Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Judd & Maggie: Not Quite

I keep playing this song over and over.

Oh no, not again.
Start to feel abandoned
and my good intentions
are paving the long way
that gets longer every day.

Not enough, I'm never enough
when all the love you give me is a bluff
and I spend time on the meaningless stuff.
It's not enough.

Oh no, not again.
Trippin' me on my journey
and my hands stutter to explain
the same problem all over again.

I'm not enough, I'm never enough
when all the love you give me is a bluff
and I spend time on the meaningless stuff.
It's not enough.

Oh, it's not enough.

It's you only, or I'm lonely.
It's you only, or I'm lonely.

And I spend time on the meaningless stuff,
it's not enough.

It's not enough, never enough,
when all the love you give me is a bluff
and I spend time on the meaningless stuff.
It's not enough.

Oh, it's not enough.
(It's you only, or I'm lonely)
It's you only, or I'm lonely.
It's you only, or I'm lonely.

good sounds

At my Starbucks every once in a while I hear a song that rings familiar and it's never on a playlist that I can pull up on the system- annoying! But recently I have heard Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) floating over to the bar and I asked my friend Holly (a gifted musician and songwriter in her own right) if she was familiar with their music. She wasn't so I made her a mix CD of some of my faves with a few bonus tracks thrown on. The playlist was:

1. This Side: Nickel Creek
2. Let it Fall: Sean Watkins
3. Doubting Thomas: Nickel Creek
4. When You Come Back Down: Nickel Creek
5. Reasons Why: Nickel Creek
6. The Lighthouse Tale: Nickel Creek
7. Run Away Girl: Sean Watkins
8. Spit on a Stranger: Nickel Creek
9. No Lighted Windows: Sean Watkins
10. When in Rome: Nickel Creek
11. House of Tom Bombadil: Nickel Creek
12. The Fox: Nickel Creek
13. Art of Virtue: Adrienne Young and Little Sadie
14. The Things We Can and Cannot Keep: Alli Rogers
15. I Boast No More: Sandra McCracken
16. Wedding Dress: Derek Webb
17. Pieces: Enter the Worship Circle
18. Kingdom of Noise: Judd & Maggie
19. And: Waterdeep

so proud of my sissy...

I like to share the things I love. Part of it is just enjoying being right but also when you love something you share it, right? In addition to brainwashing my sister into appreciating the music I love she has written about the two concerts she just went to (the "same" show twice that is) and it's scarily like something I would write.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Alli Rogers

My sister went to see the aforementioned trio Friday night and wrote about it on her blog. In typical "us" fashion she decided to drive to West Virginia this evening to do it all over again...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

David Crowder @ GMA Awards

I just love the Crowder band. I can't help it. They are awesome and hilarious.

*Hogan rocking the violin, just makes me unreasonably happy.
*Jack's hair is almost as crazy as Crowder's beard. (which apparently it was suggested that he band it whilst filming new song cafes, a la Charlie Hall- he declined)

Full Dove Awards Listings

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"real" reviews

I don't know how people work with a deadline. I mean, I *do* I have worked with deadlines before and created art under them but for some reason music seems different. For example, when I first downloaded Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken's Ampersand EP on Valentine's Day I had this great idea about a review; except it was really complicated and involved a compare/contrast with the Indigo Girls' "All That We Let In" as well as reflections on seeing a couple renewing their wedding vows at daily mass. So it never happened. Then I got a mysterious CD in the mail the other day and when I opened it I was surprised to see the actual hardcopy of the EP, although I guess somewhere in my head I knew it was coming. But the review still hasn't happened, though if anyone (MORGAN) would like to anticipate what the connection between the aforementioned songs would have been, please feel free to share.

Also, I have been meaning to listen/think about/review several new albums: the mix CD Trey made me, the new stuff I've downloaded. But instead I've felt a driving necessity to listen to weird things like Rich Mullins-> Andrew Peterson or wake up and listen to Kelly Clarkson-> Saving Jane. Yeah.

So how to "real" reviewers do it? Phew.

Rita Springer: I Have to Believe

So the cool thing about emusic.com is that for a monthly rate you get a whole slew of songs and, unlike a napster type service, it's DRM free. Sweet. I read the stats on the website and they say something like (because the lowest membership level is $10/30 songs a month) their users typically download 30 songs a month compared to an itunes user downloading 2 or 3 songs a month. I don't even WANT to track my monthly itunes spending but I know that for $10 I only get ten songs, not thirty, so their claim that their users are more likely to branch out and experiment with more music seems pretty well founded.

Case in point, I downloaded Rita Springer's new album, "I Have to Believe." I bought it based off of a few reviews I read that were positive and the fact that she sings "Freedom Reigns," a song I LOVE, and her song "Like You Jesus" was one I also really connected with and put on my Lent07 playlist.

So I decided to listen to the whole thing and although I don't know that this album will become one I come back to in its entirety time after time there are definitely songs that I think will reach that status, most notably "Rise Up." Anyone familiar with Neil Anderson's books would probably have the same immediate reference point but her lyrics really bring to mind his powerful Biblical statements of "Who I am in Christ."

I am blessed among the people
I am blessed among the nations
I am blessed because I am loved by You

I am loved and highly favored
Saved by the grace of a mighty Savior
I am blessed because I am loved by You

No weapon formed against me will prosper
No curse can ever take His promise from me

When hope is gone and the darkness has fallen
I will still believe, I will still believe

I`m will rise up, I`m will rise up
I`m will rise up and call myself blessed
I`m will rise up, I`m will rise up
I`m will rise up and call myself blessed

I also really like the track "O God Of Mine." I think it's gutsy to open a song by saying, O God of mine, I'll have no idols. I appreciate that.

Overall it sounds slightly more like something my Aunt Melody would like (nothing wrong with that, we just don't listen to TONS of the same stuff) than I normally listen to but there is an intensity and authenticity laced throughout which makes the songs truly inhabitable.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

this just in

I am addicted to emusic.com.

more from the steaming bean

Friday I went to Parker again to see a band at the Steaming Bean. A couple that is part of the larger band, Second Chance, did an opening acoustic set and it was painful for me. They weren't really that bad they just sang songs like "Wind Beneath My Wings" as well as some cringe-inducing covers of both Matt Redman and George Strait?!

So I didn't have high hopes for the whole lot of them despite seeing a chipper youngish pregnant lady soundchecking with her electric violin (that was encouraging to me, thanks to Hogan.). They ended up being really good! No, I probably wouldn't go out of my way to see them again but their frontman could seriously belt it out and I appreciate a group whose members are all pushing past middle age. There were a lot of those members too- about eight if I remember correctly. Two electric guitars, bass, drums, keys, violin, and a guy with a sax and soprano sax. That would make seven. I was close. So they were surprisingly southern rock influenced, reminded me strongly of the Muzic Mafia crew.

All in all a nice low-key evening. :)

Ed Cash

My sister actually alerted me to this. I was excited for him. :)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

variations on a theme

I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me?

Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things.

- Rumi

I heard this line in the middle of mewithoutYou's song, "Four Word Letter, Pt 2," and immediately thought of David Crowder's "Everything Glorious."

My eyes are small but they have seen
the glory of enormous things
which leads me to believe
there's light enough to see that

you make everything glorious
you make everything glorious
you make everything glorious
what does that make me?
I have to admit that I'm dorky enough to really appreciate things like shared source texts. I feel the same way about little musical riffs that just-maybe pay homage to each other, allusions to other artists or people in songs, or songs that complement each other in terms of lyrical growth or theme. I think this is why I like making themed playlists- I really like to sythesize and connect the dots.

For example I love Psalm 24, here are some of my fave songs that reference it.

Jon Shirley: Who Can Ascend?
Chris Tomlin/Charlie Hall: Give Us Clean Hands
Rich Mullins: My One Thing
Matt Redman: Lead Us Up the Mountain, Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?

"new" music

There has been a recent influx.
  • My friend Trey made me a mix CD- review coming, it's NOT my usual fare!
  • Rediscovering mewithoutYou's new album (I love Brother, Sister so much it's hard to even branch out to their other stuff!)
  • I just joined emusic.com and have therefore downloaded Watermark's "A Grateful People," Enter the Worship Circle "Chair and Microphone," Rita Springer's "I Have to Believe," and some of Judd & Maggie's songs that I didn't have.
  • Joia and Brad gave me an iTunes giftcard for my birthday and I haven't gotten a single song yet! I am always perplexed despite usually having a mental list. I need to write it down because of course now I can't remember what albums I wanted to buy.
  • LOVING the Rich Mullins' records Mr. Clayton lent me.
  • Also I was behind on the podcasts I listen to.
What's a girl to do?!

Monday, April 14, 2008

You And The Evening Sky

So Alli's new album officially releases tomorrow and I hope that many people get to interact with her words, music, and emotion.

You and the Evening Sky opens with the kind of electone organ drama which is sure to ignite the excitement that any fan of Alli’s is sure to be feeling when they slip this CD into their car or computer. And the record lives up to its beginning.

The songwriting is a bit different than on her other albums which makes me curious about the ways she is evolving as a songwriter- are we seeing a truer voice, simply a movement away from conventionality, the influence of co-writers?

I think the reason I love Ms. Rogers’ songwriting is her strong use of imagery. In the interviews included on the bonus downloads from discrevolt.com Alli and Don discuss their differences as songwriters and Don mentions that Alli is a very visual songwriter. I would be interested to unpack that a little more (because Don Chaffer can conjure an image more realistically than any illusionist) because I think this album is even more poetic than her others. Poetic in the sense that images tell the stories and the songs are further stripped of narration than some of her previous. I think this works in varying degrees; it really works on “How Long Until We Get There” but (as I have already discussed ad nauseum) I think it detracts in “New Today.”

Not to say her songs are spastic leaps from vision to vision- some have explicit narrative progression (“Baby I Believe in You”) and my favorite marriage of ecstatic imagery and clear narrative has to be “Things We Can and Cannot Keep.”

I wanted to display some snippets of image but perusing the lyrics I’m delighted to say I don’t think it works to pull them out of context- this is so pleasing because it makes me feel like these songs are really tightly woven. In the interview with Don she talks a lot about the emotions poured into the songs and evoked in their completion and I think that gets more to the core of Alli’s songs- they resonate in ways that are abundant, the way the word “sun” barely captures the thing that warms and enlivens our planet, the way “wind” scarcely covers the phenomenon both of a warm and gentle caress of air and also the destructive power that can rip buildings apart and trees up by the roots.

I've been mulling over this record for a few weeks now and the more I listen to it the more I like it. It's artistic, thoughtful, and it's poetry continues to impress me more the more I get to engage it.

Carry A Light: Firstly, I want to know if the line about a ,i>gift on the riverbank is a reference to Moses or if I am (as usual) reading too much into it.

I love the images and ideas here, it's like skipping stones across water and ripples in the same way. I can't help but think of Galadriel's phial for Frodo, the dark places in all of our lives and how to bring the light there, I love the memory of this song. Also the hopefulness- that's what light is, right?!

Don't Wash Your Hands of Me: I like the narrative of this song; it's sort of ambiguous and I like that. Also! Includes a section of "lalalaladada"s that I like. The lyric that stands out is I don't need you to feel my pain/I just need you to know my name. I also appreciate the boldness of saying I am innocence and I am truth.

Closer to the Moon: Besides being on my own Buechner kick which makes me appreciate this song, I like the conversational tone. It's full of strong imagery and word choice, when the silence gets accusing, the word "accuse" just has such heft to it.

I like the stars as a sign, the way the music in the song changes- it actually reminds me of some of Don's songs, I love the way it sort of wanders. I love the building background vocals of a kind of chanting, I love the piano interlude, I like the lack of words following the questioning and gives the listener time to respond.

At Sea: As a FL girl living in two different COLD places these past few years I love the bend of the song- it reminds me of A Severe Mercy, there are some great adjectives and turns of phrase.

This was another song that was on the live album but immediately I noticed the SWEET addition of mandolin! I'm a total sucker. :)

Things We Can and Cannot Keep: WHAT WILL SHINE LIKE GOLD WHEN THE STORY'S TOLD- that is a great lyric and such a beautiful, important statement. We all are so starved for meaning- this is where I want Buechner's journey to have an influence. It's a great song of self-discovery. I like the homage to Tim O'Brien and the strangeness of what we end up keeping- what shines like gold retrospectively. To take the analogy further it tends to be the times where, as Christians, we might say we are bing "refined," always a surprise.

PLUS, the writing is so tight! The line breaks are so well engineered, I also like the musing spirit, in a way. WHY ARE THESE THINGS THE ONES WE KEEP? I like the combo of question and answer, authority and apprenticeship.

I Caught Sight: I love to come to songs like these!! It REALLY CAPTURES the joy of unexpected glimpses of divinity, childlike in a way; delighted. I like the bits of vocal padding- it really is working. The vocals have a splendid exuberance to them.

Baby I Believe in You: My only complaint about this song is that it is totally MARRED by the "boys" making fun of it on the bonus sections! :) I think I like the use of the word "sexy" in songs like this (see Derek Webb). I love the idea of being led into the sea, something is great in that.

More sweet mandolin. And Alli's brother (Michael?) does a great job on percussion. I also like the you're a good man. I want to pray that part alone over so many of my brothers- I deeply appreciate the underlying confidence in the song.

How Long Until We Get There: This song is downright seductive. In the best way possible; a great example of Alli's emotional vocal range. I love the simile, head bowed like a child reciting grace.

I'm not always like this/I can't always find something this good

As an artist, I LOVE that line, for some reason that lyric just condenses this whole song- it's so HEADY, the strings take it over the top.

Come Now, My Love: I'm really into the use of the first person in this song- something about the perspective is slightly different and challenging.

there's nothing to keep you from me

...it sort of changes the perspective as an invitation not an invasion. It's a genuine love (agape) song, I like that I feel it could be about marriage or Jesus could be sweetly singing this into each of our hearts.

Go listen.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

song for the day

I have been feeling recently the need to not be cool. Don't get me wrong, as this blog makes obvious, I am currently very uncool. But I still sometimes fight the desire to be cool. It's not a totally bad thing, we're made for community and I recognize the need to have commonalities and close relationships but I think there is a balance between that and the sometimes insidious lure of what C.S. Lewis describes as the "Inner Circle" (in his essay of the same name). I.E. to think oneself superior to others (for usually EXTREMELY superficial reasons) and create a sense of alienation and separation based on these things.

Anyway, to get away from this musically I've been adding in the really genuine (and, these days it seems, uncool) artists of the recent past to my repertoire, namely Keith Green and Rich Mullins. I've also been reading this book about Rich Mullins and, if it weren't on loan from my former roommate Liz's dad, it would be almost totally underlined. The funniest thing about it is how many songs of his I am familiar with but didn't realize he wrote, then I'm like, oh. I'm lame. This one, however, I hadn't heard before but am rapidly falling in love with.

Rich Mullins: My One Thing

Everybody I know says they need just one thing
And what they really mean is that they need just one thing more
And everybody seems to think they've got it coming
Well I know that I don't deserve You
Still I want to love and serve You more and more
You're my one thing

Save me from those things that might distract me
Please take them away and purify my heart
I don't want to lose the eternal for the things that are passing
'Cause what will I have when the world is gone
If it isn't for the love that goes on and on with

My one thing
You're my one thing
And the pure in heart shall see God
You're my one thing
You're my one thing
And the pure in heart shall see God

Who have I in Heaven but You Jesus?
And what better could I hope to find down here on earth?
I could cross the most distant reaches
Of this world, but I'd just be wasting my time
'Cause I'm certain already, I'm sure I'd find

You're my one thing (one thing)
You're my one thing (one thing)
And the pure in heart shall see God
You're my one thing (one thing)
You're my one thing (one thing)
And the pure in heart shall see God

Every night and every day
You hold on tight
Or you drift away
And you're left to live
With the choices you make
Oh Lord please give me the strength
To watch and work and love and sing and pray

'Cause who have I in Heaven but You Jesus?
And what better could I hope to find down here on earth?
Well I could cross the most distant reaches
Of this world, but I'd just be wasting my time
'Cause I'm certain already I'm sure I'd find

You're my one thing

Saturday, April 12, 2008

the local "scene"

Nick Carleton Band at the Steaming Bean

Last night I went to see the Nick Carleton Band at a Christian bookstore and coffee shop in Parker and it was a good night. I was introduced to their music by one of the girls I work with. She made me a mix CD that included their song, "Father of My Dreams." Which, despite some unimaginative lyrics, is really touching and honest. Anyway, I found out they are a local band and I had wanted to go see them and it worked out that I could go last night. I was really impressed. Nick has a really remarkable voice. They were just sound checking and he started singing "Here is Our King" and sounded excellent! I love David Crowder and the way he writes worship songs but, for better or worse, many people have a hard time sounding good when they sing his songs because his voice is so distinctive and unique. I don't believe that someone has to necessarily sound like the original writer or recording artist but Crowder's songs do present a unique set of problems. But I have never heard anyone sound as clear and on key! They were really personable, I liked their other original songs, and it was a really excellent low-key environment. My only gripe was that they took forever to transition between songs.

Vigil Praise

One of the great things we do here in the Archdiocese of Denver is have vigil praise once a month at the John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization. The seminarians do the music and, I suppose, plan the liturgy. Anyway, it consists of Eucharistic adoration, Night Prayer, confession, readings, exhortation, and music. Tonight a priest from the Community of the Beatitudes gave an AWESOME exhortation. The guys who do music do a really good job, too. When we chant it's so lovely to have hundreds of people participating, they play acoustic style: guitar, congas, and keyboard. I love the atmosphere at vigil praise because, as we prayed tonight from Psalm 24, I genuinely feel like it is a community of people who want to be purified and see the face of the Lord.

Recently we've been singing Chris Tomlin's "Wonderful Maker" and it's a song I really love to sing. I especially love the parallelism at the beginning and the little contradictory phrase "how majestic Your whisper." It's sort of a healing kind of song.

You spread out the skies over empty space
Said "let there be light"
Into a dark and formless world Your light
was born

You spread out Your arms over empty hearts
Said "let there be light"
Into a dark and hopeless world Your Son
was born

You made the world and saw that it was good
You sent Your only Son for You are good

What a wonderful Maker
What a wonderful Savior
How majestic Your whispers
And how humble Your love
With a strength like no other
And the heart of a Father
How majestic Your whispers
What a wonderful God

No eye has fully seen, how beautiful the cross
And we have only heard
The faintest whispers of how great You are

Friday, April 11, 2008

More Alli Rogers

Not so long ago I wrote about Alli Rogers' song "New Today." A few days ago she told the story on her own blog.

I love her explanation- I especially appreciate her sharing the image of a young woman in her apartment. As soon as I read that it was like there were bricks and curtains and sunlight and breeze and Easter lilies and church bells, etc. I don't know if that's what Alli's image was but my point is that I appreciated the image. :)

Alli said:

While writing this song I had a strong image in my head that informed the lyric. It is of a girl in her apartment which is across the street from a church. It is Easter Sunday and she has picked out a new dress and new shoes and is trying to feel the way you should feel on Easter. Reborn, forgiven, new. But she feels draped in shame, aware of every ounce of evil she has proved capable of. I know this girl, I’ve been this girl.

At the end I saw one of the tags for her post was "shame." Something about that to me was perhaps the most striking of all. If only, as Christians, we would talk more about shame- the cause, the effect, and more importantly the SOLUTION!! I am going to posit that the antidote to shame is mercy, mercy, mercy. So let us all sing for new mercies.


Another snippet:

The new version ended up housing my favorite musical moment on “You And The Evening Sky”. It is at the bridge when the vocal sings “new mercies, new mercies, new mercies, I see...”. Don discovered that part of the original melody from the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” fit perfectly underneath my melody during that part. So if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the violin playing the tune to “all I have needed thy hand has provided...” and I tear up every time I hear it.

I think I laughed out loud when I read this: Don Chaffer is such a freaking genius! I love him! I promptly listened to "Great is Thy Faithfulness" a bunch of times and then listened to Alli's bridge about 14.7 more times, it brought me great joy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

More Matt Maher (and then I PROMISE I'll stop!)

Matt is talking about his songs at Spirit & Song's "The Commons." (sort of like worshiptogether.com's "New Song Cafe")He has some really great things to say.

When I got my preordered CD it had an extra song booklet signed. I usually think autographs are stupid but I had to smile at the scribbled "Be God's." I only connected today that this was in homage to Rich Mullins and his model of humility and total devotion. Good job, Matt. :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Matt Maher, Identity Politics, and some final thoughts

Identity Politics

I was talking to one of my friends about this album yesterday and she brought up a contradiction of sorts. She was annoyed that in a review she had read of this album the reviewer had specifically noted that Matt was a worship leader at a Catholic Church. She felt like that might turn some non-Catholic Christians off by the possibility of their prejudices. At the same time she said she was disappointed that this album wasn't more "Catholic." I thought that was an interesting set of responses.

First, I am a proponent of Matt's affiliation with St. Tim's being known. I pointed out that, for most people, it's a major plus for a worship leader to actually have a home church where they are actually involved with leading an actual congregation in worship. So I think Matt's credibility is strengthened by that being known and celebrated.

Second, while there isn't a "Litany of the Saints" or a "Lamb of God" or "Adoration" on this album it seems laughable to me to question Matt's Catholicity. Apart from his extremely close relationship with organizations like LifeTeen, ADORE (and with that CRS), YouthArise, the Steubenville Youth Conferences, etc he is just totally Catholic! I don't know what else to say! It's so much a part of his identity and work, it seems like a step in the wrong direction to demand that his work have some sort of "Catholic" boundaries. I feel this way in general about all Christian artists: let's let them be ARTISTS instead of demanding some sort of saccharine, boxed-in, idea of what it means to express one's faith.

My point is that this brings up well the place Matt, his music, and his band find themselves in as minorities in the CCM scene. I rejoice, though, because it's so exciting to have the opportunity to build bridges in the way something as unthreatening as music allows us. I really celebrate the opportunities Matt has had to dialogue with people like Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, JD Walt, and other influential Christian artists. Jesus prayed that we would be one and I think we're all called to find our commonalities and celebrate our shared faith in Jesus Christ.

A Few More Things

Here is the first part of an unabashedly Catholic (and candid, I did NOT need to know anything about Kenny's bowels...) discussion of Matt's new record; he talks with LifeTeen's Greg Iwinski. The thing this interview reminded me of was that a LONG time ago Matt had mentioned this album would have some thinking centered on Augustine and his Confessions. The first time I heard the album streaming on his website I thought, "I didn't hear anything about Augustine. Am I missing something?" Then I promptly forgot all about it. I was looking forward to hearing that song. Someday I think we will.

When I opened my jewel case and saw the actual CD I think I actually said, "Oh. Cool." out loud. I really like the design!

This recording is downright awful but it's SO "Catholic" that I couldn't resist adding it- Welcome to Life's thunderous opening of TRANSUBSTANTIATION! complete with band in front of crucifix and Our Lady of Guadalupe print? I love it.

Empty & Beautiful

I have a love/hate relationship with St. Paul. Well, I guess it's something like I LOVE Paul and I hate that I am not more like him. Paul is probably the most fascinating Christian in all of history. That's a big statement but, lest we forget, this is the man who held cloaks while the first follower of The Way was stoned to death, purportedly dragged people out of their houses to denounce them as Christians, and then became the apostle most zealous that no law, minimum standard of behavior, or "sin-management" strategy could ever save us and, in one of the biggest turnarounds in all of history, rejected what he had been most passionate about in favor of TOTAL FAITH in the crucified and risen One who spoke to him, blinded him, and gave him sight again. For Paul there was no one and no goal but Jesus Christ. I love Paul.

So this song is quickly becoming my favorite on the album. There are so many brilliant things about it, some I already mentioned; Matt singing in a more intimate style, it's from the viewpoint of St. Paul, it is so relatable, it is so biblical. This is an example of Matt's poetic ability as an artist really shining through- to take one of Paul's epistles and inhabit it in a really emotional way, that is a gift.

Here Matt shares a snippet of his thoughts about this song.

Empty & Beautiful: Lay It Down

You know, I haven't really had enough time with most of the songs on this album to be able to trace how they will influence my prayer or serve as a vehicle for the Lord to speak to me. I was driving to adoration last night and since I finally had the actual CD I was listening to it in my car and I just appreciated carrying it with me into the chapel. Also as I drove to mass today I had the same experience and a sort of nostalgia too; when Matt's last album came out I was still living in Florida and I would drive the five minutes from my apartment to church every morning for mass and very often his words on that drive were the beginning of my day and my preparation for the holy sacrifice of the mass. In that early morning space when I was trying to prepare myself these songs would really shape the thoughts I brought to prayer.

What I was getting to is that this song has been nestled in my heart longer than the others on this album- I think I first heard those simple and poignant words everything I am/ everything I long to be/I lay it down at your feet on retreat and we sang it as an extra verse and layer with Charlie Hall's "Prepare the Way." (To this day I think that is the best place to layer these words, but I am biased.) Here is a live recording from that very retreat. The amazing voice you hear is my dear friend, Marci Ovadia.

Lindsay Myersprepare the way/lay it down

I understand that this probably needed a little more to be an actual full track on this album (although I would ask why we couldn't have "On the Third Day" and this as a hidden track or something) but I think these words are strong enough without the bridge. It's not that I dislike the bridge I just don't think it's necessary. I think the image of finding life in the gaze of Christ is rich, I'm not sure that it furthers the heart of this song which is simply to surrender.

This song is just so powerful and I think that power lies in it's ability to clearly convey and say aloud something so many of us have such a desire for and can't quite articulate before the Lord in a way that feels as monumental as the reality is. I think the fact that this song can really facilitate that repetition helps people overcome that cultural bias that because something doesn't feel true means it isn't real. I'm so glad to have this on an album so even more people can add it to their worship.

Empty & Beautiful: Unwavering

I remember reading Matt's notes on the evolution of this song when he first released it as a fundraiser for Katrina victims and I resonated with his discussion of the poor we saw literally struggling for life in New Orleans and the nudge of the Spirit (I think somewhere he said he was at a gas station in AZ) that these people too were the poor, in a different way.

And I love the way he takes the lyrics both ways in this song. I think my favorite lyric has to be alive in the promise/to be dead to the world. I like the unexpectedness of it, the PARADOX (my favorite thing after concrete imagery and possibly even more appropriate for anything dealing with the Christian life), and, let's admit it, "unwavering" is good word choice, it's straightforward and interesting at the same time.

I also appreciate the way this song evolves from the teaching of the beatitudes to the sending out. I read Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy recently and as he outlined his reading of the sermon on the mount I couldn't help but think back to this song. Willard's discussion of this teaching contradicts the common interpretation of these sayings as some kind of injunction to be poor, meek, in mourning, etc in order to be blessed and receive good things by God. He even rejects the idea that there is some kind of cause and effect at work within the dynamics of the beatitude. Rather, he reads these as completely counter cultural to the crowd Jesus was speaking to (not an uncommon observation) and completely turning their world upside down by announcing that EVEN the very least and most shattered, most rejected have a place in the fold of the kingdom, and not just standing room but a place of honor and abundance. All of this is based on faith and discipleship, just an extra thought.

Empty & Beautiful: Shine Like the Son

My missionary heart LOVES this song. :) Seriously, it fills me with joy. Perhaps because it brings to mind my friends involved in full time mission work, those I know working in the darkness of America's inner cities, people flung across the globe to joyfully proclaim good news to the poor, those working with young people to give them hope, and people whose hidden lives of prayer, sacrifice and SATISFACTION in Jesus Christ make their lives radiant.

here is my friend KT, a missionary in Venezuela. This song makes me think of her the most.

I love all of Isaiah but I really love Matt's decision to wed the scripture of beautiful hands and feet with the great commission- in my mind there is a flow of something like the beauty of the apostles feet even though they didn't even take sandals, the beauty of Mother Theresa's gnarled hands, the beauty of the light in someone's eyes when they really understand their freedom from captivity, the unglamorous and abundantly joyful lives of those who give everything they have to the Gospel.

Well, I could gush about all the lyrics. I like the celebration of the BEAUTY of being in love with... someone so much greater than themselves. I like the discussion of equipping in the second verse; we will never be ready to be missional on our own. This is on ongoing discussion in my life, definitely, a classroom, more scripture study, even more prayer cannot totally prepare you for hitting the pavement, the dirt road, the airport terminal and starting to genuinely share the truth of God's rescue with people. Only God can give us words and the Spirit to make those words fruitful.

Also, anything remotely quoting Isaiah 61 is automatically awesome in my book. I love not just the emphasis in the last verse on FREEDOM but on freedom coming through the WORD- which in my mind is not just the living and effective word of scripture but the living and effective WORD made flesh who dwells among us and in us.

Finally, this song is best listened to LOUD. :) And I love the little pause at the end and fill of...violin? It almost makes me giggle because I just think it's a bit of pure fun and I could even go on and say how that little musical arrangement within the greater context of the song could be seen as a clever mimic of the Christian walk. But I'll spare you.

Empty & Beautiful: Leave a Light On

I have to admit that this is actually my least favorite song on this album. I think it's a great idea and I like the tensions that Matt is trying to explore but... I don't know. Call me hypercritical but the opening line just feels...sort of lame. Maybe it's because it asks these questions without any context so immediately someone like me rolls their eyes and starts the sarcastic-hypothetical-answer reel. My other annoyance with the lyrics (I actually quite like the music) is the give me oil in my lamp bridge. I get what you're saying, Matt, and it's a good sentiment but I just know I will never be able to sing those words to this melody without being thrown out of prayerfulness and into the land of am I really singing this.... I even like the other lines in the bridge! Just something about that image is not creative enough. Plus I know the song grew out of this "Leave a Light On" line and idea but it just seems cheesy to me to apply a cliched American expression to this parable.

So now that I have expressed those dissatisfactions I will say that I LOVE the line we worship and we doubt. Now we're dealing with contradictions and paradox and I appreciate putting those two sentiments together- we CAN worship and doubt, and sometimes it happens at the same time. I also really like the proclamation of FINDING Christ in the breaking of the bread and behind the poor man's eyes.

I think this song would have benefitted from a stronger narrative, a few different word choices, and just further editing. On an album that I think is pretty tight, (not in the slang sense, but in the tetris sense) this song just sticks out to me as needing a little more refining.

Empty & Beautiful: Great Things

I like what Matt says in the video here about reclaiming this prayer as personal. On some retreat Br. Ted told us (or maybe he just told me, I can't remember) to rewrite the Magnificat in our own words with what the Lord has done for us. It was a really good task.

I'm also reminded of reading this post from the Whispers in the Loggia Blog and how moved I was that Kenya's new cardinal John Njue's first response to the news was to burst into song. And what did he sing? My soul praises the Lord because He has lifted His humble one. What a beautiful witness!

Anyway, this is a great song to sing corporately. Any song where you get to sing Holy is His name! and I can't boast of anything and it's Your name we're shouting out, shouting out loud is totally fine with me. In fact this is what I meant when I discussed earlier worship that was "God-centered," singing to God how great He is and how mighty He is? Awesome. To channel Louie for a second, God is into God, He wants us to know His power so we can rely on it!

Finally, I totally dig the chorus at the end where the guitars, etc cut out for that nice strictly percussive section.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Empty & Beautiful: Maranatha (Come Again)

I love it when Matt sings about the Kingdom.

Okay, I love it when anyone sings about the Kingdom, but STILL!

Once again, I like the overtones of justice.

Echoes of Psalm 24 and 1 Corinthians 13:12 and St. Theresa of Avila? Sweet. (Okay so that last bit I only caught because Matt mentioned it in his blog.)

There is this weird sound at the end of the chorus- I don't know what that sound is but I like it!

I feel like the themes that develop through this album are distilled well here.

It's a short song, so I'll keep it short. :)

Empty & Beautiful: I Rejoice

Well, folks, when I thought Matt's new release was setting me up for disappointment this song utterly won me back. I think it is one of the songs that really showcases Matt's artistic "voice" in that it is a song he owns. I mean this in the sense that if I heard someone else try this song I think it would be impoverished and I appreciate Matt's unique imprint.

I really like the insistent go-for-broke vocal quality (reminiscent of the "I will run to You" that I love in his cover of "Come to the Water"), the music is among the most interesting on this album, and the words are perfectly non-linear. I think his choice to alternate simple and effective words of praise with really strong images and theological truths is working extraordinarily well.

Empty & Beautiful: As It Is In Heaven

This is one of those songs I am really glad that Matt blogged about and gave some reasons for the editing he chose to do. I was prepared to declare this song as grounds for feeling that Ed Cash had failed me (he produced this song and helped in the reshaping), but in light of Matt's thought changing directions from a song about the in-breaking kingdom through the incarnation and more about the out-breaking kingdom through giving and receiving mercy, doing the will of God "on earth as it is in heaven"...it makes sense and it feels laden and abundant as only scripture-rich songs can.

(original Advent-themed lyrics)

The rocks are crying out
for your glory to come down
and the whole world waits for you.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen the light of your holiness
and the whole waits for you, for you.

I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song to the Lord.

Let your kingdom come!
Let your will be done!
On earth as it is in heaven!

Every heart proclaim the mercy of your name, on earth as it is in heaven!

The rocks are crying out for your glory to come down
and the whole world waits for you.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen the light of your holiness
and the whole waits for you, for you.

I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song to the Lord.

Let your kingdom come!
Let your will be done!
On earth as it is in heaven!

Every heart proclaim the mercy of your name, on earth as it is in heaven!

Let it be, let it be, be done unto me. Let it be, let it be, be done unto me.
Let it be, let it be, be done unto me. Let it be, let it be, be done unto me.

I really miss this last part, one of my favorite ways to pray this song was Mary's fiat here at the end. But the lovely piano melody stays. Bottom line: I am glad I have both of these songs.

Empty & Beautiful: For Your Glory

These kids love their baby sister...and Matt Maher :)

This song is on Matt's previous album so I don't feel the need to delve but I will add that I converted my friend Carolyn's entire family to Matt Maher (her husband, John, came into the building one day and was like, "Lindsay, I love Matt Maher but if I hear any more of him I'm going to flip out. The kids are even requesting him in the car.")

Carolyn and I would have "guitar lessons" in their basement, which was 1/4 guitar lesson and 3/4 much needed fellowship! I think she was teaching me (an extremely simplified version of) "For Your Glory" and she was sharing what the song meant to her and she mentioned that she had been frustrated with the kids, questioning how significant her role could be when she has three children under 5 (at the time, now it's four children under 7!). Anyway, in that place, this song really spoke to her about living her life, in whatever way possible, for the glory of God and just surrendering the rest.

Empty & Beautiful: Look Like a Fool

Look Like a Fool

Okay, I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that I love this song but I CAN'T HELP IT! I don't know why it sort of initially makes me cringe. Is it because there is something reminiscent of Matt West that rubs me the wrong way or is it because the opening verse is catchy but the lyrics are, like, what?! Apparently we have Bill Staines and his perky banjo to thank for this but I would be quite interested to know where that came from!

I really like the sentiment of the words (I can't sing so I like it when Matt says things like, "sing louder! God gave you that voice, so He deserves to hear it!" to people like me.) but am I the only one who thinks of this when I hear the words "bird on a wire"?

So despite that this song makes me really happy and, trust me, when I am in my car there will be car-dancing!

Plus after the cartoony lyric, I really like the words to this song. I like the emphasis on community (something I feel like Matt has always managed to describe well) and JUSTICE! Yes! I am so often turned off by singing "worship" songs that are all about our inner, individual relationship with Jesus with no context for finding Jesus in the least of these. Instead of praising the Lord joyfully I find myself stewing over scriptures like:

Amos 5

22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, [b]
I will have no regard for them.

23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.

24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Isaiah 10

1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,

2 to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.

3 What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?

Isaiah 5

8 Woe to you who add house to house
and join field to field
till no space is left
and you live alone in the land.

9 The LORD Almighty has declared in my hearing:
"Surely the great houses will become desolate,
the fine mansions left without occupants.

12 They have harps and lyres at their banquets,
tambourines and flutes and wine,
but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD,
no respect for the work of his hands.

15 So man will be brought low
and mankind humbled,
the eyes of the arrogant humbled.

16 But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice,
and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.

So I like the final verse which point us to what worship is really about- if we follow Matt's injunctions throughout the song (lay down our sin...remember the day our freedom began) we can't help but be moved in this direction.

I appreciate the upside-downness of this song; that's what the Kingdom is about! And, yes!, it's absurd!

Finally, despite the uncertain beginning the song ends up rocking and I can't wait to hear Matt and the guys rock it live. I especially love the drums towards the end. Plus it has that extremely reckless, joyfully vulnerable, lack of pretension a la Crowder's "Undignified."

One of my roommates once declared that even King David would be embarrassed to dance with me (thanks Ronnie.) but with this song we could definitely give it a shot!

look like a fool
matt maher

all God's creatures got a place in the choir
some sing low and some sing higher
some just hang out like a bird on a wire
waiting to fly home

all God's children are the apple of his eye
even the ones we can't stand sometimes
but because [...] just to go outside
and i need something to sing with this neighbor of mine

and that's why grace is so amazing!
that's why love is so absurd!
and that's why i sing for a God of changing
that's why i don't care if i look like a fool!

all God's people got a reason to live
joy for the hard days and true love to give
and we raise our hands and lay down our sin
and remember the day our freedom began

foolish grace is so amazing!
that's why love is so absurd!
that's why I sing for a God of changing!
that's why I don't care if I look like a fool!

feeding the hungry, clothing the naked
giving the homeless a place to rest
visiting the prisoner
lifting up the lowly
by our fruits may you shine on us!
shine on us! shine on us!
Lord, shine on us!


woo! it's Matt Maher CD release day!

A day long-awaited if you're as dorky as me! My mail here is dumb so I probably won't get my CD until this evening but I will celebrate by going to Starbucks and playing guitar.

My dad set up a lesson while I was in FL with the guy he takes from (and who my sister learned from before that!) and we learned the afore discussed "New Today." When I told him that there was another version after we listened to the stripped down "At Sea" to learn he wanted to hear it so I played it and was quite excited that someone else cared about the differences. Except he discussed the production values knowledgeably, declared it an entirely different song, and proceeded to transcribe it on a different piece of paper. Good stuff.

Marathon "Empty & Beautiful" breakdown to come!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Empty & Beautiful Part 2: a few thoughts (really)

Because New Music Tuesday is only an hour away I found new music reviews from Christianity Today on my google reader and when I saw Matt Maher I clicked on the headline so fast I frightened even myself.

I think Russ Breimeier's years of experience with music make him a pretty accurate ear, he was especially spot on in pointing out that "Empty & Beautiful" plays it a little too safe and doesn't adequately showcase what Matt Maher is really capable of.


As I was flying from Charlotte back to Denver today I embarked upon one of my favorite traveling past-times: listening to an artist's complete discography chronologically. As I watched stars come out, lightning exploding under the clouds beneath us, and more clouds stretch on and on I was really struck by how different Matt's earlier songs are from this album I hope to be in my car's CD player within the next 24 hours. That train of thought went as far as me seriously considering how I could get my hands on unreleased songs Matt has written!

My point is that along the way there has been a shift (perhaps totally natural) away from writing more first-person, searching, vulnerability-tinged songs and towards more congregation and CCM friendly pop praise. I have to admit that I am as psyched to sing "Look Like A Fool" and "Great Things" as anyone (and probably moreso, despite the unlikelihood of that actually happening) but I also miss the wandering songs filled with lovely concrete images and narrative like "Wonderful to Me," "Jesus, My Everything," and "Lead Me Home."

I don't know what to attribute this shift to: settling more into the role of "worship leader" as opposed to songwriter, interest in hows and whys of Christian songwriting, a desire to be more accessible?

Back to the album at hand: I am excited for the mail later today. When I first saw the album's track list I was slightly annoyed that four of the songs are already released (albeit some have been made over). I mean, c'mon, that' s a quarter of the record! As soon as I heard "I Rejoice" I was unabashedly won over again. It's so intense! This is what I miss in some of the other songs, though. "Lay It Down" is a song whose lyrics unfold in my prayer every time I approach the tabernacle to pray and yet this recording of a song Matt has sung live for years doesn't really build with the kind of strength I would like to see until the very end. That aside, I'm ecstatic it found its way onto an album. I can't wait for the ripples of this song to crest in many many people genuinely finding in it a vehicle to surrender. That's the power of music and the Holy Spirit.

I also have to highlight that I really love the title track. This song is just interesting. The lyrics are personal in the way I mentioned above, I love it when Matt sings with his head voice (see "By the Rivers of Babylon," the final stroke on Matt's last release and one of the gems of that album), there are VIOLINS, it's piano driven, and best of all it feels TRUE.

I really said this was just going to be a few thoughts. The more I listen to this album, though, the more Matt's music converts me all over again, in every sense.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Empty & Beautiful Part 1: YOUR GRACE IS ENOUGH

The bottom line: this song rocks and you can pray it too! Or, why you should spend 99 cents on a song you have three copies of already.

I wanted to really dissect this song and exuberantly exclaim why I love it so much but the reasons aren't very complicated- the words are great, it's fun to sing, it has strong imagery, it makes an excellent prayer. I guess a lot of it hinges on this last bit because it is a good mix of worship.

I'll poke my head in a conversation worship leaders have with themselves and the Lord about how to balance songs that are introspective in the sense that we like to "pray" very me-focused songs. ("I Could Sing of Your Love Forever"? Great song, but also very self-centered in a certain sense.) The psalms have this tension as well; how do we pray GOD centered prayers that plausibly come from a human heart? Matt's lyrics in this song really hit a nearly perfect balance on this problem because it biblically describes God's personality and activity and then turns it around with a plea and praise in response. Great is Your faithfulness Oh God, You wrestle with the sinner's restless heart...so remember your people, remember your children...your grace is enough, heaven reaching down to us...your grace is enough for me.

Not to add to what has to be the stupidest "controversy" ever but this song instead of being "better" or "worse" than Matt's original or Chris Tomlin's cover, genuinely feels like an organic evolution that weds the strengths of both versions. Chris' is slightly simpler and more singable (VERY TOMLIN), Matt's original was a little wordy for some people to catch on quickly and not quite as polished.

The Lyrical Breakdown
Matt's original had the opening of the verses going "Great is your [attribute of God] Oh God of Jacob." Tomlin removed this, the E&B version omits it in the first verse and restores it in the second- what a happy compromise! Tomlin also changed Maher's original "You wrestle with the sinner's restless heart" to simply say "You wrestle with the sinner's heart." Matt's newer version reinstates that line. My only beef there is that it makes more sense to restore the "God of Jacob" in the FIRST verse where it is weightier with the lyrics he originally wrote (it makes the clever "you wrestle with the sinner's restless heart" line have more of a biblical context and emphasizes the double entendre).

And finally what I've been waiting to say for this whole blog: I LOVE THE BRIDGE!!! This to me is what makes this particular recording unique. It shouldn't surprise you that I have been trying to find a version of this song that includes the bridge I have heard Matt and Chris sing live (actually Tomlin's live recording on Passion's "How Great is Our God" has the same words but I have heard them both use interchangeable phrases here, which is another great thing about the bridge- it's extremely flexible) and have not been able to. Therefore I exhort all of you to listen (and more importantly, SING) to this recording, the bridge really does its job on multiple levels. It's a nice break in the song musically, it nicely wraps the song emotionally, and even though the words are simple they are true. your grace is enough/heaven reaching down to us/we're covered in your love/your grace is enough for me

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

introducing Ed Cash

This quote should tell you enough about why I like Ed Cash:

Anytime you mix art and commerce, the potential for danger is just enormous…To me the great challenge is, in some sense, being a liason between the deepest art and trying to get records out there. Rather than talking about ‘hit songs’ or ‘radio songs,’ I love the word ‘connectivity.’ How does this song connect?’ There are a lot of ‘hit songs” out there that, to me, don’t connect – to the heart, anyway. I’m just more and more drawn to those tunes that not only have a catchiness and a hookiness, but a real vibrancy and a life behind them.

In case that doesn't convince you his behind-the-scenes credibility will. I wish I had a comprehensive list of his work (the man doesn't have a page on wikipedia, that is unfathomable to me, I may correct this supreme oversight when I have more time one day) but if most people knew the snippets of songs he's written and his sheer giftedness for collaging with music I hope he would be greater appreciated.

For example: did you know that Christ Tomlin thought he had finished "How Great is Our God?" when Ed suggested to insert the words and melody name above all names/worthy of all praise/my heart will sing how great... That's one of the best parts of that song!
I can't find any verification right now but from memory (of things like the passion podcast and worshiptogether.com's new song cafe) I know he has also written some of my favorite parts of songs by Monk & Neagle and Kristian Stanfill.

What I'm trying to say is, this man should need no introduction, he has produced, written, and inspired amazing songs.. I'm doing it anyway so that when I reference him later we will be on the same page. :)