Saturday, December 30, 2006

A New Recording

My kids and I sang in church three times over the Christmas Holiday and I recorded one of the songs with them yesterday. You can find the song, called "Here With Us" here as an itunes file. (If you don't have itunes you won't be able to listen - sorry.) Just right-click on the song to download it.

We were unable to get Bethany's viola playing on the track since she left before we recorded it so I replaced her solo with a guitar solo. Too bad. But Lynnae (vocals), Bryan (guitar and vocals), Meredith (lead vocals) and I (guitar, bass and vocals) are on the track so give it a listen.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Giles Martin talks about the Beatles 'Love'

Giles Martin, producer of the Beatles' Love album, talks in this YouTube video. It's about 7 minutes long and cuts off in the middle of an answer but it is still a fascinating interview.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

All your Christmas problems solved

Christmas time is here again which means that we’re treated to a whole bunch of music that we reserve for only this month. Or at least I reserve it for only this month. Much of the music is decidedly about, you know, Christmas – the birth of Christ, the miracle of the incarnation. That sort of stuff. Other music is about other things like snow and glitz and warm fuzzy feelings and other things that have little to do with a manger and a king.

But what about those of us who want to have it both ways? Isn’t there even one song that manages to live in both worlds? Can’t we have a song that does both? Yes! Yes we can! My good friend Pete let me in on a secret. It turns out that the little sung 3rd and 4th verses to the ever-popular “Here Comes Santa Claus” does exactly that! Here they are:

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,

Right down Santa Claus lane

He doesn't care if you're rich or poor

He loves you just the same

Santa Claus knows we're all God’s children

That makes everything right

So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer

'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight!

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,

Right down Santa Claus lane

He'll come around when the chimes ring out

That it's Christmas morn again

Peace on earth will come to all

It we just follow the light

So let’s give thanks to the lord above

That Santa Claus comes tonight!

So there you have it. No more worries about Christmas. No matter whether you’re serious or frivolous about Christmas this song has got you covered. This song is probably the only song you need for the entire month. What’s that? It doesn’t actually mention Jesus or his birth? That’s OK. It’s got God in it – that’s probably close enough.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

U2 by U2

U2 by U2 is a big book in almost every way. It’s a “coffee table book” in size, measuring more than 12 inches in height and it is thick with lots of words and lots of pictures. Not only that, but the story that it tells is big too. It is the story of four lads from Dublin who are short on technique and musicianship but who work and work and work at being good because they love the buzz they get when they’re on stage and everything is going well.

This book reminds me a lot of the Beatles Anthology in that the sizes are quite similar (if not identical) and the concept is exactly the same, the four voices of the band telling their story in chronological order. In U2’s case, the fifth voice of manager Paul McGinnis is appropriately added since he has been a vital member of the band almost from the start. Another difference is that the U2 book is, to me, a more compelling read. Perhaps I was just SO well-versed in the Beatles story that when their Anthology came out there was little that I didn’t know but I have found the U2 book hard to put down. (The Beatles Anthology was actually more than just a book – it was also a video series and a set of albums. The book was the last of the three to be released which may have also blunted its impact. It should be noted that I’ve watched the video series on television, on VHS and on DVD multiple times and listened to the CDs countless times so this is not meant to be critical the Beatles stuff even a little bit. It’s just an obvious point of comparison.)

I actually started reading U2 by U2 by dipping into it at random places and reading a page or two. I had some other things I needed to read and didn’t let myself really commit to reading it yet. But then I got hooked somewhere around the writing and recording of War and just kept going. When I finished I went back to the beginning to read what I missed. Then, when I got to the point that I had already read I just kept going again. Now I’m nearly finished for a second time. I haven’t done that with any book in recent memory.

Part of it is that I’m still reading it in five or ten minute snatches and that sort of reading fits this book well but I also am compelled by the way they tell their story, by the insights I’ve gotten into albums that are among my all-time favorites and also by the pictures which are sometimes really cool.

If you’re a U2 fan this book is an absolute must. It is one of my three must-read U2 books, the others being Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas and U2 at the end of the World by Bill Flanagan. (There are, of course, many books analyzing their music, especially from a Christian perspective which I think are valuable as well. My favorites are Walk On: The Spiritual Journey Of U2 by Steve Stockman and Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard.)

If you still have time to add something to your Christmas list U2 by U2 would be a great addition.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Farewell Tunas

On Thursday I will have my final performance as a regular member of the Lazy Blue Tunas. This will be our sixth annual Christmas show at the One Trick Pony in Grand Rapids.

After thinking and worrying about what to do about the Tunas for well over six months (more like 12 months) I finally came to the realization that my schedule was just too busy to allow me to keep up the pace that being in a band required. I have truly enjoyed playing in the Tunas and these guys are more than just bandmates, they are also among my best friends so leaving the band is something that I don’t do lightly. Plus, there is a real thrill in playing music that I love with guys I like for people who enjoy it. We had our last rehearsal together this weekend and it was filled with good music and laughter, like they almost always have been.

So our show on Thursday night will be bittersweet for me. I intend to relish it and enjoy it as much as possible. The Tunas hope to carry on without me but I’m not sure exactly how their plans are shaping up yet. I know that going to hear them play without me will be tough but I’m looking forward to hearing what they will come up with.

But this week, I am still a Tuna and I’m gearing up for a show that pulls out all the stops. Expect to hear some Tuna classics like “Change the World,” “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” and “You Better Think Twice” as well as some Motown favorites, the theme from Zorro and a healthy does of Christmas cheer including our second attempt at the Hallelujah Chorus. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. Especially me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ahmet Ertegun RIP

Ahmet Ertegun was the founder of Atlantic Records. If you've seen the movie Ray then you might remember the character of Ahmet (who Ray Charles called Omlet) in the movie as a man who owned a record company but, more importantly, cared about music. From everything I have read, this was exactly who he was. When I was in high school most of my favorite music was on Atlantic (or it's subsidiary, Atco); Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills and Nash, Led Zeppelin, Cream (I think), Iron Butterfly, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson... the list just keeps going. Ertegun died as the result of a fall in late October in which he hit his head. He slipped into a coma and never recovered. He was, appropriately enough, attending a Rolling Stones concert at the time.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Peter Boyle, RIP

Peter Boyle, who was fabulous as Frank Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond died today. He was one of the things that made that show so much fun. I will also never forget him for his role as the monster in Young Frankenstein. If you haven't seen that movie you should go get it this weekend - if only to see Boyle perform "Puttin' On the Ritz."

What I didn't know what that Boyle nearly became a priest and spent three years in a monastery. I didn't expect that.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Reset your rss feed

I recently switched to the beta version of blogger and discovered that none of my rss feeds pick up my blog anymore. That means that if you read my blog via bloglines or some other rss feeder you'll have to resubscribe. Of course, if you do that you might never see this note! (I also had to tell facebook how to import this new feed as a note, something I hadn't thought of previously.)

This isn't just true for my blog - as anyone switches over their feed will change as well. So check on all the blogs you read that way.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ollabelle - Riverside Battle Songs

This fall I went a little crazy with music samplers. Facebook’s Apple Students group offered free downloads of 25 songs per week for every week from mid-August through the end of September and Paste Magazine then sent me two sample issues of the magazine to try to lure me into subscribing. (Note to editors – it worked.) Each of their issues comes with a sampler CD. So, what I do it put the sampler on itunes which I nearly always play on party shuffle (or on my ipod which is in shuffle mode most of the time) and every once in a while one of these new songs would come up. If I hated it (or if I just wasn't a big fan) I deleted it from my computer. Sometimes I'd let it pop up a couple of times before I pulled the trigger but sometimes I didn't even get through the whole song. Note: I deleted all 50 songs from the two rap/hip-hop samplers from Facebook. Hey but at least I tried them!

So here I am at home listening to my music on my computer and suddenly this song comes on which made me stop what I was doing and listen. Then, I called Laura and made her listen. She liked it too. I think I even listened a third time. The song was a rollicking blues/roots piano song called "Fall Back" with great singing and harmonies. It was a lot of fun. It was hard to say who it reminded me of – maybe The Band with it’s laid back style but the harmonies were better. Turns out it was a band named Ollabelle. I did a little research, listened to a few seconds of their other tracks online and ordered their CD, Riverside Battle Songs, from Amazon.

The CD arrived a couple of weeks ago and it’s been living in my car and on my ipod ever since. It’s exquisite. The reason that the CD reminded me of The Band is that one of the two women is Amy Helm, daughter of The Band’s Levon Helm. But this music isn’t just derivative, although it harks back to an earlier time with covers of old gospel songs. It’s a wonderful mix of roots music and tight harmonies with great instrumental backing that continues to surprise me from track to track with piano or pedal steel or guitar. This is a great album – I love listening to it when I’m driving in the dark (which is most of the time lately with the days so short.) This one is worth sampling at itunes.

(In case anyone wonders, my sampler frenzy resulted in two purchases so far, the other being Say I Am You by the Weepies.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

'Snow Angles' by Over the Rhine

I haven't had much time to write lately but my youngest daughter, Lynnae, (who has this year finally realized that I listen to a lot of cool music) and I went to Monday's Over the Rhine concert at the Knickerbocker Theater in Holland and it was fabulous. This is the third time I've seen them and it may have been my favorite. Bethany got me hooked on Over the Rhine a few years ago (and it took a little while - what was I thinking?) and I've been a fan ever since. Their new album, Snow Angels is simply wonderful. I point you to Jeffrey Overstreet's review because he says much of what I'd want to say anyway. The album is great and deserves repeated listens - which is what I've been doing this week - oh yeah - I've been teaching and grading papers and other things like that too.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A writing mistake in 'U2 by U2'

OK, I know that with all the words and pages in U2 by U2 (which I am really enjoying) a mistake was bound to crop up. Here's one I found today.

On page 181 Bono is talking about how important his friend Gavin was to the album The Joshua Tree. Here's what he said: "Gavin's involvement in The Joshua Tree can't be underestimated."

So, Bono, no matter how little I think Gavin's involvement was, it was actually even less than that. I think it's pretty same to assume that he meant overestimated.

I hope that when my book comes out late next year people aren't going to post all my mistakes on the internet!

Actually, I started reading this book in the middle, finished it, started from the beginning and now I'm well past the point where I started. it's a fun read.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

YouTube - Colbert Report - Easter / U2 sings in the skies

YouTube - Colbert Report Easter

Beth brought this to my attention. The secular left is at it again.

And, while you're over at YouTube, watch U2 sing "Window in the Skies" on Japanese TV from a rooftop.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

George Harrison

Five years ago yesterday George Harrison passed away. (In a little more than a week we’ll mark the 26th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.) It is hard to overestimate the impact the Beatles had (and still have) on me as a musician and as a person. The recent release of Love (see my review) has allowed me to listen to their music with new ears and has reminded me that their music not only had an important place in their space and time but was really outstanding music. While they all did some fine work in their solo careers, it is clear that together they really had something special that was not ever really recreated apart. Even the Beatles’ worst album (Beatles for Sale) still stands up over 40 years later as a great album with songs that are instantly recognizable to many of us, songs like “Every Little Thing” and “Eight Days a Week.”

I was struck, in listening to Love, that George is well represented on this disc – “Within You Without You”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something” all made the cut. George’s playing in the Beatles was almost always exactly what the track needed from the quirkiness of the solo in “All You Need Is Love” to the dead-on rock of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” He also brought an Indian influence to the Beatles music that added an important set of colors to their aural palette. He was an important part of the mix and I think was sometimes overshadowed by the giant talents of John and Paul. But George held his own and, especially from Revolver on, added great songs to the catalog.

George’s solo albums also have many high points. I remember getting All Things Must Pass for Christmas 1970 as a sophomore in high school. (It was released 30 years ago today in the UK.) What a treat – three albums in one box. The poster that came with it stayed on my wall for years. Since then I have come to appreciate it all the more since the new better-sounding CD is available. I also remember how cool it was when, after a set of albums that were, let's face it, not outstanding (although I apparently enjoy Gone Troppo more than most people do) and after a few years off George released Cloud 9. It’s always great when one of your heroes shows that he’s still got it. So, George, thanks for the music. I have a richer life because of your work.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

“Window in the Skies” – U2

Ordinarily I’d be cynical about a new best-of album by a band who recently put out two other best-of albums and then included 2 new songs to sucker the real fans into buying yet another copy of the same songs. But the new U2 18 Singles got me anyway. Not only did I find the two new songs irresistible but you could buy the “deluxe” edition which came with a 10-song live DVD from U2’s Milan show in the second leg of the Vertigo tour. So the DVD put it over the top and I laid out the bucks to get it.

I’ve only watched the DVD once so far and I’m not ready to commit to any review of it (except to say that it was fun to see a video of the show in a huge outdoor arena) but I have listened to the new song “Window in the Skies” multiple times and, I must say, I’m a huge fan. I wasn’t a fan when I heard the internet version that was recorded off the radio but hearing the actual version on the CD did the trick for me. Plus, it’s the first new music from U2 in two years.

The song exudes joy. The 6/8 tempo sets you up for something a little out of the ordinary and the melody in the verse isn’t really very extraordinary but that chorus – when Bono sings “Oh can’t you see what Love has done” I get excited and find myself singing along (even though it’s really high.)

Even better, though, the lyrics are among Bono’s most joyful referring to Easter:

The rule has been disproved
The stone has been moved
The grave is now a groove
All debts are removed

Oh can't you see what love has done
Oh can't you see what love has done
Oh can't you see what love has done
What it's done to me?

So the combination of a killer chorus with lyrics that make my heart sing puts this song very high on my playlist right now.

By the way, I'm really enjoying the book U2 by U2 also. Very cool indeed.

Monday, November 27, 2006


My friend and colleague Stan Haan told me this joke:

What did one snowman say to the other snowman?

Do you smell carrots?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

An Advent Poem I Like

Two years ago Bethany wrote this poem and posted it on her blog. I like it.

Since advent is just around the corner I thought I'd post it so people read it again.

Gardening in Advent
by Bethany Keeley
(thanks Cindy)

You can’t dig up dahlia bulbs until after the frost
so now I dig as cold air stings my eyes to tears
gloved hands parsing out flower bulbs from hard soil
as I hum a hymn for this first Sunday of advent
O Come O Come Immanuel
and remember my grandmother who gave me these flowers.
They bloomed beautifully until only a few weeks ago
I had to wait until the first frost –
for the time to come for me to dig them out.
And ransom captive Israel
and I think of my friend,
blooming beautifully only a few weeks ago
and now she, too, is in the cold ground
waiting, waiting.
that mourns in lowly exile here
my hands brush dirt from bulbs.
I’ll have to hang Christmas lights soon,
I had been waiting
for this season of waiting to begin.
until the son of God appear
just waiting, with these flowers,
with my grandmother, with so many
Rejoice, rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee O Israel
waiting for the first frost.

Friday, November 24, 2006

‘The Space Within Us’ – Paul McCartney’s DVD

Another McCartney DVD. He doesn’t really expect us fans to buy another DVD of the same songs over again, does he? Well, it turns out that I did buy it because … well … I really have no good reason other than this weird need to be a completist. So I bought the DVD (along with the bonus interview CD from Best Buy) and popped it in my DVD player to watch in installments over the last week.

You know what? I really liked it. As I have said before, a new McCartney live DVD better either have new songs or some other reason to exist. This one is your standard tour video using the same backing band as his last two videos so there is seemingly nothing new here – except the songs. Nearly two-thirds of the songs on this DVD has not been released on a live concert video before. (I could be wrong about that number - I haven't actually counted and checked the other DVDs but it's a lot anyway.) That’s a remarkable feat considering that over the last six years or so Macca has released Back in the US and Live in Red Square. In fact, McCartney has released a video of every tour since he came back to touring in '89. But McCartney’s back catalog is so good that he can keep dipping back and finding cool old things to perform that he hasn’t done in concert in decades, if ever. So songs like “Please Please Me,” “Too Many People,” “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and others get a workout by this crack band and they do a great job. There are also a few, but only a few, of the songs from McCartney’s latest studio album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. I’d love to see Paul bring back more stuff from the Wings era with this band but if I was seeing him in concert (which I did twice - in '89 and '91 Ithink) I’d want to see cool Beatles stuff and that’s what the crowd gets. The set list is great and the band nails the songs.

Since this is a McCartney concert video this means that there are lots of shots of fans absolutely loving the show, there are people who say how much Paul has meant to the world and tour personnel saying what a nice guy Paul is – a lot of self-congratulatory stuff. Frankly, this gets pretty old because he’s only a rock singer, you know? But, that aside, the DVD is a lot of fun. It is well filmed and the songs rock.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Blog I read

In the spirit of DeLurking Week, here are some blogs that I check regularly. In many of these cases I know the people who blog and have commented but there are a few which I don’t know and have no idea that I check their blogs faithfully. I'm glad and thankful that I get to read what these people write. Thanks to bloglines I always know when new posts arrive.

My daughter Bethany has a great blog. It is thoughtful and fun. She is also the primary blogger on the blog of "unnecessary" quotation marks on which I am an occasional contributer. I wish she would post more often but she’s in grad school so I understand. Other family members (especially Meredith) have blogs too but they post a lot less often and Meredith mostly uses hers for pictures. Bethany’s friend Jim has a blog which has no RSS feed which makes me actually go look at it instead of using bloglines.

Other people I really know:

  • My good friends Ron and Deb have a great blog – lots of fun, smart, witty and cool.
  • Bethany’s friend and now also my friend Kent has a fun blog when he posts which, due to being in seminary, is also less frequent than I’d like.
  • Mary’s blog is called Preaching to the Choir and I always find her posts interesting and enjoyable.
  • Nathan has a number of blogs going since he’s the official blogger for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship but I find his personal blog more fun.

People I only know from the internet but who now also know me:

  • Beth from U2 Sermons has been a great person to learn from and to discuss ideas related to faith and U2. Her blogs are always informative and interesting.
  • And speaking of U2, Cara at Scatter O’ Light has good U2 thoughts as well. I’ve gotten to know her a bit off-blog and that’s been great.
  • My web-friend Father Ron Hatton, who I have also talked to on the phone a few times doesn’t post often but I’ve truly enjoyed his friendship.

Blogs from people who don’t know me at all:

  • Crummy Church Signs is just what it says and it loads of fun.
  • Kinda Kitchy which points out crummy Christian merchandise.
  • Finally film and music critic Jeffrey Overstreet has his Looking Closer blog which I also read daily and enjoy a lot.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Loving the Beatles

Love, the new album of Beatles music has arrived and I’m loving it. This album is a mash-up of songs and sounds from the Beatles recording sessions artfully pieced together by 81-year-old Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles. To give you an idea of what it sounds like imagine the vocal from “Within You Without You” superimposed over the drum and drone of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Ringo sings “Octopus’ Garden” over the strings from “Good Night.” That’s the sort of thing that happens throughout the 78 minute soundscape that is Love. As if this weren’t enough fun, the songs, many of which are presented in almost complete form, are remixed to point where they sparkle and shine. I’ve never heard these songs sound so alive as they do on this recording. Even songs like “Yesterday” which, let’s face it, have been played a LOT, sound new and fresh. The string part has a clarity that I never heard before. Plus, since there is no expectation that these mixes sound like the original you get to hear parts that may have been buried before. For a Beatles nut like me this album is hours of fun.

The Martins have done a wonderful job and have placed this music together in a way that has added a new dimension to an already wonderful catalog. Those who say “you can’t do that” can always go back and listen to the original albums. This isn’t meant to take their place, it’s just another way to enjoy the music that stands at the foundation of modern rock and pop music. If you’re a fan of the Beatles you’ll find plenty here to like with lots of surprises – times where you’ll say “I recognize that – what song is it part of.” Love is hardly all you need – you also need all the original albums – but it’s a great way to find new things to like in these wonderful songs.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

My Top albums of 2006 - a bit early

Just about a year ago I wrote this post in which I considered what I had listened to the most over the past year. Since that was about a year ago I thought I'd give it a try for 2006 even though it's a little early. Again, I'm not calling these the best albums of the year, just the ones that actually spent the most time spinning in my player.

This is proving to be a lot tougher than I thought since my listening this year has been all over the map. Few albums have spent extended time in my player and those that have came out in 2005, U2's How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb and McCartney's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.

Plus it seems that I actually bought a lot fewer albums this year. But, be that as it may, here are the ones that have jumped out at me a little.
  • Hem's album Funnel Cloud has to be near the top of my list. I reviewed it here. It's beautiful and soothing - something I've needed with my schedule. And, truth be told, even though their previous album, Eveningland, is not a 2006 release I only discovered them this year thanks to Bethany and I took it with me on my ipod to India where I listened to it a few times.
  • Say I Am You by the Weepies has been a lot of fun but it just sounds like a lightweight album and I can't really put it on the top of my list. But then again, it continues to stay in the car and get listened to.
  • McCartney's latest classical album, Ecce Cor Meum, has had remarkable staying power in my car, usually a lousy place to listen to music with a wide dynamic range. But it has been there ever since I bought it and I really like it. (see my review)
  • Sandra McCracken's two albums, The Builder and the Architect (see my review) and Gravity|Love (which I really liked in my review this year and still like) are wonderful. The first one also made to trip to India with me, and served as a wonderful reminder of what was still true even though I was on the other side of the world.
  • And speaking of India, Anoushka Shankar's Rise is a great mix of traditional Indian sitar music and western ideas which makes it remarkably listenable for a Midwestern American like me. Way cool.
  • Finally, though, the winner is probably - Jars of Clay's Good Monsters. It's a great album (here is what I wrote when it came out) and continues to surprise me. They rocked in concert this weekend at Calvin. It ranks with their very best stuff.
So, there it is. I haven't had the Who's Endless Wire or Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale's Road to Escondido long enough to figure out if they will spend a lot of time in my player yet although Endless Wire continues to grow on me. I just got the new Clapton so it's too early to tell anything on that one. Plus, the Beatles' Love comes out Tuesday so that will undoubtedly spend a lot of time there. So, between my ipod and my commute I've spent a lot of time listening. This is how some of that time has been spent.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Dark Angel Season Two

I waited and waited to find a cheap copy of Dark Angel Season Two and I finally found one at the end of the summer. Yes, that is quite a while ago but I only finished watching all 21 episodes earlier this week. I like to savor my DVDs and I also have a life beyond watching Dark Angel. OK, some of that involves watching other things too but, either way, it took me a while to finish the whole series.

I have written before about my enjoyment of Season One but I didn’t like it enough to spend nearly $40 on season two, especially since I heard that the first season was significantly better. Then, before she went back to college, Meredith started watching Season Two long before I got a chance to start (typical). She didn’t like it much. She was a big fan of the first season but found the substantial change in the series between one and two to be enough to turn her off.

So, when I started watching it I had no illusions of brilliance. I was pleasantly surprised and Meredith should have kept going – it got better.

The first season was all about Max (a genetically enhanced woman who was bred to be the perfect fighting machine) finding out about her past and staying away from the bad guys who made her in a covert government organization called Manticore. At the end of the season (and the beginning of season two) Max returns to Manticore, frees all the other transgenics (many of whom are freakish mixtures of human and animal DNA) and destroys Manticore. The freed transgenics, not all of whom are pleasant, are let loose on an unsuspecting world, which sets up the whole season.

The producers play a bit with the weird looking creatures that Max frees and it gets a bit silly at times but, as things settle down, the season continues on and gets progressively better. I found that, while at first I wasn’t terribly excited about getting to the next episode, by the time I reached the halfway point things were moving along very nicely and I had a great time, especially with the last two discs in the six-disc set. The producers expected there to be a season three when they filmed the last episode and they had set up a nice potential story arc for another season but the show was canceled just after filming stopped. The end of the season is therefore also the end of the series.

Once again, Jessica Alba, who plays Max, turns in a less-than-award-winning performance but, let’s face it, there’s a limit to how well she could do with some of the dialogue she was given. The futuristic slang and hip-hop soundtrack that bugged me a bit in season one is toned down a little bit in this season. And many characters are done away with or their role is minimized while new characters take their place. Overall, the new characters, especially Alec, work well.

So, I got my copy for under $20 (perhaps even under $15 – I’m no longer sure) and, for 21 episodes, it was a great way to spend some time with my DVD player. Don't expect Shakespear or even Sorkin but if you go into Dark Angel expecting a light-weight (but dark) escapist series you won’t be disappointed.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More Justice after all?

At the risk of making this look like a Justice blog, according to the official Fox website, Justice (which I wrote was possibly canceled) may have new life in a new night and time - Friday's at 8:00 PM starting on December 1. We'll see if it survives.

I think this is probably a last ditch effort to either save the show or at least get some mileage out of already-bought-and-paid-for episodes. I hope it's the former but as soon as a network starts jerking a show around like this it makes me care less.

In other news, my daughter Lynnae performs in Honk!, her school's musical presentation this weekend. I saw the show last night (based on "the Ugly Duckling") and she and the rest of the cast did a great job. Lynnae was a chicken and acted just like a very talented one.

I get to see Jars of Clay tonight! The last time they played here my daughter Meredith played with them. It was cool. Their new album (see my review) is very good and I'm looking forward to hearing some of the songs live. (Meredith sang in chapel today and was awesome.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Helping Our Children Find Faith

For the past few summers, and a bit in between, I have been writing a book about ministry to children in church settings. This book is designed for the many lay people who work with and plan programs for children. It is purposely written in a conversational tone and it is not a thick book so that the people who do this work with children might actually pick it up and read it. This week I signed a contract with Baker Books to publish this book. The working title is Helping Our Children Find Faith and I’m guessing that it will be released near the end of 2007.

I am grateful to John Witvliet and the Calvin institute of Christian Worship for their support and assistance over the past few years as this book has gone through multiple drafts. I have had some great feedback from a number of people (especially my wife, Laura) and it has made the book a lot better. I am looking forward to some hard work over the next few months as this book gets ready for publication but it’s exciting and I’m thrilled that my manuscript will finally see print.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

No more 'Justice'

I've written before about my desire to find a TV show that I'm willing to watch and stick with. Things don't look great at this point in my TV watching life. This season I've had three shows on my list, Lost, Studio 60 and Justice. - This past week Lost went on hiatus (to return in February.) To add insult to injury, FOX pulled Justice from the schedule, perhaps never to return. [Edit: the Fox website for the show says that it will return on Dec 11. I'll believe it when I see it.]

was the show I was most likely to skip of the three that I mentioned because, since each episode was self-contained, missing one was not a huge problem. Although I hadn't actually missed any of them, it was clearly in the cards. I could feel it on Monday nights that I had that "if I don't tape it it's no big deal" feeling. But I enjoyed watching it and I'm sad to see it go. I thought Victor Garber (pictured here) was great as Ron Trott. I especially liked it that he wasn't just the same character as he was on Alias. I thought the show worked and I was hoping it would stick around

So that's two shows down, one to go. I have recently written about my issues with Studio 60, although I must say that watching the last episode a second time I had a slightly better response to it. (I taped it so Lynnae could see it and I was in the room when she watched it.) NBC recently announced that they had indeed picked up Studio 60 for the entire season amid rumors that it was going to be canceled.

So, I might just get more work done this fall than I thought I would. It's a good thing that the final season DVDs of West Wing and Alias are out this fall or I'd have little choice!

'Justice' For None: FOX Yanks Drama - 'House' repeats will air on Mondays through November - Zap2it

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Studio 60 on thin ice

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip continues to jab at Christians. Last night they might have gone too far. I think the hope is that having a “show within a show” they think that they can get away with things because they’re not actually putting offensive things on the air – they’re showing a group of actors and writers thinking about putting it on the air. Now theoretically, that should show nuanced discussions about the issues but it more often just shows Christians responding in a knee-jerk somewhat narrow-minded way so that the main characters can give a smart, sophisticated rebuttal.

In last night’s episode (“Nevada Day, Pt 1”) Harriet, the resident Christian, is quoted in a column about her opinion regarding gay marriage. Her response (including King James English, standard for Sorkin characters who quote the Bible) showed what was pointed out as an attempt at being open-minded while not actually being that way. Harriet came across as a jerk last night while Matt and all the others got to be the ones who were actually the “nice people”. Tom Jeter was arrested in L.A. and was extradited to Nevada (on an outstanding warrant for speeding) where it was discovered that he had “half a joint” in the pocket of the jacket that Simon gave him. Simon gets to be all “that was my jacket – this is my fault” showing that, even though he apparently smokes grass and makes jokes about Christians he’s really the one who is open-minded and more Christian in his actions than Harriet who apparently can only spout pious statements about it. There is also a hint that Jeter was speeding in Nevada for a very good reason – something that will undoubtedly be revealed next week – making yet another character who has character as opposed to mere rhetoric.

Having Harriet as the resident Christian was a nice idea for a show or two but it’s starting to get to me. There are lots of other places to go with this show. Aaron Sorkin is doing what Matt accuses Harriet of – congratulating himself for being open-minded while actually attacking those he doesn’t like. It’s time for this show to move on to other issues or else it will be time for me to move on to other shows. Or perhaps I’ll just keep watching my West Wing DVDs.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Duane Allman - RIP - 35 years ago

Earlier this week marked the the 35th anniversary of the death of Duane Allman. Duane was one of the seminal guitar players of this generation and a big influence on my playing. When I was a freshman in college my good friend Pete Bardolph introduced me to one of the great albums of all time – The Allman Brothers Band Live at the Fillmore East. (I mention it in my list of 10 albums that changed me.) This double album, full of jams and songs from two nights in NYC was exactly what I needed to start to think of the lead guitar in more melodic terms. The dual leads of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts were inspirational and exciting. This lead me to experience the blues in a whole new way.

Duane then appeared on one of the other albums that shaped my early college years; Layla by Derek and the Dominoes. Duane’s playing alongside Eric Clapton’s lifted the album to where it became a touchpoint not only for Clapton’s career but for a whole generation of guitar players. Known to some as “Skydog,” Allman was best known for his slide playing. He is still perhaps the best slide player of the past 40 years perhaps only matched by Derek Trucks, the nephew of one of Allman’s fellow players in the Allman Brothers Band. But Duane was an important player to many of us who learned about playing the blues by trying to play like he did.

Funnel Cloud – Hem

Last summer my daughter Bethany saw Hem in concert in Atlanta. They shared a bill with Bethany’s favorite band, Over the Rhine and Bethany was so impressed that she told me that I needed to listen to Hem. I did and I was also very impressed - so much that I went out and bought their new album, Funnel Cloud.

Hem is a band that almost defies description. They have country instrumentation but don’t play country music. Their singer, Sally Ellyson, has a deep beautiful voice that she uses in a very quiet manner. The band sounds like what a country band from New York City might sound like – sophisticated and hip. Ellyson seldom sings loudly and even when she does her voice still has a gentle, quiet tone which fits the tone of the music exactly right. The songs on their latest album, Funnel Cloud, themselves are pleasant enough and a few of them are downright beautiful but Hem’s songs can seem to run together. Their sound is so distinctive that I often have a hard time remembering which song is which. (Listening in the car and on my iPod doesn’t help – I really ought to sit with headphones and the liner notes but the day when I had the time for that seems to have passed.) This was also true of their previous album, Eveningland, which featured a wonderful version of Johnny Cash and June Carter’s “Jackson,” slowed down and done as a solo (instead of a duet) and turned into a wonderful slow ballad.

I'm probably being a little too hard on the songs. They really are very nice and have some wonderful hooks and lyrics but their sound is so distinctive that I have a hard time thinking of the songs - I'm so busy listening the way the songs sound – and what a sound it is. The range of instrumentation from guitar and piano to oboe and cello and pedal steel guitar helps turn each song into a thoughtful, evocative and stirring piece of music. I’m unsure if I like Eveningland or Funnel Cloud better – they are almost like two sides of the same album. Either way, Hem is a band worth checking out. I hope I get to see them in concert some time.

Sample the album on iTunes here or go to their myspace page or their webpage. They even have a podcast.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Scott Adams nails it

From today's Dilbert - and yes, I see the irony of posting this on the internet:

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Lazy Blue Tunas at GRAM 10/27

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The Lazy Blue Tunas, the band of which I have been a founding member for almost six years, will play a show this Friday 10/27/06 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum in downtown Grand Rapids, MI. We play from 6:15 to 8:15 PM.

This will likely be my second-to-last show as a Tuna. Life has just gotten too hectic to keep everything going so I must bid farewell to the Tunas. My last show will be Dec 21 at the One Trick Pony so there aren’t many opportunities left to experience the original Tunas!

Monday, October 23, 2006


Last January I had to quit drinking all caffeinated things for health resons and, even though I am determined not to be one of those "everyone should get off caffeine" people I have been enjoying Dilbert's latest adventures with coffee.

I don't miss the buzz but I do miss drinking coffee. That was awesome. Tea just isn't the same (and decaf coffee also gives me stomach issues so that isn't an option either.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The class of 1976 – Blue Sky reunited

Yesterday was the 30th reunion of the Calvin College class of 1976. I had a great time meeting old friends and thinking about things that happened over thirty years ago. But more importantly to me was that Blue Sky reunited for the first time in at least 30 years – I’m thinking it has been slightly more than 31 years since we played together.

Blue Sky was a band made up of me, Pete Bardolph and Ken Winters. We were more than a band - we were also best friends. Pete and I continue to play together in the Lazy Blue Tunas (which we formed almost six years ago) and we’ve kept in touch pretty regularly in the intervening years, even when I lived in Colorado. But I lost touch with Ken completely. About a year ago I got Ken’s email address from our alumni association and asked Ken if he’s be interested in getting together to play a few songs for the reunion. Ken agreed, even though it meant a trip up from his home in Memphis, and we’ve been in occasional contact ever since. Then, Thursday, Ken arrived on campus and he and I got to hang out for a couple of hours and it was absolutely delightful. We practiced together on Thursday evening and last night we performed three songs together as Blue Sky (with the help of our classmate, friend and part-time Blue Sky and Lazy Blue Tuna member John Gelderlos) in the middle of a six-song Lazy Blue Tunas set.

I had an amazing time. First of all, something has happened over the past thirty years – the standard tunings must have gone up because all the songs were a lot higher than they used to be. But aside from that, Ken was in fine voice (although he didn’t play guitar even though he used to) and we sang three songs from the Eagles first album. More importantly, though, I got to connect with one of my best friends from both high school and college and discovered that the years melted away almost instantly and that we still have a great time together. Laura and I got to meet his wife Stacy and truly enjoyed that too. There was lots of laughter and fun and the great feeling that a part of my past that had been lost had been found again. It was a great two days. Thanks for coming, Ken!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Grammar Girl and other podcasts

There are a few podcasts that I've enjoyed. Most of them have to be short because I only like to take a few minutes away from what I'm doing to listen to them. So here are some recent favorites.

I’ve been listening to and enjoying a podcast that I recently discovered, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. I find her tips helpful and the podcast generally well done and fun to listen to. So, if you write and you want to think a bit more carefully about your writing give it a listen!

Another podcast that I listen to daily is the Beatles Minute. Literally, a minute-long update on things going on with the Beatles.

And, of course, I listen to StrongBad.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A new way of listening

The iPod has changed the way we listen to music as a culture. It has become the icon of the new century. Newsweek editor Steven Levy writes in this article that a 2005 survey would report that the iPod is even more popular on college campuses than beer. That’s pretty popular. Having come somewhat lately to the iPod party I was merely an observer to this phenomenon over the last few year but now that I’m one of “those people” I have to admit that the iPod has changed the way I listen.

While my iPod is only a few months old I have been an iTunes user for quite a while. I discovered the joys of party shuffle a long time ago and find it especially good for working. No longer do I have to think about what I want to listen to when I work. I just turn on party shuffle and I get a steady stream of Bob radio. One of the reasons I waited to get an iPod was because I wasn’t sure I’d use it. I was quite wrong. I use it when I grade papers and when I read at home. I find a nice corner of the house, pop in my earbuds and I’m ready to go. I used to have music on the stereo but that meant that others had to listen to what I wanted. Now I don’t bother anyone. I also listen in bed when I’m up in the middle of the night or when I wake up too early. The bad news is that I’ve been awake in the middle of the night a lot lately but I have found that listening to my iPod is a great way to not “just lie there” and get frustrated because I’m “just lying there”. So, even if that was the only benefit I’d be a pretty happy iPod user.

But the best thing is that I’m listening to music again. Don’t get me wrong, I never stopped listening but now, with earbuds, I’m really listening. The iPod allows me to tune in to what’s on in the music and hear things I never heard before. (Aqualung’s album, Strange and Beautiful is a great example of this. Thanks, Meredith, for pointing that out to me.) The other part, though, is that with shuffle mode I never know what I’m going to get. This means that much of my time is now spent listening to tracks instead of albums. (I still play complete CDs in the car, however.) I find that I can appreciate some songs much better if I don’t have the whole album around it. Then when I do get the song in the context of the whole album I enjoy it all the more. Plus the surprise of what comes next is always fun. Since I only have a 1 GB nano I have figured out a way of having it randomly load music from the 14 GB collection on my computer. I do, however, load some complete albums and those songs come up more often so I get to hear a random selection with a generous helping of new material – how cool is that?

So, while I agree that the iPod might mark the beginning of the end of the album as an artform, something I will truly regret, I really enjoy being surprised by the juxtaposition of new artists and new songs when I don’t expect it. I like being able to just “listen to music” instead of having to choose a particular album (which I sometimes still do on my iPod.) But most of all, I like that I have found a new way to enjoy some of the music I’ve loved for decades.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Wait - Is this about baseball?

Does it say something about where my head is most of the time that when I see the headline "Cardinals oust Padres" I think it has to do with the Catholic church?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Paul McCartney – Ecce Cor Meum (Behold My Heart)

I’ve tried really hard to concern myself with art rather than personalities despite our society’s obsession with who’s going out with who and all of the garbage that passes for news. To say that Heather Mills McCartney has been treated poorly by the press (especially in England) is an understatement. Did she ask for some of it? Maybe. She did seem eager to share in Paul’s spotlight once they were ‘an item’ and it could be argued that what has gone on is the inevitable backlash of that. But, the simple fact is, I don’t know what went on and I like Paul’s music so I’m predisposed to like him more than Heather in this pending divorce thing. I’m sure Paul feels better now that he knows I’m on his side.

All of this is preamble to saying that, while I try not to notice such things, they inevitably have some influence on a person’s art and so knowing the back-story can be helpful in interpreting what they create. I’ve mentioned before how it seems that Chaos and Creation was actually a huge hint that all was not well in Paul-land and that Driving Rain showed more grieving over Linda than I first thought. Nonetheless, I’ve always felt that Paul never really let his art speak of his grief after Linda died. His first album after her death was Run Devil Run, an album of mostly covers of old obscure rock songs. Paul said that she always pushed him to do more rock so this was a tribute to her. OK, I can buy that – but for a guy who writes as much stuff as Paul does, you’d think there would be more than that. What I didn’t realize was that there was. Ironically, Paul used the opposite medium, a classical composition, to work out his grief in music. The piece, Ecce Cor Meum has been something like eight years in the making. Paul was commissioned to write this choral piece by Magdelen College, Oxford so, evn before Linda’s death, Paul started working on some of the melodic ideas, not knowing what he was going to do about the text. After Linda died he was in a church and saw a statue of a crucifix with the inscription “ecce cor meum” which means, behold my heart. This phrase struck Paul as an expression of what he was feeling over the death of Linda and gave him the impetus for the text for this hour-long choral piece.

Paul’s previous textual writing for choir has been spotty at best. He may well be responsible for one of the worst pieces of text that a choral group has ever sung with the finale to A Liverpool Oratorio – “God is good without an ‘O’, the devil is evil with a ‘D’.” I’m not making this up. So when Paul decides to get serious and use Latin to do it that might well be an indication to go for cover.

The piece, four choral movements with a short wordless interlude between the second and third, opens with “Spiritus.” The opening phrases set the stage – “spiritus, spiritus, lead us to love / spirit of holiness, teach us to love / spirit, show us how to live in pure love.” It goes on more or less like that for fifteen minutes. In three more movements Paul refers to his heart, love, a sense of loss and the importance of music in expressing that. Depending on your attitude going in to it, it comes off as either pretentious or a pretty good attempt to try to express the grief that losing a partner brings. It is never maudlin but comes off as heartfelt and sincere. Unfortunately, Paul’s theology is wishy-washy at best. Trying hard not to offend anyone, he sees God with a mix of Hinduism, Deism and gooey nice feelings.

The music itself is quite nicely done, feeling a lot more like an actual classical piece than merely a rock star trying to be serious. McCartney’s sense of melody is obvious throughout and, while the choral writing is not stunning, it does the job. The emotional heart of the piece is the wordless interlude (Lament) in which the solo oboe captures the spirit of what Paul has been trying to say much better than his words do. The dynamic range of this recording makes it challenging to listen to in the car – my primary listening spot – but this is true of many classical pieces. I’ve especially enjoyed listening to it through headphones, where I can really concentrate on it.

One wonders if Paul would have been this forthright in telling of the genesis of Ecce Co Meum had he not recently split with Heather. He tends to keep such things close to his vest, actually – surprising for someone who can seem to be an attention junkie. He has made no mention of Heather or of recent difficulties in any of the press relating to this album but one has to wonder. Perhaps it was the rocky state of his second marriage over the past few years that caused him to dive back into this piece as a salve. He has referred to music as therapy and I can see that that he may well have used this piece as one way in which he worked through his loss. In many ways this is the album I was looking for when Driving Rain came out. I remember being disappointed that Paul seemed to go straight into being happy about Heather without letting his fans see him reflecting on the loss of Linda. Not that I had any right to see those feelings but after listening to his music for over 40 years I felt like I wanted to at least share a little bit of his loss with him. Now I feel like I can.

This album is not for casual pop fans who are interested in what McCartney is up to these days. But for those who want additional insight into this artist and want to hear him take some melodic and harmonic ideas and stretch them out over an extended piece, I find this an enjoyable listening experience.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Phil Keaggy’s Roundabout

I’ve been a fan of Keaggy’s since I first heard Love Broke Thru in 1975 so when he releases a new album I usually snatch it up quickly and play it a lot. Roundabout is an exception to that. One of the highlights of PK concerts is his improvisations and they often feature his JamMan – a looping device that allows him to lay down guitar tracks live on an endless loop and then build up a short section. It’s almost always fascinating and interesting. Over the past few years he has been using his sound checks to create new loops – this is a particularly creative time for him and he enjoys trying out new things and just seeing where the muse takes him. His road manager has been recording these and Phil takes them back to his studio to see what he has. He did some editing, (although no overdubs) picked out what he thought were some of the more interesting pieces and named the album Roundabout.

This is an album that sounds just like you might think it does – lots of “wow, that’s cool” moments but it doesn’t particularly stand up to repeated listenings. I’ve had it in my car for a few weeks now and it soon got ejected and replaced with something that has a little more staying power. This album just doesn’t work for 50 minutes. When a three minute song pops up on my ipod in shuffle mode its fine but to listen to the whole album is, frankly, a bit of a chore. Phil’s next album is scheduled to be a regular vocal album. It’s about time – he’s released so many “different” albums recently that I’m starting to wonder if I’m willing to hang in there with him.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Clapton at Van Andle Arena

It is always great to see an artist put together a top-notch performance. It’s even better when that performer seems to be at the top of his or her game, at a point where they seem to be right on the money most of the time. It is better yet when the performer is legendary. That’s what Bryan and Ron and I got last Thursday night at Van Andle Arena in Grand Rapids when Eric Clapton and his band came to town. Eric has put together yet another first-rate band but this time he has two young guitar-slingers to bounce off of and, with so much guitar talent on the stage, put together a set of tunes designed to let them jam and to show their stuff.

Eric served as host giving both Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II ample opportunity to show what the next generation of great guitars players has to offer. But then, on every song, Clapton stepped up to the front to show that, not only had he not lost a step, but that he was still the guy to beat. His tone was unbelievable. His singing was right on target and he showed himself to be a consummate professional. The tone that he and Doyle got on their unison slide intro to “Motherless Children” was astonishing. His singing on “I Am Yours” was great and the tasteful slide work of Derek was just right – of course, that was true in almost every song. There wasn’t really a dull moment in the program. Clapton put together a program with few of his many hits. This was a program made for the fans with a couple of songs from Layla, a couple of songs from 461 Ocean Boulevard and even one from Money and Cigarettes! I gave the set list in my previous post. The Grand Rapids Press reviewer ended his review by writing “For more than two hours, Van Andel Arena resonated with something beyond the usual rock 'n roll fare, something truly enduring. It was the kind of show some fans will likely tell their friends and kids about for years to come and wish they could have brought 'em all along for the ride. Some artists are that important, some performances are that unforgettable.” I agree and I’m glad I took Bryan along with me! I wish I could have taken the whole family.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Eric Clapton in Grand Rapids

I'll post more soon hopefully but I wanted to mention what an amazing show Eric Clapton put on Thursday night here in Grand Rapids.

Here is the setlist:

I Shot The Sheriff Sheriff
Got To Get Better In A Little While
Old Love (with Robert Cray)
Everybody Oughta Make A Change
Motherless Children

Acoustic Set:
Back Home
I Am Yours
Nobody Knows You When You're Down & Out
Running On Faith

After Midnight
Little Queen of Spades
Further On Up The Road
Wonderful Tonight

Crossroads (with Robert Cray)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

'Justice' on Fox

For the last two or three weeks I've watched and enjoyed a new show on Fox called Justice. I will admit that I watched it at first because of Victor Garber who played Sydney Bristow's father on Alias. I have been impressed with his acting in this show - the character is quite different from Jack Bristow but Garber plays him convincingly and he's fun to watch. The rest of the cast also does a fine job but I was not familiar with any of them before this show.

The world certainly doesn't need another crime and lawyer show but this one has a style that is different, the graphics and look of the show are very cool and it's fun to see what sort of things a really high profile law firm might go through to win a case. Not only that but at the end they show you what "really" happened - something the lawyers in this show don't care about.

I really like what I've seen so far. Wednesday's at 9:00 on Fox.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Two exciting media events this week

Two exciting things this week. I finally got to see Studio 60 and it was very good. Hooray for more new Sorkin on television.

Also today marks the release of the DVD of U2's Zoo TV tour from 1993.
I'm picking it up on the way home. Hooray for new U2 (even if it's old.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

When Old Women Attack

I'm breaking my one-post-a-day rule because, this is funny.

Thanks to Bethany for the title for this post.

Rethinking McCartney's 'Chaos and Creation'

It's been a very busy week for me with teaching and other chair-related activities but I've been doing a fair amount of listening to music while driving my car or using the *new* itunes 7.0 (which is pretty cool.)

One thing that has occurred to me this week in listening once again to Paul McCartney's wonderful Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (which I reviewed here just a year ago today, coincidently) is that, in the light of what has gone on in McCartney's life this past year - a pending divorce - maybe listening with that in mind will reveal some new insights. Indeed it has.

Many, perhaps most, of the songs on the album might refer to the sadness and frustration which Paul had been experiencing. Listen to "Friends to Go," for example or, more directly, "Riding to Vanity Fair." Even songs like "Too Much Rain" might be Paul trying to cheer himself up and reminding himself to put a good face on things.

Because McCartney has a long history of playing with words just for fun (remember "Temporary Secretary"?) it is easy for me to dismiss his words as just fun wordplay. "English Tea" might be a prime example on this album. But there are too many songs that reference betrayal and sadness for me to ignore it. I even wonder if "Fine Line" is a reference to his brother's recent legal trouble, although the timing on that one might be off. When he sings "Come home brother, all is forgiven, We all cried when you were driven away" I at first just took "brother" to be generic. Now I wonder if it really is about his brother! I think Chaos and Creation shows Paul telling us a lot more than we first thought about how he was really feeling about a lot of things.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remember when some Irish band played the Super Bowl?

U2 lifted our spirits when we were still reeling from Sept 11, 2001. Note the iconic moment at the end of the song as Bono reveals the lining of his jacket:

Thanks to U2 Sermons for pointing me to it.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

My God and I by Lewis Smedes

Lewis Smedes, former Calvin College professor and later professor at Fuller Seminary in California, wrote a spiritual memoir as his last book before his death. My God and I wasn’t intended as his last book when he wrote it (he died as the result a fall before it was published) but it is a fitting end to a distinguished career. Smedes’ pleasant writing style drew me in as I read about his grandparents and parents. The story of how he grew up and his path to academics was fascinating to me partly because I was familiar with many of the places and names that he mentions but mostly because his story is a compelling one. Smedes is able to see God’s hand in his life in a way that is not at all happy-clappy or syrupy. He talks openly about how his prayers for terminally ill people rarely if ever makes a difference in their healing but yet he continues to do it. He gives an unvarnished look at his own battle with depression and how he praises God for his medication.

Overall I found My God and I a delightful read. Smedes keeps things moving, never dwelling long on any one subject. The first few chapters, outlining how God used a woman who was evicted from her own house because of a pregnancy gives us a concrete example of how God can use a situation in which we see little hope and turn it to good – that woman’s grandson became a world-class theologian and inspiration to many people, including me.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Jars of Clay - Good Monsters - First Listen

The new jars of Clay album, Good Monsters, was released today and I picked it up on the way home and popped it into my car CD player. I'm now giving it a second listen on my computer. So far so good! The first two songs, "Work" and "Dead Man (Carry Me)" were both on the Mini-Monsters EP that was released four weeks ago. Those songs got a lot of listens in my car - in fact, the EP lived the whole month in my 6-CD changer, the only CD to do that the whole time. (The new Sandra McCracken has been there almost as long and still lives in the changer too - it may be there for a while yet.)

The good news about this album is that Steve Mason got his electric guitar out again and, over the last tour, it is clear that he learned how to make it rock over a mostly acoustic backing. This is Who We Are Instead (their mostly acoustic album of three years ago) on steroids. Add guest appearances by Leigh Nash and a few others and you've got a really fine album.

I don't think the mainstream market is ready to listen to Jars of Clay again - they see their first album as a fluke and probably won't give Good Monsters a listen. That's a shame because they're in a good place right now and this album is lots of fun to listen to. I'm looking forward to digging into it more - I liked Mini-Monsters a lot more after repeated listenings.