Saturday, March 24, 2007

My Musical Guilty Pleasure - Heart

I have, for quite some time now, harbored a love for band that isn’t critically celebrated. In fact, even though I have nearly all of their albums I seldom admit it. The band in question is HEART. The Wilson sisters first came to prominence in 1976 (the year I graduated from college) with their hit “Magic Man” from their debut album Dreamboat Annie. The combination of the crunchy guitars of Nancy Wilson and Howard Leese along with the amazing vocals of Ann Wilson made for a dynamic first single. The album was released on a small label (Mushroom Records) (which we would probably now call and indie label) but it sold like crazy and, for a time, the Wilson sisters and their band were at the top of the charts. Their second album, Little Queen was on a major label, included the mega-hit “Barracuda” and solidified their place in the seventies rock establishment. This was cool stuff and Ann Wilson could really sing!

Things didn’t always go well for Heart, though. They had a couple of albums that I thought were great but didn’t sell like the first two, Bebe LeStrange and Dog and Butterfly (which, while it may not have been a huge hit, may be their best). Then after a couple of really weak albums they reinvented the band in 1985 with a new rhythm section, a new glamorous look, a new record label and a self-titled album. (I should mention that the album just before they got big again, Passionworks, was a particularly strong album even though no one seemed to notice.) Soon Heart were hot again and the album spawned a number of hit songs. One of their hits even featured guitar playing sister Nancy on lead vocals. Their sound was smoothed out a bit, keyboards played a bigger role in their songs and they were a hot 80’s band (complete with 80’s hair). And lets face it, these sisters were made for video and the new MTV loved them. But this didn’t last long either. Each successive album sold less than it’s predecessors, Ann gained weight and became less of an MTV hottie and the audience drifted away. She could still sing up a storm though but eventually Heart finally packed it in. (Recently they reformed and put out a new album but I haven’t heard it yet.)

Nonetheless, I stayed with them for a long time, even in the lean years (typified by their worst album, Private Audition.) Every once in a while I have the urge to hear the old stuff and I get out a couple of albums and crank it up. While on vacation in the car I heard a couple of Heart tunes on the radio and realized that the time had come to pull out the old CDs again. (I like them enough to have repurchased those first few albums on CD even though I had them on vinyl.) As I write this I have their 1985 self-titled comeback album playing and I find myself knowing an awful lot of the words. Listening to this album brings me back to when I lived in Denver. I remember walking on Evans Avenue with a tape of this album on in my Walkman. I also remember that when I saw them on the Bad Animals tour they were fabulous and put on a great show. (If my memory serves me correctly a new singer named Michael Bolton was the ignored opener.)

So because I so often find myself listening to this stuff it is time to come clean – My name is Bob and I actually listen to Heart. And I enjoy it.

If you want to try to figure out why I like this band so much a great place to start is Dog and Butterfly. It shows that Heart could be a rockin' electric band but also had an interesting acoustic side to them too.

So, what's your musical guilty pleasure?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Beatles albums in Lego

Worth the quick trip to this site to see more.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Hiking the Applachian Trail

We're back from our short trip to Athens, GA to visit Bethany. On the way home we hiked the Appalachian Trail. Ok, so we didn't hike a LOT of it, but we hiked it nonetheless. We had a great time seeing Bethany again and hanging out with her in Athens.

Highlights include:
- Playing and singing in church with Bethany and the Sundays at the Morton Band in Athens, GA. The band is great and we had a wonderful worship service.
- Seeing the Georgia Aquarium - almost worth the trip to Georgia all by itself.
- Four days in the car and actually enjoying listening to country music in Tennessee and Kentucky.
- The Waffle House in rural Tennessee - the complete Tennessee experience there in one restaurant.
- Seeing Alabama for the first time - we were so close that we got off the highway, took the 3 mile side trip to Alabama, got out of the car, threw a frisbee, got back in and drove back to Tennessee. We never even turned the car off.
- Taking a completely different route there and back. We left from Grand Rapids where we picked up Meredith and Bryan so we got to Indianapolis a different way than we drove home from there and on the way home we saw the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (which was a wonder of nature) and Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge (which is as different from that as you can get) so we left Athens a different way. We traveled the same road for about 15 minutes around Indianapolis. Including our trip to Atalanta on Monday we drove about 2000 miles over six days.

Many more pictures here

spring break in Georgia

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Paul McCartney may be putting out a new album - at Starbucks?

This article, MACCA-News: Paul McCartney Leaving Capitol Records After 40 Years , says that McCartney is leaving Capital Records where he has been for a very long time and that he will be releasing a new album on the new label from Starbucks. That's right, the coffee place. Other sources have stated that a new McCartney album, reported to be "a rocker" is already done and ready to go.

This isn't surprising since Paul has often used the studio to work through personal tough times and he's had more than his share lately. Some of his (and others) best work has come out of trying times. For example, Band on the Run was made when his band left him and he was recording in less than perfect circumstances in Lagos, Nigeria; Tug of War was just after Lennon's death; Flaming Pie came when his wife Linda was being treated for cancer; finally, Chaos and Creation (see some of my thoughts about that album here) was when he was thinking about what to do about his crumbling marriage to Heather. I've just listed what fans a critics generally consider Paul's best solo albums. For that matter, Abbey Road was made when there was a pretty clear this-is-our-last-album vibe in the Beatles.

But hardship is not enough to make a great album. Linda's death was followed by Run Devil Run which, while it was also a rocker, was almost a throw-away album with covers of old and mostly obscure rock songs. Then, when he released an album of new material it was the less-than-outstanding Driving Rain. This album isn't bad but it certainly isn't among Macca's best. (Although in fairness, Paul also began work on Ecce Cor Meum which, as I've written about earlier, is excellent.) So, while I really don't wish hard times on McCartney, it does help me to think that this next album might be pretty good - we'll have to see. Hopefully, it won't be a long wait.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D Schmidt

This past year I have enjoyed being part of the Book of the Quarter group at Calvin Theological Seminary. Each quarter President Neil Plantinga selects a book that a number of folks read and we get together a few times over lunch at the Seminary and talk about what we have read. I’ve read some good books (only one of which I’ve reviewed before on this blog – I’m not sure why I only reviewed one of them) and I’ve enjoyed the fellowship and discussions about the books. These are not typically books about preaching or theology, rather they are good and interesting books that inform our thinking and generate discussion.

This quarter the book is by Gary Schmidt, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Gary is a colleague of mine at Calvin College and this book has won a number of awards including being named a Newberry Honor Book, one of the highest awards that a book for children can receive. So one would expect this to be a good book. What I didn’t expect was that it would grab me as it did and that the writing would be as crisp and as delightful as it was. The plot is based on historical events from Malaga Island, off the coast of Maine in the early part of the twentieth century. Schmidt gives us this history story through the eyes of a boy, a minister’s son, who can’t imagine why the town of Phippsburg would want to get rid of the people who live on nearby Malaga Island, including a young girl he befriends.

Even though it is a children’s book it is not short. But even at 216 pages, I had a hard time putting the book down. Gary Schmidt has done a wonderful job with this book and it is well worth the read.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Why Do You Sing?

“Why do you sing?” Allison Adam asked us that last night and a seminar that she led at the Calvin Seminary Chapel. Answers varied from “to build community” and “to celebrate something” to “it helps us remember” and “to express how we feel.” Allison pointed out that all of those reasons (and a few I forgot) are also reasons we sing in worship and she led us through a few songs in each category, songs that were mostly new to most of us in the seminar. The group sang well (often singing a capella but sometimes ably accompanied by Rachel Klompmaker on piano and a quartet of percussionists) and we learned the new songs quickly due in no small part to Allison’s skill as a song leader and teacher.

Along the way we picked up tips for teaching songs to our congregations and learned some songs that could be very well used in worship. Many of the songs came from the Iona Community, where Allison worked for a number of years. I especially liked the John Bell songs and singing them always reminds me of when I hung out with him and Ron Rienstra for a few days when I played electric guitar for the Hymn Society in Minnesota. (Not many people can say that they did that - this is a group that doesn't use the electric guitar often.) Allison's delightful manner, her wonderful gift for songleading and her Scottish accent made for an evening that went by quickly. Laura and I also got to see a couple of friends that we don’t see very often which made the evening even better. Thanks to the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship for sponsoring this event. I wish some of my Fourteenth Street Church friends had come. While there was a fine crowd there was plenty of room for more people and our church would have benefited from more of us learning from Allison

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Bono at NAACP awards

I've seen good speeches before but Bono's speech at the NAACP awards is truly remarkable. It almost seems like a scene out of West Wing where Bartlett brings people to their feet but this is a real response to a truly great speech. Make sure you watch all the way to the end (it's about 7 minutes.) The last sixty seconds is really something.