stated:  “I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter of fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day”.

You can read the entire interview here: http://www.aarp.org/entertainment/style-trends/info-2015/bob-dylan-aarp-magazine.html

The album was recorded in Capitol Records Studio B in Los Angeles where Sinatra did his classic work for that label. Instead of the orchestra/strings that usually accompany these songs, Dylan used his excellent five piece touring band to give the songs a 1950’s small combo feel. The band is comprised of:

Tony Garnier – Acoustic/bowed bass

Stu Kimball – rhythm guitar

Charlie Sexton – lead guitar

Donny Herron – pedal steel and lap steel guitar (Nashville and Hawaii)

George Receli – Drums, percussion

The songs were recorded live (and appear on the record in the order they were recorded), with no overdubs (with the exception of some light horns on a few of the songs), no vocal booth or headphones for Dylan. Most of the songs were completed in one or two takes. The album is best listened to when you can really focus on the singing and music. I enjoy it most (as does my wife) when I listen to it with headphones.

It is a very intimate record, with sparse arrangements and the focus on Dylan’s voice, which David Bowie once described as “sand and glue”. On this recording Dylan’s voice is delicate, tender and precise, and sounds better than it has in many years.

Rolling Stone critic David Fricke writes: “The great shock here, then, is Dylan’s singing. Dylan’s focus and his diction, after years of drowning in sandpaper, evoke his late-Sixties poise and clarity on John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline – also records of deceptive restraint and retrospect – with an eccentric rhythmic patience in the way he holds words and notes across the faint suggestions of tempo.”

Below are comments about a few of the songs:

  • “Stay with Me” – Was a 1964 single and written for a 1963 film, The Cardinal, about a young priest who ascends to a post in the Vatican. Dylan’s version sounds like a heartfelt prayer.
  • “I’m a Fool to Want You” – a rare co-write for Sinatra
  • “Some Enchanted Evening” is from Broadway musical South Pacific
  • “Autumn Leaves” is a French song from 1945
  • “What’ll I Do” – was recorded twice by Sinatra
  • “That Lucky Old Sun” was occasionally on Dylan’s set lists of the early 1990’s, and was a hit for Louis Armstrong. It’s the closer and my favorite song on the album.

Dylan is unpredictable and never ceases to surprise. This album is a stunning triumph, but certainly won’t appeal to everyone, though as I write this three days after its release, the album is number one on Amazon’s pop and rock charts.

The Basement Tapes Raw - Bob Dylan and the BandThe Basement Tapes Raw: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 – Bob Dylan and the Band
****

I’m pretty sure that the first Bob Dylan album I bought new was his classic 1975 release Blood on the Tracks. I remember having the album poster on my wall in the basement bedroom my Dad built for me at home while I was attending college. I probably started listening to Dylan’s music because I regularly read Rolling Stone magazine during those days. I’ve purchased every new album he’s released since then (including preordering his upcoming February 3 release Shadows in the Night), as well as many of the numerous compilations that have been released through the years.

Shortly after I began listening to Dylan, The Basement Tapes, a 24 song album that included 16 Dylan songs and eight new songs by the Band was released in 1975. The songs were from sessions that Dylan, and his touring band the Hawks, the group that would later become the Band, had in the basement of “Big Pink” in upstate New York in the summer of 1967 as Dylan was recovering from a serious motorcycle accident in which he suffered several broken vertebrae. Those sessions yielded rough recordings of well over 100 original songs and covers, several of which would later become hits for the Band, the Byrds, Manfred Mann and Peter, Paul and Mary.

The Dylan songs on the 1975 release included overdubs, much to the chagrin of Dylan purists. On the new Basement Tapes collection (available as a massive six disc, 138 song Complete box set (presented in chronological order of when they were recorded), or the two disc, 38 song Raw version which I chose), the performances are presented as close as possible to the way they were originally recorded and sounded back in the summer of 1967. Garth Hudson, a member of The Band, worked with music archivist and producer Jan Haust to restore the deteriorating tapes and release many of these songs digitally for the first time.

This release is Volume 11 in Dylan’s Bootleg Series. The Raw album contains a number of the same songs that were included on the 1975 release, but those are restored to their stripped down roots. Some of my favorites on the collection include “Sign on the Cross”, “Open the Door Homer”, “Odds and Ends”, Million Dollar Bash”, “Tears of Rage”, “Quinn the Eskimo”, “Please Mrs. Henry”, “I Shall Be Released”, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”, “Lo and Behold”, “Apple Suckling Tree”, “This Wheel’s on Fire”, a fun version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and a bluesy version of “Blowing in the Wind”. I thoroughly enjoyed this new Basement Tapes collection. It is one that all Dylan fans will enjoy.

The Art of McCartneyThe Art of McCartney – Various Artists
** ½

I’m not usually a fan of tribute albums or those that feature multiple artists. I have generally found such albums to be inconsistent – some good songs, some not so good. And even though Paul McCartney is probably my favorite solo artist, and I’ve seen him and his excellent backing bands in concert eleven times since 1989, I wasn’t really all that excited when I heard about this album.

The project (34 songs on the standard edition and 42 in the Deluxe), was eleven years in the making and was blessed by Sir Paul himself. The album is produced by Ralph Sall, a longtime fan of McCartney. He worked with McCartney’s own touring band – Guitarists Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson, keyboardist Paul Wickens and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. – to record backing tracks for most of the songs based on McCartney’s live arrangements at the Abbey Road studios. So far, so good. But, what we end up with is that many of the artists seem to try to create a note for note replication of McCartney’s original, though there are some notable exceptions.

The subtitle of the album sets high expectations – The Songs of Paul McCartney Sung by the World’s Greatest Artists. I’ll admit that the album includes an impressive list of artists – Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Roger Daltry (the Who), Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Yusef (Cat Stevens), Heart, Steve Miller, the Cure, Kiss, Def Leppard, Jeff Lynn (Electric Light Orchestra), Barry Gibb (Bee Gees), Robin Zander and Rick Nielson (Cheap Trick), Dion and B.B. King among them. There are also some artists included that I wasn’t familiar with. If you try to figure out who is singing the song without looking at the liner notes you will probably struggle on most songs, as many are unrecognizable.

Billy Joel, Heart and Steve Miller each get two songs on this collection. My favorite tracks, influenced by the song and the artist involved, are:

  • “Things We Said Today” – Bob Dylan
  • “Wanderlust” – Brian Wilson
  • “Yesterday” – Willie Nelson
  • “Junk” – Jeff Lynne
  • “Junior’s Farm” – Steve Miller
  • “Let Me Roll It” – Paul Rodgers
  • “Drive My Car” – Dion

This won’t be an album that I’ll go back and listen to often. It was a nice tribute to McCartney’s fifty years of music, but it’s nothing that is particularly memorable.

All The People Said AmenAll the People Said Amen – Matt Maher
****
I wasn’t very familiar with Matt Maher until seeing him in concert recently with Toby Mac. I’d heard a few of his songs on the radio (and they are included on this collection), but I got a new appreciation of him and his music when we saw him in concert.
Maher is one of very few Roman Catholics in the Contemporary Christian music industry that I’m aware of. The only other Catholic CCM artist that I’m aware of – Audrey Assad – actually appears on this record, singing backup on “Lord, I Need You”, a song she co-wrote with Maher.
This album, includes 13 songs, four new songs and nine of Maher’s most popular songs such as “Hold Us Together,” “Your Grace Is Enough,” “Christ Is Risen” and “Turn Around,” performed live during tour stops in 2012 at the University of Notre Dame campus and in Detroit, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Baltimore.
The album is produced by Paul Moak (Third Day, Mat Kearney) and Maher. “Burning In My Soul,” one of the new songs, made its debut at the Passion 2013 conference and on the live album Passion: Let the Future Begin, sung by Brett Younker. As a devoted Catholic, Maher’s music continues to cross theological boundaries, and “Burning In My Soul” focuses on the power found in laying aside denominational differences for the greater kingdom work of the Gospel.
Another of the new songs is “Lord, I Need You,” which Chris Tomlin covered on the 2011 Passion: Here for You album. I really love the lyrics of this song:

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more
Where grace is found, is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, you’re my hope and stay

I was also first introduced to Maher’s “Your Grace is Enough” through Tomlin’s cover of it on his breakout 2004 album Arriving. Maher also co-wrote Tomlin’s hit “I Will Rise”.

The title track has a country flavor with an infectious hook and singalong chorus. The other new song is “Mighty Fortress”. With Maher accompanied by just an acoustic guitar and strings, the song gives us a quiet and solemn reminder of God’s strength and might.

You are the rock of salvation
The only foundation
Lord of all
You are a hope never failing
A mighty fortress
Is our God

This was an excellent introduction to Maher for me – his best songs recorded live, along with a few new songs. His next album will be released in March. It is preceded by the excellent single “Because He Lives”.

David Crowder Band - Oh for JoyOh For Joy – David Crowder Band
****

I have to admit that I got on the David Crowder Band train late in the game. In fact, it was after the band had broken up that I picked up All This For A King: The Essential Collection their 2013 “best of” release. I had heard some of their songs on the Passion Conference albums, and Crowder’s Neon Steeple is one of my top albums for 2014. So I recently decided to go back and check out their 2011 eight song Christmas EP Oh For Joy. I’m glad that I did.

Much of this album was recorded at Passion 2011. The rest was recorded in arena locker rooms across the country. The David Crowder Band brings their unique sound to these well-known Christmas songs. Here are brief comments about each song.

“Joy to the World” – a relatively traditional take on this popular Christmas hymn. Crowder adds some new lyrics at the end of the song:

Oh for joy lift up your voice
For Сhrist has come the Сhrist has come
Let the whole world see the Lord
Christ has come the Сhrist has come
Christ has come

“The First Noel” – Crowder adds new lyrics at the end of this song:

And the angels sing it was heavenly
And the angels sing it was heavenly
And the angels sing oh it was heavenly
And the angels sing oh it was heavenly oh

Glory glory
Glory in the highest
Glory glory
Glory in the highest

“Go Tell It On The Mountain” – slower than the usual version. Crowder adds “It’s Christmas Day”.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” – this song has the bluegrass feel to it that you get on Neon Steeple. It features banjo, fiddle and a crowd hollering together. Crowder adds a few additional lyrics:

Glory on high
Glory on high
Sing glory on high

 “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – a relatively traditional version of this song and the last non-live track on the album.

“O Holy Night” – live version with the crowd singing along. I enjoyed the increasingly urgent drum beat as the song built to its conclusion. Crowder tacks on the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the end of the song. This is my favorite Christmas song, and it’s a good version of it.

“Silent Night” – live version with crowd singing. Guitar and very light percussion. Late in the song a banjo is added and the tempo picks up returning the bluegrass sound of “Angels We Have Heard on High”. Crowder adds a few new lyrics:

It started so quiet, so quiet
It started so quiet, so quiet
And what a night, oh, what a night
It started so quiet, so quiet
And then a light, oh and then a light

“Carol of the Bells” – After Crowder gives a short comment on the twelve days of Christmas, the band launches into a cover of the classic instrumental made popular by the Tran Siberian Orchestra.

I very much enjoyed this album and recommend it to you.

Toby MacConcert Review: Toby Mac, Matt Maher and Ryan Stevenson at Braden Auditorium – December 11

Although I had seen Toby Mac in concert with DC Talk many times several years ago (the first time they were the opening act for either Michael W. Smith or Degarmo and Key, and Tammy immediately said that she liked them better than the headliner), I had never seen Toby in a solo concert. After a highly successful thirteen year run with DC Talk ended in 2000, (the guys are still friends and are not against a reunion someday), Toby has had five successful solo albums (not including remix or live albums), including his latest Eye on It, one of only four Christian albums that have debuted #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album chart.

Toby brought his Worship, Stories and Songs tour with Matt Maher and special guest Ryan Stevenson to the Braden Auditorium on the campus of Illinois State University on December 11. There is not a better place to see a concert than Braden, with its intimate setting (3,457 seats) and great acoustics.  I’ve seen some great artists in Braden since it opened in 1973, including James Taylor and Bob Dylan.  There was a good crowd on a Thursday night, filling almost all of the orchestra and mezzanine sections.

Ryan Stevenson co-wrote Toby’s “Speak Life” off of Eye on It.  He opened the show promptly at 7:00 pm. I wasn’t familiar with Stevenson or any of his songs but he offered a pleasing set on acoustic guitar, before turning the stage over to Matt Maher.  I was familiar with some of his songs, and particularly enjoyed the opening “Your Grace is Enough”, “Lord, I Need You” and “All The People Say Amen” and the new “Because He Lives”, with an interesting story about Bill Gaither. I also really enjoyed Maher’s piano playing and the stories about the songs, thinking they added to the experience. Maher’s new album Saints and Sinners will be released March 17.toby mac 2

After 50 minutes of music and stories, the evening then slowed down, first for a passionate, but overly long 15-minute ministry appeal, and then a 15-minute intermission before Toby took the stage at 8:20 pm – a stage he would not give up for another hour and 45 minutes.  Stevenson and Maher would pop on and off the stage to join Toby several times throughout the set.

This tour is not your usual Toby Mac arena concert experience. The tour is playing more intimate settings allowing the artists to tell the stories behind the songs. Toby had his full band with him, including his turntable DJ, but with a smaller drum kit, scaled down lighting and stage sets and a simpler approach.

Toby and the talented seven piece Diverse City band offered a spirited set with several stories mixed in, which at times slightly impacted the pacing of the set.  He offered all of his popular songs such as “Steal My Show”, “Forgiveness”, “Funky Jesus Music”, “Diverse City”, “Hold On”, “Thankful for You”, “City on Our Knees”, “Lose My Soul”, “Catchafire” (Whoopsie Daisy)”, “Speak Life” and many, many more. Toby indicated that he has been working for the past eight months on his new album, which will be released in May, 2015. We got to hear two new songs form the album – “Beyond Me” and “Undeniable”. I most enjoyed the loud and upbeat pop/rap songs with the choreographed dance moves.

All of the artists looked like they were having a great time, and it’s no doubt that the enthusiastic crowd (which were on their feet for Toby’s entire set, except when he told them to sit down and take a break) had a wonderful time.  The night ended a little after 10:00 pm with a spirited “Winter Wonderland”, with each of the vocalists taking verses.

It was a great night of music, worship and stories in a great setting at a fair price (our first row mezzanine seats gave us a great view for just $48. As my sister-in-law said, it was one of the best concerts she had been to in a long time. Amen!

Peter Furler Christmas Featuring David IanPeter Furler Christmas
*** ½

2014 has been a very busy year for Peter Furler, the former leader of the Newsboys. He released his second solo album Sun and Shield as the Peter Furler Band, Goliath as part of Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil, and now his first Christmas album Peter Furler Christmas Featuring David Ian. The new album features eight well-known Christmas songs with traditional arrangements. The songs included are:
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
We Three Kings
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
What Child is This?
O Come All Ye Faithful
The Little Drummer Boy
Silent Night

Furler describes the album as follows: “We had in mind for this music to be played while listeners engage in their favorite Christmas traditions, enjoying a warm fire, a quiet dinner party, watching the snow gently fall outside.”

The album also contains two spoken word tracks – “Spoken Word Ancient Writings” and “Spoken Word Christmas Story”. For the first, Furler reads different Scriptures prophesying the coming King Jesus. The second reading recounts the Christmas story from Luke 2.

The style here is definitely something different for Furler. The instrumentation is very simple and the album has a light jazz sound to it. It is mellow music that will be good to have on in the background this Christmas season. Furler and Ian, who produced and co-arranged the album, use singers and musicians from around the world, including America, Armenia, Lebanon, Russia and South Africa. They also incorporate some exotic instruments such as the Duduk, an Armenian wind instrument. My only complaint with this fine release is that there are only eight songs included.

Michael W. Smith ChristmasThe Spirit of Christmas – Michael W. Smith & Friends
*** ½

2014 has been a busy year for Christian music veteran Michael W. Smith. After not having released an album since 2011’s instrumental release Glory, he released three this year – Hymns in April, Sovereign in May and now The Spirit of Christmas, his fourth Christmas album, in September. The idea for the new album came after singing “Christmas Day” with Jennifer Nettles (from Sugarland), at 2013’s CMA Country Christmas, a Nashville concert that aired as a television special. The producer of that program, Robert Deaton, approached Smith with the idea of making a concept album.

The album is designed to have three acts based on the progression of emotions and focus that one feels during the Christmas season. The album begins the excitement of the Christmas season and the instrumental “The Miracle of Christmas”, and then two songs from my favorite Christmas album (The Andy Williams Christmas Album from 1963, which my Mom loved) “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Happy Holiday/Holiday Season”. That is followed by the Peanuts song “Christmastime is Here” featuring Vince Gill and “White Christmas” with Lady Antebellum, with the trio and Smith trading vocals beautifully.

Act two is about beginning to turn the listener’s attention to the reason for the season. It begins with Smith singing with his seven year old granddaughter Audrey on the Home Along song “Somewhere in My Memory”. The transition continues with the instrumental medley “The Spirit of Christmas”. The tracks were recorded in London with the London Sessions Orchestra at the AIR Studios, where Glory was recorded. Little Big Town joins Smith for “Silent Night’ and Martina McBride for “What Child is This”. Then comes one of the highlights of the album, “Almost There” featuring Amy Grant, a new song Smith wrote with Grant and Wes King that ponders Mary’s thoughts as she approaches Bethlehem. This song could become a classic in the way that Grant’s “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” has become.

The last act celebrates the birth of the Christ child in its fullness. It features another highlight, “All is Well” featuring the powerful vocals of Carrie Underwood. Jennifer Nettles joins Smith for “Christmas Day”. Then Bono from U2 offers the spoken word piece “The Darkest Midnight”. What is the connection between Bono and Smith? At least one connection is that Smith played organ on “North Star” a song from U2’s How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb sessions some years back. The song which has not yet been released, is described by Smith as a tribute to Johnny Cash. The album closes with Michael McDonald joining Smith on a great song from McDonald’s first Christmas album “Peace”.

The album covers some songs that have been included on previous Smith Christmas albums, but with the special guests it’s a completely different listening experience. I liked the idea of the concept album which takes you from the nostalgia of the season to the true meaning of Christmas. Overall, this would be an excellent new addition to your Christmas music library.

Goliath by Steve Taylor

Goliath – Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil
****
When I became a believer in the early to mid-1980’s Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) was just taking off. My favorite artist was the creative Steve Taylor. He didn’t really fit the CCM genre (thankfully), and I saw him in concert several times. He was the one saying things to the church that nobody else was saying. Taylor’s last solo album was the excellent Squint in 1994. Yes, 20 years ago! Since then he released a live album Liver, had a one-album stint as a part of Chagall Guevara, produced others (including Sixpence None the Richer’s hits “Kiss Me” and “There She Goes”), owned his own label, directed two feature films – The Second Chance and Blue Like Jazz, worked with the Newsboys (writing, producing) and he has continued that relationship with former Newboys lead singer Peter Furler, who is the drummer in his new band The Perfect Foil. John Mark Painter (best known for his role, with his wife, Fleming McWilliams in the duo Fleming and John) is on bass and Jimmy Abegg (who played in the Ragamuffin Band with Rich Mullins and I first encountered as a part of the Charlie Peacock Trio) is on guitar.
This album started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2013. It was announced that twenty years after Steve Taylor’s last studio album, he was taking a sabbatical from filmmaking to record all new music with a new band. The goal was to raise $40,000. Instead they raised $121,197.
In discussing the new album Taylor stated: “It really is a band effort. We make the music together, and then I’ll go off and write the lyrics. I like to think it’s a really good combination of everybody working at what they do best. We typically start with one of Peter’s melodies–I think he’s the best melody writer I know–and then it’s just a matter of let’s see how far we can push this melody around and it still holds up. So the songs are pretty indie rock. I wouldn’t say we’ve mellowed with age.”
In advance of the November 18 release, five songs “Only a Ride”, “Standing in Line”, “Goliath”, “Double Negative” and “Moonshot” were released to those who had pre-ordered the album. Taylor also released this hilarious video “The Future of the Music Industry” from Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp1E6eHoeG4&feature=youtu.be
Jimmy Abegg in an interview prior to the release of the album stated: “It’ll be interesting because the record will be quite polarizing. There’s really not easily definable Christian music on it. It’s certainly created by men of faith but, on the other hand, it doesn’t take aim on any specific topic and make a yay or a nay for it. I guess it’s just a fun combination of words and music played by people that are having so much fun it’s embarrassing.”
The album debuted at #136 on the iTunes charts when released last week. Below are brief comments from Steve Taylor that were originally published on the New Release Tuesday website, plus a few lyrics from each song, which like his previous work are in the alternative rock genre:

Only a Ride
“This was the first song we wrote together as a band. Our guiding light was the old saying — slightly amended — ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blues.’ Which, come to think of it, describes most of my favorite rock tracks. Regarding the lyrics: It’s the American way to assume our citizenship somehow entitles us to invincibility, as if bad things aren’t supposed to happen to our kind. So we’re shocked when they do. Remember James Brolin in Westworld? It’s an amusement park full of gun-slinging robots shooting blanks, and he suddenly grabs his chest and says to his partner, ‘I’m shot!'”

Thought I saw the devil you know
Waiting for something to fall
I got nothin’ and no one to call
But I’m stuck in first, y’all

Double Negative
“I remember when Jimmy started playing this riff, we were all hypnotized by the sound, although the 7/4 time signature keeps it from being too hypnotic. The lyric, like most of them, isn’t necessarily autobiographical, but I think I understand a character who doubles down on negative emotions like misery, which tend to be more controllable and, therefore, repeatable than happiness or joy. My favorite line is ‘Bells are ringing/Is it Easter or the start of an earthquake?’ This guy can’t even accept the sound of church bells at face value — is something being reborn, or is their peal earthquake-induced, and things are about to go very badly?”

Been a nice trip
Is this our stop?
I’d leave the stage
But the curtain won’t drop
The chemicals took my nerve
I’ve given up what the saints preserve

Don’t you come near me now
Don’t you come through the wall
I can’t let go of the scene
I can’t stop hollering unclean

Bells are ringing
In the town of the terminal heartache
Bells are ringing
Is it Easter
Or the start of an earthquake?

Goliath
“I think at least half the band served time in high school marching band, and as we were writing this one, it kept wanting to be something that could be played at halftime. So John laid down the horn section and the lyric naturally followed — it seemed like something perennial losers would sing to get themselves amped up for the possibility they could actually win one. The title came after the song was finished. I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” and as we were mixing the song, I heard the lyrics again and thought that if we titled this ‘Goliath,’ it might add an interesting subtext. There wasn’t any specific intent to naming the album “Goliath” beyond the fact that we get a perverse enjoyment taking on projects where the odds aren’t in our favor.

Keep your nose up
Attitude’s king
When you get hit
You won’t feel a thing

You’ve been on a roll
Pushing us around
Here’s your high five
Now you’re going down

The bigger they come
The harder they fall

Moonshot
“Are we in a place in music history where Prince-ian is as allowable as Beatlesque? (Because evidently we can’t rip off Marvin Gaye anymore.) If so, this track has two godfathers: Prince and the Pixies. Lyrically, so many experiences I’ve had are a mix of wild ambition tempered with complete delusion. Then when a few delusions actually go your way, you become more delusional, thinking that’s how it’s always going to go. Those of us working in the arts, whether its music or movie-making, attach a lot of importance, and, usually, self-importance, to the work we’re doing, as if the hopes of a nation ride on the outcome — I think it’s because if we didn’t, we’d never finish anything. I have a great friend and filmmaking mentor who often reminds me, ‘There’s no such thing as an entertainment emergency.'”

I’m building a rocket
It’s bigger than me
It’s my gift to your future
My mega legacy

Ready, aim
The stars are aligning
Ready, aim
I’ve been sweating a lot
Be I persevere
The hopes of a nation ride
Everybody gets one moonshot

My motives are pure
I’ve untangled the knots
I’m ready for sure, Lord
Now give me all you got

I’m building a rocket
It’s not about me
You’ll be thanking me after
I’ve saved humanity

Rubberneck
“The idea that a soul could live online — a virtual soul — seemed interesting. The first verse deals with voyeurism, which quickly shape-shifts into a whole new world of hurt. That “Instagram” line came after the song was done — I didn’t want to reference anything as ephemeral as a social media app, but I couldn’t give up coupling Instagram-Aww with Grandma.”
Go on, catch it if you can
Son of Man knows better
We can reconnect
Body and Soul
We can resurrect

We’ve got the goal
A virtual soul

Now zoom out
Move in tight
You got a right
To your rubberneck

The Sympathy Vote
“We were almost wrapped with the album when we decided we needed an eleventh song. The music came quickly, with John’s bass playing doing much of the heavy lifting, but it needed a lyric, and since we’d almost called the band The Sympathy Vote, and since our rejected band names had proven to be a wellspring of lyrics, the words came quickly. ‘There’s only three things in life of any certainly: Number one is death, number two is taxes, number three is professional jealousy.’ A lot of life’s screw-ups, including the ones that force this character to pile apologies on apologies, are based on the greatest unacknowledged source of misery in the world — professional jealousy.”

I went and stole a quote
To get the sympathy vote
It was all she wrote
To get the sympathy vote

I think I’m running low
On excuse me’s
I need some better excuses
Please?

I’m back in the boat
To win the sympathy vote
The words catch in my throat
I think it’s working

Standing in Line
“It seems like any relationship goes through peaks and valleys and I’ve found that in my relationship with my wife our commitment to stay together supersedes all of those valleys. That was the basic idea, that sometimes when those are happening, you feel like you’re in a waiting room, but you’re determined not to leave.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever written a wholly biographical song. Part of the thrill of writing comes in mixing fact and fiction in varying combinations. But those of us who have enjoyed long and mostly happy marriages — all four of us are still married to our original wives — know that any relationship lasting decades goes through ebbs and flows. This was written during one of the ebbs.”

I write songs for a jealous God
Two spoiled kids and a velvet rod

And I’d pursue you through any hell
I’d swim upstream till I find the source
Dam the Mississippi and change its course
If it was up to me
If it was mine to turn

I’ve been standing in line so long
I’ve been wondering what went wrong
I’ve been trying to understand
And I’m not gonna leave

In Layers
“Jimmy came up with the riff, Peter started pounding the drums, and poof — a song is born. The paranoia expressed in the lyric seems apt for the age we live in — when it comes to corporate or political structures, cynicism is so richly rewarded. Hopefully the song retains some idealistic sense that this may be how the world works, but we don’t have to live that way.”
One critic felt that this song would fit on David Bowie’s latest album.
Lies
We’ve all been compromised
Lies
Now, are you so surprised?

We’re all hoarders here
Caught in layers of sin
It’s been stratified
Beneath our onion skin

Throw up your hands
And hell keeps yawning
Open your eyes
There’s a new world dawning
Sun burns fog
Burns all naysayers
Love, like a child
Comes wrapped in layers

Happy Go Lazy
“Can’t you hear a country singer doing this song? I would have loved to hear George Jones sing it. We batted this track around for months in the studio, as we weren’t sure it fit on the album, but when I proposed the title, the band seemed keen on it. The character in this song has achieved a blissfully ambitionless state, and we wanted to give him the courage of his convictions. My favorite line is, “No, I’m not listening — your friends are correct. I’ve got zero ambition and I want your respect.”
Features some background vocals from Fleming McWilliams.
Happy go lazy
That’s the way I am
You’ll go crazy
If you think you can
Change a man

No, I’m not listening
Your friends are correct
I’ve got zero ambition
And I want your respect

Baby I’ll grow you a garden
If you give me the space
We’re just wildflowers
We don’t belong in a vase

A Life Preserved
“This first appeared as the end titles track on the Blue Like Jazz movie. Our band and that movie have a tangled past — the band was initially started because I’d spent three years trying to raise money to fund Blue Like Jazz and was getting nowhere. So I called Peter up and suggested we do something together musically to help soothe my utter frustration as a filmmaker. We got the album well underway, then the movie was miraculously funded by a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign started by fans of the project, which forced a two year band hiatus so I could make and promote the movie. The song is a straight up gospel song born from the sense of gratitude I felt at finally being able to make the movie into which I’d invested so many years. But it’s also a song of deliverance from the delusion of attaching ultimate importance to anything temporal.”
A faster and better version than was included on the Blue Like Jazz soundtrack. The most overtly song of faith, which would actually fit in, dare I say, on Christian radio playlists.
Bobbing for air, been up and down
The once renown, angling for another act
Another tactical advance to who knows where
You found me, I heard you there

Calling me out of the shallows of my world
Called to something graceful, something true
Gratitude’s too cheap a word for all you’ve reassembled
From a spirit broken and unnerved
A life preserved

Bobbing for air, I’ve been atoned
Creation groaned to lift me as I drowned
And set my feet up on the mound of rock you crushed for me
A place to stand, whisper a command

Comedian
“I started this song twenty years ago and have been working on the lyric ever since — I doubt a week ever passed when it wasn’t rolling around in my head. The form seemed so rich with possibilities, like an intricate puzzle, and I just didn’t want to screw it up. When I brought it to the band, it was very sparse, but we turned it into a pretty epic track in the studio, which inspired the more ambitious lyrical dialectic with God. This one was a bit like making a movie: long gestation, multiple false starts, fiercely trying to protect the essential idea, and praying something tolerable comes out the other end. There are so many ways these things can go wrong, so when they go right it feels like a miracle.”
The song portrays God as the great Comedian and humans “storming the stage”. Features some background vocals from Fleming McWilliams.
The King of one liners
He us thrilled
Then came the punchline
Now we want Him killed

Man makes plans, God laughs

And didn’t I thank you from the dais?
And didn’t I do you good?
And didn’t I take up all your crosses
That were made of balsa wood?

We stormed the stage
And occupied
To wipe that all-forgiving smile
Off your face

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this album. The music really kicks it – Abegg’s guitar work and Furler’s drumming really stand out. This is a very strong album and one of my top releases of the year. Welcome back Steve!

John SchlittThe Christmas Project – John Schlitt
****
I first heard the powerful and distinctive vocals of John Schlitt in 1975 as the lead singer of Head East on their “Never Been any Reason” and “Love Me Tonight” from their debut album Flat as a Pancake. The album was recorded in nearby Pekin, Illinois on a private label and later released on A&M in 1975. Schlitt, who was born in Lincoln, Illinois, was attending the University of Illinois at the time. He stayed with the band until being kicked out in 1980 due to drug and alcohol abuse. After his conversion, Schlitt was asked by Petra leader Bob Hartman to become their lead singer replacing Greg X. Volz, starting with the Back to the Street in 1986. I was really excited when I heard that, as Petra was one of my favorite bands and I remembered Schlitt from his Head East days. I would see the Schlitt-led Petra in concert several times and Schlitt solo in concert once. The relationship with Hartman continues today in various Petra reunion efforts.
This is Schlitt’s first Christmas album, and features nine Christmas standards and one new song. He used the popular crowd funding platform Kickstarter to raise financial support for the album. After more than forty years in the music business and at 64 years old, Schlitt’s voice is still a powerful instrument and he sounds as good as ever.
Below are a few brief comments about each song:
Hallelujah Chorus – The album starts off with a bang as this songs features Schlitt’s strong voice, hitting some very high notes, and some blazing electric guitar.
Do You Hear What I Hear? – After opening with animal sounds and a brief reading from a child, this song is driven by some funky guitar work as it alternates between a driving rock beat and a gentler one.
Little Drummer Boy – Features some creative rhythms as Schlitt takes full advantage of his powerful voice as the song builds.
O Holy Night – This is my favorite Christmas song and Schlitt’s version features some backing vocals and strings. He slows the pace down here and holds back, restraining his voice, when he could have actually knocked it out the park on this one. While still a good version, it could have been great with his voice.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Lets his voice go a little more and includes some refreshing unique touches.
Good Christian Men Rejoice – Very catchy pop arrangement that will bring a smile to your face.
That Spirit of Christmas – Schlitt changes things up with some blue eyed soul on a lesser known Christmas song that some will remember being recorded by Ray Charles. This was probably my least favorite song on the album but I’ll give him credit for trying something a little different.
We Three Kings – An easy going and fairly traditional take on this one which features restrained lead vocals and some good backing vocals and strings.
What Christmas Needs to Be – The one original song on the album is a likeable easy going pop song about the true meaning of Christmas.
Its Christmas now
The gift of Heaven given
Love can be found
In every heart that hears it
A baby crowned
The hope of our salvation
He is what Christmas needs to be

What Child is This? – A beautiful slow version that features a piano, some restrained lead vocals effective backing vocals.
The production by Schlitt’s son in law Dan Needham is clear and simple with Schlitt’s voice prominently featured in in the mix. This album features a good mix of traditional and new arrangements and one of my favorite vocalists.

Record PlayerMUSIC NEWS:

Hilarious Video from Steve Taylor. Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil’s (featuring Peter Furler on drums) new album Goliath will be released on November 18. This week I’ve been enjoying some of Steve’s music from the 80’s and 90’s, which still sound great. Enjoy “The Future of the Music Industry” video from Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil.

Real Music about Real Change. Petra front man John Schlitt and up-and-coming hip-hop artist KB come from different eras, but both experienced Christ’s deliverance from a life of darkness and found themselves in the spotlight of the Christian music industry.

Rend Collective to appear in Clinton, IL. Rend will be in concert at First Christian Church in Clinton on February 7.

New TobyMac album. TobyMac has been in the studio working on new songs for his sixth full album, with a planned release in May 2015.

Get to Know Trip Lee. Check out this brief overview of Trip from Trevin Wax.

D.C. rapper Trip Lee withstands disease, while pastoring at church, releasing album. Good article about Trip in the Washington Times.

New Worship Album from Third Day. Third Day will release their third worship album, and first in more than a decade, Lead Us Back, on March 3.

U2 to Play The Tonight Show for an Entire Week. My favorite band will play on The Tonight Show each night the week of November 17. Can’t wait!

MUSIC REVIEWS:

Bob Seger AlbumRide Out – Bob Seger
*** ½

This is 69 year old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bob Seger’s seventeenth album and first since 2006’s Face the Promise (and only his second since 1995), and it’s a very good one at that. Christians will be excited about “Gates of Eden” his song about coming to faith. He also shares his strong feelings about political issues and the environment.

We saw Seger at the Silver Bullet Band in their prime in the early 1980’s at the Poplar Creek Music Theatre (which was torn down in 1994) in Hoffman Estates. For those not familiar with his body of work I would recommend Ultimate Hits: Rock and Roll Never Forgets.

Below are brief comments and/or lyrics from each song on the new album which I really enjoyed. It was great to hear some new Seger music. His voice is in great shape and he’s hinted that this could be his final studio album. One critical comment – the standard version of the album is just too short at 10 songs and 34 minutes. The Deluxe version, contains three additional songs.

The album starts out strong with four upbeat songs before the pace settles down. Spacing the rockers out may have helped give the album better pacing.

Detroit Made – This is a great version of one of my favorite John Hiatt songs, which sounds like it was written for Seger (though it wasn’t).
She’s a Detroit made
Deuce and a quarter, babe

Hey Gypsy – A Chicago blues song written by Seger and one of the best songs on the album featuring a blistering guitar solo from Kenny Greenberg (who is married to Ashley Cleveland). It is a flat-out Stevie Ray Vaughan shuffle. Seger states “I was such a huge fan of his. I called the players in Nashville, and I said, ‘I want you to play as close to Stevie Ray as you can.’ The guitarist Kenny Greenberg, whom I was working with at the time, he brought a special amp in that made him sound exactly like Stevie Ray! We even got Stevie Ray’s old organ player, Reese Wynans. That’s the first time I used him, and he’s on everything (on the album) now.”

Hey Gypsy, where we gonna be
The hard love livin’
It’s getting too much for me

Seger recently performed “Hey Gypsy” on the Ellen show. Check it out here: http://www.ellentv.com/videos/0-v21sxmz1/

The Devil’s Right Hand – Seger covers the gun-violence parable written by Steve Earle. It’s a song Seger has liked ever since he first heard it in the 1988 film “Betrayed,” featuring Debra Winger and Tom Berenger.

The devil’s right hand, the devil’s right hand
Momma said the pistol was the devil’s right hand

Ride Out – A rocker about getting away from things and enjoying God’s creation:
Ride out to a bold new horizon
Where the sun me be shinin’
On a place you’ve never seen

Ride out lift your soul and your spirit
Take a chance and get near it
Everybody needs a dream

Ride out where the hills meet the valleys
Far from campaigns and rallies
And the things we do for oil

Adam and Eve – This song was written by Kasey Chamber and features a duet with Laura Creamer, who has been singing backup for him since “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” in the ’60s, and features a fiddle, Seger on banjo and mandolin. It’s a slower folk/acoustic that is an interpretation of the sin of Adam and Eve, though I have concern with this line where Adam sings that he was misled:
I can remember, I do recall
There were no weeds here, no thorns at all
I was misguided, I was misled
I asked for good, but got evil instead
I also take exception to this line about God being on their trail:
Come on, we’re leaving, no time to waste
Garden of Eden’s no longer safe
Throw down that apple, that ship has sailed
We’re on the run with God on our trail

The pace of the song and the simple lyrics reminded me of Dylan’s “God Gave Names to All the Animals” from Slow Train Running (which isn’t necessarily a good thing).

California Stars – This is Seger’s take on Woody Guthrie lyrics put to song by Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett and recorded by Wilco. The song builds and features some horns and effective background vocals.
I’d like to dream my troubles all away
On our bed of California stars
Jump up from my star bed make another day
Underneath my California stars

It’s Your World – This rocker finds a defiant Seger calling out the things he is concerned about – environmentally, financially, etc. It’s interesting musically and features some good background vocals.
Let’s talk about mining in Wisconsin
Let’s talk about breathing in Beijing
Let’s talk about chemicals in rivers
Let’s talk about cash as king

All of the Roads – This mid-tempo song with a fiddle and effective femaile background vocals finds the rocker in reflective mood.
I’ve done it all before
And I have gone through every door
And I’ve been right down on the floor and more

All of the roads I’ve run
All of the years have fallen away
Light from a distant star
Crossing the void and arriving one day
Oceans of space defending the great unknown
Sooner or later all of us head for home

You Take Me In – A somber acoustic ballad which could be written to a woman or God.
I search for the meaning and keep on believing
Because in the end you take me in
Through all of these reasons that change like the seasons
I’ve got a friend, you take me in

Gates of Eden – This song starts slowly and builds appropriately as Seger sings about his conversion. I’ve included the complete lyrics to the song below:
I was in the tender mercies of the breaking down
I was somehow in a place that made me want to go along
I remember thinking all of this must have a reason
I remember thinking maybe I should look beyond

The night came on like thunder lightning split the purple skies
My whole day had been a journey sorting through the truth and lies
I remember searching longing for a deeper meaning
And it hit me like a diamond bullet right between the eyes

And I believed everything You said
Every paragraph and every work I read
Calling into question everything that I believe in
Huddled with the masses
Stranded at the gates of Eden
I was huddled with the masses
Stranded at the gates of Eden

Seger will bring his tour to the United Center in Chicago on December 11 and the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on December 13. Check out his official site at www.bobseger.com

Newsboys AlbumHallelujah for the Cross – Newsboys
***

This has been an incredible year for the Newsboys. The release of the film God’s Not Dead, which they appeared in, propelled their album of the same name back to the top of the Christian charts. Then, their single “We Believe” from their latest album Restart became a big Christian radio hit. I was a little surprised that they were releasing new music at this time, but still excited that for the first time in the band’s history, the Newsboys have recorded a collection of classic hymns (they have released three previous albums of worship songs). The new album features the group’s take on nine classic hymns and one new selection, the title song and first single, written by Ross King and Todd Wright.

Doing your version of classic hymns is a risky proposition as these songs are dear to many. There is a fine line between being faithful to the traditional rendering and showing creativity as an artist. The best I saw at creativity was Jars of Clay’s excellent Redemption Songs. The Newsboys play it pretty safe with Hallelujah to the Cross, making a few tweaks to the songs and using a sound similar to their current radio hit “We Believe”.

Lead singer Michael Tait stated “Hymns are important to me. We picked through songs that went way, way, way back into my past and my dad’s Baptist church. I love modern worship but I just love that old stuff because they were written in such desperate and perilous times, and out of great pain comes great resolve, I think. When I sing them, they go deeper in ways to me than a lot of things I reach out for when I’m in that spiritual drought.”

The album is produced by Seth Mosley, who also produced the Newsboys’ past two albums, God’s Not Dead and Restart. Below are a few brief comments about each of the songs:
All Creatures of our God and King – The end of the song includes a new modern worship chorus.Where You Belong/Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Medley) – This is an updated (more upbeat) version of the medley that appeared on the band’s 1995 Not Ashamed album.
His Eye Is On The Sparrow – This song rocks harder than the traditional hymn.
Hallelujah For The Cross – This is the first single released from the project and the only newly written song on the album.
It Is Well – This version rocks harder is has a faster pace than the traditional hymn.
Jesus Paid It All – This song was released on last year’s Jesus Firm Foundation: Hymns of Worship. The end of the song includes a new modern worship chorus.
I Surrender All – The band keeps the pace about the same as the traditional hymn.
What A Friend We Have In Jesus – Michael Tait’s vocal here is less full-throated than usual. Some additional features that add to the song.
Holy Holy Holy – The band slows down the pace for one of my favorite hymns. They add some additional lyrics to the chorus: “You are holy, holy, holy”.
All Hail The Power Of Jesus Name – The band ends the album with a beautiful a Capella version of the song showcasing the voices of the entire band, not just Tait. This is perhaps my favorite song on the album.

This is a solid effort from the Newsboys, which will hopefully introduce these classic hymns to a new generation.line-divider

Rise – Trip Lee
****

This highly anticipated album is Trip’s first since 2012’s The Good Life and one of the best of 2014. Later in 2012 he announced he was leaving music and pursuing ministry and released his first book The Good Life. The 26-year old Lee has attended Boyce College, interned at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. with Mark Dever, and is a frequent speaker at churches at conferences. He became a pastor in 2013.

This album debuted at #3 on the overall iTunes charts and #1 on the hip-hop/rap charts. Four of the fourteen songs were released early to those who pre-ordered the album – “Shweet”, “Beautiful Life 2 (Mine)”, “Manola” (featuring Lecrae) and “Sweet Victory”. Then the album was streamed in its entirety the weekend before its release. Instead of collaborating with multiple producers as in the past, this time Trip worked solely with producer Gawvi http://www.gawvi.com/ for the entire album at his Atlanta studio. Gawvi also worked with Lecrae on his excellent Anomaly album and has produced several other Reach Records projects. Throughout, the music is diverse and Gawvi’s production is outstanding.

Writing about the album, Trip writes: “Rise has a lot of different meanings,” he explains. “It’s a call-to-action to rise from the dead and actually live. We’re born spiritually dead, and I’m calling for everyone to become spiritually alive. Secondly, don’t wait until later to live the way you were created. God created you to honor Him, find joy, and serve others. Don’t sleep on that. Lastly, rise above the low expectations people have.”Trip Lee

Below are a few comments and/or lyrics on each song:

Rise – Trip makes it clear he’s back:
Hold up, I’m back to boast in these tracks like
I’m mad that I might back slap mics
Never mind the fact that I never left I’m hype
Listen up, right, you ain’t got to ask my twice
I’m here, I’m here

How am I’m gonna retire when we need a crier that tells us to rise up and stand?

We all die, John 5:28-29
The judge returns
And all rise

Lights On – Talks about how we are all walking in total darkness until the lights come on from Jesus.
I’m praying that we’ll flip that switch and shine, you’re so blind
We know You got it, Lord, we know You got it
Only You could take us higher, You’re the Pilot
Lights, please!

Shweet – Here is Trip’s excellent video for this song.
I got a lot of problems, but I’m straight (that’s shweet)
I know my God will toss em in the lake (that’s shweet)
How many times I gotta tell ya He’s the boss
Under Him anything’s a piece of cake

Manola (featuring Lecrae) – I have to admit that when this track was released I didn’t get it. It sounded great with Lecrae joining Trip, but I didn’t understand the lyrics at all. Trip clears it up: “In Spanish, ‘Manolo’ means ‘God is with us’. There’s some gun terminology, but the weapon we’re talking about is truth. We fight lies with the word of God.” The song also features a hook from Gawvi.
I flip that page on em, my trigger finger stay workin
I got plenty ammo, got old and new, they both testify, my Lord

Red letters like a red dot on your door

His Word is my weapon

You Don’t Know – This song features some excellent drum work. It opens with a sample of Christon Gray’s 2011 song “Even with Evil Within Me” and is a beautiful song about the joy of being in Christ and making his election sure.

All Rise Up Interlude – A spoken word track about Trip’s ten year history with Reach Records artists.

All Rise Up – In this song Trip looks at his career thus far.
Plus there’s more haters
Saying we just do it for dough

If we all rise up
That’s be my dream
That we should all rise up
And give a standing “o” for the King
Cuz He’s good

I ain’t retired but I thought about it
I feel called to be a pastor. I’m all about it
See His glory in His Word and I gotta shout it
So I’m just trying to figure out how I can shout the loudest
Plus, I saw it’s hard to be a pastor

I read John’s vision and it’s plain
Christ reigns so I’m sticking in my lane
Rap don’t need me
Reach don’t need me
Christ don’t need me
I’m limping cuz I’m lame

Beautiful Life 2 (Mine) – This is a song from Trip to his young son and baby daughter, who you can hear in the song. It is a sequel to the pro-life “Beautiful Life” on The Good Life.
And I’ll be sure to tell you everyday
You made in His image baby, you ain’t gotta wait
To hear no affirmation from them dudes in the streets
You already know you’re beautiful to me

What a great gift from a great God
You belong to Him, but He gave you to me

Insomniac (featuring Andy Mineo) – Mineo is my favorite hip-hop/rap artist behind Lecrae and Lee. I can’t wait for his next full-length album. This song is about going strong for the Lord while we can.
My life could end today, yeah, my heart stop
If I go out tonight, I’m going out on top
I give it all, this life ain’t all I got

Something New – A one verse track about Trip’s addiction to sneakers.
My addition isn’t to women or to booze.
Sneakersheads anonymous
I’m itching for some shoes

Lazarus (featuring Thi’sl) – This is a song about how as dead men we are raised to life by Christ.
From now on you can call me Lazarus
From a dead man walking to the risen ones

I mean the Captain, the Almighty Lord
Setting captives free, all aboard (all aboard)
Can’t stop Him when He got His mind made up
He don’t like that grave, sayonara, see you later
He make the blind see and got the lame up
So it’s no surprise He can raise us

All My Love (featuring Natalie Lauren) – about a married man battling his online pornography addiction.
Now it hits the depths of the heart, He calls
The way he grieve our Lord as he hang on the dirty cross
The way he hurt his wife and flaunts his perverted flaws
He might mess around and lose his family, so he pause
He takes his laptop, her pictures on the backdrop
He smashes it with a hammer and takes the trash out
He calls his wife and he’s repenting in tears
And says he wants to be committed for years, and God hears

I’m Gone – This song includes an upbeat piano and some serious words about Satan’s schemes against us.
I hear what you’re saying
But I don’t believe you
Cuz you’re just be lying
And I don’t need you
I got a new Lord
I know I don’t see you
But I see right through you
So I gotta leave you
I’m gone

Sweet Victory (featuring Dimitri McDowell & Leah Smith) – Trip shares the pain from his seven year-long battle chronic fatigue syndrome and how hard it has been on him and his wife.
So when I say “It’s been a few hard years” they think I’m playing
But you don’t know my life boy
You don’t know what it’s been like on my wife
Don’t know my fight boy

He then shares that as believers our victory is now based in what we do and how our life is going but in Christ’s finished work on the cross.Trip Lee Book
The victor ain’t the one that’s winning in the 7th inning
Trophies don’t go to ones that got a good beginning
When I say I win I don’t mean the state I’m in
I mean that day when the grace got fade out then
I’m winning cause I ran with him.

On January 27 Trip will release his second book Rise: Get Up and Live in God’s Great Story.

Love Ran Red by Chris TomlinLove Ran Red Deluxe Edition – Chris Tomlin
****
Chris Tomlin is a worship leader at the Passion City Church in Atlanta (where Louie Giglio is lead pastor), and a prolific writer of worship songs for the church. Each year he writes several new songs to be sung at the Passion conferences and included on the conference live album, in addition to his own solo albums. Some of the songs included on the Passion albums end up on his solo albums as in this case with “At the Cross (Love Ran Red)” and “Almighty”, and “Let it Be Jesus” (sung by Christy Nockels), which were included in this year’s Passion: Take It All album.

Prior to the release of Love Ran Red Tomlin released three songs, the singles “Waterfall” and “Jesus Loves Me” as well as “Greater”. The Deluxe edition includes alternate versions of “Waterfall” and acoustic versions of “At the Cross (Love Ran Red)” and “Let it Be Jesus”.

The album debuted at #6 on the overall iTunes charts and #1 on the Christian charts. One reviewer wrote that this album felt like a “Greatest Hits” package, as each song is “so power packed with potential that it’s a challenge to decipher which would be the next single”. I have to agree. Tomlin is at the top of his game with this release. He knew as much when we saw him in concert at the US Cellular Coliseum on July. He mentioned at that time that he knew he had a special set of songs and couldn’t wait to get them out to everyone.

Jesus is the subject of each song on this wonderful new album, which will definitely be among my top releases of the year, along with those by U2 and Lecrae. Below are brief comments/and or lyrics on each of the song on the album:

Greater – A worship anthem and one of the songs you received when you pre-ordered the album.

Greater is the One who lives in me
Greater is the love of Jesus
Greater than my sin
Greater than the grave
Above all other thrones
Above all other names
Greater

Waterfall – The first single released from the album. Tomlin performed this song at his concert Bloomington in July.

Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall,
Running wild and free
You hear my heart when I call, when I call
Deep calls to deep
Your love is like a waterfall raining down on me

At the Cross (Love Ran Red) – Since I first heard this song on the Passion: Take It All album, it has been my favorite song this year. Tomlin, as he has in the past, uses elements of an old hymn – this time “At the Cross” by Isaac Watts. I put this song in the category of Matt Redman’s “Bless the Lord (10,000 Reasons)” and believe it will soon be sung in worship services around the world.

At the cross, at the cross
I surrender my life
I’m in awe of You, I’m in awe of You
Where Your love ran red, and my sin washed white
I owe all to You, I owe all to You
Jesus

Jesus Loves Me – The second single released from the album.

I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His presence
Couldn’t run from His arms

Jesus, He loves me, He loves me
He is for me
Jesus how can it be, He loves me
He is for me

Boundary Lines – One of the more upbeat songs on the album, this one would be a good concert song.

My heart is a cup
Your love is an ocean
God, You fill me up
Like rivers overflowing

Almighty – A piano driven worship anthem that first appeared on the Passion: Take It All album earlier this year.

Almighty, we’re standing in the presence of Your majesty
You’re Holy, You alone the sovereign crown of royalty
You’re the king of kings
Almighty

The Roar – This is another upbeat song that would sound good in a concert setting.

I heard the roar of the Lion of Judah
I heard the voice that calms the raging sea
He came to me, came to me
When I needed the Lord
I heard the roar of the Lion of Judah

Fear Not – Tomlin sings about God being our mighty warrior.

God He is faithful, faithful to us
Through every storm
Through troubled waters
He won’t abandon
Fear not, the Lord God is with us

The Table – This song has a Black Gospel feel and ends with a choir. It is a refreshingly different sound for Tomlin. It is a song about community, fellowship and the invitation of the gospel.

Come all you weary, come and find
His yoke is easy, His burden is light
He is able, He will restore
At the table of the Lord

Psalm 100 – This is another upbeat song which would be great for churches with a more contemporary worship service.

For the Lord is good
And His love endures, His love endures
For the Lord is good, and His love endures, His love endures
Forevermore His faithfulness it has no end
For the Lord is good, His Love endures, His love endures

I Will Boast – This is a beautiful piano driven song with a nice piano refrain that makes use of the title song’s melody.

I will boast only in the cross
Where my Savior died for me
Nothing else no other love
Goes so far and runs so deep

Only One took the nails
Only One tore the veil
Only One spotless lamb
I will boast only in the cross

Jesus, This is You – This is another great song for corporate worship.

Jesus, You are greater than the grave
Jesus, You have broken every chain
Forever You will reign
Forever we will sing
Jesus, this is You

In the End – This song starts with just a piano and then piano and then builds to a powerful ending.

In the end love will fill the earth
Raise the dead to life
In the end, we will see the Kingdom come
In the end all the darkness will be bursting into life
We will live here forever in the end

Deluxe Edition Songs:
Waterfall (Tritonal mix) – I didn’t find that this new mix added much to the original version.

At the Cross (Love Ran Red) – (Acoustic) – The is the third version of this excellent song released this year, with the live version on the Passion: Take it All album and the original studio version released on the standard version of this album. This is a beautiful acoustic guitar version of the song.

Let it Be Jesus (Acoustic) – A beautiful version of a song that was sung by Christy Nockels on the Passion: Take it All album.

Joy An Irish ChristmasJoy: An Irish Christmas by Keith & Kristyn Getty
****

Keith and Kristyn Getty performed “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” in their wonderful October 17 concert at Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria. They will bring their Joy: An Irish Christmas tour to College Church on the campus of Wheaton College on December 1.

Keith reflects on why Christmas carols are more than just sentimental songs at the end of the year:
“We would do well as worship leaders to remember that non-churchgoers are far more inclined to attend a church service during the Christmas season where songs are easy and enjoyable to sing rather than a church trying to put on the slickest possible show. The music of carols, written by some of the finest hymn writers of all time (such as Wesley, Watts and Rossetti) and arranged by equally outstanding composers (Handel, Holst and Mendelssohn) speaks for itself. We have wonderful songs to use! And Christmas gives us a wide open door to use those songs to impact culture like no other time of the year.”

The Getty’s 2011 debut Christmas recording, Joy: An Irish Christmas, was produced by Grammy Award-winner Phil Naish, with orchestral arrangements by renowned composer J.A.C. Redford (Avatar, The Help). The project features the Irish Film Orchestra and Anuna, Ireland’s National Choir, among numerous acclaimed musicians, and showcases a range of international influences, including Eastern European, Basque and American bluegrass.

The album starts with a few well-known Christmas hymns – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “What Child is This?” Next up is  Magnificat,” a beautiful Getty/Stuart Townend collaboration that provides fresh inspiration to Mary’s Advent prayer. Then comes “How Suddenly a Baby Cries” (with Narnian Reel), which starts slowly and then prominently features the Irish Film Orchestra. The “Joy Has Dawned/Angels We Have Heard on High” medley follows. “Joy has Dawned” is a reworked song, one of several co-written with regular co-writer Stuart Townend, and includes lyrics such as:

Hands that set each star in place, shaped the Earth in darkness    
Cling now to a mother’s breast, vulnerable and helpless.

“Jesus, Joy of The Highest Heaven” (A Children’s Carol) follows with a soft vocal from Kristyn as if she is singing to their first child Eliza Joy, whose name sparked the album’s title. Kristyn is joined by a children’s choir on this song.

“Carol of the Bells” follows (with young Tom Ennis jig). The hymn “O Savior of Our Fallen Race” starts with the orchestra and also includes a choir. “Fullness of Grace” is a beautiful string filled hymn and then comes an upbeat “Joy to the World” (with Miss Eliza’s Reel). The album closes with Kristyn accompanied by piano and strings on another beautiful song “An Irish Christmas Blessing”.

The album feels more like a Christmas worship service than a mere collection of songs. As characterized all of the Getty’s music, this album features theologically rich lyrics and top-notch musicianship. Highly recommended!

Concert Review ~ Keith and Kristyn Getty at Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoriagettys-in-concert

Keith and Kristyn Getty brought their “Hymns for the Christian Life” tour to the beautiful Grace Presbyterian Church sanctuary last Friday evening. Actually, it would have been better titled the “Greengrass Sessions” tour, as they played each of the seven songs off the new EP, one of my favorites of the year. Check out our review of the EP here: https://coramdeotheblog.com/albumandconcert-reviews/
Keith stated that they are writers of modern hymns for the church. Kristyn was on vocals, Keith on piano and acoustic guitar, along with a very talented 8 piece band made up of musicians from America and Ireland who were backed by a 50 voice Grace Presbyterian Choir. WBNH Radio sponsored the concert and under the leadership of Station Manager Jim Huber, the 1,400 plus available tickets sold out two weeks in advance; Keith stating that it was the fastest selling show on the fall tour.
It was a wonderful night of worship as we sang many songs that we sing in our own churches with the people who wrote them, including “By Faith”, “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God”, “The Power of the Cross” and the modern classic “In Christ Alone”. The talent of the band added much to the evening as well. The full set list is below:
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
By Faith
Creation Sings
A Mother’s Prayer
Lift High the Name of Jesus
My Worth is Not in What I Own
Come Ye Sinners
O Church Arise
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
O Shout for Joy
O, For a Closer Walk with God
Good Shepherd of My Soul (dedicated to Joni Eareckson Tada and sung to her on her 65th birthday)
Gethsemane (the lights were dimmed as the violinist played a woeful solo)
The Power of the Cross
Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed
Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God
In Christ Alone
Don’t Let Me Lose My Wonder, a song rarely performed
Nothing But the Blood of Jesus
After the concert some of the musicians continued the show with a “Lobby Jam” in the church lobby, playing several songs.
The Getty’s will bring their Irish Christmas tour to College Church in Wheaton on December 1. Get more information on that show and other aspects of their ministry here: https://www.gettymusic.com/

songs of innocenceSongs of Innocence Deluxe Edition – U2
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The original eleven song edition of Songs of Innocence was released exclusively and free on iTunes to their 500 million subscribers worldwide on September 9. It was available exclusively on iTunes until last week, when the physical editions of the album were released. A Deluxe edition includes two additional songs – the more raw-sounding “Lucifer’s Hands” and “The Crystal Ballroom”, plus alternate versions of all songs from the original Songs of Innocence album with the exception of “Iris (Hold Me Close)” and “Volcano”. The alternate and stripped down versions are different enough that U2 fans will find it essential to own them. They allow Bono’s voice to take center stage and the listener to more clearly hear his passionate vocals and better make out the lyrics. In particular, his vocal on “Every Breaking Wave” is stunning. I also enjoyed the inclusion of horns on “California (There is No End to Love)”. In fact, the alternate version of “Every Breaking Wave” may be my favorite of the 21 tracks on the deluxe edition of the album.

The two new songs were certainly worthy of inclusion on the original album. The lyrics to both new songs, written by U2, are included below.

“Lucifer’s Hands”

Punk rock party in a suburban home
Everybody’s famous here but nobody’s known
We got no music ‘cause the speaker’s blown
Apart

The spill is moving through the seaside town
I’m born again to the latest sound
New wave air wave swirling around my heart

You no longer got a hold on me
I’m outta Lucifer’s hands
You no longer got a hold on me
You no longer in control of me
I am

The enemies beg from an inky page
St. John the Divine is gonna take the stage
Like a talent show where your talent is your rage
I’m in

Prayers are fire on ruined dark night
You’re meant to see visions beyond sound and sight
With Elvis beginning to see the light
Amen

You no longer got a hold on me
I’m outta Lucifer’s hands
You no longer got a hold on me
You no longer in control of me
I am

Yes, I can change the world
Yes, I can change the world
The poor breaking bread
It’s made out of stone
The rich man won’t eat
He’s eating alone
That’s easy
But I can change the world in me

You no longer got a hold on me
I’m outta Lucifer’s hands
You no longer got a hold on me
You no longer in control of me
I am

 “The Crystal Ballroom”

In describing the song, which has a beat that may remind you of “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, Bono recently stated:

“I need to tell you something really weird about this song,” he says. “It’s called “The Crystal Ballroom”, which used to be the name of McGonagles on South Anne Street [now knocked down]. A whole generation of Dubliners would go to the Crystal Ballroom for dances, and many couples first met there. My mother and father used to dance together in the Crystal Ballroom, so that song I just sang you, which hasn’t been released yet, is me imagining I’m on the stage of McGonagles with this new band I’m in called U2 – and we did play a lot of our important early gigs there. And I look out into the audience and I see my mother and father dancing romantically together to U2 on the stage.”

Life begins with the first glance
The first kiss at the first dance
All of us are wondering why we’re here
In the crystal ballroom underneath the chandelier

Wet the glass until the glasses sing
We punish our hearts till the heart bells ring
Cos where we come from we’re not always kind
The human soul is what love leaves behind

We’re the ghosts of love and we haunt this place
We’re the ghosts of love in every face
In the ballroom of the crystal light
Everyone is here with me tonight
Everyone but you

Our first chance, is their last dance
Our life is shaped by another’s hands
Buttoning unbuttoning a coco dress
Stopping and unstopping every cold caress

Born for bliss, born for this
Every human life begins with a kiss
Kissed by every kind of possibility
And everyone is here tonight with me

We’re the ghosts of love and we haunt this place
We’re the ghosts of love in every face
In the ballroom of the crystal lights
Everyone is here with me tonight

Everyone but you
Everyone but you

Getty's EPThe Greengrass Session by Keith and Kristyn Getty
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Scotty Smith mentioned in one of my classes at Covenant Seminary that Keith and Kristyn Getty open up their home in Nashville for musicians to come and play, which at times included a member of the band Mumford and Sons. The Getty’s tell us that:
“In Ireland there is a long-standing tradition of the Session, an informal gathering of musicians making music together wherever they happen to be. It’s not so much a performance, but rather a shared experience where everyone plays or sings along. We have regular sessions in our home – a Greengrass session, so named for the combination of Irish and bluegrass songs and musicians who come around. This recording attempts to capture some of what we enjoy in those get-togethers.”
This wonderful limited edition EP is only available from the Getty’s website or at their concerts. It includes:
My Worth Is Not in What I Own – a beautiful new hymn written by Keith and Kristyn and Graham Kendrick. Check out the lyrics below:

My worth is not in what I own
Not in the strength of flesh and bone
But in the costly wounds of love
At the cross

My worth is not in skill or name
In win or lose, in pride or shame
But in the blood of Christ that flowed
At the cross

Refrain:
I rejoice in my Redeemer
Greatest Treasure,
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.

As summer flowers we fade and die
Fame, youth and beauty hurry by
But life eternal calls to us
At the cross

I will not boast in wealth or might
Or human wisdom’s fleeting light
But I will boast in knowing Christ
At the cross

Refrain

Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed – my ransom paid
At the cross

Refrain

Good Shepherd of My Soul – a warm and moving a’capella rendition of one of Keith and Kristyn’s newer songs
Come Ye Sinners – a musical journey from Ireland to Appalachia envelopes the traditional hymn
Lift High the Name of Jesus and All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name – live versions of which were included on their 2013 live album from the Gospel Coalition Conference
O For a Closer Walk – an adaptation of William Cowper’s hymn, with new words by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend
Lobby Jam – a toe-tappin’, foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’ instrumental featuring the Getty’s band of Irish and bluegrass virtuosos

The Getty’s will be in concert at Grace Presbyterian Church on Friday, October 17. The concert is already sold out.

SwitchfootThe Edge of the Earth: Unreleased Songs from the film “Fading West” – Switchfoot
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Seemingly out of nowhere (I heard about the release on Tim Challies’ blog), comes a new release from Switchfoot, one of my favorite bands. They cap a very strong year that started with their film Fading West, their chart-topping “soundtrack” album (check out our reviews in the movie and music sections of the blog), from the film, and now seven songs from the film that didn’t make the original Fading West album. And rather than throwaway songs that you might normally get on such a project, other than “Fading West”, which would have made a great opener or closer on the original album, and the closing title cut, these songs tend to be a bit darker in nature – musically or lyrically, or both – than the songs that were included in the original album, one of my top releases for 2014.

The EP begins with “Fading West”, and it’s my favorite song on the new collection, again fitting in best with the original album.

Heading back to the west coast
Where I’m from
I’m heading back to the left coast
Where I belong.
California’s calling me back home
Fading West with you

“Against the Voices” follows, featuring atmospheric guitars and featuring the lyric:

If they ain’t singing
They’re just talking
Let them keep talking to themselves
‘Cause everybody knows
That the hardest war to fight
Is the fight to be yourself
When the voices try to turn you into someone else

“Skin and Bones” follows with fuzzed up guitars and Jon Foreman singing:

I’m not afraid to die, I’m afraid to be free
I’m not afraid to doubt, I’m afraid to believe
Don’t believe the lies, of what you see
Elevate your mind above these animal dreams

“What it Costs” is something new for the band as it features Tim Foreman on lead vocals for the first time in the band’s seventeen year history. This excellent song is featured at a key and emotional point in the film when Jon had to return home to be with his daughter Daisy who was ill.

Hold on to me, carry me through
Our story is the pain that we outgrew
Yeah, you can’t call it love until you’ve lost
If you love someone this is what it costs

“Slow Down My Heartbeat” is a song that would not have fit on the original album, either lyrically or musically, but I’m glad it was included here.

It’s alright, It’s alright
Euphoria’s gone
It’s time to move on
I have to believe we can change

“Liberty” is a triumph song in which Jon sings:

Show me the freedom from these chains
Show me a battlefield that’s safe
That world is still a world away
But you are my liberty

The closing acoustic cut features a ukulele and excellent background vocals that would have fit on the original album. They sing:

Of the distant oceans, the fallen mountains
The great wide open of the desert sky
And where I’ll be is where you found me
Meet me here at the edge of the earth

What a great surprise to get seven new Switchfoot songs! I highly recommend you watch the film (you can rent it or watch the television premier on Palladia on October 4). It will give you a better context for these songs from a great band.

LecraeAnomaly by Lecrae

Anomaly, Lecrae’s seventh album, was one of my most anticipated albums of the year. Those that pre-ordered the 15 song album, received four tracks – “Nuthin”, “Fear”, “All I Need is You” and “Say I Won’t (with Andy Mineo) in advance. I listened to those songs alot in the weeks leading up to the release. Then, the week before its release, Anomaly streamed free on iTunes Radio. The album debuted at #2 on the iTunes album charts and #1 on the Hip-Hop/Rap charts. It also debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart.
Lecrae, who has become one of my favorite artists in the past few years, is at the top of his game with Anomaly. One of the major themes of the album is of Lecrae (and Christians) being outsiders, strange, different, other underdogs, etc. That message comes through specifically in “Outsiders”, “Anomaly”, and “Say I Won’t”. The production, music and vocals are all strong. Special guests include Andy Mineo, Crystal Nicole, Kari Jobe and For King and Country.
Below is my brief take on each song and/or some lyrics that I found of interest:
Outsiders – This song opens with strings and a slow tempo. Lecrae suggests that it is better to be seen as an outsider than on the wrong view of righteousness.
I won’t stay here another night
If I gotta sacrifice
Who I am on the inside
I’d rather be an outsider
And you can stay if you’d like
I’ll see you on the other side
I wanna live the free life
I’d rather be an outsider

I’d say there’s plenty of people like me
All outsiders like me
And all unashamed and all unafraid to live out what they’re supposed to be
Outsiders!

Welcome to America – Lecrae looks at America from different perspectives – as a drug dealer, a soldier and lastly as an immigrant wanting to come to America.
I’m trying to find me a ticket
Where the sky is the limit, catch a plane to America

But I’m packing my suit
Farewell to my mother land
Say’n bye to my loved ones
Fate, here I come, I’m gone to another land
I done made it to America
I’m amazed at America
But I couldn’t get approval to stay, so they sent me away from America

Say I Won’t – Featuring Andy Mineo, this song dares Christians to be different from the status quo.
See, I been a rebel since back in the day
I don’t follow the people, I follow the leader
Through the valleys and shadows of death and I fearing no evil

Nuthin’- Lecrae sings that other rappers are not saying anything of interest – they’re not saying nuth’n.
I can’t hear cause you
Ain’t talking ‘bout nuthin’

I think we were made for more
Than just, ya know, the simple things that we aspire toward
We were made for more than just telling stories about
How much money we can get by selling poison to people
It’s time to talk about who we are and who we can be
And we need to build each other up and not put each other down
I feel like we not talking about nothing right now

Fear –
I honestly grow insecure as I get older
Cuz’ even when you hot there comes a day when you get colder

My nightmares are having nightmares
I’m quite scared of what’s right and wrong
How I fear an eternity
Will I hear well done when He turn to me?
Will I hear you care too much about
All this stuff that really don’t matter?

Anomaly I like the use of horns on this track.
Trying to get a throne on my own so I can put my feet up
Thank God my kingdom was overthrown by the Soul Redeemer

We are the odd
The outcast
The peculiar
The strangers
And they say you don’t fit in
But I say God created us to be anomalies
The system didn’t plan for this

Timepiece –
They say He’ll be coming in no time
Pray I pay attention cause I’m giving Him no time

Did we tick Him off by wasting all these ticks on this clock?
Or is He graciously giving me time to give Him my heart?
I’m sure it’s the latter, sure that it matters
And I believe I’ve been given all this time so I could try to redeem it

Dirty Water –
Most segregated time of day is Sunday service
Now what you think that says about the God you worship?

Wish – Is a song about wanting to atone for past mistakes.
Wish I had another chance
Maybe I’ll do better
Every time I think about all of my mistakes
I just wanna turn it around

Runners – This song is about discouraging men from being players.
Uh, I pledge girls, then it’s on to the next girl
My next girl eventually be my ex-girl
But it’s funny how it all unfolds
I done finally found a woman I ain’t never letter go

Born a sinner just like any man standing
Couldn’t keep standing so God sent a stand-in

All I Need is You – This song could be directed to Lecrae’s wife or to God, though it’s most likely the former. I could see this becoming a hit on mainstream radio.
Cause you plus nothin’ is everything
You my everything

By my side, thick and thin
Highs and lows, don’t let go
We gonna ride, we gonna win
All I need is you

Give In – This song features guest vocalist Crystal Nicole.
They laugh at me and say I’m going too far
But it’s satisfying my soul to give you my all

Tell me who I’m gonna call on
Whose solid ground can I fall on

It’s time to cut the cord
Sever the ties form the life before
From here on out I’m yours
I can’t run no more
Cause you’re pulling me in
Like a tornado wind
And I can’t pretend
I try leaving
But your love so strong
And it won’t let go
You’re holding on to me

Good, Bad, Ugly – This song has Lecrae opening up about difficult circumstances from his past – being molested by a babysitter, and also the abortion of his child with a girlfriend after he became a Christian.
Heard a heartbeat that wasn’t hers or mine
The miracle of life had started inside
Ignored the warning signs

But I was too selfish with my time
Scared my dreams were not gonna serve
So I dropped her off at that clinic
That day a part of us died

I was barely in the first grade

Folks working late, I had a babysitter

Did a few things that’s hard to say
Told me to keep that secret safe
How a young boy supposed to deal
I’m trying to act like it ain’t real

But I’ve been forgiven, my Savior risen
I’m out of the prison, I know that
I got the power to say no to all my struggles
God will control that
Every time we slip and we fall
Gotta get back up and fight on
We are not defined by our past
The future look bright, I see the light on

Broken – This is a duet with Contemporary Christian worship singer Kari Jobe.
All the pieces on the ground
I shattered all the dreams
I thought I found
And you put me back together
I need your grace for my flaws
God I’m broken in this mess I’ve made
I need you to restore me

We are outsiders, outliers, out-criers, loud and meek

Messengers – features For King & Country, who debuted their new album at #2 on iTunes on September 16. It’s a call to share the gospel.
How will the people know if we don’t tell em’?
If we fail em’
They’re stumbling in the dark
But the lighters that we carrying
Don’t have to wonder your purpose
Or what you’re here for
Reflect His image
And show the world what He cares for

As a thank you to his fans after Anomaly hit number one on Billboard Lecrae released “Non-Fiction” on Soundcloud. Listen to it here: http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-juice/6258747/lecrae-thanks-fans-for-no-1-album-with-new-song-non-fiction

Just like U2 on Songs of Innocence, Lecrae is at the top of his game with Anomaly. He is making a difference in the often dark world of hip-hop/rap. I pray that he continues to shine Christ’s light in that place.

U2Songs of Innocence – U2
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OK, let’s get this out of the way. U2 is my favorite band. There, I’ve said it.

Their last album was 2009’s No Line on the Horizon. There have been many rumors of a new album since then, all of which proved to be false.

The band did release two new songs within the last year – “Ordinary Love” from the film Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom, and “Invisible”, which led to strong speculation of a new album and corresponding tour. But those hopes were quickly dashed when the word came out that both were being delayed until 2015.

Last week at Apple’s event to introduce the new iPhone 6, U2 and iTunes stunned everyone by releasing the new U2 album Songs of Innocence. The album, their 13th studio album, was downloaded free to 500 million iTunes accounts worldwide, and will be available exclusively on iTunes until the expanded physical and digital versions are released on October 14.

I was stunned with the news of both the long awaited album and the fact that it was already downloaded to my iTunes account. The unexpected joy that I felt was the same I felt when I first saw the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (“White Album”) at K-Mart so many years ago. I couldn’t wait to listen to it. I had been anxiously waiting for Lecrae’s Anomaly to be released on the same date, but had to put that aside to listen to Songs of Innocence. And let’s just say that I wasn’t disappointed. The album received a rare 5-star rating from Rolling Stone magazine. Read that here: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/u2-songs-of-innocence-20140911
The album is not a complete concept album, but the theme of looking back is pervasive. In an interview, Bono stated:

“We wanted to make a very personal album. Let’s try to figure out why we wanted to be in a band, the relationships around the band, our friendships, our lovers, our family. The whole album is first journeys – geographically, spiritually and sexually.”

As they began work on the album the band went back to its roots listening to the music they loved in the 1970’s, from punk rock to David Bowie, glam rock, early electronica and Joy Division.

Over the past few years the band has worked with multiple producers, and scrapped an album that was to be called Songs of Ascent. Several producers receive credit for the new album.

The album gets its title after William Blake’s 1789 collection of poems about man’s perpetually great age of discovery – childhood. Here is my brief take on each song on the album, including lyrics that I found of interest:

1. The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) – This song is about the first time Bono heard the Ramones.

I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense out of the world
Everything I ever lost, now has been returned
In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard

We got language so we can’t communicate
Religion so I can love and hate
Music so I can exaggerate my pain, and give it a name

2. Every Breaking Wave – A classic U2 ballad with an opening reminiscent of “With or Without You” and keyboards that reminded me a lot of Danny Federici from Springsteen’s E-Street Band.

Every breaking wave on the shore
Tells the next one there’ll be one more
And every gambler knows that to lose
Is what you’re really there for

Every sailor knows that the sea
Is a friend made enemy
And every shipwrecked soul, knows what it is
To live without intimacy
I thought I heard I heard the captain’s voice
It’s hard to listen while you preach
Like every broken wave on the shore
This is as far as I could reach

3. California (There is No End to Love) – This song is about U2’s first trip to California in the early 1980’s. It opens with a tip of the cap to the Beach Boys.

4. Song for Someone – This song is about a first love, probably Bono’s wife Ali. The couple first met when Bono was 14.

If there is a light you can’t always see
And there is a world we can’t always be
If there is a dark we shouldn’t doubt
And there is a light, don’t let it go out

And I’m a long, long way from your Hill of Calvary
And I’m a long way from where I was and where I need to be

5. Iris (Hold Me Close) – This touching song is about Bono’s mother who died after collapsing at her father’s funeral when Bono was 14.

The ache
In my heart
Is so much a part of who I am

Hold me close, hold me close and don’t let me go
Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know
Hold me close the darkness just lets us see
Who we are
I’ve got your life inside of me

6. Volcano – This is a driving, bass-heavy rocker.

7. Raised by Wolves – This song is about 1974 car-bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, killing 33. Bono states that “On any other Friday I would have been at this record shop, but I cycled to school that day. The bomb tore apart the street. I escaped but one of my mates was around the corner with his father and it was a very hard thing for him to witness and I’m not sure he really got over it.”

Face down on a broken street
There’s a man in the corner in a pool of misery
I’m in a white van as a red sea covers the ground
Metal crash I can’t tell what it is
But I take a look and now I’m sorry I did
5:30 on a Friday night 33 good people cut down

Boy sees his father crushed under the weight
Of a cross in a passion where the passion is hate
Blue mink Ford, I’m gonna detonate and you’re dead
Blood in the house
Blood on the street
The worst things in the world are justified by belief

8. Cedarwood Road – Bono grew up at 10 Cedarwood Road in Dublin, alongside friends Guggi Rowan and Gavin Friday. The song is dedicated to Rowan.

I was running down the road
The fear was all I knew
I was looking for a soul that’s real
Then I ran into you
And that cherry blossom tree
Was a gateway to the sun
And friendship once it’s won
It’s won….it’s one

All the green and all the gold
The hurt you hide, the joy you hold
The foolish pride that sends you back for more

If the door is open it isn’t theft
You can’t return to where you’ve never left
Blossoms falling from a tree they cover you and cover me
Symbols clashing, bibles smashing
Paint the world you need to see
Sometimes fear is the only place we can call home

9. Sleep Like a Baby Tonight – Bono sings in a falsetto about child abuse (a pedophile priest) within the church.

You dress in the colours of forgiveness
Your eyes as red as Christmas
Purple robes are folded on the kitchen chair

You’re gonna sleep like a baby tonight
In your dreams, everything is alright
Tomorrow dawns like someone else’s suicide
But you’re gonna sleep like a baby tonight
Like a bird, your dreams take flight
Like St. Francis covered in light
You’re gonna sleep like a baby tonight

Hope is where the door is
When the church is where the war is
Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

10. This is Where You Can Reach Me – The song is dedicated to Joe Strummer of the Clash, and is inspired by a Clash concert that U2 attended in 1977.

11. The Troubles – This song features Swedish pop singer Lykke Li, who repeats the refrain:

Somebody stepped inside your soul
Little by little they robbed and stole
Till someone else was in control

Bono sings:

You think it’s easier
To put your finger on the trouble
When the trouble is you
And you think it’s easier
To know your own tricks
Well, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do

God knows it’s not easy
Taking on the shape of someone else’s pain
God now you can see me
I’m naked and I’m not afraid
My body’s sacred and I’m not ashamed

Very complete liner notes (lyrics, credits and a looking back essay from Bono) is included.

Throughout the album the energy is high, the production clear, and Bono’s voice and the band sound great. With a band that has the catalog of U2, it’s hard to compare where a new album falls within its best work. For me, Songs of Innocence is my favorite U2 album since 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and that’s pretty good.

Here’s a short behind-the-scenes ‘Innocence’ video that U2 released on Twitter a few days after the album release: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2014/09/11/u2-twitter-songs-of-innocence/15440715/
And it looks like there is more to come. Bono states:
“We’re collaborating with Apple on some cool stuff over the next couple of years, innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed. We’ll keep you posted. If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience. It should be ready soon enough… although I know I’ve said that”.

Now, about that tour…..

Next week we’ll look at new releases by Lecrae and Switchfoot.

Jars of Clay 2020 – Jars of Clay
****

Jars of Clay is one of my favorite bands. I first saw them in concert at the Agape Festival – hosted by Greenville College where the band members met – several years ago, and have seen them in concert many times over the past twenty years. Their albums such as Good Monsters, The Shelter and Inland, have been some of my favorites.

The band celebrates their twentieth anniversary with a gift for their fans. This new album features two songs from each of their studio albums (with the exception of the collaborative effort Jars of Clay Presents The Shelter and their Christmas record Christmas Songs). The songs were chosen by their fans, and are not necessarily the band’s greatest hits (you won’t see “Flood” or “Two Hands” here, for example), but instead the songs that have meant the most to their fans, some of which haven’t been played by the band on stage for more than ten years. The songs are re-recorded, with a stripped-back acoustic approach, cleanly produced so that you can enjoy the band’s distinctive harmonies, plus the acoustic guitars and string. A few special friends join on background vocals – Ashley Cleveland on “Jealous Kind” and Marcy Pendergrass on “Worlds Apart”. The concept for the album reminds me of Steven Curtis Chapman’s 2011 album Re:creation, in which he re-recorded many of his most popular songs in a stripped-back manner.

The album also features two new songs – “Ghost in the Moon”, which had previously been available on Nashville Indie Spotlight 2014, and “If You Love Her”, inspired by the band’s work with Blood:Water, the organization they founded in 2004 that has raised more than $22 million to help with the water crisis in Africa. Here is a link to the organization’s site: http://www.bloodwater.org/ Here is a video of the band performing the song live: http://vimeo.com/40400416
Below is the track list for the album:
Disc 1:
Fade To Grey
Worlds Apart
Tea and Sympathy
Silence
No One Loves Me Like You
Collide
Jealous Kind
God Will Lift Up Your Head
Ghost In The Moon
If You Love Her

Disc 2:
Trouble Is
Something Beautiful
I Need Thee
Boys
Dead Man
Oh My God
Safe To Land
Inland
Love In Hard Times
Love Song for a Savior

Highly recommended for Jars of Clay fans, this is also a great way for new fans to be introduced to the band.

 

Sovereign by Michael W. SmithSovereign – Michael W. Smith
*** ½

Michael W. Smith is a multi-talented performer, with multiple Christmas, worship and instrumental albums, along with his pop albums since beginning his career in 1983. He has also starred in a film, Steve Taylor’s The Second Chance. He has sold more than 15 million albums, had 28 number 1 hits, earned three GRAMMY® Awards and more than 40 Dove Awards.

His new album Sovereign debuted at number 10 on the Billboard Top Albums chart and number 1 on iTunes and Amazon Christian and Gospel charts in the US and Canada. Sovereign is also available as a Deluxe Edition which includes a special DVD concert filmed at Smith’s barn in Franklin, Tennessee, and features guest appearances from Kari Jobe and Leeland Mooring. The DVD also includes special behind the scenes footage and content with Smith discussing the inspiration behind Sovereign.

This has been a particularly active year for the 56 year-old “Smitty”, with the release of first the traditional Hymns project in March, and now the modern worship studio album Sovereign. It is also his first album on Sparrow Records, after being with Reunion his entire career. He chooses to include five cover songs on the twelve-song album, not unusual for his worship projects. About the new album, Smith says:

‘…sometimes you’ve just got to shake things up…I feel like it’s a good season. I’m pretty passionate. I have lots of energy and I’m probably enjoying making music more than I ever have in my entire life. I’m having fun and I’m excited about this record and this next chapter…’

The first single released from the album is “You Won’t Let Go”, which will be immediately recognizable as a Michael W. Smith song. Michael covers two of Dustin Smith’s tracks on this album, “You’re The Fire,” and my favorite song on the album, “The One That Really Matters”, a duet with Kari Jobe.

All Sons and Daughter’s song, “Christ Be All Around” gets its own Smitty treatment, another of my favorite tracks. Smith’s version is more up-tempo than the original, and includes some background vocals.

Smith includes seven new original songs which fit in nicely with the covers. My other favorites are “Sky Spills Over”, “All Arise”, “Sovereign Over Us”, “The Same Power” and “I Lay Me Down”. I was pleasantly surprised with the new album. Smith’s voice, never strong, sounds great, the production is crystal clear and many of the songs feature a current sounding heavy bass beat. The album includes several songs which could be Christian radio hits and also sung by congregations, and “The One That Really Matters” is one of my top songs for the year.

John HiattTerms of My Surrender by John Hiatt
****

This is the 22nd studio release for John Hiatt, a critically acclaimed songwriter, who is 40 years into his recording career. It is produced by Doug Lancio, the lead guitarist from the Combo, Hiatt’s excellent band. Hiatt continues to be prolific, this being the ninth album he has released over the past fifteen years (and fourth studio album in five years). This one has a mostly acoustic blues feel to it. Though Hiatt initially picked up an electric guitar on day one of recording – he had in mind playing some rough-edged electric guitar for the core sound – Lancio thought acoustic would be a better fit for the songs. Hiatt also plays harmonica on the album, which he hasn’t done recently. They recorded most of the album in a live setting in one basic take, which was fitting since the band in the studio was Hiatt’s exceptional touring band (Lancio, Nathan Gehri, Kenneth Blevins, and Brandon Young).

I first became aware of Hiatt via an article written by Bryan Quincy Newcomb in the Harvest Rock Syndicate publication after the 1987 release of Hiatt’s Bring the Family album, most likely his best. Hiatt talked openly about his past alcohol and drug addiction in the article. I’ve followed Hiatt ever since, enjoying his fourteen studio albums (plus live and compilations) and have seen him in concert at the Ravinia Festival twice.

Hiatt is a talented lyricist and satirical storyteller, and weaves hidden plot twists into fictional tales ranging in topics including redemption, relationships, growing older and surrendering on his terms. The new record features Hiatt’s soulful, gritty voice, which mirrors the gravity of his reflective lyrics. Hiatt sings in a lower register, indicating that at 61, he doesn’t have the top range any longer. Brandon Young adds the higher ranger background vocals. Terms of My Surrender will remind some of his excellent Grammy nominated Crossing Muddy Waters record.

Hiatt indicates that the tales included here aren’t autobiographical, but they are still, in many regards, his. “It’s more stories, storytelling, from different perspectives,” he says. But he allows, “I guess from a point of view. I guess it’s mine, if you want to put it that way, at a given time. It changes.”

In the song “Face of God,” the narrator asks how long he must suffer before seeing God’s face. It includes a line drawing on a Kenneth Patchen poem: “They say God is the Devil until you look him in the eye.”

“At the end he’s saying to his woman, ‘I’ve done enough, show me what you’ve got,’” Hiatt says. “That’s not the way I feel about things. This guy’s genuinely in some kind of struggle to lift himself out of whatever he’s struggling with. He’s got issues — issues with people who have big cars and show their wealth, while he’s coming in through the kitchen door. That’s definitely not me. I come in the kitchen door.”

Ditto for the guy on the prowl in “Baby’s Gonna Kick” — with the kicker line being that she’s “gonna kick me out” and the killer couplet of “listening to John Lee Hooker/Got my mind on a slow meat cooker.”

“Don’t know where that came from,” he says. “Kinda sexual. Kind of a frisky song — playful. I love the groove on that. That and a couple of other songs showcase Kenneth. Been playing with him since 1987 and he just gets better and better.”

A rarity these days, the iTunes version of the album includes liner notes and a lyric sheet, always a treat for a John Hiatt album. Some of my favorite lyrics from the record are:

  • Friend of mine said a long time comin’, I’m just a long time gone  
  • Now the thought police are coming Right up to your door They say you have no liberty If you’re who they’re looking for
  • I’m ridin’ downtown dialed to John Lee Hooker Got my mind set on a slow meat cooker My baby is gonna kick me out someday
  • Somebody said wolf’s howlin’ at my door I ain’t seen the wolf since I was 24 My baby is gonna kick me out someday
  • I play some poker on Friday night But I’m always holdin’ my cards too tight I got a tell, it’s my twitchy eye They take my money and it makes me cry
  • Scared I’ll get what I deserve Or maybe scared I won’t
  • I’m sittin’ in my garage Starin’ at my motorcycle My heart is so heavy, like a stack of bibles
  • Sometimes love can be so wrong Like a fat man in a thong It walks shamelessly away
  • Old people are pushy They don’t have much time They’ll shove you at the coffee shop Cut ahead in the buffet line

This is an album that I’ve listened to a lot since it was released a few weeks ago. While it seemed simple at first listen, I find more complexity coming out in each additional listen. This is a worthy entry into the already impressive Hiatt canon. My favorite songs are “Long Time Comin’”, “Face of God”, Baby’s Gonna Kick”, “Marlene”, “Nobody Knew His Name”, and the Dylan-like “Terms of My Surrender”. I hope he comes around someplace close (he has played in Bloomington a few times in the past few years) so that I can hear some of these songs live.

Concert Review ~ Chris Tomlin and Brandon Heath at the US Cellular Coliseum July 19

Brandon Heath opened the show with a pleasing set (photo from previous night in Missouri)
Brandon Health
Chris Tomlin led the crowd through an hour and a half of worship and fun (Photo from previous night in Missouri)
Chris Tomlin
The evening began with a pleasing set by Brandon Heath before a decent, but not full house at the US Cellular Coliseum for a night of worship and some fun. Heath started the evening with a 45 minute set playing acoustic guitar accompanied by the keyboardist from Chris Tomlin’s band. Heath did a nice job connecting with the crowd, who sang along with his popular radio hits.

If you’ve never been to a Chris Tomlin concert, it is more of a worship experience than it is a concert. Lyrics are projected on a large screen so the audience can sing along, which they did from the beginning “How Great is Our God” to the closing cover of friend and frequent co-writer Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”. It has been estimated 40 million people sing Tomlin’s songs each week in church and some of them were at the US Cellular Coliseum Saturday night, singing along with Tomlin on every word.

Tomlin played a 90 minute set in his first ever concert in Bloomington/Normal. Below is the set list:

Main Set
How Great is Our God
God’s Great Dance Floor – a high energy fun song with got a great reaction from the crowd.
I Will Follow You
Waterfall – Tomlin’s new single.
Jesus Messiah
White Flag
At the Cross (Love Ran Red) – the title song of Tomlin’s forthcoming fall album and my favorite song of 2014 thus far. Looks for this one to be sung in churches around the world soon.
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies) – was dedicated to a five year old boy Tomlin met before the show who has endured multiple surgeries for brain cancer.
Our God
God’s Great Dance Floor Reprise – several large beach balls were sent throughout the arena as the crowd had a great time.

Encore
The Heart of Worship – a Matt Redman song.
10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) – another Matt Redman song, with Brandon Heath.

This is the third time I’ve seen Tomlin in concert. His music has meant a lot to me over the past several years and it’s a regular part of getting ready for Sunday morning worship each week. I can’t wait for the next album and hearing him do some of those songs in concert.

John A Misunderstood Messiah by Michael CardJohn: A Misunderstood Messiah by Michael Card
****
This is the last in Michael Card’s series of four Biblical Imagination Series records, this one based on the Gospel of John. Michael told me it is probably the last 10-song album of his career, because the music industry has changed so much.

The album includes new versions of previous favorites “Scribbling in the Sand” and “Stranger by the Seashore”, which was one of the first songs he ever wrote and has been released in two previous versions (on First Light and again on A Fragile Stone).

When Michael was in town in April to do a Biblical Imagination Conference on the Gospel of Matthew and perform a concert, the album was being worked on back home in Nashville. Michael was getting updates throughout the weekend on the background vocal work by a gospel choir that was being done for the record, which shows up on “How Can These Things Be?” During the concert sound check he played us the beautiful “All I’ve Ever Done”, sung by Ginny Owens from the perspective of the woman at the well, certainly a highlight of the record.

Here are Michael’s comments about the new songs:

“John is interested in longer stories of individual people like Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the woman taken in adultery. I’ve written songs on each of those extended stories.

“The Bread, The Light, The Life”. There are no parables in John’s Gospel. Instead he tells the story of Jesus’ life as a parable. (John 6:35; 8:12; 11:25)

“Come and See”. One of the first words from Jesus’ lips in John is “Come and See.” (John 1:39)

“The One Who Was Sent”. If you ask Jesus who He is in the Gospel, He invariably responds that He is the “Sent One.” (John 5:24; 30, 36-38, 6:39f, 44, 57, 7:16, 29, 33, 8:16, 18, 26, 42, 9:4, 11:42, 12:44f, 13:16, 20, 14:24, 15:21, 16:5, 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25, 20:21).

“How Can These Things Be?” The story of Jesus speaking with Nicodemus is unique to John. What made the Pharisees blind was their insistence that they could see.

“All I’ve Ever Done”. A special appearance by Ginny Owens, who wrote the music. I thought it would be cool to have a female voice sing the woman at the well’s story, especially a wonderful voice like Ginny.

“Come to Me and Drink”. The 7th chapter of John contains my favorite story from the Gospels. I have been waiting 30 years to write a song about Jesus bravely standing up in the middle of the vast Sukkot crowd and shouting, “If anyone is thirsty, let them come to me and drink.”

“Scribbling in the Sand”. This was recorded once before for a live video. I thought its message was important enough to record one final time.

“Jesus Wept”. I have never heard a song about the first occurrence of Jesus weeping on the way to Lazarus’ tomb. The second time we see Him weeping in the Gospels, the reason why is clear. But the text does not answer the question why He cried this first time in John. I love the ambiguity.

“One Long Final Walk”. Chapters 15 to 17 contain the longest discourse of Jesus which occurred on their final walk to Gethsemane.

“Stranger on the Shore”. One of the first songs I wrote under Bill Lane came from one of his sermons on John 21, the second catch of fish. I have previously recorded this song twice but felt the need to do one final version for this collection on John.”

The album is beautifully and simply produced by Keith Compton. The music credits are below:

Michael Card – Vocals/Guitar/Piano Banjo/Bouzouki
Scott Roley – Vocals
Kate Card Wharton – Bodhran
Bill Verdier – Fiddle
Danny Olannerty – Bass
Matt Pierson – Bass
Ken Lewis – Drums
John Reddick – Vocals
Dave Cleveland – Guitars
Paul Eckberg – Percussion
Ginny Owens – Vocals/Piano
Scott Brasher – Strings
Wayne Bucknor – Piano
John Catchings – Cello
Choir – Janice Gaines, Dorena Willamson, Harmonie Reddick and Jon Reddick

These songs are classic Michael Card. What attracted me initially to Michael, and why I have followed his ministry for almost 30 years since purchasing his Known by the Scars record in 1985, is how he creatively brings the Bible to music. The instrumentation, while excellent, is always secondary to Michael’s lyrics. I enjoyed the piano work, particularly on “Scribbling in the Sand” and “Stranger on the Shore”. The choruses of those two songs and the beautiful “Jesus Wept” are powerful:

“Scribbling in the Sand”
It was silence. It was music
It was art. It was absurd
He stooped and shouted volumes
Without saying a single word
The same finger of the strong hand
That had written ten commands
For now was simply scribbling in the sand

“Stranger on the Shore”
You need to be confronted by the stranger on the shore
You need to have him search your soul; you need to hear the call
You need to learn exactly what it means for you to follow
You need to realize that he’s asking for it all

“Jesus Wept”
Did Jesus weep
For their disbelief
Or did He cry
Because his friend had died
Took on himself
All of their pain and fear
Explain their mystery of
His silent tears

I really enjoyed Michael’s collaboration with good friend Scott Roley on “The One Who Was Sent” as their voices blend perfectly on the chorus:
He is the One who was sent by the Father
He is the One who acted out of love
He is the One who was led by the Spirit
He is the One who was sent from above

I recommend that you pick up the companion book John: The Gospel of Wisdom. Better yet, pick up the entire Biblical Imagination Series of books and records. Check them out from the store on Michael’s website here:

Albums – http://store.michaelcard.com/albums.aspx
Books – http://store.michaelcard.com/books.aspx

Michael will be offering Biblical Imagination Conferences on the Gospel of John in 2015. Watch his website for a location near you: http://www.michaelcard.com/#/biblical-imagination/conference-dates

 

Concert Review ~ Paul McCartney at the United Center July 9

(Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune)

Paul McCartney in Chicago Last Wednesday Paul McCartney stopped in Chicago for his Out There tour. It was the eleventh time I have seen the recently turned 72 year-old former Beatle in concert since the first time at the Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena) with my brother-in-law Al in December, 1989. I have seen him in Chicago six times (Rosemont Horizon, Soldier Field, Wrigley Field and three times at the United Center), Indianapolis (at the old Market Square Arena and twice at Conseco Fieldhouse, now known as Banker’s Life Fieldhouse), Milwaukee (the old Country Stadium) and St. Louis (the old Busch Memorial Stadium).

Paul McCartney Out There

 

 

For me, McCartney concerts always stir emotions as no other concerts can, as the songs are really the soundtrack of my life. For example…..I can remember my Aunt Linda screaming at the television in her parents’ (my grandparents) living room as the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Later in that same home, my brother Mike and I first saw the Rubber Soul album in our Aunt Cindy’s room. My first single was the late 1963 released Beatles’ two-sided hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/”I Saw Her Standing There”, with its black & white cover sleeve with the boys in their “Beatles suits” and McCartney holding a cigarette (see below):
I Want to Hold Your Hand Cover Art
Jump ahead, I remember seeing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the “White Album” for the first time at K-Mart. I had to wait for Christmas to get the latter album, which was released November 22. I can remember singing “Hello Goodbye” with teammates on the bus traveling to a 6th grade basketball game, “Get Back” with classmates in junior high school, and talking about the sudden ending to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” on the school bus in 1969. I listened to the “bootleg” recordings from the Get Back sessions (later released as Let it Be) with a friend; went to see the Let it Be movie with my Dad followed by Tobin’s Pizza downtown Bloomington location afterwards; and seeing the Yellow Submarine movie with my brother. I remember listening in my room to Larry Lujack debut “Lady Madonna” on WLS “The Big 89” radio in 1968. And I could go on (and on).
Sir Paul resumed his Out There tour on July 5 after being forced to take nearly two months off due to a virus that left him hospitalized. He called off the Japan leg of the tour and a South Korea show after falling ill on May 16, and later postponed a number of US dates. He spent six days in a Tokyo hospital being treated for the viral infection.
Paul McCartney United CenterMy brother and I had seen McCartney on an earlier leg of the Out There tour last July in Indianapolis, just prior to the release of his excellent New album. In this show, he included four songs from that album – “New”, “Save Us”, “Queenie Eye” and “Everybody Out There”, the latter of which seems to have been written for a concert setting. Here is the entire set list from the show: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/paul-mccartney/2014/united-center-chicago-il-7bc1eae0.html
Observing the crowd at a McCartney concert is always fun as you see a variety of ages, and a surprising number of young people. The prices are always interesting too ($35 for “preferred” parking – meaning you would be able to get out, without being blocked in), $40 t-shirts and $30 programs).
The concert was a celebration, with McCartney and his long-time band launching into “Eight Days a Week”, the first of an incredible 39 songs over two hours and forty-five minutes. You can enjoy the review of the concert from the Chicago Tribune here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/chi-paul-mccartney-concert-review-20140709,0,7206684.column

James TaylorConcert Review ~ James Taylor and his All-Star Band at the Ravinia Festival June 27

I love attending concerts with Tammy at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. It’s unlike any other outdoor concert venue I’ve ever been to. We enjoyed a concert at Ravinia for the fourth time last Friday seeing James Taylor and his All-Star Band, in the second of two sold-out shows for him at Ravinia, the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States, with the property dating back to 1904 when it was an amusement park. It has been the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1936, and annually draws about 600,000 to 120-150 events.

Ravinia LawnRavinia has a 3,400 seat Pavilion and 36 acres parkland and lawn which can accommodate about 15,000 more. The laws allows for open seating and picnicking, where concert attendees sit, and with a speakers throughout the grounds, can hear (but not see the artist). Most of those who enjoy lawn tickets (which are priced well below the Pavilion tickets) bring complete supplies for elaborate picnics to the shows, including lawn chairs, coolers full of food, blankets, candles, etc. (as you can see as patrons arrive below). If you’ve never been to Ravinia in Highland Park, check out their website – www.ravinia.com

On a beautiful evening, his eleven piece backing band, including four back-up singers, gave him flexibility with his songs that he hasn’t had with smaller ensembles. This was the second time we had seen “JT” at Ravinia and the fourth time overall we had seen him in concert, dating over a 30-plus year period. Tam @ Ravinia 6-27-14

Taylor and the band played twenty-three songs, including three new ones that have not yet been released. After playing the opener “Something in the Way She Moves”, he recalled playing the song in an audition for Paul McCartney and George Harrison. That resulted in Taylor getting signed to the Beatles Apple label and the recording of his first album James Taylor, which was produced by McCartney and featured “Something in the Way She Moves” and “Carolina in My Mind”. Taylor also talked about getting to sit in some of the sessions of the Beatles classic “White Album” in 1968, sharing the studio with them as he recorded his album.

Just before playing “You’ve Got a Friend”, while telling the audience that there would be an intermission, (“I really don’t know why we have an intermission. We just go stand behind the curtain and watch the clock for twenty minutes”), he was looking at the set list for the second set and said that it was “chock full of hits”. He wasn’t joking. Overall, he played a lot of his most well-loved songs, including fifteen songs from The Essential James Taylor and “Up on the Roof” (surprisingly not included in that collection), plus two lesser known songs from his prior albums (“One More Go Around” from New Moon Shine and “Hour That Morning Comes” from Dad Loves His Work. Take a look at the full set list below:

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/james-taylor/2014/ravinia-music-festival-highland-park-il-73c1b2fd.html

It was a wonderful evening at Ravinia. I can’t wait for JT’s new album, which will be his first album of all new material since 2002 and the next time we see him at Ravinia.

 

david-crowder-itunes-sessioniTunes Session – Crowder
****

This project, released in November 2012, was David Crowder’s first solo effort after the David Crowder Band played their final concert in January, 2012 at the Passion Conference. It was recorded at the famous Capitol Records Studio in Hollywood, and is a stripped down acoustic effort, which includes some of the David Crowder Band’s best songs, along with a few classic hymns. It was the first hint of what we would eventually hear on his excellent first solo album Neon Steeple, released in May, 2014.

The project includes nine songs. Three are from Illuminate (“O Praise Him”, “Open Skies” and “No One Like You”), three are from the band’s final album Give Us Rest (“Let Me Feel You Shine”, “Because He Lives” and “After All (Holy)”), and one each from Church Music (“How He Loves”) and Collision (Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light”). Below is the complete set list:

  1. How He Loves
  2. After All
  3. I Saw the Light
  4. Because He Lives
  5. O Praise Him
  6. The Old Rugged Cross
  7. Open Skies
  8. Let Me Feel You Shine
  9. No One Like You

I wasn’t very familiar with the David Crowder Band’s music, with the exception of their songs on the Passion albums, until they had already broken up. I enjoyed their “Best Of” compilation All This For A King: The Essential Collection released in May, 2013. I would recommend this release for those who enjoyed the David Crowder Band and also for those who like Crowder’s new Neon Steeple album. Crowder will be performing at the House of Blues in Chicago on October 1.

 

tedashiiBelow Paradise by Tedashii
*** ½

The latest album from Lecrae’s Reach Records family debuted at #1 on the Hip-Hop/Rap chart and #7 on the Top Albums chart. The album is an audio journal of what happened to Tedashii, a Texas native (he and his family attend Matt Chandler’s Village Church in Denton) since losing his young son in March 2013. Below is T-Dot’s description of the album from his website (www.tedashii.com):

“In March of 2013 I had the worst day of my life. The loss of my son changed me forever. I experienced grief and sorrow to the depth of my soul. The veil was lifted, the smoke cleared and all I had was pain. Instantly phrases like, “It’s all good” or “It’ll be okay” were cliché and, at best, empty promises. The comfort of life with no pain was gone and I saw the world in an entirely new way. I felt forsaken, alone, and in a place of darkness that has been kept masked by a focus on only the good side of this life. The reality of being a Christian and suffering so harsh a thing was hard for me to grasp. This album is my “journal” shared publicly with all of you during this difficult journey as I worked to understand all I felt, experienced, and believed. I am human, I am hurt, I am His. By His grace I am what I am. I pray this will be an album all can feel, even if you can’t relate, and be moved to true emotions about the reality of life in a harsh world with a loving God, Below Paradise.”

When I first started listening to this album I noted much less gospel than on other Christian rap/hip-hop artist albums. I also noticed that the songs were more melodic, rather than the anthems Tedashii was known for, and more serious in nature. I didn’t know at the time that the album was Tedashii’s audio journal of what he has been going through since losing his young son in an auto accident in March, 2013. Once I realized that, it changed the way I looked at the record.

This is his fourth album and first since 2011’s Blacklist. It features a strong list of guests – some expected – Lecrae, Trip Lee, Andy Mineo, KB, Derek Minor and some not – Crowder and Britt Nicole. The first single is “Nothing I Can’t Do”, featuring Lecrae and Trip Lee. It has been charting on iTunes top rap/hip-hop songs chart since it was released.

The more hard-hitting tracks are “Nothing I Can’t Do”, “My God”, and the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition “Earthquake” and “On Ten”. (The Deluxe edition contains three songs, and they are worth the additional cost). Two of the songs on the record are about his marriage – “Be with You” and “Love Never Leaves”. “Chase” is a simple ballad featuring Tim Halperin. It is a touching song to Tedashii’s son. Much of the album has a soulful R&B sound with Tedashii rapping the verses and one of the many guests handling the chorus.

Some have written that the album is thematically similar to Steven Curtis Chapman’s Beauty Will Rise, and I agree with that. It is a transparent look into Tedashii’s life, as well as a view of life as we live below paradise.

 

crowderNeon Steeple by Crowder
****

This is the highly anticipated first solo album from 42 year old David Crowder, former leader of the David Crowder Band, a modern worship band that disbanded in 2012, playing their final concert at the Passion Conference at the Georgia Dome. David Crowder decided to pursue a solo career under the name Crowder, and the rest of the band, except for Mike Hogan, forming The Digital Age. Neon Steeple is a very strong debut.

This is a bit of a different sound for David Crowder Band fans, but over the past few years we’ve gotten a hint of his new direction. “All This Glory” was included by the David Crowder Band on the Passion 2012 album White Flag. “This I Know” was included in All This for a King: The Essential Collection, a David Crowder Band “best of” collection released in 2013. “Here’s My Heart” and “My Beloved” were included in the 2013 Passion album Let the Future Begin. “I Am” and “Come as You Are” were included in the 2014 Passion album Take it All. “I Am” was a single released in November, 2013 (and is already being sung in churches), and along with “My Beloved” were downloads you received when you pre-ordered Neon Steeple. The new sound has elements of bluegrass, folk and electronica thrown into the mix. I’ll let Crowder himself describe it:

Neon Steeple is a collection of songs and sounds looking forward to the past and counting the present as sacred. It is a longing for belonging, a search for a home. It is a collection of choruses that believe that this is not all there is. It is the sound of the Appalachians and Ibiza. Folk music and EDM. The music of the People. Folktronica. Digital and Analog. The Ones and Zeros and the Handshake. The Banjo and the 808.”

Crowder states that the album is the most personal collection of music he has offered to date. He goes on to state:

Neon Steeple is both a critique and a hope. A narrative of innocence lost, of displacement, of misplaced affections and misplaced people and the search for belonging and home and forgiveness and reconciliation, the tension of death and life leaning toward resolution, the promised land of what it means to come to life. The story is not about making bad people good, it is about making dead people alive. This is Promised Land. This is Redemption. This is Reorientation. This is Resolution.”

The album features a few special guests. Emmylou Harris sings on “My Sweet Lord” (not the George Harrison song), and Bill Gaither sings with Crowder on “Because He Lives”. In addition, Crowder covers Hank Williams’ “Jesus is Calling”.

Crowder mixes styles – country, dance, folk, bluegrass, modern worship, bluegrass – sometimes in the same song. For example he combines a fast strumming banjo with electronic dance – and it works! Neon is an inert noble gas that is obtained from the distillation of liquid air, what we breathe in and out to stay alive, just thicker. You can drown in it. This is metaphor. Neon, a thing stereotypically used to sell some product or market a way of life that distracts a human from the thickness, the weight, the heaviness, the tension of the here and now. Neon Steeple is both a critique and a hope. A narrative of innocence lost, of displacement, of misplaced affections and misplaced people and the search for belonging and home and forgiveness and reconciliation, the tension of death and life leaning toward resolution, the promised land of what it means to come to life. The story is not about making bad people good, it is about making dead people alive. This is Promised Land. This is Redemption. This is Reorientation. This is Resolution. Neon is an inert noble gas that is obtained from the distillation of liquid air, what we breathe in and out to stay alive, just thicker. You can drown in it. This is metaphor. Neon, a thing stereotypically used to sell some product or market a way of life that distracts a human from the thickness, the weight, the heaviness, the tension of the here and now. Neon Steeple is both a critique and a hope. A narrative of innocence lost, of displacement, of misplaced affections and misplaced people and the search for belonging and home and forgiveness and reconciliation, the tension of death and life leaning toward resolution, the promised land of what it means to come to life. The story is not about making bad people good, it is about making dead people alive. This is Promised Land. This is Redemption. This is Reorientation. This is Resolution.

We have already seen a few outstanding music releases in 2014. Neon Steeple joins Fading West by Switchfoot and Rivers in the Wasteland by NEEDTOBREATHE as my top releases for 2014. I was really looking forward to its release and it doesn’t disappoint. The album debuted at #8 on iTunes charts upon its release this week. this is the most personal collection of material I have offered to date.this is the most personal collection of material I have offered to date.

 

Gaffigan Obsessed by Jim Gaffigan
*** ½

We saw Jim Gaffigan for the first time recently on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and thought he was really funny. When this album went on sale on Amazon.com, we bought it and listened to it on the way down to graduation in St. Louis this past weekend. Gaffigan is funny, and clean, which is very refreshing. He is married and the father of five.

This also comes in a DVD format, with the companion comedy special debuting on Comedy Central April 27. Included are 70 minutes of humor, much of it about food. The titles are self-explanatory – Can’t Stop Eating, Fruits & Vegetables, Donuts, Southern Food, Fried Bread, Seafood, etc. He also talks about Mount Rushmore and a trip to Victoria’s Secret. Very enjoyable!

 

 

JTThe Essential James Taylor
****

The 66 year old “JT” released his debut album 46 years ago on the Beatles Apple label. Two songs recorded on that album are included on this remastered set, not the original Apple versions, but the 1975 versions recorded for Taylor’s 1976 Greatest Hits album. I bought Taylor’s second album, Sweet Baby James in 1970, and have been enjoying his music ever since. We have seen him three times in concert, and will see him again later this summer at Ravinia in Highland Park.

Taylor’s last album of new songs was 2002’s October Road. Since then, including this release, there have been two “Best Of” compilations, two live albums, two albums of covers and a Christmas album. He took off most of 2013 from touring to work on new material. Here’s hoping for that new album soon.

The first disc here covers the years 1970 – 1977 and the second the years 1979 – 2007. The second disc includes a few live songs from his Live and One Man Band albums. There’s always some controversy about choosing songs for a compilation. The most glaring omission here is “Up on the Roof”, which was included on previous compilations, and perhaps the most surprising additons were Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More”, performed with Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor and “Honey Don’t Leave L.A.”. It would have been nice to have “Mockingbird”, a hit with then wife Carly Simon, included as well. But overall, it’s hard to argue with the 30 gems that are included.

 

PassionPassion: Take It All (Deluxe Edition)
****

The Passion movement was birthed out of a vision to reach young adults and college students in 1997. This year, conferences held in in Atlanta and Houston served host to over 35,000 students representing 46 countries and more than 1,200 universities. The students donated over $670,000 that will provide printing and distribution of over 65,000 Bibles to the people of Iran.

I look forward to the Passion conference album of worship music each year. As in past years, I purchased the Deluxe edition, which features two extra songs (from Matt Redman and Kristian Stanfill) and two videos (from Christy Nockels and Crowder), along with a message from Louie Giglio. Including the videos, Stanfill has four songs and Chris Tomlin, Redman, Crowder, and Nockels each have three songs on the Deluxe edition.

The highlight for me were Tomlin’s “Almighty” and especially “At the Cross [Love Ran Red],” which includes the lyrics:
At the cross, at the cross

Where I surrender my life

I’m in awe of you, I’m in awe of you

Where your love ran red

You my sin washed white

I owe all to You, I owe all to You, Jesus

I most enjoyed the songs by Tomlin, Redman and Crowder, including his current radio hit “I Am”. A bit of a disappointment was that of the three Matt Redman songs, only “Worthy” was new, with the other two from his latest album.

This album will be enjoyed most by those who have enjoyed the past Passion releases and who appreciate the music by the artists featured. The lyrics can tend towards being relatively simple and repetitive, which may be due in part to the genre. But overall this was a welcome release from the Passion gang. Chris Tomlin will be in concert in Bloomington at the US Cellular Coliseum on July 19.

 

 PropsCrimson Cord by Propaganda
****

I first heard of Propaganda as one of the many guest artists on Lecrae’s Church Clothes albums. More recently, I read about him on the Desiring God blog – you can read that here: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/propaganda-about-gods-purpose-in-our-past

His new album Crimson Cord is outstanding, certainly one of the best I’ve heard this year. The song “Daywalkers”, featuring Lecrae, is one of my top songs for the year. It’s a fun song and ‘Crae sings that today he can be found in the steeple teaching and that he’s a product of Descartes, Tim Keller and Outkast.

Propaganda’s music is different from other Christian rap/hip-hop artists such as Lecrae, Trip Lee, Andy Mineo and KB. His music can be intense, and includes spoken word tracks. Propaganda also includes some “boom bap”, an effective use of drums on this record. That’s one of the best aspects of “Daywalkers”. Andy Mineo and JGivens guest on “How Did We Get Here”, which along with “Daywalkers” are the two most up tempo tracks here.

The album opens with “You Mock Me”, a spoken word track about how Satan mocks him. He describes what he means by crimson cord, which is a theme that comes up throughout the album, in the title song:
The pain that guides us

The strings that tie us

The coincidence that proves to us God’s existence

Joy we misplace

Beautiful mistakes

The scarlet thread

The crimson cord

 Bored of Education” is a scathing critique of the public school system, in which he sings: Dear Board of Education…so are we.

In “I Ain’t Gave Up on You Yet”, he sings that he is upset with a lot of things (including America), but he hasn’t given up on them yet.

“Framed Stretch Marks” uses stretch marks as a metaphor for God’s love and also as a song to his wife for her strength.

“Three Cord Bond” explores the issue of racism told from three different perspectives. He emphasizes that we all need grace as we are all broken. He sings:

But now we understand we suffer the same stain

Gained from a shared ancestor, we all descend from Adam’s sin

Riddles every inch of us but now we see clearly

That crimson cord is one row made from many strands

And each its own color but now what clearly stands

Dyed the color red from our Savior’s bloodshed

The album closes with “Tell Me Yours”, another spoken word song in which he thanks those that have helped him through the years, ending with:
These deserve your thanks

If you see them say I sent you

I didn’t know then, but I know now, and I can’t ignore

These are my crimson cord

You tell me yours

Whereas I complained about repetitive and unimaginative lyrics on the new Passion album, in part due to the worship music genre, I can’t make the same complaint here. Propaganda will challenge you on this album, and each successive listen you’ll pick up more. Highly recommended.

 

NEEDTOBREATHERivers in the Wasteland – NEEDTOBREATHE
****

The Charleston, South Caroline trio is back with their first album since 2011’s excellent The Reckoning. I’ve been listening to and becoming familiar with these songs for weeks now. I received three songs – “The Heart”, “Difference Maker” and “The State I’m In” with the pre-order. Then they added “Wasteland”. Later, they began releasing a new song on their website every few days – “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”, “Oh Carolina”, “Rise Again”, “Where the Money Is”, “Multiplied”, “Brother”, “More Heart, Less Attack”.

There are a few things you notice right away when you hear the new music. One is a bare-bones approach to the music and the second is that their faith comes out in the lyrics much stronger than it did in The Reckoning. Bo Rinehart, said in a press release:

“There was so much over-the-top production on the last album and on our tour. We wanted to blow it all up and start over. The idea for the record was to get as much of the production elements out of the way and then force ourselves to not rely on extra stuff and studio tricks and technology. We wanted to force limitations and see how far we could take the songs with just us. Probably 90% of the record is all live takes. It’s very much an honest record.”

“More Heart, Less Attack” was written as a response to the pressure of doing something for the wrong reasons. “Rise Again”, an acoustic ballad, is about the necessity of adversity in order to move forward and “Difference Maker” contemplates the qualities the band hopes to embody in their lives.

There are many songs on the album that I’m excited about. However, when I first heart “Multiply”, I knew that song would be special for believers. Bo writes:

“The first line from my favorite hymn sings these words:

The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.

If we spend the rest of our life singing Hallelujahs, it still wouldn’t amount to what God truly deserves. I need God, even in worship, to help make what little I have to offer worthy of Him. This song is a prayer.

May this offering stretch across the skies and these Hallelujahs be multiplied.

Also, God cannot be contained. He has no limits. Then, couldn’t God use us to spark His exponential ripple effect into motion that could change the entire world?”  

“Multiplied”
Your love is like radiant diamonds
Bursting inside us we cannot contain
Your love will surely come find us
Like blazing wildfires singing your name

God of mercy, sweet love of mine
I have surrendered to your design
May this this offering stretch across the sky
This hallelujah be multiplied

Your love is like radiant diamonds
Bursting inside us we cannot contain
Your love will surely come find us
Like blazing wildfires singing your name

God of mercy, sweet love of mine
I have surrendered to your design
May this this offering stretch across the sky
This hallelujah be multiplied

(Multiplied, Multiplied, Oh Multiplied)

God of mercy, sweet love of mine
I have surrendered to your design
May this this offering stretch across the sky
This hallelujah be multiplied
This hallelujah be multiplied

Your love is like radiant diamonds
Bursting inside us we cannot contain
Your love will surely come find us
Like blazing wildfires singing your name

 
The band is much more open about their faith in these songs than they were on The Reckoning. Below are a few examples:

“Difference Maker”:
Yeah, isn’t it amazing how a man can find himself alone
Call into the darkness for an answer that’s he’s never known
Yeah, isn’t it amazing how a God can take a broken man
Yeah, let him find a fortune, let him ruin it with his own two hands

 “Wasteland”:
In this wasteland where I’m livin’
There is a crack in the door filled with light
And it’s all that I need to get by
In this wasteland where I’m livin’
There is a crack in the door filled with light
And it’s all that I need to shine

Oh if God is on my side
Oh if God is on my side
Yeah if God is on my side
Then who can be against me

One of my favorite current songs is “The Heart”:
Ain’t no gift like the present tense
Gotta make hay when the sun is shinin’
Can’t waste time when it comes time to dance

Slammin’ this door with a heavy hand
Signin’ this line like a deed to land
Keeping in touch with the windows down
Dreading this night since the rain hit the ground

Long live the heart
Long live the soul
That knows what it wants
That piece you can find
That part is the whole
It never lets go

Always tryin to be the one outlaw
Goes where he wants never does get caught
Pushing this line like the Lord ain’t comin’
Building this house like he’s scared of something else

Gotta make hay when the sun is shinin’
Can’t waste time when it comes time to dance
Keeping in touch with the windows down
Dreading this night since the rain hit the ground
           

Speaking about “Brother”, which has a chorus of “Brother let me be your shelter”, Bo stated:

“This song represents a completely different way of looking at each other in this band. Somehow along the way we had talked ourselves into believing that being competitive with each other was a good thing. It really was every man for himself. The band had to go through a pretty tough time to realize how much we needed each other, but we came out the other side with an appreciation that only brothers can have. We want our first instinct from now on to be to stick up for each other.”

The album will not be released until April 15. You can listen to it now here: http://www.needtobreathe.com/riversinthewasteland

 

Hymns by Michael W. SmithHymns by Michael W. Smith

****

Michael W. Smith’s newest album Hymns was released March 24 exclusively at all Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® locations and online at crackerbarrel.com. The digital album is also available for purchase at select digital retailers, including iTunes and Amazon. It is the first time Smith has recorded an album of traditional hymns, including many that he sang in church when he was young. The album contains 15 songs and is available for $11.99 at Cracker Barrel, $9.99 at iTunes and $8.99 at Amazon.

Hymns was produced by Kyle Lee and Jim Daneker, with the last song on the album produced by Smith. The album’s executive producers are Greg Ham and Chaz Corzine. The album is simply and beautifully recorded, with the focus on the lyrics. It often has a Southern Gospel, bluegrass or even country feel to it, not unlike the Alan Jackson gospel music albums. If you enjoy the classic hymns of the faith and/or Michael W. Smith’s music, you’ll love this new recording.

The songs on Hymns are as follows:

1)            “The Old Rugged Cross” (written by George Bennard)

2)            “My Jesus, I Love Thee” (written by William R. Featherston)

3)            “Were You There” (written by C. Winfred Douglas)

4)            “Victory in Jesus” (written by E.M. Bartlett)

5)            “How Great Thou Art” (written by Stuart K. Hine)

6)            “Just As I Am” (written by Charlotte Elliott)

7)            “Near the Cross” (written by Fanny Crosby)

8)            “It is Well” (written by Horatio Spafford)

9)            “Softly and Tenderly” (written by Will L. Thompson)

10)          “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (written by Isaac Watts)

11)          “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (written by Joseph M Scriven)

12)          “Wonderful, Merciful Savior” (written by Dawn Rodgers and Eric Wyse)

13)          “Great is Thy Faithfulness” (written by Thomas O.Chisholm and William M. Runyan)

14)          “God of Our Fathers” (written by Daniel C. Roberts)

15)          “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” (written by Peter C. Lutkin)

 

Peter Furler BandSun and Shield – Peter Furler Band
*** ½

Peter Furler was the main creative force behind the Newsboys for 22 years, which resulted in 27 #1 radio singles for the band. Since leaving the band in 2009 he has recorded one solo album, the fine 2011 release On Fire. He now returns with an independent release from the new Peter Furler Band, featuring Dave Ghazarian (formerly of Superchick and Audio Adrenaline) on bass and Jeff Irizarry on drums, leading to a much more band driven sound, which will remind many of Furler’s best music with the Newsboys. I know I’ve been listening to some of the best Furler led Newsboys albums of the past this past week. Another exciting feature of this new release is Furler’s reunion with Steve Taylor, my all-time favorite CCM artist. Furler, who plays drums on Taylor’s upcoming release, teams with Taylor for the first time since the Newboy’s Adoration worship album.

With the pre-order of the album I was able to listen to the driving title song, “Dare I Say” – a song directed to the devil, and “Shame” written by Taylor:

This is the last ditch I want to crawl out of
but we all need somewhere to stay
If you could see things from down here
you’d know why it’s better to just look away
shame
after everyone’s long gone
shame
you stay
oh shame
you’re still holding my hand
but shame
you stain
I’ve kept my friends close but you’re still the closer
you took all my faith
took my name
This is my last ditch attempt to escape you ’cause I’ve dug up nothing but…
shame
after everyone’s long gone
shame
you stay
oh shame
you’re still holding my hand
but shame
you stain
time after time after cycles and spirals and finding the floor
just to crash through it once more
you’d think we’d be over but maybe we’re soul mates
or maybe I just hate to leave you for someone better
shame
after everyone’s long gone
shame
you stay
oh shame
you’re still holding my hand
but shame
you stain

Those songs certainly got me excited for the full release. There are many highlights on this record, but the one that many will be talking about, and hearing on Christian radio, is the worship song “Yeshua”, featuring CCM veteran and Furler’s father in law Mylon LeFevre on vocals.

Furler has always been known to write a great hook, and there are plenty of them here on a diverse collection of songs and styles that may best be described as fitting in somewhere between the Newsboys classic Going Public and Take Me to Your Leader albums. And although not credited as a part of the band, Newsboys fans will want to know that Furler’s former band members Phil Joel and Jeff Frankenstein contribute to the new record. Highly recommended!

 

Jars of ClayInlandia: The Remix Collection – Jars of Clay
****
Jars of Clay has been one of my favorite bands for a long time. Inland, their 2013 release was one of my top albums of last year. I was excited to hear about this remix project, even though I’m somewhat skeptical about remix projects in general.
Inlandia includes seven songs from the original twelve from Inland. It is available at digital outlets only, and costs just $5.99. Each of the seven songs are remixed by someone different. I tend to like the least experimental remixes the best. As a result, the remixes of “Inland” and “After the Fight” are probably my least favorite of the five here and the remix of “Reckless Forgiver”, one of my top songs of 2013, being my favorite. This is definitely a project that fans of Jars of Clay will enjoy.

 

KB100 – KB (ep)
****
This has certainly been an exciting time for Christian hip-hop/rap. First, in late 2013, Lecrae comes with Church Clothes 2, which was my top album of the year. Then, fellow Reach Records (the label is owned by Lecrae), artist Andy Mineo releases the iTunes chart-topping EP Never Land and now another Reach Records artist KB releases his own EP, 100, which debuted very high on the iTunes charts and sits at #3 on iTunes’ hip-hop/rap chart. Christian hip-hop/rap has had the ability to impact the mainstream charts in a way that Christian rock/pop has not, as Lecrae’s 2012 release Gravity also debuted at #1 on the iTunes charts.
Producers on the EP include in house producers Gawvi and Joseph Prielozny along with Dirty Rice, Tyshane (son of Papa San and only 17-years old), Ace and GRoc. A theme of keeping things 100 and going all out is a theme throughout this release. KB writes:
“You don’t have to love what you do, to do it with love. Brother Lawrence author of practicing the presence of God said, “God regards not the greatness of our work, but the love it is done with.” So what is there to love? If what we do provides for people it is never an insignificant thing. The means by which God provides for His world is through the labor of His people. To do everything unto him is to work like our lives are not ours but His. He see’s what we do and cares how we do it therefore we give our best. It’s when we give “100” God is honored and this world impacted.”
Every song here is excellent, but the highlight of this six song EP is the title song, featuring Andy Mineo. Here are the lyrics to that song, which once you hear it you won’t be able to get it out of your mind:
100
Andy Mineo:
Yeah all I really know is 100 nothin’ less
100 till nothin’ left
All I really know is 100 nothin’ less
100 till nothin’ left

KB:
I be feeling like Jackie Robinson
Rocking the 42 in my Dodger fit
Gripping the arm that was just took by a pitch
Crowd the opposite saying that I should quit but I done threw all of it
You can hate but you can’t hurt me
You can hate but you can’t hurt me
And my worth is safe I can leave this earth today
Gassed up on grace how they gon’ circle K
I don’t want no new Bugatti
Put me in Nimba County
Liberia I’m serious
Mosquito net and my bible
Concrete bed I’m still smiling
Ain’t eating much but I’m smiling
I’d rather be in the jungle and in the will of God
Then anywhere else outside it
Boy, I’m Bout It
I’m in this life
But my hope ain’t in this life
A good career book for years, I book them peers
A good look just won’t suffice
But homie my life is hidden in Christ
My life is hidden in Christ
Gimme 99 problems plus one Godhead
The result is

KB:
OK, our God’s never failing
Ain’t nothing you can tell Him
Yes He’s the generous type
But you face Him you will take that L in
No our God won’t fail us
We know from where our help comes
So I put my life at stake
Though it might be blood I want that well done (100)
If we flipping burgers if we flipping houses
Man our bank accounts don’t mean nothing
And if we paid a lot or if we paid a bit
We gon’ be going in case He’s coming
We try’na be the best that we can be
And rest so that the world can see that He’s done it
No matter who cuts the checks or where we working at
Man we work for Him and we love it

KB:
I just wanna hear that
Well done my faithful servant
A life full of push back
At that moment will all be worth it
Cause my work is worship
And when He comes back for His church all over the earth
We’ll be given no less then what He gave us first
100
If you are interested in Christian hip-hop/rap, check out any of these new releases by Lecrae, Andy Mineo or KB.

iTunes Session - Third Day

iTunes Session – Third Day
****

Third Day is one of my favorite bands, and I’ve seen them in concert several times, the most recent being in Bloomington in May, 2013. The band recently took the opportunity to revisit some of their most popular songs for this iTunes exclusive release. Recorded live in one day at the historic Capitol Studios in Hollywood, California, the release not only features seven of their most popular songs, but also a cover of Genesis’ “Land Of Confusion”. The production is clear, instrumentation relatively sparse, but effective, and Mac Powell’s distinctive vocals are very strong.

The songs that are covered are:
Tunnel
I Got a Feeling
Land of Confusion
Your Love is Like a River
Cry Out to Jesus
Born Again
Trust in Jesus
I Need a Miracle

Third Day fans will enjoy this release and would also be a good way to introduce new fans to the band.

Never Land

Never Land – Andy Mineo
****

This seven song EP is the follow-up to Andy Mineo’s excellent full-length 2013 debut Heroes for Sale. The new release hit #1 on iTunes Hip-Hop/Rap charts and the single “You Can’t Stop Me” is at #27 on the Hip-Hop/Rap singles charts as I write this.

The EP starts out with the title track. It’ a reminder of the emptiness of wealth and fame, even though that is something we desire. It features Marz and opens with:

In the night, I’m alone, without you
I’m drifting off, when you take my hand
I’m so high up I’ll never land

It also includes the lines:

The rich and famous kill themselves to stay rich and famous
The very thing that they built their name with that they be enslaved with 

The next track is Paisano’s Wylin”, a mostly fun song. Paisano is an Italian term for homeboy. Mineo and guest Marty of Social Club rap about being crazy Italians who put red wine on everything.

The standout track on the collection “You Can’t Stop Me!” follows. It opens with Marty screaming “You Can’t Stop Me!”  The song deals with the fact that because God is on his side no one can stop him, including himself. We are to fear God and live for Him only.  The next two songs slow things down a little. “Rewind” is autobiographical as Mineo takes the listener through his life’s journey, specifically his relationship with God.  Kam Parker brings an R&B flavor to the song.  “All We Got” is the most musically complex song on the EP, with acoustic guitars and bass, percussion and a Latin jazz feel. It features Dimitri McDowell on the chorus.  Mineo sings about how life is different when you know you’ve been forgiven, and addresses topics such as insecurity, relationships and pride.  It includes the lines:

Trying to go from selfish to selfless
Not just trying to think about my needs but someone else’s
Do I worship God or what other people think of me?

“Paganini” features vocals with KB and Canon.  Niccolo Paganini was a violinist in the late 19th century who was so good that some thought he was possessed. A violin is included as a tip of the cap to the song’s namesake.

“Death of Me” is the last song. It has a bit of a mournful feel to it on an overall upbeat record. It addresses the difficulties of life in the music industry. It includes the following lines:

My career been growing, but tell me where I’m going if my time with God is depleted (nowhere), and
My priorities wrong if I talk more about you than I talk with you 

Mineo has produced an excellent collection of songs on this EP. If you want to try some hip-hop/rap from a Christian perspective, check out this fine new release.

Fernando OrtegaFernando Ortega at First Baptist Church in Pekin
Billed as a mini-concert in celebration of WBNH’s 25th anniversary, one of our all-time favorites played a wonderful 75 minute set on January 25. Fernando talked to the appreciative crowd about the feast of the Epiphany, light, his daughter Ruby and the cold weather in Illinois. As usual, he included humorous stories between each of his songs.
It had been quite a week for Fernando. He performed at the Mormon Tabernacle with Ravi Zacharias the previous Saturday (watch Ravi’s messages here: http://www.rzim.org/rzim-news/ravi-zacharias-at-byu-and-the-mormon-tabernacle/), and had spent three days with Tim Keller in Dallas later in the week.
Here are the songs that Fernando performed (he did one song that we were not familiar with, which sounded like a hymn):

In the Bleak Midwinter
Immortal, Invisible
Joy to the World
The Traveler
Storm
Just as I Am
Mildred Madalyn Johnson
Lord of Eternity
Jesus, King of Angels

Encore ~
This Good Day
Give Me Jesus

The sound in the sanctuary was perfect on a wonderful night of worship. We have seen Fernando in concert several times and can’t wait to catch him the next time he’s in the area.

Fading WestFading West by Switchfoot
****

Fading West is the ninth studio album in the eighteen year history of Switchfoot, one of my favorite bands. The album debuted at #1 on iTunes “Top Albums” chart on January 14. Congratulations guys!
Prior to the release of the album on January 14, an EP featuring three songs from the album, the first two singles “Who We Are” and “Love Alone is Worth the Fight”, along with “Ba55” were released in September. The week before the January 14 release the album was streamed free on iTunes Radio. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to it several times, and it doesn’t disappoint.
An accompanying film/documentary, Fading West, premiered on September 20 during the first concert of the Fading West Tour, and was released digitally on December 10, 2013 The film features a behind-the-scenes look at the band, following the members to their surfing destinations. The point of the film was to give audiences a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s adventures.
A year ago, while touring in support of their 2011 album Vice Verses, the long-time surfers set out in search of inspiration by visiting several of their favorite surf breaks around the world. “The idea was to surf, write songs, play music, and see what ideas came,” says Tim Foreman. The band traveled to Jeffreys Bay and Crayfish Factory in South Africa, Bronte Beach in Australia, Raglan in New Zealand, and Uluwatu in Bali, and chronicled their physical and emotional journey, as well as their brotherly bond, in Fading West – a documentary film that features stunning locales, interviews, live footage, and glimpses of Switchfoot at home and in their studio in San Diego. Perhaps inspired by U2’s film Rattle and Hum, the movie is part travelogue, part surf film, and part behind-the-scenes look at the making of the band’s new album.

The album, which finds Switchfoot returning to the melodic pop of their early years, was inspired by the sea, which lead singer/songwriter Jon Foreman describes as a perfect metaphor for simultaneously experiencing comfort and danger. “You’re comfortable out there, but it’s the unknown,” he says. “You can paddle out in South Africa and it’s exactly like home and nothing like home all at once. That’s what I’m hoping our record feels like — trying to find peace in dangerous places.”

The secret to Switchfoot’s success over the years is found in the heart of its lead singer and songwriter Jon Foreman, who has also been successful with solo and side (Fiction Family) projects. His lyrics of faith and doubt resonate with the band’s loyal fans. Fading West shows off a new Switchfoot — with vocal experiments, synth treatments and several sing-along tracks. The new record is a world-music surfing soundtrack that makes most sense as an album in context with the film, though not billed as a soundtrack to the film. Many of the songs refer to the water, ocean, shore, wind, etc.
Below are some brief comments about each song on the album and some key lyrics:

Love Alone Is Worth The Fight – this sounds like classic Switchfoot to me. It’s one of the strongest songs on the album and was included on the EP released in September.
And it’s all an illusion
A 21st century institution
So I’m headed down the open road unknown

And we find what we’re made of
Through the open door
Is it fear you’re afraid of?
What are you waiting for?
Love alone is worth the fight
Love alone is worth the fight
We’re only here for a season
I’m looking for the rhyme and reason
Why you’re born, why you’re leaving
What you fear and what you believe in
This is a song about a searching for something more – a reason, a purpose, a home.

Who We Are – was performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, on December 10 and was included on the EP released in September. It features a memorable chorus featuring choir-like backing vocals from the band members’ children. The lyrics look back at the band’s history:
They said it’s complicated
They said we’d never make it this far
But we are

They said the fight would break us
But the struggle helped to make
Who we are

This song will be excellent in concert with the crowd singing along.

When We Come Alive – this is a mid-tempo song that features excellent background vocals.
We are our souls on fire
We are reaching higher
We are our souls on fire
When we come alive
When we come alive

Say It Like You Mean It – this a song that sticks out as it is the hardest rocking song on the album. There are some distorted vocals and it ends with some Sgt. Pepper like sound effects.
Give me the songs of the nation
Cause it feels like law lacks motivation
See, I’m still looking for a correlation
Between what you say and how you roll
Say it like you mean it, but I still don’t believe it.

The World You Want – opens with sounds from a beach party before going into a ballad that would feel at home on a Foreman solo project.
What you say is your religion
How you say it’s your religion
Who you love is your religion
How you love is your religion
All your science, your religion
All your hatred, your religion
All your wars are your religion
Every breath is your religion yea

Is this the world you want?
Is this the world you want?
You’re making it
Every day you’re alive
Is this the world you want?
Is this the world you want?
You’re making it
Every day you’re alive

Slipping Away – has a Beach Boys like background vocals.
Our hope is just a metaphor
A simple matter for all of our dreams tonight
And fear is just a shadow of
The things that matter the most
and I fear that I’m losing hope tonight

Ba55 – features distorted vocals, reminding me of U2 during their Zooropa period. It was included on the EP released in September. I’ve grown to like this song the more I listen to it.
I believe you’re the fire that could burn me clean.

Let it Out – this is an instantly likeable, danceable upbeat song.
From the day we’re born
We are scarred and torn
We’ve been scared to sing out loud
We don’t care no more
Because life is short and we don’t care who hears us now
Breathe it in and let it out

All or Nothing at All – this is an upbeat pop song, and one of my favorite songs on the album. It includes some of Jon Foreman’s strongest vocals.
You feel your heart beat loudest when it’s breaking
You and I both know our fatal flaws
We both know that love is what you make it
I want you
Or I’m nothing at all
Or I’m nothing at all
Saltwater Heart – Some favorite lyrics include:
Maybe I could wash clean
maybe I could wash clean
all my land locked dreams
maybe I could believe
When I’m on your shore again
I can feel the ocean
I can feel your open arms
like pure emotion

Back to the Beginning Again – The closing song is a nice bookend to the opening “Love Alone is Worth the Fight”:
And it all just sounds like poison on my ears
The background noise makes your voice so hard to hear
So I grit my teeth and straighten up my spine
I’m stuck in traffic on the dotted yellow line
And my heart is yours
And what a broken place it’s in
But you’re running far
And I want to feel the wind at my back again

This is a very strong effort from the band. As a whole, it’s much less of a rock record than Vice Verses was. It includes great lyrics, melodies, lead and backing vocals and I found it to be instantly likeable. I haven’t seen the film that goes along with the record, but I plan to and hope to catch a show on their tour supporting the record and film. Switchfoot will be in concert at the House of Blues in Chicago on April 2.

High HopesHigh Hopes by Bruce Springsteen
*** ½
High Hopes is 64 year old Bruce Springsteen’s 18th studio album. The record is unlike his usual studio albums, being comprised of cover songs, original songs never recorded in the studio and a few older songs updated that cover a period of almost 20 years. Springsteen is backed up by the E Street Band, including performances by the late Clarence Clemons (who died in 2011) and Danny Federici (who died in 2008), and Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) who makes a big impact on the album, playing on eight of the twelve tracks. Morello filled in for Miami Steve Van Zandt on a recent tour and the majority of the sessions for this record as Van Zandt was working on the TV series Lilyhammer.
The album streamed free online at cbs.com the week before it’s January 14 official release, so I was able to listen to it in its entirety several times.
High Hopes was produced by Ron Aniello, with additional production credits going to former producer Brendan O’Brien on four of the tracks.
Below is a recap of each song on the album, with thanks to Billboard magazine:
1. “High Hopes” – was first recorded by Springsteen in 1995 and featured as part of the 1996 Blood Brothers DVD chronicling the E Street Band’s studio reunion. It is a cover of a song by The Havalinas. The 2014 version, the first single from the album, features horns and backing singers, along with piano work from Roy Bittan, Springsteen’s acoustic and Morello’s lead guitar.
2. “Harry’s Place – was originally recorded in 2002 with the E Street Band during The Rising (one of my favorite albums) sessions. This song features sax by the “Big Man”, Clarence Clemons. It also includes some good guitar work from Morello.
3. “American Skin (41 Shots) – was written in 2000 in response to the Amadou Diallo shooting in New York City. It has been re-recorded as a tribute to Trayvon Martin. Morello adds a guitar solo to the first studio recording of this song.
4. “Just Like Fire Would” – is a cover of a song by The Saints” an Australian punk band favorite of Springsteen’s.
5. “Down in the Hole” is another outtake from The Rising sessions in 2002. It includes an organ solo from the late Danny Federici.
6. “Heaven’s Wall” – was possibly one of the songs Springsteen had planned for a gospel album that he was working on. Two of the songs targeted for that album “Rocky Ground” and “Shackled and Drawn” were released on 2012’s Wrecking Ball.
7. “Frankie Fell in Love” is a country flavored, pop song that will be a good addition to Springsteen’s concert setlist.
8. “This is Your Sword” is a ballad with strong vocals and powerful instrumentation. It includes banjo and bagpipes, and is the only track on which Max Weinberg does not play drums.
9. “Hunter of Invisible Game” – is a ballad that may be an outtake from 2009’s Working on a Dream album.
10. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – was the title track on Springsteen’s 1995 acoustic album. Morello’s Rage Against the Machine covered this song and this new version brings a lot of energy to song, with Morello singing a verse of the song. This is one of my favorite songs on the album.
11. “The Wall” – was debuted live in 2003, this songs is a tribute to Walter Chicon, one of Springsteen’s Jersey bar band mentors, who died in Vietnam. It was inspired by Springsteen’s visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This track features an organ solo from Federici and one profanity.
12. “Dream Baby Dream” is a cover of a song by New York City punk band Suicide. It was first played on tour in 2005.
Despite the fact that this could be considered an album of “leftovers”, they are Springsteen leftovers, meaning that there is a lot of quality music here. Granted, it’s not Born to Run, Born in the USA, The River or The Rising, but it’s still pretty good.

Duck the HallsDuck the Halls A Robertson Family Christmas
***

From the family behind the hit reality television series Duck Dynasty, the Robertsons, who sing often in their church, bring us a mix of traditional standard Christmas songs, some new songs and a few novelties, while being joined by some of country music’s biggest stars. If you are a fan of Duck Dynasty, you’ll love this album. It’s all about faith, family, beards and fun.
Novelties are Uncle Si singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and narrating a new version of “The Night Before Christmas”. The women of Duck Dynasty show off their voices on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (Missy), “Away in a Manger” (Sadie with Alison Krauss), “Baby it’s Cold Outside” (Missy with Jase), “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Sadie) and “Why I Love Christmas” (Missy with Josh Turner).
My favorites are the catchy “Ragin’ Cajun Christmas” sung by Willie, “Duck the Halls”, which features Jase on duck calls, “Christmas Cookies” sung by George Strait and Phil, and “Hairy Christmas”, sung by Willie and Luke Bryan, which features the line:
Wishin’ you a hairy Christmas
And a happy, happy, happy New Year

Missy and Jase’s eldest son Reed turns in one of the collection’s most powerful songs. Honoring those in uniform who can’t be with their families through the holidays on “Camouflage and Christmas Lights,” Reed sings, A paper star on a plastic tree/Cotton snow in a manger scene, before adding, He’ll do the best he can to make it feel like home, with a gentle touch.

Like the television program, the album ends with a prayer by Phil and closing comments by Willie. The album debuted #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums, chart, and as I write this five weeks after its release, it is charting at #2 on Amazon’s top albums chart.

Amos LeeMountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song – Deluxe Edition by Amos Lee
****

Amos Lee returns with his fifth studio album, the follow-up to his chart-topping 2011 release Mission Bell. This time the Philadelphia songwriter takes his touring band to Nashville to record with Jay Joyce, one of Nashville’s top producers, and some excellent guests.
Ahead of the album release, Lee released two singles, the upbeat full-band funky “The Man Who Wants You”, and “Chill in the Air”, about a failed relationship, with guest vocalist Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas on dobro. Patty Griffin joins Lee on the title track, inspired by Lee’s trip to play the late Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. Mickey Raphael, long-time member of Willie Nelson’s band adds harmonica on the opening “Johnson Blvd”, which talks about times being hard in Laredo, and is one of a few songs on the album that mentions a train, a favorite subject of Lee. A mother’s faith (prayers, going to church) is referenced in the song as well.
“Stranger”, speaks of trains as well, and being a stranger everywhere he goes. “Tricksters, Hucksters and Scamps” has a Dylan feel to it, is upbeat musically, talks about shady politicians who steal elections. “Dresser Drawer”, an acoustic guitar driven song, is a sad song about a failed relationship, with pictures in a dusty dresser drawer. “Indonesia”, has the singer waking up in a box, just like every other day. The chorus is “When will I be free?” “High Water”, with Lee’s voice distorted, reminds me of Dylan’s “High Water”, both musically and lyrically. “Loretta” is one of three songs with women’s names starting with “L”. (also Lolita and Lula). Lee sings that Loretta is a true friend. “Plain View” has an old country or bluegrass feel. “Burden” closes the standard edition. Lee sings that he never meant to be a burden, singing “Please forgive me if I weigh on you”.
“Scared Money”, a slow bluesy tune, begins the Deluxe Edition. Lee includes some profanity on “Charles St.” Lee’s lover “Lolita the cheater”, breaks his heart to have a little fun It’s a song about Lee’s lover cheating on him and he’s angry, but admits that “deep inside I’m going to take the blame”. He sings that it’s more about the lies than what she did. The set concludes with the bluesy “Lowdown Life” about Lula from Missoula, featuring an outstanding guitar solo.
Lee sings his story-telling songs of nostalgia, longing and love over a variety of acoustic musical styles country, folk, funk, jazz, blues. I was introduced to Lee when he opened for Bob Dylan at the US Cellular Coliseum in 2007. He’s since become one of my favorite artists, many times reminding me of a young Dylan.

Steven Curtis ChapmanThe Glorious Unfolding by Steven Curtis Chapman
****
The latest release from Contemporary Christian music veteran Steven Curtis Chapman is one of his best. It’s his first studio album of all original material in seven years (2009’s Beauty Will Rise wasn’t recorded in a studio, but in buses, hotel rooms, dressings rooms, etc. while on tour after the death of his daughter Maria), and one of his most personal as well. Hope and joy are themes found on this album. Most of the songs are inspired by events that have taken place since Maria’s death in 2008.

Chapman has been prolific of late, releasing three albums – Joy (Christmas album), Deep Roots (bluegrass hymns album) and now The Glorious Unfolding – in the past year. Musically, the album sounds like the best of SCC’s earlier music. The first half of the album has more upbeat songs and the second half slows down considerably with more ballads.

“The Glorious Unfolding” opens the album and it is an appropriately grand and glorious song. In some ways, it is “The Great Adventure, Part Two”, as he sings:

We’ve got to believe this story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding

“Love Take Me Over” is the upbeat first single, and will remind listeners of earlier SCC songs, as will a few of the other new songs here.

“Take Another Step” speaks of trusting God and just taking another step when the road ahead is hard and you don’t know where to go.

“Something Beautiful” speaks of God turning the broken pieces our lives into something beautiful like only He can.

“Finish What He Started” has a bit of a different sound, featuring some effective backing vocals and drums. Chapman sings that God will finish what He started. Every plan and purpose that He has will be accomplished.

“Only One and Only You” is dedicated to Chapman’s 13-year old daughter Shaoey, and will remind listeners of 1999’s “Fingerprints of God”, dedicated to then 13-year old Emily.

“SEE You in a Little While” is written to Chapman’s grandmother who died last October.

“A Little More Time to Love” has Chapman looking in the mirror and seeing the lines on his face, contemplating what he can do with the time he has remaining. He quotes Micah 6:8, and longs to minister to orphans and those hungry, both physically and spiritually, in the time he has left.

“Sound of Your Voice” has Chapman listening for the sound of God’s voice through people and nature until he can hear God’s actual voice answering the questions that everyone is asking.

“Together” was written for Chapman’s wife of 29 years, Mary Beth. The song attests to God’s mercy, grace and faithfulness leading them through the many storms and wars they have been through together.

“Michael and Maria” was written for the memorial service of a family friend’s 15-year old son who died as a result of a skateboarding accident.

“At the Feet of Jesus” is a beautiful hymn that closes this strong release. It is stripped down with a fiddle, guitar and pennywhistle backing Chapman’s vocal.

At the feet of my Savior
At the feet of my King
I will bow down and worship
I will lift my voice and sing
Hallelujah, Hallelujah to the One who sets me free
You will find me at the feet of Jesus

Your Grace Finds MeYour Grace Finds Me by Matt Redman – Deluxe Edition
****

This is veteran worship leader Matt Redman’s follow-up to 2011’s 10,000 Reasons. The title song from that release was certified RIAA gold and spent 19 weeks at number 1 on Billboard Magazine’s Christian music chart, and was named “Top Christian Song” at the Billboard Music Awards.

The new album was recorded live at LIFT: A Worship Leader Collective at Passion City Church in Atlanta. The Deluxe edition features four videos in addition to the twelve new songs. Redman includes mostly upbeat songs, but also includes a good balance of slower/quieter/more reflective ones, with a fresh sound, uplifting lyrics and well thought out arrangements that will lead you to worship the Lord. Redman and this new collection of worship songs, are true gifts to the church.

“Sing and Shout”, an upbeat song, starts with energy.

Your grace, Your grace, I heart it call my name
I’m waking up to sing
Your cross, Your cross, it draws me to Your heart
We will sing and shout, sing and shout,
Open up our hearts and pour our praises out

What could be better than Your grace that washes all our shame away?
What could be better than Your grace that washes all our sin away?

The title song and first single, follows. It is a celebration of God’s endless grace. It’s a slower song that builds, like “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”.
Redman sings of God’s great grace that is always there – on a wedding day, by the graveside, in the breath we breathe.

From creation to the cross
From the cross to eternity
Your grace finds me

“Mercy” follows. It is a simple and wonderful piano-led song about God’s mercy. This would be excellent in a worship service.

Mercy, mercy, as enless as the sea
I’ll sing Your hallelujah for all eternity

May I never lose the wonder, oh the wonder of Your mercy
May I sing Your hallelujah, hallelujah amen

“I Need You Now”, a piano, accoustic guitar and drum based song of prayer that builds, not unlike some slower U2 songs.

Oh Living Water
Oh God my Healer
If I ever needed You, I need You now

“This Beating Heart”, upbeat, hand clapping, banjo.

This beating heart, like a drum it will beat for You
This heart, like a drum it will beat
My soul, my soul, sings for You
This beating heart, I was made for You
My God ever more, my soul sings for You

“One Name Alone” – more upbeat, accoustice guitar driven. A great sing along song.

One name alone I am living for
One name my heart and my soul adore
Be the the first and the last, the song I sing
Jesus be my everything

“Jesus, Only Jesus” was introduced on the most recent Passion: Let the Future Begin album. I’m glad he included it on this album so more can hear it. It’s a wonderfu worship song to our Lord.

Holy, King Almighty, Lord
Saints and angels all adore
I’ll join with them and bow before Jesus, only Jesus

I love the line: You stand alone, I stand amazed

“Wide as the Sky”, a passionate song, which I can envision singing in my church:

Hands up, hearts open
Wide as we cry
God we lift Your name high

All the other names fade away
Until there’s only You
Jesus take your place

“Good Forever”, a song which starts slow and builds:

You are good forever and your love endures
Jesus always, Your love remains
You are good, You are good

“Let My People God” is a high energy song, guitar and drum driven.

Let My people go, let My people go
Light a fire in the dark, fire in the dark
Let My people go, let My people go

“Come and See”, features the chorus:

Come and see
Come and see what God has done
Come and see
Come and see what Love has won
In this place, hearts and lives waking up
To the light of the world, You’re the light of the world

The album finishes with the beautiful and prayerful “Benediction”:

May the Lord bless you (us) and keep you (us)
May the Lord smile on you (us)
And shine his light upon you (us)
May he Lord lift you (us)
Turn his face towards you (us)
Give you (us) His peace, give you (us) His peace

Go now in peace to love and serve your God
Go now in peace, in the blessings of our God

The Deluxe Edition of this excellent album features videos of “Your Grace Finds Me”, “Sing and Shout”, “Mercy” and “Jesus, Only Jesus”

Redman was written short devotionals for each song. They are available on his website at http://www.mattredman.com/writings.

GettysLive at the Gospel Coalition – Keith and Kristyn Getty
****
In April of 2013, the Gospel Coalition Conference was held in Orlando. More than 5,000 attended, from more than 40 countries. The teaching and discussions were led by such respected leaders as Tim Keller, Alistair Begg, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Bryan Chapell, and many others. The corporate response in music was led by Keith and Kristyn Getty and recorded for this album. Traditional and modern hymns and several of the Getty’s songs were included.
The songs included on the album are:
Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed
Come People of the Risen King
By Faith
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
Speak O Lord
Oh How Good It Is
Lift High the Name of Jesus
The Power of the Cross (with When I Survey)
In Christ Alone
Across the Lands
Compassion Hymn
Kyrie Eleison
O Church Arise
Hear the Call of the Kingdom
Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God (with Gabriel’s Oboe)
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty Tim Keller said this about the conference:
“The 2013 Gospel Coalition National Conference blended the spoken Word and the sung Word in an unforgettable way. Substantive expositions of the Biblical text were interwoven with the Getty’s theologically rich worship hymns. Together, they truly did ‘tune our hearts to sing His grace.’“

This is a wonderful album of live worship. It includes 13 of the Getty’s previously released songs, two classic hymns and the excellent new song “Life High the Name of Jesus”. The Getty’s theologically rich modern hymns are sung in many worship services, including the church I attend. The new song will fit perfectly within the context of a worship service. You can also listen to the messages from the Gospel Coalition National Conference at http://thegospelcoalition.org/2013/

newsboysRestart –Newsboys (Deluxe Edition)
*** ½
The latest album, and third with lead singer Michael Tait, from CCM veterans the Newsboys (16 albums over more than 25 years), sounds like none of their previous albums. Tait has said that the band pushed the music and took it further than they’ve ever taken it before. Much of the record has a dance-pop sound, similar to today’s secular radio dance tracks. Some of the songs reminded me of fellow former DC Talker TobyMac’s most recent album Eye on It. Gone are the days of Peter Furler’s lead vocals and the quirky and humorous lyrics from Steve Taylor, both of which I enjoyed and appreciated. The lyrics here are mostly positive and encouraging. And the album is meant to be played LOUD!

The album starts with heavy bass lines and drums on “That’s How You Change the World”. “Restart” features a dance/disco sound over the story of how one came to repentance after hearing a pastor’s message. There are only a few ballads included in this upbeat collection. “One Word” starts slow but builds by the time the chorus starts. “That Home” is a piano ballad looking at childhood, with a mother keeping her children safe. “Man on Fire” is included on the Deluxe edition and features Tait’s former band mate Kevin Max on the chorus. “God is Movin’ features a heavy dance beat. A surprise is the cover of Mike and the Mechanics 1980’s hit “The Living Years”. Hillsong’s “Stronger” is a slow tempo worship anthem with a souring chorus. The first single is “Live with Abandon” could be sung in churches with upbeat worship services.

This is an enjoyable album and the Deluxe edition features sixteen new songs. I’ve enjoyed the Newsboys since 2006’s Not Ashamed album. The band has changed over the years, but they are still good. Check it out.

Newsboys LiveLive in Concert: God’s Not Dead – Newsboys
*** ½
This live recording was recorded at two stops of the Newsboys 2012 tour, supporting their God’s Not Dead album. During their 25 year career, the Newsboys have sold over 7 million albums, earned five Gold albums and had 26 #1 radio hits. With former DC Talk member Michael Tait on vocals, the “new” Newsboys continue to be one of Christian music s most popular bands, and are known for their energetic live shows.

This live album, which has exceptional sound quality, features songs from the two Michael Tait Newsboys studio albums (Born Again and God’s Not Dead), along with a few older Newsboys classics (“Something Beautiful” and “He Reigns”). The album features fourteen songs and a short message around the theme of “God’s not dead”. It does a good job of capturing the energy and excitement of the bands live shows.

cover_recklessReckless – Jeremy Camp
** ½

The latest release from Jeremy Camp is his first of all new original material in almost five years. It features strong production with heavy bass, good hooks, and Camp’s usual powerful vocals. When asked by Worship Leader magazine what he hoped to communicate with Restless, Camp stated:

“My hope is that the album encourages people to step into the fullness of what God has called them to do, and take action. The album is meant to encourage all of us to go out, not just me. If we can all work together and be in the same place spiritually, the body of Christ working together can fuel a passion that is truly great. There is power in number!”

The title song was the first single released was the title track. My favorite song on the album is “My God”, the current single.

This is a solid release from Camp, and as my wife Tammy would say “Not a thing wrong with it”, but there isn’t anything particularly innovative here either. I’m sure that there will be many Christian radio hits from this collection. On the other hand, the songs have similar themes to other songs in the Christian music genre and past songs from Camp himself. It would be nice to see Camp stretch himself in future releases.

ts

The Struggle – Tenth Avenue North
*** ½
The album cover features Rembrandt’s 1633 painting The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. The painting is an excellent depiction of how Tenth Avenue North’s songwriter and lead vocalist Mike Donehey describes the theme of the album:

“In a world that’s still trembling in the wake of the fall, our hearts are desperate for hope. They’re hungry for freedom, they’re longing for redemption. And here’s the good news – in Christ we have all three”.

This was the first of Tenth Avenue North’s three albums that I had heard. I did hear and enjoy their excellent collaboration “Higher” with Lecrae on the deluxe edition of his 2012 Gravity album. The five-man band has won two Dove awards.

As I listened to the album I immediately recognized two songs – “Worn” and “Losing” from Christian radio. “Worn” is a cry to the Lord to restore the broken and worn out. “Losing” is about forgiving those who have offended us. The title song lets the listener know what the album is about – Christians struggling about many things in this world, but knowing that they have hope of freedom and redemption in Christ. “Grace” is perhaps my favorite song on the album, and the theme of grace comes up often on this album.

This is a strong collection of well performed songs.

Jesus Firm Foundation

Jesus, Firm Foundation: Hymns of Worship
***

This collaborative album features new recordings of 12 hymns by some of the contemporary Christian music industry’s most popular artists. Jesus, Firm Foundation: Hymns of Worship offers the listener an opportunity to hear some of their favorite hymns reinvented by top artists such as the Newsboys, Matthew West, Brandon Heath, Kari Jobe and more.

The title track features a strong lineup with vocals from Mark Hall (Casting Crowns), Mike Donehey (Tenth Avenue North), Steven Curtis Chapman and Mandisa. Some of my favorites included “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” by Michael W. Smith, “Jesus Paid it All” by the Newsboys and the closing “It is Well (Oh My Soul)” by Braden Heath.

The songs are reinvented in the way that Chris Tomlin has done with “Amazing Grace”, “Crown Him (Majesty)” and “The Wonderful Cross”. You will recognize the hymn, but each artist puts their own unique stamp on them, including new lyrics.

The complete song listing for the album is below:

1. Jesus, Firm Foundation – Mark Hall (Casting Crowns), Mike Donehey (Tenth Avenue North), Steven Curtis Chapman, Mandisa
2. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Look Up) – Nichole Nordeman
3. All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name (Crown Him) – Michael W. Smith
4. I Surrender All (All To Jesus) – Casting Crowns
5. Holy, Holy, Holy (God With Us) – Matt Maher
6. Be Still My Soul (In You I Rest) – Kari Jobe
7. My Jesus, I Love Thee (Your Holy Name) – Building 429
8. Jesus Paid It All – Newsboys
9. Blessed Assurance (My King Is Coming) – Matthew West
10. Nothing But The Blood – Andy Cherry
11. Cornerstone – Hillsong
12. It Is Well (Oh My Soul) – Brandon Heath

David Crowder Band

All This for a King: The Essential Collection – the David Crowder Band
****

The excellent collection from the David Crowder Band (DCB) includes some of the best songs from the Texas Christian rock and modern worship band, which broke up last year after more than sixteen years together. During that time the band, whose songs have been sung in many churches around the world, sold over 1.9 million copies and won 8 Dove Awards. Leader David Crowder is moving on with his new band Crowder, while the rest of the band, except for Mike Hogan, formed the band The Digital Age.

The album includes the songs that the band is best known for, including “O Praise Him (All This For A King)”, “Everything Glorious”, and “How He Loves Us”, originally composed by John Mark McMillan and recorded by the DCB on their 2009 album Church Music.

I didn’t think that I was that familiar with the DCB, having just a few of their songs in my library, primarily on some of the more recent Passion conference albums. However, when I started listening to this collection I realized that I was familiar with many of the songs from Christian radio – I just didn’t know that they were DCB songs. The band played their final show at the Passion 2012 Conference on January 3, 2012 at the Georgia Dome.

The album includes one new song – “This I Know” from Crowder. Crowder’s all new record is due to be released later this year.

One complaint would be that three of the songs are featured not as they were originally released, but as dance remixes by Family Force 5, Capital Kings and The Digital Age. Despite that, this is a fine collection of songs for a band that went out on top, with their final release Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in C [the happiest of all keys] debuting at #2 on Billboard magazine’s Top 200 Album Charts in January, 2012.

The complete track listing for All This for a King is:

1. O Praise Him (All This For A King)
2. Our Love Is Loud
3. Open Skies
4. Here Is Our King
5. Wholly Yours
6. How He Loves (Radio Version)
7. You Alone (Live)
8. Everything Glorious
9. The Glory of It All
10. SMS {Shine} (Radio Version)
11. Shadows (Family Force 5 Phenomenon Remix)
12. After All (Holy) (Capital Kings Remix)
13. No One Like You (The Digital Age Remix)
14. This I Know (New David Crowder Track)

Paul

Paul McCartney in Indianapolis
****

The closest location for a concert on Paul McCartney’s new “Out There” tour was Indianapolis. Indy is on Eastern time, and I miscalculated our travel plans, leaving too early. We got there so early, we thought we might even be able to see Sir Paul come in to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse (formerly known as Conseco Fieldhouse), as a lot of fans in Beatle and McCartney t-shirts (and one lady dressed up in Paul’s blue Sgt. Pepper’s uniform), were waiting at the entrance where the performers arrive on the warm afternoon.

But we were told he was already in the building. We were allowed to come into the lobby of the fieldhouse however, and to my pleasure, we were able to hear the sound check with other McCartney fans who applauded after each song, including “Midnight Special” and “Lady Madonna”.

This was my tenth McCartney concert since he began touring in 1989, and my brother’s fifth. New songs that he performed on this tour for the first time on a solo tour were:

Lovely Rita
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite
All Together Now
Your Mother Should Know
Eight Days a Week
Listen to What the Man Said

In all, McCartney played an incredible 38 songs, 26 of them Beatle songs and the rest solo and Wings hits. The newest song played was 2012’s “My Valentine”. The next newest was 30 years older, 1982’s “Here Today”. You can find the entire setlist at:
http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/paul-mccartney/2013/bankers-life-fieldhouse-indianapolis-in-33d9442d.html

My brother’s favorite song was without a doubt “Live and Let Die”, with a fantastic pyrotechnics display. We knew what was coming, but it was still amazed us. My favorite? How can you pick, from an artist whose music I can look back at my life and connect so many memories to. I think of the summer night in June 1967 when I excitedly told my Mom that the Beatles had a new album (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) as we picked her up from IAA and she jokingly said “Yes, I was afraid you would find out about that”. Ironically the Indianapolis concert took place on the seventeenth anniversary of our Mom’s death in 1996 at age 60.

I can remember my Aunt Linda screaming at the TV in her parents and my grandparents living room when the Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in the early 1960’s and my brother and I playing the Beatles Rubber Soul album for the first time in our Aunt Cindy’s bedroom in the mid-1960’s. I can remember being on a school bus in 1968 singing “Hello Goodbye” the Beatles new single at the time, or fast forward a year later when the talk on the bus was the sudden ending to “I Want You (She’s so Heavy)” at the end of side one of the Abbey Road album, or hearing a fellow student singing about Jo Jo and Loretta (from “Get Back”) at Chiddix Junior High in 1969. Or going to see the Beatles film Yellow Submarine on Christmas Day 1968 with my brother or their Let it Be film with my Dad and then having a Tobin’s Pizza when they had their downtown Bloomington location. I remember…

• trying to record “Lady Madonna” on my reel-to-reel tape recorder in the initial days of release when it was played on WLS radio by Larry Lujack on the top three countdown of the day. Interestingly, Lujack initially thought the lead vocal was done by Ringo Starr
• seeing the “White Album” at K-Mart when it was released in 1968 with its bootleg-like all white cover, knowing that I wouldn’t get it until Christmas
• listening to the bootleg of the Get Back sessions (later changed to Let it Be) at a friend’s home (who my Mom referred to as “Ratso” because he reminded her of the character in the film “Midnight Cowboy”)
• recently hearing my Aunt Linda and Cindy, while visiting my Dad in the hospital, telling me about seeing the Beatles at Comiskey Park in Chicago and on a hunch going to Midway Airport, rather than O’Hare and getting to see the Beatles as they landed in Chicago. So many memories!

There were tributes to former band mates who have passed away. McCartney performed his “Here Today” for John Lennon and George Harrison’s “Something” on a ukulele that Harrison had given him.

He talked about Jimi Hendrix learning to play “Sgt. Pepper” just two nights after its release in June, 1967, with McCartney and Eric Clapton in the audience. He spoke about “Blackbird” being a song inspired by the American Civil Rights movement in the late 1960’s and then sang it on a platform that raised him high above the audience.

Sir Paul gave his audiences everything he had in a two hour and forty-five minute performance with no break. You can watch videos of the concert at:
http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=paul+mccartney+in+Indianapolis&oq=paul+mccartney+in+Indianapolis&gs_l=youtube.3…10266.21016.0.21359.30.19.0.10.10.0.172.2080.8j11.19.0…0.0…1ac.1.11.youtube.t7LzFp67HrY

He brings incredible joy to his fans. At 71 I don’t know how many more years he can continue, but he didn’t appear to have missed a beat, as this was one of the top shows of his I have seen. I look forward to concert number eleven!

americanarama_web_1

AmericanaRama Tour – Peoria Civic Center July 11

This concert was originally scheduled to be held outside at Dozer Stadium, home of the Peoria Chiefs, but was moved into the nearby Peoria Civic Center due to “staging issues”. That was the first negative related to this show for my brother-in-law Al and I, but unfortunately it wouldn’t be the last, for a show that drew 5,300, many of them young fans, who were probably there to see My Morning Jacket and Wilco.

The event retained its general admission ticketing policy with the move to the Civic Center, with the doors opening at 4:30pm and performances beginning at 5:30pm. We arrived at 7:30pm missing the Richard Thompson Electric Trio and My Morning Jacket, but in time for the start of Wilco’s set.

I was not familiar with Wilco’s music, which makes it hard for me to review their performance. Overall, however, we both enjoyed their set which featured a good variety of songs that they had recorded between 1995 and 2011. You can find their entire set list here:
http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/wilco/2013/civic-center-peoria-il-6bd95ade.html

My first Bob Dylan concert was at the old Chicago Stadium in 1978. Tammy and I were dating at the time. We had tickets behind the stage in the upper balcony. For that tour, as he is known to do, he completely changed the arrangements of his songs. So, 45 years and several Dylan concerts later, you would have thought I wouldn’t be surprised. But I (we) were.

In 1978 Dylan – never a good singer – still had a powerful voice. When Al and I had last seen him in concert in 2007, though Dylan is admittedly an acquired taste, we had still enjoyed his performance. Six years later, his voice is now often gravelly, sounding hoarse. On top of that, other than the three songs he played from his latest album Tempest, the arrangements of his songs were completely changed. Most were unrecognizable at first, and some stayed that way, at least until a familiar lyric could be deciphered, which wasn’t easy.

Dylan certainly didn’t phone in his performance. He played more harmonica during this show than I can remember in any of the many shows I have seen before and he has a kicking band, as he always seems to have. But the new arrangements combined with the weak voice, not to mention the dim stage lighting, had me sadly ready to head to the exits by his third song (though I did stick it out until the bitter end). His complete set list can be found here:
http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/bob-dylan/2013/civic-center-peoria-il-63d95adf.html

So unfortunately, while my first Dylan concert was in 1978, my last was in 2013. I’ll still buy the records, which have been superb in his late career resurgence that began with 1997’s Time Out of Mind, but I won’t be going to any more of his concerts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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