Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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I Knew You When – Bob Seger (Deluxe Edition)

This is 72-year old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Bob Seger’s eighteenth studio album. It was self-produced and recorded in Detroit and Nashville and dedicated to longtime friend Glenn Frey, who died in 2016. The album cover features a mid-60’s photo of Seger. Some of the songs were written and originally recorded several years ago.
I saw Seger in concert with the Silver Bullet Band back at the now defunct Poplar Creek Music Theatre near Chicago in the summer of 1980 and have enjoyed his music ever since. Here are a few brief comments about each of the songs:
Gracile –  The album opens strong with this rocker, featuring excellent guitar, including a nice solo, bass, drums and backing vocals. This song is a about a woman. She’s a winner, her body is gracile (slender, thin, graceful), and she’s in control.  
Busload Of Faith
–  This song was written by Lou Reed and appeared on his 1989 album New York. It was the first single released from the new album.  Seger changed some of the lyrics, substituting “You can’t depend on the President” for Reed’s “You can’t depend on the churches”. It’s an upbeat song with horns, a guitar solo and gospel-like backing vocals.
The Highway – This rocker is driven by guitar and a drum beat. It features a strong vocal by Seger, backing vocals, some of which sounds like an uncredited Bruce Springsteen, and a guitar solo. In a world of phony prophets, he’s packing up his gear, getting out of here and heading for the highway.    Continue reading


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Surrounded by Michael W. Smith

Michael W. Smith has been a leader in the Contemporary Christian Music industry since his debut album in 1983, about the entire length of my Christian life. In addition to his pop albums, the talented artist has released several live worship and Christmas albums, along with a few instrumental albums, two albums of hymns, and even wrote music for Steve Taylor’s The Second Chance, a film he starred in. His 2001 album Worship has sold in excess of 2 million copies and the 2002 Worship Again has sold in excess of 1 million copies. He has won three Grammy Awards and an incredible 45 Dove Awards. Now 60 years old, Smith shows he is not slowing down.  Surrounded, his second album to be released this month, and twenty-fifth overall, is a live worship album recorded during an in-the-round performance November 2, 2017 at the Factory in Franklin, Tennessee.
Smith has said that the idea of doing another live worship project has been something he has been thinking about for a while. He feels God calling His Church together, every nation, every tribe, tongue, social class and denomination.
Like his other worship albums, the songs here are a mix of originals and covers. My only critique would have been for Smith to include more originals. If you have enjoyed Smith’s previous worship albums, you’ll enjoy this one as well.

Here are a few thoughts about each song on this excellent album. Continue reading

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Resurrection Letters: Prologue

Ten years ago, Andrew Peterson, one of our most respected singer/songwriters, was working on an album that he says was more or less on the resurrection of Jesus. As he started working on the songs, he realized that they actually were more about the way Jesus’s resurrection plays out in our lives rather than the resurrection itself. So, the album was creatively titled Resurrection Letters, Vol. 2.
This year, Peterson finally began work on Vol. 1 with producer Ben Shive, who also produced Vol. 2, ten years ago. But Peterson felt it would be odd to write about Jesus’s victory over death without writing about his death itself. That led to this recording, which he humorously has called the prequel to the prequel. Got all that?
Volume 1 will be out soon. For this release, Peterson has written ““The five songs on Prologue are meant to be a sort of fast, opening with the last words of Jesus on the cross and ending with his interment in the tomb. May they’ll be a good reminder of the hard road Jesus walked in order to make the world new.”

Let’s look at the excellent EP, Resurrection Letters: Prologue, which is superbly written and performed:
Last Words (Tenebrae) – This beautiful song driven by piano, light percussion and backing vocals, focuses on Jesus’s last words on the cross, beginning with, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”. The vocals are layered and build powerfully throughout the song. Ending with “Father into your hands I commit my spirit”.
Well Done, Good and Faithful – This song features piano and light percussion. It takes the listener through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, through his cries and groans when his Father turned away from him. The chorus is based on Hebrews 12:2 which reads in part “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus finished his work, well, good and faithful, reminding us of the servant in Matthew 25:23.
The Ninth Hour – This is a beautiful instrumental featuring strings and piano. Mark 15:33 states “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
Always Good – This intimate song to Jesus is driven by acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Jesus, who laid down his life and suffered for us, knows what we are feeling. Somehow His sorrow is shaping our hearts like it should, as we try to believe what is not meant to be understood. It’s hard to know what He is doing. Help us to trust that His intentions for us are still good. Maybe the answer surrounds us, but we don’t have the eyes to see that He’s always good.
God Rested – The EP ends with this song about Jesus’s body being taken down from the cross and being buried in the tomb of a rich man. Pilate had no peace during this time. Peterson creatively connects God’s work in creation with Jesus’s work. “Six days shall you labor, the seventh is the Lord’s. In six He made the earth and all the heavens, but He rested on the seventh.” He worked till it was finished (Matthew 19:30). God blessed the seventh day. The song is driven by piano, drums, synth and backing vocals.

Peterson has stated that his hope is that the listener would use these five songs during Lent and Holy Week to dwell on the terrible road Jesus had to walk in order to conquer not just sin, but the grave.
Meditate on these songs as you prepare your heart to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection.
Andrew will be one of the speakers at the Sing! 2018 Conference September 10-12 in Nashville. Continue reading

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Music Reviews
The Greatest Showman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

The Greatest Showman is a very entertaining and well-made musical inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum, featuring excellent new songs by the Oscar winning lyricists from La La Land. The film includes eleven new songs written by Oscar (La La Land) and Tony (Dear Evan Hansen) Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Below are a few comments on each song:

The Greatest Show – The film opens with the title song performed in a big song and dance production number. Jackman, with his Broadway experience, is excellent in his portrayal of Barnum. He is joined on this song by Zac Efron, Zendaya and Keala Settle.

A Million Dreams – This song is initially sung by Ziv Zaifman as a young Barnum and then shifts to the adult Barnum with Jackman and Michelle Williams singing.  In the film, the song is sung as we see a flashback in which Barnum, a young and impoverished tailor’s son, played by Ellis Rubin, first meets the privileged but sweet Charity, played by Skylar Dunn. We see them fall in love, but Charity’s father tells P.T. to stay away from his daughter, who is then sent away to a boarding school. But we see them stay in touch through letters. The film moves forward a dozen or so years, with Jackman portraying Barnum and Michelle Williams portraying his now wife Charity.

A Million Dreams (Reprise) – This short song is sung by Barnum’s daughters Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Caroline Barnum) and Jackman.

Come Alive – This upbeat song is sung by Jackman, Keala Settle, Zendaya, Daniel Everidge.

The Other Side – In this song Jackman as Barnum convinces the socialite playwright Phillip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron to become his business partner.

Never Enough – This powerful song is performed in the film by Jenny Lind “The Swedish Nightingale”, the best singer in the world.  While Lind is played in the film by Rebecca Ferguson, her singing is actually performed by Loren Allred.

This is Me – This powerful song has received an Oscar nomination. It is performed by Tony nominee Keala Settle, who plays the bearded lady in the film.

Rewrite the Stars – This song is performed by Zac Efron and Zendaya. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll remember their powerful scene in the circus ring about their love that has so many obstacles.

Tightrope – This beautiful song is sung by Michelle Williams as Barnum’s wife as she sings that she risks it all to be with Barnum and the life they’ve chosen.

Never Enough (Reprise) – This is a short reprise of Loren Allred’s powerful rendition of “Never Enough”

From Now On – This song starts slowly with Jackman’s vocal over piano and builds powerfully as the celebratory closing song of the film.

I’m not usually a fan of movie musicals, but I really enjoyed The Greatest Showman. It is a film that the entire family can enjoy. If you’ve seen the film, you’re most likely going to want to check out the movie soundtrack.

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Music Review:

Glory Song – Matt Redman

Two-time Grammy Award winner and writer of many wonderful worship songs for the church including “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”, Matt Redman follows his excellent 2016 Christmas album These Christmas Lights, with this album recorded at the famed Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. Prior to the Christmas release, his three prior albums had been recorded live. The album was co-produced by Jeremy Edwardson and Jeremy SH Griffith. He intentionally tried to bring more of a gospel sound to the album, including Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Kierra Sheard and a gospel choir. I can’t tell you how much I was blessed and encouraged by this album – it’s one of my favorites.

Below are a few comments on each song on the album:
All Glory – This song was written by Jonus Myrin and Redman, and features vocals from Kierra Sheard (who also appears on Lecrae’s new album), and a gospel choir. The chorus is an adaptation of the Gloria Patri.  Key lyric: All glory to the Father, all glory to the Son, all glory to the Spirit.
The Spirit of our God. As it was in the beginning, and will be in the end. All glory to Your everlasting name
Gospel Song – This song blends familiar Redman elements with an excellent beat and even some rap from Guvna B. It starts slowly with piano, then builds with catchy beat, gospel choir, guitar and organ about the joy of singing the gospel song. You’ll hear bits of John 3:16 in here too. I liked him stepping out of his norm.
Greatest Hallelujah – This song is written by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman. It will remind you of some of Redman’s most-loved worship songs. It features a choir and some shouts. A highlight. Key lyric:  From this breath to my last, then forever and a day, I’ll pour out my heart, I’ll pour out my soul
My greatest hallelujah.  

Gracefully Broken – This song was written by Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Redman and was the first single released ahead of the album. It features a gospel choir and strong vocals from Leonard, who also includes a version of the song on her album Heart. Passion. Pursuit. The song starts slow and builds to the worshipful chorus. It will be a wonderful song for congregational singing. Key lyric: Here I am, God                 Arms wide open, pouring out my life, gracefully broken
One Day (When We All Get to Heaven) –  This song, which incorporates the hymn “When We All Get to Heaven”, is written by Eliza E. Hewitt, Beth Redman, Leonard Jarman and Redman. It features a strong Redman vocal with a piano and later organ backing. Again, this is different from the usual Redman song, and I really liked it.
Redemption Ground – This song is written by Nick Herbert, Sam Bailey and Redman. It starts slowly with guitar and then builds with drums and backing vocals from female vocalist Madison Cunningham. On this redemption ground he’ll stand with all the saints. It features a nice guitar solo.
Key lyric: Who can count the souls of all who have been found here on redemption ground.  

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Give More Love – Ringo Starr

The 77-year old former Beatle follows his 2015 album Postcards from Paradise with his nineteenth studio album, which was recorded in his home studio in Los Angeles. The album was originally planned to be a country album recorded in Nashville with Dave Stewart. They recorded one song – “So Wrong for So Long” – before the album took a different shape. In addition to ten new songs, there are four bonus tracks, which are new versions of old songs.  Starr self-produced the album, assisted by engineer Bruce Sugar. The album features a number of guests, including former band-mate Paul McCartney, brother-in law, guitarist Joe Walsh, and fellow Eagles singer-bassist Timothy B. Schmit, Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, saxophonist Edgar Winter, guitarist-producer Jeff Lynne, guitarist Dave Stewart, bassists Nathan East and Don Was, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz.

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Songs of Experience – U2 (Deluxe Edition)

U2 has always been more than just a band. With Songs of Experience, they show their maturity, while still taking chances. The band’s 14th studio album – incredibly with no band member changes – is their follow-up to 2014’s companion Songs of Innocence. Thematically, the album is a collection of letters written by Bono to people and places closest to his heart. The album is influenced by Bono’s “recent brush with death”, and inspired by the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly’s advice to him to “write as if you’re dead”. The band worked with nine different producers and 15 engineers on the album. There is much to digest here, and it will best be appreciated after multiple listenings.

The album was ready to be released in late 2016, but after the shift of global politics in a conservative direction, the band decided to delay it and reassess the tone of the album. The album included nine different producers and 15 engineers, so there is a lot of variety included. The album cover features a photo of Bono’s son Eli and the Edge’s daughter Sian holding hands, taken by the band’s long-time photographer Anton Corbijn.

Here are a few brief comments about each song:

Love Is All We Have LeftThis song was produced by Andy Barlow. It’s a slow, quiet song, with Bono singing with synth backing. Bono uses some falsetto, as he duets with his own electronically modified voice. A rather underwhelming track to start the album, which repeats the song title often.

Lights Of HomeThis song was produced by Brent Kutzle, Ryan Tedder, Jacknife Lee and Jolyon Thomas, and co-written by the Haim sisters from the alternative pop-rock band HAIM, who sing back-up vocals. This song references Bono’s brush with death “Shouldn’t be here ’cause I should be dead”, and has him looking toward Heaven (the lights of home). The song features a nice guitar solo from the Edge.

You’re The Best Thing About MeThis song was produced by Ryan Tedder, Steve Lillywhite and Jacknife Lee. It was the first single released from the album. It opens with some excellent guitar from the Edge and continues with a driving beat led by drummer Larry Mullen. The song could very well be about Bono’s wife Ali. It includes some humor “Shooting off my mouth, that’s another great thing about me”. Continue reading