Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Genesis 3:23

In recent years, a band that I've become attached to is one of a peculiar sort. The name itself is a bit odd and the songs are equally a bit (or a lot) off center. The band is The Mountain Goats, primarily made up of principle singer/songwriter John Darnielle. I too am a bit of an "odd duck" so perhaps my being drawn to the Goats is because these are the songs I would write if only I could write. I'm also drawn because they are songs that often deal with things of life - even eternal life.

As I was reading through the opening chapters of Genesis this morning, a recent album by the Mountain Goats came to mind called "The Life and the World to Come." On this release, each song is titled by a biblical verse. For example, here are some of the well recognized verses and song titles; Romans 10:9, Hebrews 11:40, Psalm 40:2, to name a few. One in particular caught my attention as I read Genesis 3 this morning - Genesis 3:23. Here are some of the lyrics:

House up in Claremont, where I used to live
Picked the lock on the front door, and I felt it give

Touch nothing, move nothing, stand still
Keep my ears open for cars
See how the people here live now
Hope they're better at it than I was

I used to live here...

Now, Genesis 3:23:

"So the Lord god banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which had been taken. "

It's true. We used to live here; in the Garden where the green grass grew and the gardens were in full-bloom. Sadly, however, as this song reflects in a modern sort of way, this is no longer the case. We've been banished on this side of Heaven. We can't return. In fact, we don't even know where the Garden is. And yet, as Christ followers, we know that there is another side. We believe that there is a Life and a World to Come that will allow us to return once again. And in a world with some much trouble and turmoil, we long for that day.

As a side-note, Darnielle is not a Christian. In fact, he's a declared Agnostic whose unsure of what lies ahead. But isn't it interesting that he writes so much about the here and now but also the hereafter. Isn't it interesting that he actually reads the Bible?

The Mountain Goats will be performing as the opening act for Bright Eyes this Summer at Meijer Gardens on August 3. It may be worth checking out!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More Christmas Songs

Okay, let me admit. When you think of Christmas, the name "Bob Dylan" doesn't usually come to mind. He grew up Jewish, had a series of records in the late seventies/early eighties that may have been so-called "Christian," but still, "Bob Dylan" and "Christmas" don't seem to go together. Music of this sorts is to be sung by those with the voice of a soprano from the likes of Mariah Carey and others more vocally talented. But Bob Dylan? Most would say "no way."

Well, I'm here to tell you that "yes!" Bob Dylan can sing Christmas music and he does on his 2009 release "Christmas in the Heart." Here, you'll hear the classic fare like "Here Comes Santa Clause,"and "Winter Wonderland." But you'll also hear the more worshipful stuff too: "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "O, Come All Ye Faithful," O Little town of Bethlehem,"- to name a few. And he does it with an assortment of backing vocals from the "sopranos" that can hit the notes that Dylan can't, making for a fun and pleasant listen.

All in all, fifteen songs makeup the entirety of Christmas in the Heart. And after listening for the last two years, it's grown on me as one of my favorites. Maybe it's the scratchy voice trying to sing those songs that have been sung so-well for so-long. Maybe it's the sheer beauty of hearing a sound you won't hear on commercial radio. Whatever it is, it offers a measure of enjoyment that you may not find anywhere else. Check it out! And by the way, royalties from the album (100 %) go to help a variety of hunger organizations, one of which is Feeding America - a ministry that our church works with on a regular basis.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Songs For Christmas

As you may have noticed, the season of Christmas music is upon us. And as always, many noteworthy artists have released something NEW to get us through the holidays. Still, for better or worse, it's the classics that we seem to hear the most - year after year. While these so-called "classics" prevail on most radio, there's some great releases out there that typically fly below the radar. Check back often as I'll be revealing some of my favorites in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas. One of my personal favorites is found below.

Sufjan Stevens - Songs For Christmas

Comprised of 42 songs and 5 discs, Stevens has created what I would call a "modern-day classic." At various points, it's fun, witty, contemplative and worshipful. While released in 2006 as a complete package, Stevens originally released these over several years as gifts to his family and friends over the holidays. Now, they're a gift to you and I and are well-worth a listen. Featuring original and some classics too, Stevens has put together a quirky, eclectic and yet, an often beautiful release.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A review that I wrote for the Dublin, Ireland duo known as the Guggenheim Grotto can be found below.

The Guggenheim Grotto ~ The Universe is Laughing

The Dublin, Ireland duo of Kevin May and Mick Lynch are back with their third full-length release titled The Universe is Laughing. As usual, the “dark folk” that characterized their first two releases is no less visible here. The sinister opener, “Trust Me I’m a Thief” testifies to this as the duo harmonizes: “cross your heart and hope to die / stick a needle in your eye / careful what you wish for / Oh, the devil’s in the detail.” On the other end of the spectrum is the joy filled ballad “Wings and Feathers” - a song that mixes piano with an electronic sound that works quite well. Another song worth mentioning is the heartfelt “Concentrate.” Here, two part harmonies abound as duo longingly sings about the desire to see someone no longer there.
While lyrically incomprehensible, the title track “The Universe is Laughing,” is well worth several listens as well. Adding to this sound is the folk pop found layered throughout Happy the Man - their sophomore release. Here too, it’s found weaving its way throughout the recording. Characterizing this is arguably the best song, the single “Wisdom” - an upbeat pop didy that mixes the viola, a fine combination of percussion and the mystical words of principle lyricist May.

In the end, there are no duds here. From start to finish, May and Lynch have crafted a true work of art that manages to span a wide spectrum of sound. While the universe may be laughing, they’ll be no one laughing at this effort. Great stuff!
~Reviewed by Jeff Bouma

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kevin Max - Great New Music

In recent days, I've been digging some really good music. Most notably, from the recent release from Kevin Max of DC Talk fame. He has a new release out NOW titled Cotes d'Armor and it's really good! You can read my review written for local radio station WYCE below. As a side note - he's recently moved back to the GR area and will be investing some of his time and energy into the downtown area music scene. Looking forward to seeing him in November at Schuller's.

KEVIN MAX - Cotes d’ Armor (True Rebels)

While the distinctive voice of the Grand Rapids raised Kevin Max is immediately recognizable - the overall sound found throughout his latest remix release plays like something new for the former member of DC Talk. Self-described by Max as ‘poptronica,’ it’s fairly evident from the start that the singer/songwriter is heavily influenced by the blips, bleeps and bounce that link both electronic and pop music to the point where every song here has some tinge of it.

On the opener and first single “On Yer Bike,” the fast paced pop is laced throughout. Other tracks worth some attention include the lush and heartfelt “Your Beautiful Mind;” the mysterious “Traveler;” the building crescendo of drums and percussion found in “Future love Song;” the overall contribution of Adrian Belew on “Even When It Hurts”- to name only a few of the standouts. Also of note are the two instrumental tracks: the Dracula inspired “Train to Transylvania” and Hot Chip like “Death of CCM.”

In the end, the release from Kevin Max, who has recently relocated to the Grand Rapids area with his wife and family, borders on ‘excellent’ with only a few minor setbacks throughout. While Max may not be as famous as he once was during his days as a strictly Christian artist, his music is arguably now more accessible, more mature, and more poetic than ever before.
~ Reviewed by Jeff Bouma
KEVIN MAX - Cotes d’ Arm

You can also see Kevin Max's latest video for the first single from the album - On Yer Bike! A little weird but oh, well.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Music I'm Digging Now

I thought I'd update you on some great music worth checking out. The first happens to be what's playing this morning at Tower Coffee. It's Arcade Fire's latest titled "Suburbs." Having listened to this a few times through already, I think it's their best yet! Another one that I'm currently digging but haven't listened to as thoroughly is Sufjan Steven's latest release - the EP titled "All Delighted People." So far, so good and well worth checking out. Even more, his new full-length release drops in October and is said to incorporate my favorite instrument of all - the synthesizer - to a large degree. Can't wait! Lastly, have to mention this one. A band I only recently discovered a couple of years ago is the Minneapolis based Cloud Cult. Their songs deal with hearty issues such as end-times, good and evil, etc...Their last release "Tea Partying Through Tornadoes" was my favorite of 2008. Now, this September, their new release "Lightchasers" hits the shelves. I've played a couple of different songs released early to WYCE on my weekly show and their top-notch. Looking forward to listening to the whole thing.

Until next time...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Paul Thorn

On Wednesday, had the wonderful opportunity to interview Mississippian Paul Thorn. He has an incredible story to say the least. He's a PK (preacher's kid), and most notably, a former professional boxer. He even went six rounds in a nationally televised match against Roberto Duran back in 1988. After his boxing career was over, he went back to what he'd been doing since he was a kid - playing music. After playing local gigs, he was discovered by Miles Copeland (brother of Stewart Copeland of The Police) and soon after signed a record deal. He's opened for notable acts such as Mark Knopfler and Sting. He was just in town supporting his 9th full-length release and his most successful yet - "Pimps and Preachers."

As he shared, the album represents the two different people in his life. The "pimp" is is uncle that showed up at his doorstep when he was just twelve-years of age. His long lost uncle that many in his family thought was dead. And yes, he was a "pimp." His father, on the other hand, was a "preacher." The point in sharing these two polar opposites, the evil and the good, is that each of them became equally influential in Paul Thorn's life. His father taught him incredibly valuable things but his uncle also taught him some things about this "evil world" that his father could never have.

Anyway, thought I'd just share my admiration for not only another musician, but an artist that is also telling an incredible story through his writing. Each of his songs tells a story - my favorite, (and his dad's too) is "I Don't Like Half the Folks I Love." Here's a video link to Mr. Thorn that you might be interested in.