Archive for December, 2010

David Crowder, How He Loves
December 27, 2010

I know this is not an underground song.  You can get over it, it is still awesome.

I love David Crowder in a purely platonical way.  We all know, so I’m just going to say it, he is funny looking.  No offense, but he kinda wierds my wife out too.  She really has a hard time watching this music video.  I, however, enjoy it thoroughly.  One of Crowder’s best qualities is the character in his voice and in this video I feel like he is singing straight to me.  After the band kicks it up in the top floor of the barn, they effectively use some simple lighting effects and a great mix of sped up videography as well as general rocking out.  Besides that, it is a great song.  Enjoy!

 

 

Flatfoot 56, City on a Hill
December 23, 2010

Happy Birthday to me!  Yeah, I’m 28 today and honestly,  I never could have guessed that I am where I am today.  A beautiful wife almost married 7 years, one amazing son and a daughter on the way.  I’ve had 14 jobs (not kidding) since college and I fell as though I’ve tried to keep life interesting.  Well, let’s be honest, it’s been interesting whether I’ve tried to make it that way or not.  That is neither here nor there, so on with the music!

Today I indulge in one of my all time favorite Celtic punk bands, Flatfoot 56.  I highly recommend them for anyone who likes fun music with plenty of surprises.  Mandolins, bagpipes, accordions and whatever else it seems they can find is added into a very fun and enjoyable punk band.  I personally like the album “Jungle of the Midwest Sea” the best, but anything they do is good.  I cannot wait to purchase their new album with the iTunes gift cards I got for my birthday (thanks Jonathan!)

If you had to listen to one song, because like me you are strapped for time, I suggest “City on a Hill.”  It pretty much sums them up for me.  I might also add that they do a fun and possibly irreverent version of Amazing Grace that was a crowd favorite at Shoutfest several years back.  I had the opportunity to see them on a small side stage and have had that brief forty-five minutes implanted firmly in my mind since.

“City on a Hill” in addition to being a riot and causing me to drive way too fast also reminds me of a precious passage of scripture.  In the greatest sermon of all time, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6 and 7), Jesus lays out the life of the Christian.  I recommend these chapters for in depth study.  I was led to memorize this in high school and it has been a frequent guide in my life since.  We are to be light in a desperately dark world.  We are supposed to stand out, like a city on a hill.  It is a great image.  I can still remember driving home to San Antonio while I was in college.  Coming into town on 281 in the dark, there seems to be nothing except the distant glow of the city.  Then, you pass over one hill and see all those lights.  It always made me feel great after eight hours of driving stick with no cruise control.

The song is a strongly worded rebuke to Christians who don’t live like Christians.  You are supposed to be light, but is there a “blackout in effect”?  I’ll end on the question the song asks, “Will you make your decision are you chaff or are you wheat? /

Will you rise or will you fall, will you stand or will you crawl?  /

Will you be the ones He’s called you to be or turn away and run,  /

I say No / No more on the fence”

Jars of Clay, Work
December 20, 2010

First, HAPPY BIRTHDAY Lori!  My beautiful, smart and talented wife, you mean so much to me.  Now, on with the video…

Introduction:

There is something alluring to me about music videos that are composed of a single shot.  I’m not sure why, but I appreciate all the forethought, the practice and the level of creativity it takes to get there.  And while OK Go seems to have the monopoly on the best single shot music videos in the secular world, the Christian music realm has its own to offer.

Creativity:

Work, is an interesting, driving song.  The interest of the song, its dynamics, pushes the video along.  The colors are nice and the lighting is dramatic.  Plus, there is this weird object in the bottom right corner of the shot.  In a short while you realize that water is pouring in on the band.  Yes, they are in a tank, slowly filling over the length of the song.  Kudos of technical achievement for getting their tank glass clean enough to shoot the whole band through.  I also tip my hat to the guys for finding the perfect amount of water to let in so that it is neck/chin high by the end of the song.  It may develop slowly, but the concept is very fun to watch play out.  Also, the video actually has something to do with the lyrics of the song.  “I have no fear of drowning / It’s the breathing that’s taking all this work.”

Post script:  I also think this is the best look that their front man, Dan Haseltine, has ever had.  He seriously reminds me of Severus Snape from the Harry Potter Movies.  I dunno, somehow it works.

Patty Griffin, Waiting for My Child Part II
December 19, 2010

“Wating for My Child” is musically excellent; a fantastic blend of folk, country and gospel.  The song is delivered with a real personal cracked edge to it.  Patty Griffin’s voice paints the picture without colors, letting raw emotions surface through the tough exterior of a busy and noisy life.  Indulge me a moment longer to flush out why I think it is worth your time to listen to it.

 

The song is an echo of the story of the prodigal son, written from the perspective of the parent.  I think in this way it is devotional.  For those who know the story, but need it to sink a little deeper, listening to the wrenching sense of loss is a great way to start.  As you do, keep in mind the truth that scripture teaches us.  Though we wander far from God, he waits anxiously for us to run home to him.  There, he will hold us close, kiss our necks and begin the celebration.  Heaven rejoices when the lost are found and when the wayward child comes home.  He will put a ring on your finger, a robe on your back and you will get to share in the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven with Christ.  If you are a Christian, you are God’s son or daughter.  That makes you royalty, which makes you special.  The worth you have is not out of anything you have done, but because God ascribes it to you.  And he never changes his mind.  Once you are his son, you are his son forever.  If you have spent your life running away from God, run home to him.  He is waiting for his child to come home.

Do you feel the truth resonate in this?  I don’t know if Patty believes it, but I do and her song reminds me every time I hear it.   I take even more courage when I remember that the people in the song seem defeated about their lost child.  Especially because I know that God is not powerless and does not feel defeated.  He has never known surprise.  He knows where his children are he knows what drove them there.  In His love, he waits for us to choose him.   Simply awesome.  Feel loved today.  Be encouraged, I know life is hard.  Trust that the Lord is good and he wants the best for his children, including you.

So, what makes a song Christian?  I think there is a better question to ask as you continue to fill your musical library.  Ask instead, “Does this song honor God and fit into one of the categories of Philippians 4:8?”  If you are honest with yourself, this will be fruitful.  You know what kind of music makes you think ungodly thoughts.  You know what bands remind you of that time in your life when you were the prodigal son and could care less about God.  Stay away from those with grim conviction.  The enemy needs only a small wedge to get in your head and create a wide chasm to allow sin free access to your heart.   Never believe the lie that musical is non-spiritual.   It is.  Therefore, listening to it affects you much deeper than that mass of tissue taking up space in your head called a brain.

What makes a song Christian?  It occurs to me that if I am going to blog about Christian music I should come to at least a workable answer.  Here we go, for the purposes of this website.  Christian music is music that is created in an effort to glorify the God of the Bible, either with its lyrical content or musical excellence.  The term Christian music will also have to apply to music that puts itself into that genre or category for the public.  These would be albums found in the “Christian” section of your local CD store.  Are you happy?  I committed myself to an answer.   Of course, as I learn and think further, that is subject to change.

Patty Griffin, Waiting for My Child Part I
December 18, 2010

What makes a song “Christian”?

The easiest answer would be the lyrics.  What do they say, are they about Christian things?  Let’s assume they are.  But what if a popular singer songwriter whose convictions about Christianity are obscure is covering the song?  Is the song still Christian?  Does it matter?  Could it be delivered with the same conviction as an outspoken Christian singer might?

I think this dilemma keeps Patty Griffin’s cover of “Waiting for my Child” so engaging for me.  It appears on her seventh full-length release, Downtown Church.  There is plenty to be read on the blogoshpere about the album, how it was recorded, the song choices, etc.  I want to focus on this one song and deal a little with a tough question, “What makes a song Christian?”

“Waiting for My Child,” is soft, sensitive, and heart breaking.  If you have a child and they’ve wandered at all I’m sure it hits even closer to home.  If you don’t have kids, or in my case they are too little to do much wandering, I think you’ll still feel the emotional pull of this song.  “A letter would mean so much to me.”  It is simple, heart felt and delivered with such a high level of artistry that it flat out choked me up the first time I heard it distraction-free.   But isn’t Patty Griffin a secular artist getting ready to go on tour with Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin?  Yes she is.

So, I guess this is a piece of the answer to my opening question: the art is God’s, even if the singer isn’t or doesn’t know.  He created the music, our ears to hear it and our soul to respond to it.  The correct use of talent honors Him regardless.  The pursuit of beauty is a godly activity.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Therefore a song doesn’t have to be a “Christian” song in order to be praiseworthy.  For example, much classical music has no lyrical content at all and still honors the Lord.  I think our response should be clear.  The Christian should not go fill their mind with ugly junk just because it has the label “Christian” on it.  Also, a Christian should not ignore beauty and excellence simply because it does not have the label “Christian” on it.  But the question I asked isn’t entirely answered there.  Surely it is more complicated than this!  Additional thoughts abound in Part II.

Joy Electric, The Magic of Christmas
December 16, 2010

Merry Christmas!  I hope this season is finding everyone filled with a desire to give, serve and generally think less of him or herself.  And what is Christmas without the music?  Well, it’s a holiday of course.  Let’s liven it up a bit.

Had enough of Josh Groban?  Need something a little edgier and random than Nat King Cloe or Bing Crosby?  Look no further than Joy Electric’s “The Magic of Christmas” released in 2003.  Ronnie Martin uses his signature electropop/synth sound to bring the music of the season in a whole new way.  Full of crazy synthesized blips, whirls and plenty of echo vocals, this will make your left eyebrow raise a bit.  Then, if you are like me, it won’t leave your holiday play list.  Fun, fresh and strangely enticing, I give my hearty approval to the project and encourage you to add it to your seasonal music collection.  I also appreciate that there is no need on the album to stretch any one of these songs further than they need to.  Many of the tracks are less than three minutes, good on yer’!

The album mixes traditional songs like “Angels We Have Heard on High” with cultural favorites like “Frosty the Snowman.”  Of all the tracks, I think “Lollipop Parade (On Christmas Morn’)” is my favorite.  It seems a little melancholy, but musically, it is irresistible and the track will get stuck in your head.

http://www.myspace.com/joyelectric

Switchfoot, Oh! Gravity
December 13, 2010

Introduction:

Besides having one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen, Switchfoot knows how to make a good music video as well.  Soaring off their success of Beautiful Letdown, the band quickly released Nothing is Sound and Oh! Gravity.  To be honest both albums came so fast that I couldn’t keep up.  Yeah, being broke can be a bummer sometimes.  Anyway, thank goodness for Youtube and being the vehicle for me to listen to this song.  It drives, it kicks, it rocks, it sounds like Switchfoot.  There are some little musical treats in there but the video they cut is mesmerizing.

Layers of Work:

I need to do some more research to find out who directed/animated this video.  Super triple thumbs up.  There are, no-kidding, like one hundred separate drawings in this video.  Everything moves.  The band was shot on a green screen and then surrounded by an artist’s creative imagination.  The drawings interact with the band and there is layer after layer of live footage mixed with animation.  The motion of all the graphics fits the pace and feel of the song and so I can appreciate it all the more.  In artistic terms there is fine use of contour drawing, high levels of contrast, a limited color palette (red, black and white) and a complete disregard for any kind of consistent perspective.  Artsy, and Rock and Roll, love it!

Matt Maher, Christ is Risen
December 9, 2010

Christ is Risen, Matt Maher

Song: Christ is Risen

Artist: Matt Maher

Album:  Alive Again

Genre:  Worship/CCM

Introduction:

There are some songs that hook a friend.  They tell you five or six times, “You’ve got to hear this song.”  Then I blow them off with a, “Yeah, I’ll be sure to get right on that.”  Inside I probably do want to go listen to it, but life gets in the way and I forget.  Then there are those songs where the youth minister says, “Hey, I want you to play this song for the youth group.”  When a request like that is made, I tend to take it a little more seriously.  This is precisely what happened to me with Christ is Risen. I was all set to lead worship for our church cabin at Fall’s Creek and this was the only song the minister requested by name.  So I learned it.  Then I fell in love with it.  As a worship song it really fit our group well.  When I came back to lead for our contemporary service, it worked there too.  Could it be; a song that works well with a solo acoustic guitar and with a full band?  Yes, and I have been telling everyone about it since.

Music:

The song begins with an engaging musical hook, a great use of octaves on a piano.  The chord progressions throughout are simple and elegant.  The pre-chorus sets up the chorus nicely.  The whole song is sing-able, which is a must for any corporate worship song.  The bridge contains a satisfying build that is supported with superb lyrics.  It doesn’t feel overproduced and is fairly easy to replicate in a church setting while at the same time being pleasing to listen to while you drive.

Lyrics:

Christ is Risen provides truth and hope in the proper context.  This is not a fluffy, “Jesus, Jesus, nah, nah, nah,” song.  The whole text centers on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  It goes on to tell the victory that Christians have because of that.  There is victory for the individual and victory for the Church.  The beginning embarks with the simple request, “Let no one caught in sin remain / inside the lie of inward shame / But fix our eyes upon the cross / And run to Him who showed great love / and bled for us…”  Lyrically, it is well polished in almost every aspect.  The song is not real heavy on creative visual imagery, but I don’t think that is its intent.  It is written with very accessible word choices and sentence structure.  I think that is one of the many things that make it so successful as a corporate song.  It tells the truth in a way people can understand.  But the climax, both musically and lyrically, is the bridge.  Here is the powerful truth of the gospel communicated with a resounding crescendo, “Our God is not dead, He’s alive, He’s alive!” Amen and amen.

Area of Excellence:

I think the thing that sets this song apart from others is the way it communicates a core doctrine of Christianity.  Songs about God’s love are easy to sing.  Songs that talk about how we lay our lives down are easy to sing (when here in America we simply don’t have to).  But a song that stands upon the fact that Jesus of Nazareth really lived, really did die, really was God, really did rise from the dead…now that’s something to sink your teeth into.  The truth of the gospel is that our hope hinges on the resurrection of the dead.  Read Romans 8:34 until the end of the chapter, “…Christ Jesus who died, more than that, was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No in all these things we are more than conquers through him who loved us.”

And I’m about to get all preachy.  You are forewarned.

Without Christ standing as intercessor between God and man, we are hopelessly separated from God.  Through his perfect life, adequate death and victorious resurrection, he paid the penalty we owed for our mess-ups.  All of them.  Now, to those who fulfill the necessary condition, belief in Jesus, God makes his way to us and we are saved.  Now that we are saved…we can live in victory.  Christ is still interceding for us!  He knows our struggles, he knows how easily the enemy and ourselves dupe us and Jesus is making perfect requests (exactly what we need when we need it) in perfect love to our perfect and all-powerful Father, God.   That is real victory and real power.  We are powerless in the face of death on our own.  It is great to have a song remind us to live in victory.  Because Christ conquered death, we can face life.  Reminds me of that great hymn, Because He Lives. If you haven’t sung it in a while, do so now.  “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow / Because He lives, all fear is gone / And I know, He holds the future / And life is worth the living, just because He lives” The truth tastes good doesn’t it?

I suppose that not everyone reading this is necessarily a Christian.  I guess this song might not mean much to you at first read/listen.  So read this next sentence carefully, and then reread it.  The story of Christ as recorded in the Bible is true.  Did you reread it?  If there is a longing in your life, if you realize that the world doesn’t make much sense, please realize that Christianity is true.  Not half true.  Not true along with other religions (if one is true, the others cannot be because they make contradictory claims about the nature of reality).  Not some made up story to make people feel good about them.  True, capital “T”.  And if you are skeptical, I ask you to honestly weigh the evidence against other religious claims out there.  I believe that Christianity has the most satisfying answers, by a long shot.

See!  A great song that gets to the meat of what we believe.  One that challenges and empowers Christians to go out there and live like Christians.  So, quit reading this blog, go read the Bible then buy the song on iTunes.  Tell Matt we appreciate this and we want more of this level of doctrine in Christian music!

http://www.mattmahermusic.com/

Phil Keaggy, Salvation Army Band
December 6, 2010

Introduction:

When it comes to pure excellence in guitar playing there is no one in Christian Music in the same league as Phil Keaggy.  When I first heard one of his songs, I thought, “Wow, I should quit playing guitar right now because I will never be as good as that.”  I realize of course that that kind of thinking is wrong.  I still play guitar, and I am still getting better.  I want to use the talent God has given me to make him famous.  This is what Phil Keaggy excels at.  Mr. Keaggy has been in the world of music since the 60’s and has shared the stage with other rock and roll legends such as Eric Clapton, The Kinks, Yes and Chicago.  He has won multiple dove awards.  Legend tells that Jimmy Hendrix was asked once what it was like to be the world’s greatest guitar player.  He responded, “I don’t know, you’d have to ask Phil Keaggy.”  Have I made my point, Phil Keaggy is AMAZING.

Live, seeing is believing:

Having mastered his instrument Phil has done what every truly great artist does, grows with the times.  In this case, Phil is using a technique termed “live digital looping.”  Basically what he does is use a complex foot pedal to record a section of a song on his guitar.  At his command, the pedal plays that recorded section back and he continues to play an record a new layer on top of that.  I cannot tell you how hard this is to do sitting in my bedroom with a simple pedal and make it sound good.  Phil does it live.  And in doing so reinvents himself as a musician and the use of technology out there.  He shows an in depth understanding of the music writing process as well as diligent practice, use of technology and recording.  And as if that were not enough, the lyrics are great.  Phil stakes his position as being a draftee in the Lord’s Salvation Army Band.  As a fellow musician this resounded deep within me.  That is after I realized the song wasn’t about the organization working in my downtown.  Please watch and enjoy.  Pay attention to all the little details and you will find this rewarding.  Also, if anyone can find a better quality video of the song that I could embed for free, I will gladly replace this one.  No offense is meant to the person who filmed it (and thank you for posting it online!).

Also, Phil is on facebook here, click “like” on his page if you like this video!

http://www.facebook.com/PhilKeaggy