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