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My wife and I are taking it easy this Thanksgiving. Normally we drive up to Green Bay to spend the weekend with my parents, but with our weeks being rather crazy lately, I decided we’re just gonna hang out at home and eat some pizzas (cooked on the grill of course).
This change of the normal tradition got me thinking. I think Thanksgiving may have more to offer than just boat loads of pie, turkey, and mashed potatoes. Seriously, the Thanksgiving season is a great time to remember how much God has given us. Even if your life seems sucky, man, we’ve all got a lot to be thankful for. It’s with this in mind that I created a soundtrack for your Thanksgiving holiday (you can thank me later): Life is Good.
I hope you enjoy this Thanksgiving mix!
I’ve done two posts on Paste Magazine recently, the first called “I Hate Paste Magazine” and the second “Ten Reasons I Love Paste Magazine,” and I’ve been delightfully surprised to find that, if you search for “paste magazine” in Google, my hate post is #4, right behind 2 sites from the magazine itself and a Wikipedia article. That’s about as high as you can get in rankings. I’d hate to be higher than the magazine itself (seems somehow wrong), and nobody beats Wikipedia.
What’s even funnier than being #4 is that my Paste-love post comes in at #5, right after my hate post. Talk about being schizophrenic…
So Paste Magazine probably either hates or loves me right now. Or, in reality, they probably don’t even notice me.
Either way, here’s the link to the Google search so you can see it for yourself, in case you have a hard time typing “www.google.com” into your address bar and searching for “paste magazine” on your own. I know, it’s hard.
In other news, if you search for “christian indie mp3,” I’m ranked #2, which is pretty good for a WordPress blog. What else am I ranked high for? Has anybody noticed anything weird?
Joe Dorsey knows rock and roll. I don’t mean that stuff you can hear on MTV or VH1. That’s not rock and roll. You’ll get some pop, some hip hop, some R&B, but you don’t get a whole lot of rock anymore.
Nor do I mean that stuff you can hear on your favorite alternative radio stations or that cool indie rock college station in town. I love all that stuff, but that’s not what I’m talking about when I say rock and roll.
Joe Dorsey knows the rock and roll of Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Cream. Classic rock and roll, back when it was still infused with the soulful sounds of blues, before grunge took over and changed everything.
I’m a huge fan of grunge music and all it’s touched, but there’s just nothing like hearing some good old-fashioned straight-up rock and roll.
And for that, you’ll do good looking toward Joe Dorsey and his new album Rest.
Apparently, since you’ve made it this far, my corny pun in the title hasn’t scared you off. That’s always a good sign. Anyhow, when Jake first asked me to review John Mark McMillan’s new album, “The Medicine,” I couldn’t have been happier. (Well maybe if he had offered to pay me, that would have made me happier. Or if he had thrown in a complimentary Ferrari…)
Ever since I was introduced to his work a few months ago, the CDs of John Mark McMillan have consistently found themselves in my stereo. From first hearing “How He Loves” (from “The Song Inside The Sounds of Breaking Down”) during a worship service to then downloading “Hope Anthology Volume One” from eMusic and then playing “The Medicine” on repeat while I cleaned my house, I’ve been a big fan. So though I will try to be honest and objective in this review, I have a long history of enjoying John Mark McMillan’s work, so I’m going to have a tough time being negative.
1. I only paid $1 for a whole year of it!
2. They’ll review unsigned local artists who have no real business being reviewed by a national magazine.
3. Tons of different music styles are covered in every issue, in addition to movies, games, and books.
4. You get a free CD full of sample music with every issue.
5. Five little words: Ezra Furman and the Harpoons.
6. It’s nice and small, so you won’t strain your back lifting it.
7. They’re where I first heard about Okkervil River, which is a great band.
8. It makes great quick reading for those faster-than-average bathroom runs.
9. Their review of Sandra McCracken was very honest, even a little too positive.
10. Crap, I don’t think I have a tenth reason.
See? I’m not all crabby and opinionated.
If you read my post on Anadara over here, you know I’m picky about female vocalists. I’ve got nothing against women – I just am getting tired of the over-populated female singer-songwriter market, especially within Christian music, and I think it’s time we start to be more willing to critique music that is good (or just OK) but not great.
In this world of female vocalists that all sound the same, Joy Ike is doing things differently enough to be really refreshing.
She’s not way out there and weird in her musical style. In fact, it’s a pretty “normal” sounding style. And while her sound can definitely be polished a little more in some areas, listening to her album Good Morning has been an overall really good experience for me.
I’m not entirely sure why, but I really like Joy Ike, and I think you will too.
If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, you know I’m picky when it comes to women vocalists. There just are very few that I will listen to and even fewer that I actually enjoy. Lori Chaffer of Waterdeep, Sarah MacIntosh, St. Vincent, and Rosie Thomas are some of the few that I will go out of my way to listen to because I enjoy their voices. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but my point is that too many women artists have a very similar way of singing, a style that doesn’t grab me in particular.
So whenever I get an album featuring a female vocalist, I have mixed emotions. Part of me is excited about the possibility of discovering another Lori Chaffer… or a Rosie Thomas perhaps. But the other part of me is tired of all the women who sound the same, and that part doesn’t even want to give the album a chance.
In an interview with Lenny Smith over here, I mentioned that I would post Lenny’s response to the question “What do you think of modern worship music?” Here is a brief description he sent along to the 2009 Festival of Faith and Music organizers about a workshop he’ll be doing entitled “Worshiping Worship and Self.” It challenged my attitude toward worship, so rather than just pulling out a few quotes, I wanted to put the whole thing up. Enjoy.
Somehow we have slipped away from worshiping God, in many of our worship services. We now often are worshiping worship and,thus, are worshiping ourselves.
The idea that God is an Audience of One (or Three, for that matter) exemplifies pretty well the problem. If God is the Audience, watching us as we sing, dance, shout, and celebrate before Him, then that puts God is a passive role, sitting on His throne, I suppose, responding to us and the intentions of our hearts and the activities that reflect those intentions. It looks o.k. at first glance, but upon further consideration, I find that it is exactly the opposite of the truth. God is not the audience, He is the Actor… WE are the audience. God is on stage and we are in the audience, listening and watching Him perform His works. He is always doing his stuff, day and night (“My father works and I work,” is what Jesus said). He causes the four seasons to come and go, the stars by the billions to shine, the sun and moon to turn, nations to rise and fall, babies to be conceived and be born, the rain to fall and clean the air, the birds to sing such lovely melodies, the young man to find his lady, the whales to find their way to the mating places, the geese to fly in V’s, the bear to hybernate, the dolphins to be able to dive so deep and hold their breath so long. HE is the DOER. Our hearts are not beating automatically….God is keeping them beating. Of course, HE is the BE-er (I AM), but we can not learn anything about His Being except by observing His Doings. HE is the one on stage! WE are the audience!
If we get to see His works and hear of His genius, power, and loveliness, we will rise to our feet like any audience and spontaneously applaud and shout our approval and appreciation. It will not be self-conscious and rehearsed, but spontaneous and real and authentic. We will be beside ourselves (or outside of ourselves) and in awe of what we are seeing and hearing. We won’t even be aware of ourselves, but pre-occupied with His works and His genius and His wonders.
Many people, driving home after church, talk about the worship service and evaluate it and the leader and pastor. An audience doesn’t go home after seeing a great play or movie or game and talk all about the way they applauded and shouted and how well or poorly the cheerleaders did! No! They talk about the teams, the actors, the ones on the stage!
We often are trying to worship and at the same time watching ourselves worship and evaluating our worship while we are doing it. We are seldom “taken away” by the object of our worship, because we have not been drawn away from looking at ourselves to looking at the Other. A young man, totally head-over-heels in love with a young lady, is hardly aware of himself. He only has eyes for her! He doesn’t even know or care that his mouth is open and that he is starring at her. He is just beside himself.
Solutions? Yes, there are some.
1. Song Selection: Songs to God about God. Not songs to God about us. Not songs to us about God. Not songs to us about us. AND not some of each! To turn a ship around one has to turn it hard.
2. Introductory prayers should be to God about God. The leader must set the direction for the minds of the people. In order to do that, the leader has to have his/her own mind on God and not on leading the people. He/she needs to address God and mentally stay on God and not be concerned if anyone else is having their mind on God. Leaders don’t lead, they just do it right… followers follow, if they want to.
I suppose I could write-out all my thoughts on this, but this should give you enough…
To go along with his thoughts on worship, I thought you’d enjoy a few of Lenny’s original worship songs:
Note: All MP3s will be removed after one week
I’d like to take a quick moment to thank Matt Modrich of True Tunes for this, his first “official” contribution to The Blah Blah, though he has for some time been supplying me personally with music tips and suggestions behind-the-scenes, thereby making me look cooler than I really am.
Starflyer 59 continues to break new ground with a cult following
despite always eluding the attention of the mainstream. Starflyer is Jason Martin’s solo project with a revolving cast of band members.
With 15 years in the books Martin continues to rock despite the “kids who want a faster beat”.
Dial M is Martin’s latest annual project and it fires on all
cylinders. With a sound reminiscent of the Brothers Martin album released last year, Martin picks up where My Island left off. Demos of Dial M were released last year as the vinyl box set Ghosts of the
The Dial M versions of the Ghosts material are fresher and more produced. Songs like “The Brightest of the Head” and “I Love You Like the Little Bird” have received a bit of a makeover. As with any makeover there will be those that approve and those that prefer the old versions.
Lyrically, Martin exhibits growth whereas in some of his earlier albums he said the lyrics were “just there”. The theme of his father’s death is the topic of “Mr. Martin” and the bonus track “Magic”. The subject of personal struggle is evident when Martin quotes the Apostle Paul: “‘To live is Christ; to die is gain’ I try and I try, I try and I try.”
Dial M is an excellent collection of tried and true songs, which proves Martin still has what it takes after all these years. But it seems as though the story is not yet complete because Martin still has more left in the tank. Let’s hope he keeps his taxi on the road.
Here are some sample tracks off the album, but please go and buy the whole thing:
Last week (back here), I posted about musician / worship leader Lenny Smith. Today, I’d like to let you hear from him yourself, with an interview he was kind enough to give over e-mail.
The Blah Blah: Who are you, in as many words and descriptives as you’d like to use?
Lenny Smith: I AM the object of my Father’s love. I AM the light of the world. I AM the salt of the earth. I AM fulfilling all my destiny. I AM the king’s delight. (I could go on and on!)
TBB: Describe your music, for those who’ve never heard it?
LS: I do folk, soft rock, and the like. I try to write melodies, those things they had back in the 50′s. I like lyrics about things, like swaying trees, singing birds, and running streams. I don’t like to write about “Christian” concepts like: salvation, judgement, punishment, redemption. Concepts should be in theology books, not songs. Poetry should be in songs.
TBB: So you’re the father of the Danielson Famile. Explain yourself. No, really, you must have some interesting stories about the kids growing up. Any memories in particular come to mind?
LS: I remember once Daniel, as a very young boy, getting off the bus in front of our house and coming in the front door with his eyes popping out of his head. He looked terrified and was pointing to his throat. He had swallowed a gob-stopper! We all thought it was stuck in his throat and we took him to the emergency room. It turned out that it had passed on down his throat during the ride there. We were much relieved.
Not too long ago, my three sons, Daniel, David, and Andrew, and I went kayaking down the Mullica River in the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. We had a blast! We had dinner at a restaurant right on the river (I had trout). We got back in the river and had to negotiate under a fallen tree. Andrew said he would go first, being courageous, as he is. The flow of the water was fast, so he had to be careful. His kayak shot under the tree, but a branch caught his jacket and pulled him right out of the kayak and dropped him in the stream, with the kayak flying down the river. Andrew’s face turned red, but it could have happened to anyone. I bought him a coffee later.
TBB: About your kids… which one is your favorite? Just kidding. What I meant was, what do you like about each of them?
LS: My wife and I feel we accomplished being even-handed with our kids. I’ve never felt that they think one or the other is our favorite. I like Daniel’s creativity, Rachel’s boldness of expressing herself, Megan’s gracefulness, David’s courage, and Andrew’s wisdom. I also like that they visit us and seem to enjoy us and don’t hate us.
TBB: As a father of 2 (and soon 3) myself, I’m always looking for wise advice from parents who’ve been through it all already. What piece of wisdom would you give to a young father?
LS: The job of husband and father is an impossible job but we have some hope of doing it right. My advice: EVERY morning, get up early and read your scriptures for 30 mins. and play your guitar and sing songs to the Lord. Do it even on Sunday, because it might not happen well at church. Your wife and kids will do well under the branches of that tree.
TBB: In an e-mail, when I asked if you wouldn’t mind doing an interview, you mentioned that you were getting a reputation for being “somewhere out there.” What’s that all about?
LS: Since I was about 14 I have studied the Bible and spiritual matters. God, over the years, has shown me some things. Some of these things people (leaders) do not want to hear. Rather than engage in discussion and debate, church leaders often become threatened and go on the attack. I have strong opinions about the “christian” music industry, about the “rapture,” about the “second coming,” about worshiping the Father, rather than worshiping Jesus, about many traditional interpretations of Scriptures, and about the fact the Jesus was not even a Christian, but a Jew. Often, discussions and considerations can advance our understanding of things. Jesus said the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. I think He will.
TBB: How did you start doing music?
LS: At about 10 years old, I had a period of depression. I had a stack of about 10 singles and I used to play them on the record player, over and over. That was the beginning of my love of music and songs. During high school in the late 50′s I went to dances twice a week. Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Dion And the Belmonts, Connie Francis and others fired us up and, really, I would have to say we were smitten by these records. In 1960, I entered the seminary to study for the priesthood. I left my girlfriend behind and went off. I was so lonely I picked up a guitar and a fellow seminarian taught me to play. We used to play through a 12″ stack of sheet music from the 50′s almost every night after dinner. Later, I wrote my first folk-mass song: “The New Jerusalem.” Then I wrote another 40 songs before God gave me “Our God Reigns.” I’ve written another 100 since then.
TBB: Are you still leading worship at churches?
LS: No. I sing in coffee houses and clubs. Churches don’t call on me to sing.
TBB: To be honest, I’m pretty bored with most modern worship music. As a guy who’s written a zillion worship songs, what’s your opinion? What’s good? What needs to be changed?
LS: See the attached for this one. (Editor’s Note: we’ll post this later this week. It was too good to chop out a few phrases.)
TBB: Describe your process of writing songs. Where do most of your lyrics come from?
LS: For most of my songs I was inspired by some phrase in Scripture and I would then expand from there. But, lately, I AM starting from nuggets of ideas and phrases I just hear.
TBB: Which one of your songs is your favorite? Why?
LS: Whichever song I AM writing is my favorite, for some reason. My current favorite is “Welcome To The End Of The World.”
TBB: I assume you consider yourself to be a Christian. Can you describe the process God used to bring you to Himself?
LS: I had a real spiritual experience of some kind at about 10, sitting in a Sunday school class with about 20 kids. The teacher was talking about Jesus and the Father’s love for us and I just had this thing where my heart got all full and I was crying and was just so happy. Later, in 1969, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. I couldn’t walk for about an hour. I saw a bright light for about 15 minutes and later that night I got woken-up by the sound of a choir of millions, which I heard for about 5 minutes, until I asked it to go away. (Ed: OK, I want that. My own experience wasn’t quite as dynamic.)
TBB: If you could have any one of your songs heard throughout the world, which would you pick?
LS: Right now I would say: “Welcome To The End Of The World.”
TBB: I’m not sure exactly what to think of the whole “Christian music” thing. As a man who’s been around the scene in one form or another for years, what do you make of the whole thing?
LS: I don’t believe there is such a thing as a Christian music scene. There probably are musicians who are Christians, but, for sure, they are earthlings first. I think they should stop huddling together for support and get out into the marketplace, the coffee houses and the clubs. They should stop being so afraid of the sinners. They are sinners too. Stop being so afraid of hearing cursing and seeing people drink beer. They should stop singing about Jesus and just try to become more like him. Even Jesus was not about Jesus.
TBB: You probably run into a lot of new Christian artists, between New Jerusalem Music and your kids – who are some we should check out?
LS: I would say to check out : I Was A King, Cryptacize, Dan Zimmerman, Serena-Manish, Wovenhand, Espers, Canadian Invasion, John Francis, My Brightest Diamond, to name a few.
TBB: Any final thoughts?
LS: I would love to see the young musicians study literature and poetry to help them learn how to write inspired lyrics. I would love to see them learn how to write melodies with one finger on the piano and THEN go after the chords, rather than press melodies into chord patterns. I would love to see the young artists go forth… into the coffee houses and bookstores and clubs and get into the action. Sure they are going to get hurt and disappointed and have some rejection and some fans and some bad experiences and some good ones. Join the club! We are not here to huddle together and wait for someone to come and save us. We are here to get in the game, the real game, not make our own game that just imitates the real game. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it! The people who told us that Adam gave Satan the world are dead wrong. We are supposed to go and take back what is God’s… and it’s all His: the fashion world, the dance world, the music world, the financial world, the world of creative writing, politics, energy, you name it. How did we become such cowards? We should be afraid of nothing! With what we have in us we can do anything at all! Well, I have tired of my own voice.
… All I have to say is: Preach it, Lenny Smith! Thank you for the awesome interview. I love hearing people with some fire in their bones, and I couldn’t agree more with what he said. Enough playing for Christian audiences who already know God – we’ve gotta get out there and bring light to the darkness!