Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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NEW AND UPCOMING ALBUMS

Below are a few new and upcoming albums that I’m looking forward to:

Forever On Your Side Niles City Sound Sessions – NEEDTOBREATHE  

This four-song EP will be released on July 13. The band has already released three of the songs – “Bridges Burn”, “Darling” and “Bullets”.

Noble Ape – Jim Gaffigan
This album will be released on July 13. The film will be available on that date in select cities. I’m looking forward to this release as I saw a concert on this tour that this album was recorded on.
From the artist’s website: “In his all new Noble Ape stand up special, Jim Gaffigan gets personal as he discusses the medical crisis that befell his wife and family this year, which almost led to his retirement”.

My New Moon – Amos Lee
This album will be released August 31. It is Lee’s follow-up to 2016’s Spirit.
From the Amazon description: “Singer/songwriter Amos Lee says his seventh studio album My New Moon is “a dedication…it’s an offering – an altar of sorts to those who have shared their sorrows with me.” It is a product of profound human experiences; loss, grief, hope, healing, love, sorrow, and rejuvenation. Each track on My New Moon takes a journey through these intense and personal experiences. Opening track “No More Darkness, No More Light” was rewritten entirely after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and speaks to the hope for change that lies in amongst tragic situations and challenges. “Little Light,” written for a young girl who beat cancer, is a positive message of spreading light for the world to see, even if you’re facing hardship. “Hang On, Hang On” reflects the helplessness that comes after the loss of a loved one, “Crooked” brings to light the difficult and confusing times we’ve faced throughout history in America, and “I Get Weak” is a beautifully dark love song to something that might kill you, but you need it to go on living. The album as a whole reflects the darkness and the light that we all both experience and bring into the world, and how through these personal experiences and hard times, we grow more connected to one another.” Continue reading

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Spirit - Amos LeeMusic Review:

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.
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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

music-reviews-tape

Where 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”.

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MUSIC REVIEWS AND NEWS

music-reviews-tape
Before This World - James TaylorBefore 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.

 Song of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

musicnewsMusic News

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

music quoteMusic Quotes

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

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

The system didn’t plan for this. Lecrae

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