Monday, December 31, 2007

Ronnie by Ron Wood

I just finished reading Ronnie by Ron Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones and I enjoyed the book quite a bit. The book can be a little frustrating in times because at first Wood doesn't deal with things in a strictly chronological way which can be a bit confusing. And his discussion of his time in the Faces is pretty brief and mostly about destroying hotels. I would love to have heard a bit about the Rod Stewart solo album thing that Wood was involved in. Wood's book also seems to be mostly a series of anecdotes rather than a more organized look at his life, understandable since he spent most of it drunk or stoned. It appears that Wood is sober now although he still seems to have a rather casual attitude about drugs and booze. This is in sharp contrast to Clapton's autobiography which is really the story of his recovery. Wood's is a trip through his life of debauchery and, while he expresses regret at a few of the things that he did that were not very smart, most of the time he just laughs his way through them.

But, those issues aside, this is an engaging book and the writing is easy-going and fun. Wood's personality really comes through. It was my intention, since I'm not much of a Rolling Stones fan, to just dip into the book here and there. But the first chapter grabbed me so quickly that I soon found myself reading it all. Many of the characters in this book show up in the recent books by Eric Clapton and Patti Boyd (see my reviews here and here) so it is interesting to see yet another perspective on this. Ronnie is hardly the definitive biography of Ron Wood – it's not nearly comprehensive enough for that and there are too many anecdotes and not a complete look at his life. But it is an engaging look at someone who has lived the rock and roll lifestyle to the hilt and has lived to tell about it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Apple Stores

Grand Rapids has an Apple Store and my son, an Apple fan, often gets me to go in there with him. It's not a hardship for me because the store is a great place and they have cool stuff. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks that way. Here is a New York Times article that says the same thing.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Phil Keaggy – The Master and Musician 30th Anniversary Edition

A little over thirty years ago, when I was a student at Calvin College, a band of Christian musicians came to campus to give a concert. The band was called Wing and a Prayer and it was many of the players from the influential band Love Song, which had recently disbanded. I got to hang out with them for the day as they set up and prepared to give the concert and their bass player Jay Truax asked me if I had ever heard of Phil Keaggy. I had not. He told me that I absolutely had to get a hold of his album, Love Broke Thru. I did and that was how I started listening to Keaggy's music. I have been doing it pretty consistently ever since. One of the first albums of Phil's that I bought as soon as It came out was The Master and the Musician, an instrumental album that was a real eye opener. Keaggy combined influences from rock, folk and jazz along with delicate arrangements to make a wonderful album that still remains one of his finest.

In celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Master and Musician, Keaggy has released a new edition, remastered and sounding wonderful, along with a bonus CD of out-takes, interviews and commentary. The sound on the remastered M&M is simply wonderful. The guitar sounds are clear and distinct and I am hearing things that I have never heard before. This has made a great album even better. The bonus CD is interesting but I don't think it is going to get lots and lots of play – it's the sort of thing you listen to while you're studying the album but not just for casual listening. The commentaries, interviews and alternate partial mixes are fascinating, though and will help me understand the album better as I listen to it anew.

This is a wonderful reissue of a landmark album. You can pick it up from Phil's website. (As you can see, I got a signed copy.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The internet allows us to see the ghosts of Christmas Past

This is, apparently, from the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. This scene marks the "Life Day Ceremony." Any additional comment would be superfluous.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

My Musical Year - 2007

Throughout the year I have written about a number of the CDs that I spent time listening to. I was glancing at a couple of online top-ten lists and realized that I have listened to very few of the albums in these lists. This may be a factor of my advanced age but I really do try to stay up on things. I bought, for example, new albums by Rilo Kiley, A Fine Frenzy, Mae, Norah Jones, and Arcade Fire but I still feel like I've been out of touch with cutting edge music. I try to stay caught up by downloading the songs of the week from iTunes and by reading Paste magazine and listening to the sampler CD but, frankly, I end up deleting most of the stuff I get because I'm not wild about it. And even though I listen to songs by Brenda Carlisle and Amy Winehouse I just don't like it well enough to want to listen to a while lot more. I guess I'm just old.

So, with that disclaimer, here is my list of albums that really grabbed me this year. As in years past, this is not the best of the year, per se, it's the stuff that I spent the most time actually listening to. So this is the stuff that I clearly liked the most.

  • Memory Almost Full – Paul McCartney
    The single most listened to album of the year for me, hands down, is Paul McCartney's latest. It seems almost cliché that I would pick a Beatles album but, the fact is, I listened to this album a LOT this year. I just really liked it. See my review here.
  • The Circling Hour – Iona
    I spent a lot of time listening to Iona this year and The Circling Hour just might be one of their best ever albums. Outstanding music with great lyrics. My review is here.
  • Instant Karma – various artists
    The John Lennon songbook as interpreted by artists as diverse as U2, Green Day and REM. This one spent a lot of time on my iPod and also in my car. Great songs. My review is here.
  • The Song Within – Phil Keaggy
    I have loved Phil's playing for years and it is a real treat to have him hit one out of the park this year. This instrumental album is one of my all time favorite Keaggy albums. My review is here.
  • Neon Bible – Arcade Fire
    Bethany recently wrote about this on her blog and I waited for a long time to write about it because I felt like I didn't understand it very well. Musically it is quite dense and lyrically it confuses me but I really do like it – I'm just not sure why. Here is what Bethany had to say about it, though.

There were, of course, other albums that I enjoyed: Tell Me What You Know by Sara Groves, The Silence of Everything Yearned For by Ric Hordinski, both The Trumpet Child and Live from Nowhere, Vol 2 by Over the Rhine, Singularity by Mae, Overdressed by Caedmon's Call (my review is here) and Letters to the Editor, Vol 1 by Andrew Osenga (download it for FREE here) are all honorable mention albums but they just didn't have the staying power in my iPod and player that these other albums did.

So there is my list. I also rediscovered a lot of of music this year like the Andrew Osenga catalog and Iona's music and that was a lot of fun.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Paul McCartney - The McCartney Years - Another Review

Here is a review of The McCartney Years written by someone who was predisposed to dislike it. I found his take interesting.

In case you missed it, here is my review.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pattie Boyd – Perhaps Not So Wonderful

As a fan of both the Beatles and of Eric Clapton, I found the idea of an auto- biography of Pattie Boyd, the woman who had married both Eric and George Harrison, to be one that I couldn't miss. She had a front row seat to the all of the post Hard Day's Night Beatles and to Clapton's years with Derek and the Dominoes and his early solo Career. Boyd is Layla! So I was anxious to read Pattie's story called Wonderful Tonight. I thought this would be interesting not only as a person who has read a lot of Beatles books but I had recently read Clapton's autobiography. The difference between them is striking. I thought that Eric's book is, curiously, the better written of the two. I say that this is curious because Boyd's is basically written by her collaborator, Penny Junor, while Clapton rewrote his ghost-written book himself. More striking, though, is that Eric rewrote his book because he said it was too easy to blame other people in the ghost-written version. Blaming themselves is something that recovering addicts seem to do well. They know that the things that they do when they're drunk are not someone else's fault. In contrast, Boyd is eager to lay her problems at the feet of lots of other people; her parents, Harrison, Clapton, etc. I'm sure that living with these people was no picnic but Boyd seems to take little responsibility for her seemingly constant drinking. (She was bad enough that Clapton wrote the song "Shape You're In" about and to her.) Near the end of the book she simultaneously writes about being short on money but yet traveling to exotic places, something those of us who are not high rollers have a hard time understanding.

To make matters worse there are a couple of errors that, while they're not a big deal, are irritating. Boyd talks about the wonderful Harrison song, "Something," that he wrote for her. Unfortunately, she says that it's on the White Album instead of on Abbey Road, where it really is. Then, near the end of the book she said that she had to sell a rare guitar because she needed the money – she sold a "1960 Les Paul Stratocaster." As any guitar player knows there are Gibson Les Pauls and there are Fender Stratocasters. What she wrote is the equivalent of saying that she has a Cadillac Mustang. She clearly doesn't really know what we had.

But quibbles aside Wonderful Tonight is just not a great book. Her story, especially as it gets near the end, just isn't interesting enough, which seems hard to believe. Beatles fans who have read other books about them will learn nothing new here. Clapton fans might find this new perspective interesting but, frankly, she doesn't add much to that story either. So, if you want to read it, do what I did – check it out of the library. I'm unlikely to ever want to refer back to it.

Lennon, 27 years later

On this 27th anniversary of John Lennon's death it's hard to believe that I continue to discover new things in his music but 2007 was a year of rediscovery for me with respect to Lennon's solo music. This was due mostly to the Instant Karma collection which helped me to realize that the songs themselves, not just the performances, were powerful. After hearing those I went back and listened to many of his original recordings to find that, even after all these years, they still sound great. I've written before about Lennon and his influence on my music. As a member of the Beatles he was a driving force behind their work and his writing and singing in that band set the standard for pop music for the next four decades. It certainly would have been interesting to see what would have happened had be not been killed so early – would he, like Paul, have continued to make music consistently throughout his life, expanding into classical music perhaps? I think that's unlikely. I think it is more likely that he would have, like George, led a mostly private life emerging occasionally with new music when it suited him and I think that, while that music would have continued to show remarkable growth, that he would continue being primarily influenced by the most basic of rock influences. John was a rocker and, when push came to shove, old rock and roll was not just one of his primary influences (as it was with Paul,) it was THE influence. I don't think he would have strayed far from that.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Revolver – the best Beatles album?

I am once again going through all the Beatles albums in order on my commute. As I have mentioned before, I have a six-CD changer in my car and two of those slots have Beatles in them. I've allowed each Beatles album to stay in the rotation for two plays and then I switch it out for the next one. Today I heard what I have long considered the best Beatles album, Revolver, and I was reminded why I like it so much. It's almost all there – all the things that are great about the Beatles are present on Revolver. George Harrison has a rocker ("Taxman,") a song with Indian influence ("Love You To,") and a mid tempo song ("I Want to Tell You,") all of which are among his best Beatles era compositions. John Lennon is cryptic ("She Said She Said,") experimental ("Tomorrow Never Knows,") and produces a couple of great standard mid-era Beatles songs ("Doctor Robert," "And Your Bird Can Sing.") Paul McCartney is clearly starting to work outside the bounds of two-guitars-bass-drums with some of his songs adding strings ("Eleanor Rigby,") brass ("Got to Get You Into My Life,") and French Horn ("For No One,") while writing some of the most memorable melodies of his career ("Here, There and Everywhere.") Even Ringo's throwaway novelty tune is the iconic "Yellow Submarine." The performances are top-notch and we see that the band is starting to develop distinct individual personalities while still operating as a unit.

Revolver is sometimes overshadowed by it's successor, Sgt Pepper because it had such a huge influence on the culture when it was released. And, frankly, at the time, Revolver was "just another Beatles album." George has even said that he sees Revolver and Rubber Soul as basically parts one and two of the same album but I think he undersells this album. This is ironic, really, because this album has more of his compositions than any album before and it shows him stepping up as a composer. It also shows some of John and Paul's strongest work. This isn't to say that the albums made before and after this one were weak. It's hard to think of Rubber Soul and Sgt Pepper as anything other than unqualified successes. But time has shown that Revolver found the Beatles at the top of their game.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Rediscovering Iona’s Back Catalog – The Book of Kells

I've written recently about the latest album by Iona and how much I have been enjoying it. In addition to still listening to The Circling Hour, I have been also working my way, slowly, backward in their catalog and enjoying their older albums. I must say, this is a wealth of excellent music. I have worked my way back to their second album, Book of Kells from 1992, which I remember reading a long time ago was considered the best of their first four albums. I've had it for a very long time and I remember it being a sometimes tough album to "get." Reading reviews on Amazon and on iTunes, some of the people there clearly didn't think it was their best, in fact, the reviews were often lukewarm. This puzzled me so when it came time to start listening to Book of Kells I was anxious to hear it with new ears. Having listened to it a number of times over the past week or so I am more convinced than ever that this album is a highlight of their early years.

The Book of Kells is an illuminated copy of the gospels which was made in about 800 AD and is now housed at Trinity College in Dublin. On my trip to Ireland three years ago I actually stopped at Trinity College and was in the same building as this book. I nearly stopped in to see it but time was short. The Book of Kells is the inspiration for this album which is a reflection on the gospels as well as on this particular artisitic rendition of the gospels. The lyrics reflect the ancient character of the book itself and displays a reverence for God's word and for the saints who went before us. The music is ethereal and powerful. The band plays with both force and finesse. Joanne Hogg's voice is spectacular, of course. This album has some compelling melodies although a lot of the music is evocative more than it is melodic so a cursory trip though this album will not reveals all it's treasures. My suspicion is that the people who gave it a lukewarm review did not give it sufficient time to sink in. I think it is a wonderful artistic statement and a great album.

Friday, November 30, 2007

George Harrison - six years ago

A year ago, on the fifth anniversary of his death, I wrote this about George Harrison. I still mean it.

I have continued to listen to George's music over the past year, including and especially his work with the Traveling Wilburys (who's album re-release I reviewed here.) I have been working my way through the Beatles releases (in order, of course) in my car and I'm up to Help! and Rubber Soul. I have had these albums for over 40 years and they still sound great to me. Remarkable.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Song Within – Phil Keaggy

I got a copy of The Song Within that doesn't skip now and I have been able to hear the whole thing a number of times and it is simply the best Phil Keaggy album in years. Phil's albums are all over the map stylistically. One never knows what you're going to get when you hear that Phil has a new album coming out. Just recently he has released an album of electric jams (Jammed!), acoustic improvs based on loops (Roundabout) a vocal album of original songs (Dream Again) and an album of cover songs with guest vocalists (Acoustic Café.) And all of this is just 2006 and 2007!

So now we get The Song Within which I almost didn't order because I heard that it was made specifically for McPherson Guitars. Now, don't misunderstand my hesitation – I have nothing against McPherson Guitars. I've never played one but I understand that they're great. I just figured that this would be an album in which Phil sits down and just plays whatever comes to him which is great in concert and in small doses on recordings but having just bought two of those in a row (Jammed and Roundabout) I wasn't ready for another one. But I read a good review of this album and decided to give it a go – and, truth be told, I haven't failed to buy a Keaggy album yet so the question wasn't if I would buy it as much as when I would.

Much to my surprise, this is the most composed Keaggy instrumental album in quite some time. My all-time favorite instrumental albums of his are the ones that are most composed and arranged, The Master and the Musician (which has a 2-CD 30th anniversary edition just available!) and Beyond Nature. The Song Within has some echoes of those two albums along with a nice warm sound of it's own. The concept of this album is that Phil has rethought some of his own past music and has used these familiar chord progressions and riffs to make completely new instrumental versions. For example, from his very first album, the chord progression for "What A Day" becomes the progression for a new song, "Water Day." On first listen I didn't catch the similarity (nor the punny title) but, after hearing something sort of familiar, I realized what it was. Similarly, Phil quotes himself in song after song, and part of the fun is finding the song hidden within the new song. (Get it? The song within!)

But that's only part of it. Phil plays beautifully and his arrangements are always tasteful and at times breathtaking. He is augmented by a percussionist and keyboard player and that's where I hear echoes of Beyond Nature, one of Phil's career highlights. Because I listen to so much music I rarely play new albums over and over and over – this is one that I have done that with. It's that good. Well done, Phil!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The McCartney Years DVD set

After having it for two weeks I finally managed to see all of the three DVD set, The McCartney Years and, I must say, I truly enjoyed it. In fact, I'm almost ready to go at it all over again. This set covers McCartney's music videos starting with "Maybe I'm Amazed" (from the 1970 album McCartney) all the way to "Fine Line" from the 2005 release, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. Now I often have a short attention span for music videos but, as I discovered with the U2 video sets, given the right circumstances I find them quite enjoyable. These must be the right circumstances. These videos, spread out over the two DVDs, have been cleaned up and presented in as good a quality as we could expect for some of them (although the early Wings videos are a bit grainy and homespun.) On the other hand, the more recent ones are in great shape. The first disc covers from the first video to the videos from Tug of War (1980.) Most of these feature Paul's band Wings and, while they are a lot of fun, sometimes they scream "seventies." On the other hand, the second disc, featuring the years from 1980 to the present, feature Paul as a solo artist and with his 1990-era backing band – the one that he made Flowers in the Dirt and Off the Ground with as well as two world tours. These videos are, of course, of varying quality but I really enjoyed watching them, especially disc two.

In addition to these videos there are extras like Paul on a British talk show and the "Mull of Kintyre" alternate video as well as the documentary Creating Chaos at Abbey Road. These are nice additions to the set and make it feel much more complete. There are also audio commentaries on about half of the videos and you can play them in chronological order or in Paul's playlist order.

Things change a bit for disc three as we turn to excerpts from three live shows, the Wings classic film, Rockshow from the mid 70's, the Unplugged set from around 1990 and the more recent Glastonbury concert with Paul's current band line-up. The extras from this disc include Paul's Live-Aid performance (with commentary) and his Super Bowl Halftime Show. Each of the menu screens also includes rare pieces of film that are a nice bonus. I found these concert extras to be really fun and, while many fans are complaining that we should really get the whole of Rockshow and of Unplugged, I just enjoyed what we had and didn't worry too much about what we didn't. This set really is jam packed with stuff and it's remarkably interesting. There was never any question that I would have to get this set - I'm clearly a McCartney fan. But I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I have. This is very well done and it will be a real treat for Beatles fans.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Skipping Keaggy

I was excited yesterday to pick up U2's Joshua Tree remaster yesterday at Best Buy on the way home from work but it was especially cool to find my order from Amazon waiting for me at home because it had the new Phil Keaggy album, The Song Within inside. I did not get a chance to listen to either last night (still working on the Christmas play) but on the way in this morning I excitedly put Keaggy in the car CD player and enjoyed the first track immensely. The second track was so good that I thought "this might be the best Phil Keaggy album in years!" Then I got to the third track and it started skipping in my player!

After a little coaxing I gave up, ejected the album and (since I didn't bring U2 in the car with me) started playing the latest Michael W Smith Christmas album which, I must say, continues to grow on me.

So a review of the Keaggy album won't happen for a while but I'm more excited about it than I was before. I've already contacted Amazon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Christmas Music

Laura and I have written a lot of Christmas plays. In fact, we're working on one right now. That means we also listen to a lot of Christmas music. We have a LOT of Christmas CDs in our collection and when the season rolls around again I like to get them out and get myself in a Christmassy mood. I started a bit early this year because I'm trying to find the muse for our latest Christmas play but also because I don't want to just hear each album once – I want to relish the good ones. Which ones are the good ones? I'm glad you asked. Here are my favorites.

  • Gloria – various artists (produced by Charlie Peacock and Scott Dente)
  • Amy Grant - Home for Christmas
  • City on a Hill – It's Christmastime – various artists (produced by Denny Daugherty and Steve Hindalong)
  • O Come Let Us Adore Him – various artists (produced by Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd)
  • Celtic Woman – A Christmas Celebration
  • Over the Rhine – Snow Angels

  • Phil Keaggy – Majesty and Wonder
  • One Silent Night – various artists (produced by Monroe Jones)
  • Your King Has Come – various artists (exec producer, Matthew Smith)
  • Sarah McLaughlin – Wintersong
  • Sherri Youngward – The Sky Can Still Remember

Sherri Youngward is a new artist for me and I just got this album so I'm not sure it's going to stay in my favorites but it stands a pretty good chance. The new Michael W Smith Christmas album is growing on me and it might end up on this list too. It's been in my car for more than a week now and I'm discovering more that I like each time I play it. An early infatuation with the new Jars of Clay Christmas CD is fading pretty quickly. My love for the Sufjan Stevens Christmas Songs set also isn't what it once was.

I find myself astonished that CCM artists who almost always have a high Jesus content in all their music (like Point of Grace or Kathy Troccoli or Avalon to name just a few) will include seasonal songs (rather than songs about Christ's birth) on their albums. Why do the rules change at Christmas? Don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying that these people should only ever sing songs with lots of JPMs (Jesus per minute) in them - it's just that why is Christmas the only time that they appear to break this rule?

Greatest Hits: If I could only take three CDs along with me they would probably be

  • One Silent Night,
  • Gloria
  • It's Christmastime.
All three of them feature wonderful new songs (along with a few traditional carols) performed and arranged beautifully.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Best. Socks. Ever.

This is a public service announcement.

About a year and a half ago I got some new socks. And they were great. Really great. I've worn socks for a long time but these socks were like the best socks I've ever worn. I'm not really a sock kind of guy but these are different. They're great socks. Dockers Essential Rib.

And tonight we got more of them. I won't get them until Christmas but I'm already stoked.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Iona – The Circling Hour

I've been doing a lot of listening lately and I haven't written about much of the new music I've been listening to. When I get new music I put it in my car and on my computer and iPod. I listen to a random mix of music on my computer – a semi-complicated system that involves several playlists to make sure that new music gets mixed in at a higher rate than older stuff and I hit everything on my computer (all 20 GB) every 90 days or so. So in many ways the real test of how a new album is sticking with me is how long it lives in my car. I have a 45 minute commute every morning and afternoon and these days it's NPR in the morning and CDs in the afternoon. I usually keep things pretty fluid in my 6-CD changer in the Honda but one CD has stayed in the player since I first got it earlier this fall, The Circling Hour by Iona.

Iona, named after the Island of Iona, one of the "thin places," places where the distance between this world and the next are said to be particularly thin. Iona, an Irish group, often takes their lyrical inspiration from ancient texts, the words of saints who have written about their experiences with God and His world. Through using these old texts, the band has formed a bridge between those of us who are followers of Christ today and those brothers and sisters who have gone before. Many of their albums (The Circling Hour is their sixth studio album) are built around a theme. For example, Journey Into the Morn, their fourth album takes its inspiration from the hymn "Be Thou My Vision." The Circling Hour focuses on the beauty of creation.

The style of the music of Iona is progressive rock with heavy doses of traditional Irish music (sometimes using Irish instruments) topped off with the ethereal vocals of Joanne Hogg. Instrumentally, the band is top-notch. Guitarist and band leader David Bainbridge plays jaw-droppingly good solos frequently but one never gets the impression that he's just out to impress the listener. A somewhat recent addition to the band's sound is the violin (played by drummer Frank Van Essen) which soars above the band's sound. The whole album is wonderful, bringing the wash of sound that often characterizes much of Iona's music with tuneful melodies and thoughtful lyrics. To my ears, the last two Iona albums (this one and Open Sky) have been their best. Definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My visit to New Mexico

This weekend I visited Rehoboth, New Mexico and the program for Education Students that Calvin has there. I had a wonderful time. The program is great and the students who go there get the experience of working in an environment that is quite different from Western Michigan in both the natural surroundings but also in culture.

I visited with the students and with Ron and Judy Sjoerdsma who are running the program this semester. I got to see my students involved at Rehoboth Christian School and also at two local public schools. I even got to go to TWO fall festivals – the one at Indian Hills School where our students were helping out was called a "spooktacular!"

Finally, on Saturday I got to visit the Acoma Pueblo. It was spectacular, as you can see from this picture. But I'm home safe and sound and excited about what our students get to experience on their New Mexico semester!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Clapton – The Autobiography

I just finished reading Eric Clapton's autobiography and found it to be a fascinating and powerful story. I recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed his music over the years and in reading it you really get a sense of Clapton's voice. This feels almost more like he is sitting in the room telling his story – the writing is very conversational and clear.

Generally, I felt that it was too short. Cream, for example, gets one chapter and there is so much more to say about those days that I'd like to hear some of the other stories. But in fairness, this book is really in many ways the story of Clapton's slide into drug addiction and alcoholism and his recovery. That is clearly the story he wants to tell because he considers that primary. His secondary story, it seems, is that he now, after 20 years of sobriety, has sorted out the mess he made of his life and has a young wife and a family who he dearly loves. In fact, the last part of the book may actually be a little long as he celebrates how ordinary his life has become. It's hard to begrudge him spending those pages on his happy days, especially after being so candid about his failings early on in the book.

I wish there had been a bit more about the making of the music but then again I almost always say that about first person accounts by musicians. The making of music is hard to talk about and who played what and why is incredibly boring for all but a few of us music nerds so I can see that those things are toned down in books like this. And, frankly, his life was about a lot more than recording albums, even though that is the only part I got to see before this.

It is interesting to me, not having known the story of his addiction and alcoholism well before this, that the point at which he got sober matches well with the point at which I think his playing improved. I consider Journeyman to be a turning point album for him (and I did at the time too) and it turns out that this is soon after he stopped drinking. In fact, his recorded output has been quite strong from that point on. Not surprising.

So overall, this is a fine book, one that I'm sure I'll enjoy picking up again and reading certain passages from, especially when I'm listening to his music for a certain era.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reformed Worship | Faking It

Here is an excellent article that my daughter Bethany wrote and published in Reformed Worship. It was actually published a little while ago but just now got online.

Laura and I have a series of articles on Faith Formation in Worship that began in issue #85 (the issue after the one with Bethany's article) and will run for four issues. We just turned in the third article.

Speaking of Bethany, her "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks continues to gain popularity and is more frequently getting mentioned in both the internet and mainstream press. If you haven't been there yet you should go visit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Producer David Kahn talks about memory Almost Full

Here is a wonderful interview with Paul McCartney's producer David Kahn about the making of Memory Almost Full. I've written before about how much I like this album and it's fun to get a little more inside info.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

24 Season One – not so sure about Nina

Warning: in case you haven't watched Season One of 24 yet, there are spoilers in this review.

I'm watching the first season of 24 again. It's been a little over a year since I got the DVDs for the first season and I'm really enjoying watching them again. One of the things that is fun, of course, is knowing what's going to happen and then seeing if there are any hints along the way that, had I been smart enough the first time through, could have lead me to guess what might happen. The big surprise at the end of season one is that Nina, who is seen as Jack's primary confidant, turns out to be a traitor. So, I thought to myself, were there hints of this earlier in the season?

I come to the conclusion that there are absolutely no hints about this until possibly the end of episode 21 – and even then it is just maybe a look in her eye. This is the point at which I think we have the very first bad thing that goes on where Nina might be complicit – how else would the bad guys know that Kim is on her way back to CTU in the police car unless someone in CIT told them?

Earlier there had been the hit on the safe house in something like episode 15 which may or may not have been set up by Nina. I don't think it was - at least I don't think the writers knew it at the time becasue she was there helping Teri and Kim. She left the house because Teri got weird about Nina's relationship with Jack, not because she knew a hit was coming. It could be argued that she used Teri's weirdness as a convenient excuse to get out of there but I really think the writers just wanted her out of there to keep her safe and put Teri and Kim in danger. I don't think they decided that Nina was a traitor until near the end of the season.

OK, 24 watchers – what do you think? What did I miss?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Beatles Bike Ride

Today I took a bike ride around Holland and realized that it was the perfect ride for Beatles fans. I nearly rode on Harrison St, then I actually did ride on Blue Jay (although there was no fog.) But things really became very Beatle-y for me when I passed Pony Lane (which was in both my ears and my eyes.) As I was passing Pony Lane, my iPod (which was set on shuffle) started playing "We Can Work it Out." It was almost perfect.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The story of the US versions of Beatles albums – part two

(read this first)

In 1966, after the Beatles played their last concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco they took a little time off and then dove back into the studio to work on their next album, what was meant to be an album of reflections on their childhood. They took a long time to record this album – not by modern standards but by their previous standards. They had churned out two albums and four singles a year for a while and now, spending this much time on one album made their fans, the press and others wonder if they had "lost it." In fact, it took so long that when Christmas came around with no new Beatles album to sell, Parlophone put out a collection of the songs that had been on singles but not on albums. That collection was called A Collection of Beatles Oldies (but Goldies). There is no comparable US album because these songs had all appeared on the various US albums already.

But the world wanted new Beatles music too so their manager persuaded them to take two of the songs from their forthcoming album and release them as a single – one by Lennon ("Strawberry Fields Forever") and one by McCartney ("Penny Lane") – in both the UK and the US. This single accomplished two things. It showed they still "had it" and it effectively took the heart out of their forthcoming album of songs about their childhood. So they refocused their energy, used a wacky idea of McCartney's of pretending to be another band and finally finished the new album - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was obvious, even to the business folk at US Capitol Records, that they couldn't carve up this album, subtract songs or mess with it in any way so the US and UK versions of this album are practically identical. (I've never seen this in print anywhere but I'm not convinced that the US version had the run-out groove that we now hear at the end of the CD version of this album. I'd love to hear from someone who bought it in the US and had it on theirs – I'm pretty sure mine didn't.)

The Beatles actually didn't record another album next. They did a few singles ("Hello Goodbye," and "All You Need is Love") and made a film, Magical Mystery Tour, and recorded songs for that film. Those songs, the soundtrack to the album, were released in the UK as a double EP – two 7" singles packaged together with three songs on each disc. The US company knew that the American buyers didn't know much about EPs – they had never really taken off here in the US – and took those six MMT songs, combined them with the recent singles and made an album which they also called Magical Mystery Tour. This is the one case where this idea made so much sense (both musically and economically) that the UK eventually followed suit and released it in this form too – that's why you can get a CD like that.

The Beatles continued to release both albums and singles in the UK and the US but by this time the pattern was well established and they were the same on both sides of the Atalantic – with one exception. In 1969, between the release of Abbey Road and Let it Be, the US got antsy for more new stuff to sell and gathered the singles that had not been released up to that point including "Hey Jude," "Revolution," "The Ballad of John and Yoko," and even "I Should Have Known Better" from 1964 which hadn't been on a US album yet, and put out another album with no title on the cover. The first edition (which I still have) had the name Hey Jude on the spine of the record sleeve but it had The Beatles Again printed on the album itself. Later pressings were just called Hey Jude.

After Let It Be, the Beatles final album, was released in the US and UK, Parlophone released an album called Rarities, which collected b-sides, songs that had only been on EPs in the UK (like "Matchbox") and things like "Bad Boy" which had been recorded specifically with a US audience in mind and released on Beatles '65 but never released in the UK. Since the US had already released all these things on the albums there was no comparable US release – except they, too, made an album of Rarities which had a few alternate takes, mono mixes, one or two songs that actually didn't get on US albums (like "Misery.") It, as well as a 1977 release of The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl, has never been released on CD.

So, there it is. If you buy the CDs you'll find the UK albums as well as two collections called Past Masters Vols 1 and 2 which contain all the tracks that aren't on the UK albums – things like the singles, b-sides, EPs and other things. Other collections (Like 1 and Love) have been identical around the world. So, Kathy, does that answer your question? :)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The story of the U.S. versions of the Beatles albums

I got an email from my friend Kathy this week that said this:

"The Tunas played 'I'll Be Back' the other night, and I had a hankering to listen to it. I went through our Beatles (British) CD's and couldn't find it. It's possible I missed it, and it's definite that I grew up on the American albums and cannot identify which British album it's from. (Beatles VI?)

Pete and I were discussing this over dinner, and he said - Why don't you call Bob; he'll have the answer, he'll enjoy giving it, and you'll enjoy hearing it.

All true, except that I didn't call you.

Now we're wondering if
perhaps you'd like to blog about the concept of American vs. British sequencing."

Everything Pete said was true – this is just the kind of trivial knowledge I love to share. So I figured I could either share it with my family and watch them roll their eyes or invent meetings that they suddenly remembered or I can write about this. So, here I am. This confusion never existed back in the days of vinyl records because all we had were the U.S. albums. Things became more complicated for us in the States when the CDs came out, wisely issued in their original UK configurations, the way the Beatles intended them. But for those of you who, like me, bought albums that weren't available on CD (until the fairly recent Capitol Albums collections) back in the 60's, here is a primer.

Back in the early days of the Beatles, they recorded their albums and singles on the Parlophone label, a division of EMI. Notice that I said albums and singles. Back then the singles were separate from the albums so if you just bought the albums you missed the big hits. The idea was that British teens wouldn't spend their money on albums if they already had all the best songs on singles. This was back in the days of rock and roll when singles were king and artists would quickly knock out enough songs to fill out an album. The Beatles didn't do that. Their albums are legendary and they didn't include their amazing singles. Songs that were just on singles in the UK are many of the ones you know and love; "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "I Feel Fine" and even later ones like "Hey Jude" and "Penny Lane."

So the Beatles recorded their first three singles on Parlophone and pretty quickly had hits in England helped, in part, by the fact that their manager, Brian Epstein, owned a record store in Liverpool. There is talk that he bought enough copies of "Love Me Do," their first single, to at least get it on the charts. Whether that really happened or not isn't clear. What is clear, though, is that Capitol Records in the U.S. wasn't interested in releasing the Beatles records, even though they were also owned by EMI. They had first refusal and, when they did, the records were shopped around to small independent labels like VJ and Swan. (This is a picture of the Swan version of the "She Loves You" single.)

When the Beatles made their first album, Please Please Me (a rare case in which the smash single was included on the album) Capitol refused that as well so an album with many of those songs was released on VJ Records in the U.S. making almost no splash over on this side of the Atlantic. I say "many of the songs" because the U.S. was accustomed to shorter albums with only 12 songs and the British albums had 14 songs. So the Beatles continued to release singles and put out a couple of huge hits in England, "She Loves You," which, unbelievably, the U.S. Capitol still refused to put out, and "I Want To Hold Your Hand," which was such a hit in the UK that Capitol finally gave in an released it. The American response to that song was overwhelming.

Once the American flood gates opened the rush of Beatles material in the U.S was amazing because by the time they came to the U.S. they had released their second UK album – another 14 songs worth. So when Capitol released the "first" Beatles album in the U.S. (Meet the Beatles) they used mostly songs (and the cover photo) from the Beatles second UK album. They used a few songs from their first album (like "I Saw Her Standing There") plus the hit U.S. single "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and made an album out of it. So there were well over 30 Beatles songs to choose from and Capitol selected 12 to put on their first album. This meant that their was plenty of "new" material for their second U.S. album called The Beatles' Second Album, to be released almost immediately. It sold on the strength of their second big U.S. single, "She Loves You," which was actually recorded and released before "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in England.

So by this time the connection between US and UK albums was mostly gone. And the Beatles were churning stuff out at such a prodigious rate that Capitol had a hard time finding a way to include the stuff from their first album on subsequent releases. Finally they released an album called The Early Beatles which took care of most (but not all) of the first UK album stuff that they had missed. To complicate things the songs in the movie A Hard Day's Night were licensed to United Artists so there was a soundtrack album for the movie from one US company, and a new album called Something New From the Beatles from another company (Capitol) neither of which matched the UK album A Hard Days' Night but which had some of the same songs. By the way, this is the album that includes the song "I'll be Back" which Kathy asked about in her letter.

So Capitol was playing mix and match with Beatles songs and albums and, along the way, even missing a few songs completely. "I Should Have Known Better," a song from 1964's A Hard Day's Night, never got on a U.S. Beatles album until 1970! This mash-up of album tracks and singles kept up with a few US albums having no clear UK counterpart. This gives us albums like Beatles '65 and Beatles VI which kind of straddle the UK albums Beatles for Sale and Help. (although, just to confuse things, there was a US version of Help with only the songs from the movie plus orchestrated soundtrack stuff while the UK version of Help had additional songs.)

Then Capitol at least started making albums that were similar – the US and UK versions of Rubber Soul and Revolver are close to being the same but are not identical with songs from the UK Help on the US Rubber Soul, songs missing on the US versions of both. There were almost enough songs left over that a whole new US album called Yesterday and Today was released which picked up the tracks that hadn't been used elsewhere. In an amazing move the U.S. actually grabbed a couple of tracks from the UK version of Revolver that hadn't been released yet to include on Yesterday and Today.

So, by the end of 1966, when the Beatles took a break from touring and cloistered themselves in the studio to make Sgt Pepper all of their US and UK albums had only a passing similarity. Of course, those of us who were teens in the US had no idea that any of this was going on. We just happily shelled out our money and wore the grooves down on our records.

This is enough for now. I'll finish the story in another post. EDIT: The story is continued here.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Caedmon’s Call – Overdressed

When I heard that Derek Webb was returning to Caedmon's Call (for at least one album and a tour) I was pleased. I thought that Derek benefitted from being in the band (although his solo work has been very good) and Caedmon's was better when Derek was there. So I wasn't really surprised when Overdressed, the new Caedmon's album was excellent. What did surprise me, though, is how strong all the members of the band are on this album, especially Andrew Osenga. With strong vocals, arrangements and writing, Overdressed is the best CC album since 2000's Long Line of Leavers.

Even though I came into this album excited to hear Derek's songs it is the two songs that feature Andy Osenga, "Expectations" and "Hold the Light," that really caught my ear. "Hold the Light," sounds like a really good track from the Normals (Andrew's previous band) and "Expectations" sounds like nothing Caedmon's Call has done before. That's not true of the entire album. Caedmon's wisely went back to their acoustic-based sound that they first honed on their independent albums and their first self-titled national release. And while there are sonic diversions, many of the songs, especially those sung by Cliff Young, tend to be right down the middle of the strike zone for fans of the traditional Caedmon's sound, which is both good and bad. It's good to hear what one expects from a Caedmon's Call album but it's also good to be surprised. This album has a nice dose of both. I especially enjoy hearing more of Danielle Young on this album than I did on earlier ones. She seems to take the vocal spotlight more often – or maybe she's just doing it better. "Sacred," a song she sings about how even our daily housework is done for God, is well written and well delivered. This album has many highlights, however, and only a few songs I merely like. I should note that the writing by Webb and Osenga along with Randall Goodgame and Sandra McCracken is especially strong on this album. If, like me, you thought that Caedmon's Call's best days were behind them and that perhaps they were fading away, this album will renew your enthusiasm for what is arguably one of the best bands to come out of the Christian Music industry.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More people saying nice things about my book

These are probably the final two endorsements for my book, Helping Our Children Grow in Faith. It has been wonderful to read what others who I respect as professionals in the field have written about it. The book goes to the printer soon and I'll probably have a copy in my hands some time in December.

“Though this book includes lots of specific ‘we could do that’ ideas, it is mainly a sweeping vision book. I’d buy it for a parent or committee member who is new to children’s ministry or for one who has ‘done it all’ and needs to remember what it’s all about.”

—Carolyn Brown, children's ministry consultant and author

“Robert Keeley masterfully describes some of the best current ideas for nurturing children’s spiritual development—intentional intergenerationality, the significance of story, the role of wonder—and illustrates them with colorful family stories and incisive vignettes from a variety of church settings. Along the way, Keeley integrates biblical insights as well as key principles from Piaget, Kohlberg, and Fowler in engaging, understandable language. The book closes with a delightful bonus---an appendix of picture books Keeley recommends for fostering spirituality in children.”

--Holly Allen, Associate Professor of Christian Ministries and Director of Children and Family Ministries, John Brown University

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Internet Notoriety

My daughter Bethany is apparently spending her fifteen minutes of fame on punctuation. Her "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks got picked as a Yahoo Pick of the day and then written about by the Associated Press and her blog got 18,000 hits on the day the story got posted.

The story got posted on line by the New York Times, the Washington Post and lots of other newspapers around the country.

I think she did a radio interview for an L.A. radio station too. Pretty cool.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Two more endorsements

In addition to the ones I posted earlier, this week I received two more endorsements for my forthcoming book, Helping Our Children Grow in Faith.

“Helping Our Children Grow in Faith
offers a thoughtful, accessible, and practical introduction to the basic building blocks of effective ministries with children. Robert J. Keeley takes seriously children and their spiritual development, challenging congregations to move beyond simplistic approaches that don’t fully engage children. In the process, he invites leaders to transform congregations to become communities where children are included, loved, valued, and nurtured by a whole community of caring Christians.”

Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Co-Director
Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence
Search Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota

“Biblical,” “practical,” and “scholarly” are one way to describe Bob Keeley’s book. “Warm, “gentle,” and “encouraging” are another set of descriptors. Helping Our Children Grow in Faith weaves personal experience with scholarly research and biblical perspectives in offering pastors, parents, and church educators practical wisdom while gently challenging them to consider new ways to offer children a rich, vibrant faith. This would be an excellent study book for parents or a church’s Christian education committee.

George Brown, Jr.
G.W. and Eddie Haworth Professor of Christian Education & Associate Dean,
Western Theological Seminary, Holland, MI

Friday, September 14, 2007

Amy Grant podcast

Back in the old days of Contemporary Christian Music Amy Grant was the big star. She had CCM's first million seller with Age to Age, she was the first to "cross over" to the mainstream with unguarded, and she made what many consider the best album of the genre with Lead Me On. As one who followed her career from the early days (I saw her first tour with a band) I enjoyed her music as she changed from someone who sang primarily to tracks produced for her when she wasn't there to a serious artist who took control of her albums.

Frankly, I don't listen to a whole lot of Amy Grant any more (except at Christmas) and some of her albums sound quite dated. But I have fond memories of almost all of them. So when she produced this podast to celebrate the re-release of her catalog I subscribed to get it. And I'm really glad I did. This podcast is wonderful. Each segment (so far there are five) is a 20 minute talk about her albums, the writing and creating. it focuses on the music and not on People magazine type stuff. It's great. If you listened to Amy's music in the past subscribe to this *free* podcast. By the way, her recent live album, Time Again, is also a nice retrospective of her career done with a great band and updated sound.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

You say Goodbye...

It seems that Paul McCartney has been seeing a bit of Renee Zellweger lately, at least according to The Daily Star. Now normally I don't comment on such things because, well, you know... who cares? But in this case I will make an exception because I find the following line irresistable: Do you think she said "you had me at hello, goodbye?"

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Endorsements for my forthcoming book

Here are what some folks have written about Helping Our Children Grow in Faith (which will be available in January from Baker Books):

"I loved this book! Robert Keeley points us in the right direction for building a ministry strategy with children. It is a delight to find someone with a clear vision of how the entire life of the church needs to be developed if we want our children to have a healthy, growing faith in Jesus Christ. This is a 'must read' for every children's pastor and lay leader who cares about the spiritual nurture of children."

Kevin E. Lawson,
Director of Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs in Educational Studies
Talbot School of Theology
Editor, Christian Education Journal.

“Robert Keeley provides local church leaders with an accessible resource to guide reflection on their ministry with children. Two very important themes weave through the book, the role of the biblical story and the role of the faith community in the "three dimensional" faith formation of children.; the forming of "a faith that affects their head, their heart, and their spirit." Dr. Keeley challenges readers to see Bible stories as more than "moral tales' and discusses how to allow children to discover in those stories who God is and the relationship they can have with our great and loving God. Drawing on his rich experience as a Children's Ministry Director, Dr. Keeley offers practical suggestions for welcoming children into the faith community as authentic participants. He envisions church as a "child friendly culture," an environment healthy for the spiritual growth of children. And he points the way to forming such a community.”

Dr. Catherine Stonehouse
Asbury Theological Seminary
Dean of the School of Practical Theology
Orlean Bullard Beeson Professor of Christian Discipleship
Author of Joining Children on their Spiritual Journey

“Christians love their children deeply and are concerned for their growth, especially their growth in faith. For that reason Robert Keeley gifts us with a delightful, helpful, and accessible book for parents and children's ministry leaders. "Helping Our Children Grow in Faith" is an excellent resource for shoring up children's growth in faith. It also is an entry point for exploring the burgeoning field of resources becoming available that address the faith and spiritual life of children.

Writing from a reformed tradition, he rightly posits the faith of a child as coming from God, and it is the Holy Spirit that begins that work. But the community of faith and the parents are to help build the child's faith. Here is where this book shines.

Structured around six key principles, this book is loaded with stories and examples of how to implement them. For example, because Keeley feels that a church that mentors children may have a greater impact than a church with dynamic programs, he describes how mentoring might take place. His chapter on story is insightful. He also has the courage to go against the popular trend of separating children from adults for worship. He says that children need both--a time to worship with adults and time for worship intended for their own age.”

Scottie May
Dept. of Christian Formation and Ministry
Wheaton College
Co-author of Children Matter: Celebrating their Place in the Church, Family and Community

"Helping our children grow in faith is an engaging look at the opportunities and challenges of nurturing children's faith. Prof. Keeley's clear explanation of faith nurture, and thoughtful examination of the role of parents and congregations in the process is a refreshing invitation for the church to re-prioritize its children's ministry."

Darwin Glassford
Assoc. Professor of Church Education
Director of M.A. Programs
Calvin Theological Seminary

"Keeley has done us all a great service and made very insightful material available. I've always wanted our children to grow in faith and I've worked hard at it. But now I understand better how it happens, what it takes, and how one stage is different from another. Growing their faith won't happen without growing a church in which they can grow. This book will take you inside the church by taking you inside the process of forming a child's faith!"

Howard Vanderwell
Resource Development Specialist
Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
Co-author of Designing Worship Together

"Bob Keeley combines biblical grounding, educational research, and much experience to create this down-to-earth guide. Readers will find here not only practical advice but also a wise proposal about changing our congregational cultures in ways that benefit young and old. Above all, readers will be inspired by the deep love and respect for children shining through this book."

Debra Rienstra
Associate Professor of English
Calvin College
Author of So Much More: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality

Friday, September 07, 2007

Photograph: the very best of Ringo Starr

This has been a good season for Beatles fans. It started when Paul McCartney released one of his best solo albums with Memory Almost Full. But then it continued with an excellent re-release of the complete Traveling WIlburys catalog in a wonderful two-disc set showing that at the end of his career George Harrison still had some good tricks left in him. Then there was the Instant Karma collection with the solo catalog of John Lennon covered by a wide variety of modern artists. Tribute albums are not always successful but this collection reminded me of what a fine writer Lennon was and encouraged me to look back at his recordings again in the excellent Working Class Hero collection (newly available on iTunes.) And finally, and for me surprisingly fun, the best of Ringo Starr. These albums have all served to remind me that the Beatles were indeed something special and that there solo work also stands up well.

What surprised me most about the Ringo collection is that I find myself singing along with so many of the songs. It's not that I know them (although in most cases I did) but the type of songs they are just ask to be sung along with. "The No No Song," for example has that catchy chorus that I find irresistible. The same is true for "It Don't Come Easy," "I'm the Greatest," "Back off Boogaloo," "You're Sixteen," and the title track, "Photograph." Many reviewers have noted that Ringo actually outsold all the other former Beatles for a brief period and it's easy to see why – his friendly personality brought out the best in his collaborators. It's like they really wanted to do something good for Ringo and his clear limits as a vocalist and writer were used to his advantage.

This is not an album that I'm going to lift up as the finest example of pop music over the last forty years but it is an album that I'm going to continue to put on and that I'll probably find myself in the car singing along with at the top of my voice.

And to top it all off, it seems that we can stop worrying because Help! Is on the way!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Too much new music?

I've had a great summer from a music appreciation standpoint. I went back in my collection and pulled out a couple of old albums that I haven't listened to in a while and, just over the last month, I've picked up way too may new recordings. Part of this is because things I've ordered in the mail came at about the same time and part of it is that Best Buy has had some good stuff for $7.99 lately. I've also been intrigued by some new artists and I've taken a chance on them. I have also found that the Paste Magazine samplers and the iTunes free downloads of the week have made me aware of some artists that I would not have noticed. It's been fun.

I may write reviews of each of these albums in time but for right now, here is a list of what I've added to my iPod lately in no particular order.

Old albums I got out again:

  • Crimson and Blue – Phil Keaggy
  • Open Sky – Iona
  • Woven Cord - Iona
  • The Story of the Ghost – Phish
  • Farmhouse – Phish
  • Europe '72 – Grateful Dead
  • Good Feeling to Know – Poco
  • In My Father's House – Richie Furay
  • Working Class Hero – John Lennon (see my post about this.)
  • The Friendship and the Fear – Matt Redman
  • Wingspan – Paul McCartney and Wings
  • Coming to Life – The Normals


New albums:

  • The Fragile Army – the Polyphonic Spree
  • Under the Blacklight – Rilo Kiley
  • One Cell in the Sea – A Fine Frenzy
  • The Silence of Everything Yearned For – Ric Hordinski
  • The Trumpet Child – Over the Rhine
  • iTunes Festival London – Paul McCartney
  • Arrivals and Departures – the Icicles
  • Singularity – Mae
  • Letters from the Editor, Vol. 1 – Andrew Osenga


I've added all these (plus some Paste Samplers and free iTunes downloads) since July 13. All of the brand new music has come since July 29. So I have a lot to digest and I've been having a great time doing that. Plus, I continue to listen to things that I haven't listened to on my iTunes in the lat three months – they naturally come up in my playlist – and that often gives me a "hey, this is cool stuff" moment. Hopefully I'll give a full review of many of these at some point.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bad exegesis

I often ask my students if they can think of examples of bad biblical exegesis* that they have heard and I sometimes get some good examples. Ben Witherington (professor at Asbury Theological Seminary) points us to a good one in his blog post about a pastor who asks his congregation to pray for his critics to die. See this article in the LA Times. Here is an excerpt:

Drake said Wednesday he was "simply doing what God told me to do" by targeting Americans United officials Joe Conn and Jeremy Leaming, whom he calls the "enemies of God."

"God says to pray imprecatory prayer against people who attack God's church," he said. "The Bible says that if anybody attacks God's people, David said this is what will happen to them. . . . Children will become orphans and wives will become widows."

Imprecatory prayers are alternately defined as praying for someone's misfortune, or an appeal to God for justice.

"Let his days be few; and let another take his office," the prayer reads. "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."
Make sure you read Witherington's response.

* "Exegesis" is determining what the original readers of a passage of scripture understood the passage to mean to them. "Hermeneutics" is applying that message to us today. Hermeneutics without good exegesis is problematic at best.

Desert Island Discs Part Nine - Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full

I know it just came out but I'm going to add Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full to my list. See my recent review here. I still like it and I still find new things in it. I almost picked Chaos and Creation or Flaming Pie but all this just goes to show that McCartney has been on a roll lately!

Since I just recently reviewed it I'll just let you read what I wrote there.

There are four friends joining me on my Desert Island journey. Check their lists:

My Complete Desert Island List (so far):

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Working Class Hero

The release of the Instant Karma collection, which I reviewed here, got me thinking about Lennon's solo music and I continue to enjoy listening to what new artists have done to reinterpret Lennon's songs. With the release this week of Lennon's catalog on iTunes I noticed a best-of collection called Working Class Hero, the Definitive Lennon and, as I looked at it, I found myself thinking that this was a great collection of songs. Now I already have most of the Lennon stuff, having bought both the original boxed set, called Lennon, and the John Lennon's Anthology, which did for Lennon's solo music what The Beatles' Anthology did for the group's music – present out-takes and alternate versions along with a few unreleased gems. As I looked at Working Class Hero I realized that I had every one of the 38 songs on the collection so I made my own version of it using the discs I had and iTunes.

Listening to this collection a couple of times made me realize that this is, perhaps, the best way to listen to Lennon's solo music. First of all, this is a long collection, thirty-eight tracks, so there is a lot of music here. It takes more than two-and-a-half hours to listen to it all. Second, while a few of Lennon's albums are classics, most notably Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, the rest of his releases have quite a bit of stuff on them that is less than stellar. And I can only listen to Plastic Ono Band when I'm in a certain mood because that album is really intense. Plus, Lennon's singles were really good. "Give Peace a Chance," "Instant Karma," and "Happy Xmas" are among his best work and they don't live on any regular albums. That's why I enjoyed Shaved Fish, Lennon's first greatest hits collection, so much in the old album days.

All the expected songs are here. You'll be hard pressed (or at the very least a hard-core fan) to be able to name any significant song that has been left off. And this collection includes the Lennon-only demo of "Real Love" and, as an added bonus, the George Martin orchestrated version of "Grow Old With Me" closes out the album. I'm generally not a "greatest hits" kind of guy, preferring to think that albums are conceived and created as units and therefore ought to be listened to as such, but Working Class Hero is one case where pulling out the best songs works out really well.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Two conferences in three weeks

It's been a little while since I've written anything about my actual life here so I thought I'd reflect for a minute about the two conferences that I attended and spoke for over the last three weeks. In late July I attended the Christian Schools International annual leadership conference. I did a day-long pre-convention workshop about helping children grow in faith. There were a couple of cool things about this convention. First of all Laura got to come along to Boyne Highlands, a beautiful spot near the northern tip of lower Michigan. While we were there we went a little further north the Big Mac Bridge. Here I am in this picture recreating the cover for my less-than-incredibly-successful Math Textbook, Precalculus: A Study of Functions and their Applications. The actual book cover doesn't have me on it but except for that it's the same. See?

The conference itself was fun too. I got to spend a day with some school administrators and church workers and talk with them about some of the new ideas that I've been working on this summer as a follow up to my forthcoming book about nurturing faith.

Then this weekend Laura and I both spoke at the conference put on by Faith Alive Resources, who publishes our Christmas plays, curricula and other things for churches. We always enjoy hanging out with the staff and editors and we had fun meeting the people who came to the conference. It was held in Grand Rapids and, while it wasn't a particularly exotic locale, at least not for those who work there, we stayed in a nice hotel with a waterslide, which was too much fun.

We spoke three times at the conference. I did the overview of the six principles which I discuss in Helping our Children Grow in Faith and Laura and I two sessions together: one on summer programs and another on using drama. For the drama session we brought five kids from our church with us to demonstrate three short dramas that we had written. They did a great job and we had fun but now we're pretty tired. It's time for a few days of kicking back and then time to gear up for a new semester!.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Desert Island Discs, part Eight – Europe ’72 by the Grateful Dead

I got to see the Grateful Dead three times while I lived in Denver, in '79, '80 and '81 and I really got to enjoy their songs and the improvisational nature of their shows. (That might be why, a few years later I was intrigued by Phish.) And as every Dead fan knows it's really all about the shows and tapes of their concerts, not about their albums. Now I really like their albums (especially Workingman's Dead and American Beauty) but their three-album, two-disc live collection from that era, Europe '72 is perhaps an even better record of those years. The recording is crystal clear and the band, who recently added Keith and Donna Godchaux to the mix, was in fine form. This was the last tour with Ron "Pigpen" McKernon, who was dying from liver failure, and he's pretty quiet throughout. In fact, his organ parts were replaced in the studio later by Merl Saunders. But even with that studio trickery (which is really foreign to what the Dead are all about) this album is a wonderful collection of songs played well and recorded beautifully.

I have a clear memory of working on a crew mowing lawns on my second summer in Denver singing these songs to myself. "Cumberland Blues," "Ramble on Rose," and "Jack Straw" are among the highlights for me but the song that really caught my ear as a college student was "China Cat Sunflower." This performance absolutely sparkles and the interesting counterpoint between Bob Wier's running guitar figure and Jerry Garcia's vocal is always entertaining. I have LOTS of live Dead on my shelf but this version of "China Cat," and the wonderful collection of songs here puts Europe '72 at the top of the pile.

There are four friends joining me on my Desert Island journey. Check their lists:

My Complete Desert Island List (so far):