Sunday, December 14, 2008

Top albums of the year

Best of lists are inherently idiosyncratic and mine are especially so. These albums are not the best of the year because I have only listened to a small percentage of the albums that have come out this year. This list represents the albums that stayed in my player the longest over the course of the year - the ones that I like a lot and that kept getting played. So here they are, in no particular order, my top 8 of 2008.

1. The Fireman - Electric Arguments
I am a big fan of Paul McCartney, as even a cursory glance of this blog will show, and it’s nice when he makes a good album. I am of the opinion that he’s done that a lot lately and Electric Arguments is another fine example. It is creative, melodic and interesting. I wrote more in my recent blog post here.

2. In the Name of Love - Africa Celebrates U2
I found out about this album by reading a review in Paste Magazine so I got it and I love it. I can be a sucker for African music and mixing that sound with the music of one of my favorite bands, U2, is a no-brainer for me. This album is by a variety of artists, none of whom I had ever heard of before. Some tracks, of course, are stronger than others but even the tracks I thought were not great at first have grown on me. This is a fun album that shows that U2’s music translates into other genres very well. (This is far superior to the similarly titled album that CCM artists did a few years ago.)

3. The Allens
This album is probably my favorite Noisetrade find of the year (along with Katie Herzig’s album which almost made the list - get that one here.) This husband-wife duo from Texas sings and plays in a way that speaks to me. I like their sound and I like their songs. And the album is free. Go get it.

4. Elvis Costello – Momofuku
I’ve been an Elvis fan for quite a while and he released a good one this year just before I saw him in concert for the first time. The songs are well written and the album was banged out in a hurry so it sounds fresh and exciting. That's why it is named after the inventor of instant noodles. Here is my review.

5. Big Blue Ball
Peter Gabriel assembled a group of people from all over the world to record in his studio over a period of something like 15 years. The tracks cover a wide range of styles and Gabriel himself only appears occasionally but the album is varied and interesting and has some really cool tracks.

6. Ingrid Michaelson - Girls and Boys
This album is actually a 2007 album but I didn’t even know who Ingrid was until this past summer so I'm cheating and putting her on this year's list because her CD spent a lot of time in my player this year. Her songs are wonderful in their simplicity and her guitar and piano compliment her fragile voice perfectly. Her recent album, Be OK, is more of a collection of b-sides and live tracks than a real album and Girls and Boys is superior.

7. Jon Foreman – Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer
Jon Foreman, the driving force behind Switchfoot, shows that there is a lot more to him than just a rock guy with this set of 4 EPs that deliver acoustic settings of songs that don’t fit the Switchfoot mode. Foreman continues to write about his faith in a way that doesn’t settle for easy answers or trite sloganeering. For acoustic albums there is great variety in both the songwriting and the arrangements with Foreman bringing in brass, strings and even his sister-in-law Sarah Masen on vocals on one song. The compilation, Limbs and Branches, gives 10 of the songs from the 24 song, 4 EP collection and adds two new songs to it as well. An earlier review that I wrote is here.

8. Phil Keaggy – Phantasmagorical
This past year Keaggy toured to support the 30th Anniversary of his landmark album the Master and the Musician. He recorded Phantasmagorical with some of those songs ringing in his ears and continues his string of strong albums. The playing is, of course, fabulous but the writing continues to be very good and Phil’s talent as an arranger continues to grow. This album stands up to some of his best. See my earlier review here.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

25 days of free Christmas songs

Amazon is giving a song away for free every day in December - click here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Electric Arguments – Paul McCartney as the Fireman

Electric Arguments is the new album by the Fireman - Paul McCartney and Youth (the bassist for Killing Joke – whoever that is.) I did not buy the first two Fireman albums. They were strange ambient music – at least the part I can hear on samples from itunes – and, while I can appreciate ambient music I’m not sure I want to invest in it. But this new one is different. This has Paul singing. He and Youth went into the studio with no song in mind and no plan and, by the end of the day had a recording. He did this 13 times over the year. The result is an album that is part McCartney being his tuneful self, part McCartney being his experimental self and part Youth being his, well, youthful self.

So, what do I think? Well, on the one hand, I’m not sure yet. It is a bit of a strange album. On the other hand in the week since I’ve picked it up I find myself playing it over and over again. I haven't done this with any other album since Memory Almost Full, McCartney’s last album. I find myself entranced by the moodiness of the songs, by the interesting arrangements and by the sheer variety. There are also some really cool moments on the album.

Many reviewers are saying that this is the best McCartney album in decades – some say since Ram. Now I don’t remember people going all crazy over Ram or saying that that was one of McCartney’s best albums but, OK, Ram was a cool album and I can see why they say that Electric Arguments reminds them of it. But it also sometimes reminds me of Magical Mystery Tour and of McCartney II and also of Press to Play – did anyone else buy that one??? But to say that it’s McCartney’s best in decades is to minimize the cool stuff that McCartney has done lately. He’s done a lot of really outstanding albums lately – Flaming Pie, Chaos and Creation and Memory Almost Full have all gotten strong reviews and they’ve all been called the best in years from McCartney. (Reviewers seem to have short memories.) But because Electric Arguments is a collaboration with a producer it has a different flavor than his other albums, much like Chaos and Creation did.

So Electric Arguments is not “McCartney’s best”, nor is it a “return to form” or any of those things that some reviewers are saying. But it is a very good experimental album from an artist who, to a greater or lesser extent, does this a lot more often than he gets credit for. And I just can't seem to take it out of my CD player.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Joel Osteen on the economy

"If we can stay positive and hopeful, God will bring us through to a better day."

This quote, from the latest issue of Christianity Today, shows that Joel Osteen flunked Grace 101.

He also apparently blames the great depression on people who were, well, depressed. While I do think that a fair amount of the economy is a head game and that if we keep in mind that the economy is fundamentally sound (where have I heard that before?) things will go better for us, I also think that if God was giving us what we deserved then I wouldn't have a computer at all - I certainly wouldn't have a mac. :) This isn't about what we deserve. God has a plan for us - just as he had a plan for Joseph - and I hope that it doesn't involve me sleeping in a homeless shelter but, even if it does, God will still be with me.

So, Rev Osteen, I disagree with your assessment. I think that God has already seen us through to a better day - it's called Easter. The rest is just gravy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

40 Years Ago - the Beatles' White Album

Tomorrow, Nov 22, marks the 40th Anniversary of the release of the White Album. I reserved a copy of that album at my local record store in Ridgewood NJ before it came out and when I went to get it the proprietor reached under the counter and pulled it out and gave it to me. It was white. It had the words "The Bealtes" embossed on the cover along with a number stamped on the front - I forget what the number was but it wasn't a particularly low one - I think somewhere in the 100,000 range.

I took it home and put in on the stereo in my bedroom. I was 14 years old and this was one of the first album releases I had ever looked forward to. Wow - what a mix of sounds and songs - what a LOT of songs! This album was in marked contrast to the Sgt Pepper / Magical Mystery Beatles that I had been listening to - especially after coming fairly quickly on the heals of the Yellow Submarine Soundtrack which just reinforced the psychedelic image of the Beatles. It struck me asa wonderful collection of songs. I remember one reviewer saying that this album made it clear that Lennon and McCartney were the best songwriters since Shubert. Yeah - it's that good.

I must admit that I had more patience for "Revolution 9" back then than I do now but I have more patience for "Good Night" now than I did then so I guess it all evens out. But any album that has "Back in the USSR," "Dear Prudence," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "I Will," "Revolution 1," and "Martha My Dear" is clearly a classic. And my list of songs here just scratches the surface. This is an amazing album.

I've written about this album before here, here and here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This is very cool - you should watch it

Beth over at U2 Sermons pointed me to this outtake from the Rattle and Hum film by U2. It is the performance of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm looking For" with the New Voices of Freedom. Much fun to watch.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Not misused quotes but still pretty funny

This picture is from the BBC website today of a sign posted in Wales - wonderful. In case you can't read it the caption says "The English is clear enough to lorry drivers - but the Welsh reads "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Top 10 Spiritual Songs by U2

This article from the @U2 website is an interesting look at the spiritual nature of U2's music and lyrics. A few of my top choices are left off ("Where the Streets Have No Name," "All Because of You," "Until the End of the World") but it is an interesting list with some nice commentary. I have to find a copy of the song "Mercy" somewhere - anyone have it that they can send me?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What if the Beatles were Irish?

The singer here is satirist Roy Zimmerman. Thanks to Abbey Road for the link.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

From the Department of Redundancy Department

This was the headline in the on-line version of my local paper this afternoon. It was on the first page 1.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Red Alert!

I'm trying to be calm about this but ....

Pictures from the new Star Trek movie are posted here!!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More cool free music

This offer expires on Nov 15 so don't miss your chance.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More on U2 remasters

I have had a chance to spend more time with all four of the U2 remasters that have come out in the past year (and I’m anxiously waiting for the fifth to arrive this week) and I realize that these are pretty much everything I’d like to have in a remaster series. Here is why.

  1. Don’t mess with the album. Good albums have a flow to them that, while it could theoretically be improved on, generally I get used to the album the way it is and I want to experience the original. By all means, improve the sound, but don’t add tracks. That just messes up the end.
  2. Add tracks to a second CD. What I really want is a second CD full of cool stuff like EVERY non-album single and b-side that connects to the album and unreleased live tracks from the era. I am a completist and I expect a good remaster to help me complete. I’m not looking for demos (although they can be fun,) I’m looking for something that I actually will want to listen to, not just have for historical purposes.
  3. Make the art count. I want to have the original album art but also let me see the covers of all the singles and what else was on them. Basically I want the complete story of this album and this era in the band’s life.
  4. Add cool liner notes. Include a critical essay, complete credits and a description, preferably by a key member of the band, of the b-sides. Lyrics are a nice touch too.

The U2 remasters delivers on all counts. And here’s what else they did to make it cool. The Joshua Tree has an extra deluxe edition that includes a video of a concert from that era. Since Under a Blood Red Sky is already a live album – and a really really good one – more live tracks aren’t really called for so they leave the album just as it is but added tracks to the live concert video, which has never been released on DVD. Yeah, U2 got it right with The Joshua Tree, Boy, October, War and Under A Blood Red Sky.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Jill Phillips - Nobody's Got It All Together

I have mentioned before but I recently listened again to one of the first albums I downloaded there, Jill Phillips' Nobody's Got It All Together. It's a really fine album and well worth the FREE download.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

U2 and word play

This morning I was listening to the Joshua Tree by U2 in the car on the drive in to work and looked out at the eastern sky as the sun was starting to make it purple and orange. I could see the horizon which, as a any good former math teacher knows, is the root of the word "horizontal."

That lead me to put the word "horizon" together with U2 and think about the rumored title of their forthcoming album "No Line On the Horizon." I thought more about the relationship between the words "horizontal" and "horizon" and wondered if there was a word which relates to "vertical" the same way.

Then the U2 connection came full circle and I realized the word I was looking for was "Vertigo."

Hello, Hello, I thought - I wonder if they were thinking of Vertigo and vertical when they decided to write a song about horizontal. hmmmm.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

the ipod album shuffle

When I got my new mac computer it once again reset all of the playcounts on my itunes back to zero making all of the carefully planned playlists that I used obsolete. This was the second time in a month so I was a little disconcerted.

So, on a whim, I changed my way of listening to music on itunes and my ipod. (This actually first occurred to me on an airplane during 3 and a half hours on the tarmac at Newark Airport.) I switched from song shuffle to album shuffle. Now when I listen to either my ipod or itunes it starts at the first song on a random album that I had not heard in x days (right now x is set to 150 but once I get through everything I'll reset it to a number that works better.) If I stop before the album is finished it picks it up at some other time.

This way I'm hearing albums the way that the artists intended but I'm also having the fun of randomly hearing things. This morning, for example, I turned on my computer at work and started playing Led Zeppelin II - not exactly morning music but it got me going! I would not have picked it but by the time I was up to the third song I was into it.

I have a lot of random songs that have been downloaded over time so I get individual songs interspersed with albums so I never really know what I'm going to get when I listen. I also mix newly acquired albums in more frequently.

I have completely embraced my inner geek - just in case you haven't figured that out.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Phil Keaggy – Phantasmagorical

Phil Keaggy has had a wide variety of releases in his long career. Some instrumental, some vocal. Some electric, some acoustic. And, of course, some that are really good and some that are not as good. In almost any artist’s career there are high points and low points and there are also albums that really stand out. Phil Keaggy has had a couple that have really stood out over the years. One of those was The Master and the Musician, his first instrumental album. Phil recently toured to support the 30th Anniversary of that album so as he prepared his latest album he had M&M on his mind and in saw some similarities between Master and Musician and his latest album, Phantasmagorical. He mentioned those similarities when talking about the album before it’s release creating some buzz among his fans. In fact, it even has, as it’s subtitle, Master and Musician 2.

It has finally arrived (you can order it on his website) and I've now had a couple of weeks to digest it. While it is clearly not the sequel to M&M (and I don't know if Phil ever really intended it to be - decisions about titles like this are sometimes driven more by management than by the artist) it is also a very good album. As I mentioned in a recent review of The Song Within, Phil seems to be in a great creative space right now and has released a couple of very strong albums in a row. One of the things that strikes me about Phantasmagorical is how often a song will begin and I’ll find myself wondering who it is – not realizing it is Phil because he is experimenting with some new sounds – slide guitar, for example in the first track, “Like Snow Before the Sun” or the horns at the beginning of "Cascading." There is a lot of variety in this album and, of course, stellar playing throughout. But one of Phil's strengths is as a composer and arranger and he does that well on Phantasmagorical. Yes, there are times when it sounds like parts of it could have been on M&M but there are also parts that sound more like the sequel to Beyond Nature, (perhaps my favorite of Phil's instrumental albums) and there are parts that I'm hard-pressed to say if they'd fit on any of his previous albums.

Perhaps the best track on the album is the one that Phil previewed for us on the M&M tour, “Forever to Joy,” one of the songs that actually most sounds like the Master and Musician album with its strong melody and the delicate use of flute. It’s a great end to a great album. Phantasmagorical is one of the better PK albums of the last decade and it ranks nicely up there with his best ever.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

George Harrison playlist

Here is another of my playlists. This one features the solo music of George Harrison. Once again, my rules are that it had to fit on a CD and that I wanted it to give both a good general intro to George's music and also include some of my own quirky choices.

Name / Artist / Album
01 My Sweet Lord / George Harrison / All Things Must Pass
02 Don't Let Me Wait Too Long / George Harrison / Living In The Material World
03 What Is Life / George Harrison / All Things Must Pass
04 Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) / George Harrison / Living In The Material World
05 Crackerbox Palace / George Harrison / Thirty Three & 1/3
06 Love Comes To Everyone / George Harrison / George Harrison
07 Wake Up My Love / George Harrison / Gone Troppo
08 Got My Mind Set on You / George Harrison / Cloud 9
09 Cheer Down / George Harrison / Best Of Dark Horse 1976-1989
10 Any Road / George Harrison / Brainwashed
11 Horse To The Water (with George Harrison) / Jools Holland and His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra / Small World Big Band, Vol. 1
12 When We Was Fab / George Harrison / Cloud 9
13 All Those Years Ago / George Harrison / Somewhere In England
14 Blow Away / George Harrison / George Harrison
15 This Song / George Harrison / Thirty Three & 1/3
16 Baby Don't Run Away / George Harrison / Gone Troppo
17 Never Get Over You / George Harrison / Brainwashed
18 Living In The Material World / George Harrison / Living In The Material World
19 All Things Must Pass / George Harrison / All Things Must Pass

Notice that I included the Jools Holland cut which is basically a George cut - it was released only a few months before his death and was, apparently, the last thing he recorded. (By the way, feel free to let me know if you like this format for showing the playlist more or less than the tables I had before. I have a new computer and it isn't as easy to do the tables.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why I like my new mac

I recently wrote about my new apple macbook and I really don’t want to be that guy who jabbers on about how cool his mac is and how relatively uncool PCs are but, basically – it's true. Now, granted, there are a few things that that mac doesn’t do as well – for example, the MS Word version for mac doesn’t post directly to my blog like the windows version does. It also won’t do mail merge to email (which I actually used occasionally.) It doesn’t sync my palm to my groupwise and groupwise isn’t as nice on a mac as it is on a PC.

BUT I’m really glad I switched. Here is a short list why.

  • Size and weight – I like the size of the macbook and also how light it is. It is really a much more portable computer than either the IBM or the Dell that I had – certainly a lot more portable than the recent Dell I got from work.
  • Style – let’s face it, these folks at apple know how to design stuff. They just look so cool!
  • Ports and connections – all the ports are on the side so when I tip it back I don’t bend the power cord connection. Speaking of which, it’s magnetic so it just comes off without breaking (not that I ever had any problem with my old one, but this design just makes it less of a possibility.)
  • Speed – there are two ways the mac is faster. It starts up and shuts down faster. A lot faster. But it also opens up programs faster. Not that I’m impatient or anything but, well, let’s move on.
  • Searching for things – finding files is a lot easier and faster – you type into the little search window in the finder and you get results instantly instead of the five minute wait for windows search to do it’s thing. I used windows search only when I had to because it was such a pain – I search for things on the mac all the time.
  • Preview – thanks for Bryan for pointing this one out to me. If you think you have the right file but you’re not sure you highlight the file and click the spacebar – it shows you the file instantly so you can see if it’s the one you want. It also works as a great way to view photos.
  • Video chatting – with the camera above the screen I can chat with people and see them. I don’t use it much but I get to chat with Bethany face to face occasionallyy in Georgia and I finally got to see Father Ron Hatton, an internet friend who’d voice I had heard and who’s pictures I had seen. I feel like we’ve actually met now. Yeah, I know you can buy a camera for a PC and do the same thing – this is built in, easy and seamless. Oh, and the camera let me quickly take this picture showing my new t-shirt.

So, there it is. Why I like my Mac. I’m that guy now. And I’m OK with that.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New music from NoiseTrade by the Allens

I downloaded this album this morning and I've listened twice already - I like it a lot. Go get it for free.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Beatles sampler

In another posting I posted a McCartney playlist. Here is my shot at distilling an intro to the Beatles for those who need an introduction. Again, it had to fit on one 80 min CD. I used the versions from 1 and Yellow Submarine when possible because they sound better. I also tried to make it flow well so that it was a good listening experience.




I Should Have Known Better

A Hard Day's Night


Back In The U.S.S.R.

The Beatles [White Album]


Dear Prudence

The Beatles [White Album]


And Your Bird Can Sing



Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Yellow Submarine


With A Little Help From My Friends

Yellow Submarine


Things We Said Today

A Hard Day's Night


Come Together



Let It Be



Can't Buy Me Love



I Feel Fine




The Beatles [White Album]


Lady Madonna



All My Loving

With The Beatles


Penny Lane



Strawberry Fields Forever

Magical Mystery Tour


It Won't Be Long

With The Beatles


Paperback Writer



We Can Work It Out



The Inner Light

Past Masters, Vol. 2


Eight Days A Week









All You Need Is Love



Hey Jude



I Want To Hold Your Hand



Across The Universe

Let It Be... Naked

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Switching to Mac

Over the past few months I’ve been more and more intrigued with macs. I think it started just about two years ago when I got my first iPod. I realized that the design was SO elegant that it was really really well made. I still think that the iPod is an incredibly well designed music listening device – just think about the controls on it – very simple but yet it does everything you want it to. And the learning curve is not steep at all. It just makes sense and it works well.
My son, Bryan, told me that this is true of the mac computers too and so I started paying attention more. Now about ten years ago when I started teaching at Calvin they had just stopped requiring PCs for everyone because macs are particularly good for certain things and they were allowing them again but I wanted nothing to do with them. The classroom in which I taught, though, had a mac so I learned quickly that the windows interface and the mac OS were really quite close. I made the transition with little problem. My anti-mac bias started to crack.

My kids’ school, Holland Christian, is now part of a program in which every student, grades 6-12, has their own laptop computer – a mac. I went to visit the school to specifically look at this project with an IT friend from Calvin and we were very impressed. Also, this sumer, when Bethany came home for vacation for a week and a half she had her new mac and I was quite impressed with the way she could just lug it around and how quickly it would start up and work. It was very very cool. That made me think that I should try a mac but one thing was stopping me – I use GroupWise for my email, calendar and to-do list all the time and I couldn’t live with just the web interface.
Lo and behold, last week I discovered that I didn’t have to – I found out that there is a GroupWise client for mac that Calvin uses. I borrowed a mac from Calvin’s A/V and tried it out. I loved it.
So, Monday I get my own mac. I’m already starting to feel a little bit like “that guy” who is always talking about how cool macs are – I’ll try to resist but they are pretty cool.

Friday, August 01, 2008

A McCartney playlist

I recently found a Beatles blog which had a George Harrison playlist by someone who used the same rules that I recently used to make a couple of setlists so I thought I'd post mine and see what people think.

So here is my Post-Beatles McCartney setlist. There aren't many rules – it just needs to be able to fit onto one CD. That's the tricky part because that forces you to trim it down quite a bit. I also wanted this to be a good introduction to McCartney's music for someone who wasn't familiar with it and I wanted it to be a good listening experience so the order took some thought. Here's what I came up with.




The Lovely Linda

Wingspan: Hits and History


Big Barn Bed

Red Rose Speedway



Wingspan: Hits and History


English Tea

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard


Pipes Of Peace

Wingspan: Hits and History


Live And Let Die

Wingspan: Hits and History


Motor Of Love

Flowers in the Dirt


Band On The Run

Wingspan: Hits and History


Ever Present Past

Memory Almost Full


Another Day

Wingspan: Hits and History


Mull Of Kintyre

Wingspan: Hits and History


Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey

Wingspan: Hits and History


Only Mama Knows

Memory Almost Full


Beautiful Night

Flaming Pie


Venus And Mars / Rockshow (Single Edit)

Wingspan: Hits and History


Dance Tonight

Memory Almost Full


Maybe I'm Amazed

Wingspan: Hits and History


Every Night

Wingspan: Hits and History


Tug Of War

Wingspan: Hits and History


My Brave Face

Flowers in the Dirt


Your Loving Flame

Driving Rain

There are three big ballads on here – McCartney often ends his album with one of these – and I like them a lot but I needed to somehow put them on here in a way that made sense. So I split the 21 songs into three parts and ended each part with one of the ballads – that helped me give the list some flow. My daughter Bethany questioned the inclusion of "English Tea." Feel free to suggest other options.

A Great Headline

Every day I check my local paper on line to see what the local news is. Today's headline really impressed me as hard-hitting journalism.

Now, in fairness, there was concern that another city's water treatment plant had been the major contributor so it really is a worthwhile story but the headline made me wonder,

Sunday, July 27, 2008

This Means War

As I mentioned in my previous post, U2 is going to be getting a few more of my bucks over the next couple of months and it started last week when I picked up the deluxe remastered edition of their third album, War. I am getting all three but I had to order the other two because they weren't in – which actually might be a good thing – it will spread them out for me.

First of all, the packaging is very nice. I liked the big box deluxe version of Joshua Tree very much and this, while it is a smaller (and cheaper) version it complements that one well – there is a booklet inside a slipcase which holds the two CDs as well as a number of pages of pictures, essays and information. Edge has notes on many of the tracks from the bonus CD and there are lyrics along with any notes about single releases. The sound on the remastered version of the original is fine – although there was nothing revelatory.

The bonus CD, though, is much better that I anticipated. Of the three bonus CDs this is the one I was least excited about because a look at the setlist indicates that four versions of "New Year's Day" and three of "Two Hearts Beat As One." I wasn't real excited about that. But it turns out that I really like them – the dance mixes are actually quite different and have a cool vibe to them. The other tracks are OK. One was already on the b-sides from 1980-1990 and the others are interesting but far from essential.

But the real find is the two live tracks that close out the CD, "I Threw A Brick Through a Window/A Day Without Me" and "Fire." These show a youthful U2 in full force back when they opened shows for others and had to proves themselves to the crowd in 30 minutes – and they do a fabulous job.

If you're a U2 fan then this is a must – a great version of a great album. I'm looking forward to the other two CDs more than ever now – I hope they arrive soon!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A great time for U2 fans

As I write this on my new Palm Centro as I'm sitting in an airplane somewhere between Michigan and New Jersey on a quick trip to visit my mom. Ever since I got an iPod and noise-cancelling headphones I've enjoyed listening in planes and in airports. I don't read well in moving vehicles so listening is just right.

It also gives me a bit of time to reflect on some of the listening I've been doing lately. It's been a while since we've had new U2 to listen to but that will soon change. This is going to be an exciting fall for U2 fans. This week the band released remasters of their first three albums each with a bonus disc of extras (which I won't be able to get until I return home.). But those of us who check iTunes on Tuesday mornings were surprised to find the audio from the Joshua Tree Bonus DVD now available as an album on iTunes called Live From Paris. Many of those on the internet who follow the band suggest that this is what they should have released instead of Rattle and Hum. They may be right. I listened on this flight and it's great.

All this should be enough to keep us happy until September when the long awaited DVD and CD remaster release of Under a Blood Red Sky happens.

Then, in November the NEW album hits - their first since How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb in 2004! The has been little news about it except for a few hints here and there but I've enjoyed every one of their albums before so I'm really looking forward to it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

More free music

If you like free music - and who doesn't? - then you need to go check out Derek Webb's website. Derek discovered that giving music away in exchange for email addressed increased attendence at his shows, merchandise sales and even sales of the albums he is giving away.

So he created NoiseTrade to showcase lesser-known artists - in the past two weeks they've gone from just over 20 albums to over 40, including ones by Derek, Sandra McCracken and Sixpence None the Richer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

New Music from Sixpence None the Richer

Go to NoiseTrade to find the new EP from Sixpence None the Richer and other music - pay what you like or tell three friends!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Ringo's birthday

Today is Ringo Starr's birthday - although I suppose using his last name was utterly unnecessary. He turns 68 today and he had an interesting wish - he asked if everyone would flash a peace sign and say (shout, whisper, think ... whatever) "peace and love" at 12 noon wherever they happened to be.

This happened quite off the cuff when some TV program asked him what he wanted for his birthday and his answer just "just more peace and love." He then went on from there to say something like "why don't we all just..." and there you have it.

Ringo's old band certainly did a lot to promote peace and love in the 60's and I was one of those people who grew up thinking that peace and love are a pretty good idea, overall. So, Ringo, thanks for the music. Just in case I forget I've timed this so that it pops up right at noon.

Peace and Love.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Still watching Father's Day videos

I got some DVDs for Father's Day and I'm still working my way through them but here is a quick update:
  • Serenity - it is not often that TV shows that didn't even get a complete first season turn out to be major motion pictures but this is a case where it happened. The show was Firefly, which I got for Christmas from Bethany and Meredith. They only made 14 episodes of Firefly, a space western which was pretty cool. In fact, they only aired 11 of the 14 episodes - but, as is the case with some TV shows, this one found it's footing after a few episodes and then got better as the season went on. By the time I got to the end of the season I was looking forward to seeing the movie, named after the spaceship they flew on.
    The movie did what many movies do compared to TV shows - the budget is bigger, the effects are better and the plot is also bigger. But Joss Whedon did this one up well, making it bigger than a regular episode but yet not so big that it felt unnatural in comparison to what went before. I really enjoyed it and I recommend both the series and the movie.
  • Spiderman 3 - I reviewed this film when I saw it in the theater and , while it may be my least favorite of all three Spiderman films it is still enough fun that when it went cheap enough I knew I would enjoy it - I did.
  • The Indiana Jones Trilogy - one more film to watch yet (although I saw them all a number of years ago) - I'm also looking forward to the disc of extras and the making-of documentary.
All in all, an excellent Father's Day once again!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert

NBC News political analyst Tim Russert died suddenly today at age 58. He was probably my favorite political analyst. He had a relaxed style which I really liked and when he said something I just figured it was true - and it usually was. I well remember during the 2000 election when he got out his white board and started adding up electoral votes pointing out that it was still up in the air and showing how either Bush or Gore could win. That board became his partner for the rest of the evening. Just at the time that snazzy graphics were showing up on the screen, Russert showed that clear explainations were more important than flash. I'll miss his contribution to the news.

Friday, June 06, 2008

What's the trouble with Moralism?

My book is quoted in this article from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website. It's a good article with many other good links on the topic of faith formation.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Momofuku – Elvis Costello

A few months ago I saw that the Police were going to be playing the Arena in Grand Rapids and I thought "that's cool." But when I saw that Elvis Costello was the opening act I jumped at the chance and decided that it was worth the money. That prompted me to rediscover and discover (thanks to Bethany) much of Costello's extensive catalog. To put the icing on the cake, he had a new album, Momofuku, coming out on CD five days before the show I had tickets for. Perfect.

So I spent a lot of time with some of Elvis' albums reminding myself that I really liked My Aim is True, Mighty Like a Rose and his collaboration with Anne-Sofie Von Otter, For the Stars. I learned to love North and All This Useless Beauty and I once again was astonished at how Costello jumps from genre to genre all the while keeping his sense of melody and interesting chord structures. I will admit that his classical piece, Il Sogno, didn't do much for me, sounding somewhat like a soundtrack to nothing. But overall I was really really impressed. So when I read that Momofuku was Elvis with the Imposters, the same band that had done When I Was Cruel and the Delivery Man I wasn't real excited (because those aren't among my favorite EC records) but figured I'd pay 10 bucks so that I'd know the new music for the show.

I'm really glad I did because Momofuku sounds fresh, energetic and engaging in a way that many of Elvis' other recent albums don't. I like almost all of the songs and the performances are not over-thought. The album came about very quickly – hence the name, a reference to the inventor of instant noodles. Costello had no intention of making a record but when his band fell into place at a session for the next Jenny Lewis record he couldn't resist. This format suits Costello well and the album has an urgency that is infectious. From the open track, "No Hiding Place" to the finale "Go Away" Costello's legendary lyrical directness is in full force. And while it didn't jump out at me at first, hearing him perform "Flutter and Wow" in concert has made that song one of my all time favorites. Momofuku is an album that is best enjoyed if you're in the mood to listen closely but not too closely, to think about what you're hearing but not too much and to enjoy a great record rather than listen to the NEXT BIG ARTISTIC STATEMENT. But that is the main strength of this record - because Costello seemed to not try so hard to make that big statement he succeeded in make a great little pop record that's worth repeated listenings.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ready to rock the RCA

This weekend the Reformed Church of America is having their General Synod in Holland, MI. Ordinarily that would get only a moderate notice from me since I belong to their sister church, the Christian Refomed Church, and RCA synodical decisions have only a minimal effect on me. But this year I have been asked to play guitar for worship for this group every day (except Sunday) for the next 5 days or so. I practiced once with the brass and string group for the opening and closing worship and tomorrow I practice with just a keyboard player for the morning prayer sessions. I'm looking forward to this for a couple of reasons: 1) worship services planned by my friends Ron Rienstra and Greg Scheer are usually awesome so these should be too 2) it is fun to play guitar 3) it is fun to lead worship on the guitar 4) it is fun to play with good players - and I will be.

So, watch out RCA - I'm ready to rock.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Preaching podcast

Preaching Magazine's Michael Duduit interviewed me about my book, Helping Our Children Grow in Faith, and now the podcast has been posted. You can listen to it here.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Old guys still rock – Phoenix by Asia

I was pretty excited for the first Asia album when it was released back in 1982 (a long time ago.) The band was a super group made up of four top-flight members of some of the best progressive rock bands in the world – or at least in England. Steve Howe, the guitar hero from Yes was at the top of my list because his playing always made me sit up and take notice. Geoff Downes, who had recently joined Yes after making his mark with the Buggles' hit "Video Killed the Radio Star," was going to be playing keyboards and, while Downes was no Rick Wakeman, the fact that he had done a stint in Yes put him near the top of my list of cool keyboard players. Carl Palmer from Emerson, Lake and Palmer would be on drums and I thought Palmer was a fabulous drummer so I was stoked for that. In fact, the person who I knew least well was John Wetton, bassist and vocalist for UK and, before that, for King Crimson, a band that I had always held in high regard but one I didn't know too well (yet – I would later listen to them quite a bit.)

In my imagination, the first album from this new supergroup would feature long – very long – songs with multiple sections, long instrumental passages and pompous but often incomprehensible lyrics. There would be a theme – something really huge like "our future as a human race" – that would weave throughout all the songs. And it would have creative artwork which had an other-worldly quality, preferably by Roger Dean who had done most of the coolest Yes album covers. Before I ever heard a single note I had all this figured out. After all, what else could these guys possibly deliver than something that would completely blow my mind?

When I eagerly snatched up their self-titled debut (on vinyl – this was 1982 after all) I was disappointed. I wanted the sequel to Close to the Edge, perhaps Yes' finest moment, or maybe the follow up to ELP's Brain Salad Surgery, both of which had 18-30 minute suites which defined the high point of progressive rock in the 70's. What I got was something quite different. The band decided that they would not go after overly complex heady progressive rock but, rather, they would shoot for short, radio-friendly songs which would actually get played on the radio (or the newly minted MTV) and might even be a hit. They produced songs which showed their love for melody and their instrumental chops without making an album that you needed a long attention span to digest. What I got was the pop sounds of "Heat of the Moment." It wasn't bad. In fact, it was quite catchy. And the synth horns that opened the track were pretty cool. Howe's guitar work was vintage Howe. It was simple but it was still complex in a cool progressive-rock kind of way. It wasn't what I expected but once I accepted it for what it was I liked it. The first album took off big time and was a massive hit. They were everywhere on the radio and on MTV. This was the biggest hit any of these guys had ever had. The four members of Asia had gone from the relative obscurity of the progressive rock confines to being a big arena-rock band. And when I listened with headphones the album had a lot of cool stuff going on. Steve Howe had overdubbed lots of interesting guitar parts and had used a whole arsenal of different instruments to make his patented Steve Howe sound part of the aural landscape. It was a great album. I was excited about the prospect of where they'd be going next.

Unfortunately it didn't last. When their second album, Alpha, was released it sounded like a Wetton/Downes album with Steve Howe relegated to putting a few guitar touches on as an afterthought and Howe left the band soon thereafter. The band tried to continue with other guitar players but they never caught the fire of that first album again. There has been a band called Asia around almost continuously since then but it was mostly Geoff Downes and whoever else he wanted to play with. For most of us Asia was the four guys who started it and the bands that followed may have done some interesting music but it wasn't the same – not even close.

Whatever personal stuff had kept the guys apart for all these years got sorted out and the band got back together a year or so ago and did an oldies tour. That went so well that they recorded an album of new material called Phoenix. I'm glad to say that the classic Asia sound is back. Phoenix sounds like the legitimate follow up to 1982's self-titled debut and, while Howe isn't quite as present as he was on their first album, he's definitely part of the mix. The players have aged, of course, but they still play and sing well. The lyrics still sound a bit pompous but it could be more a function of Wetton's rich baritone voice and of the backing track making almost anything sound that way than any issues with the actual lyrics. Wetton's recent health scares have caused him to reflect on the meaning of life and this comes out in at least a couple of tracks giving the requisite progressive-rock gravitas to some of the songs.

Musically, this album is one of the most melodic progressive rock albums in memory. It could almost be subtitled "the return of the power ballads" as they roll out one after another heartfelt, catchy melodies with powerful hooks and instrumental motifs that get stuck in your head pretty quickly. There are still things I wish for – Palmer's drumming in mostly unremarkable, although there isn't much opportunity for him to show the kind of chops he did on ELP's Tarkus, for example. Wetton's thunderous bass propelled many of the early King Crimson albums (especially Lark's Tongues in Aspic, Red and some of their live material from that era) but his playing on Phoenix is somewhat reserved. And I wish Steve Howe had been part of the basic track on more of the songs instead of being used primarily for instrumental flourishes. But it is the playing and songs of Geoff Downes along with the voice of John Wetton that defines Asia's sound and those pieces are intact. This is a fine album – one that I have found myself listening to a lot more than I expected. While it is quite different than most of the music that is being produced these days, fans of Asia's best work from the 80's will find much to like here and younger listeners might just find something new and interesting to try out.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Most helpful map EVER

Lynnae has to play violin in the school orchestra at Oakland Christian Reformed Church on Sunday night and she asked me where it was. I said it was out in the country. (Actually, I think I said "boonies.") She wanted to know where it was more specifically.

So, being an internet kind of guy I found their address on line and plugged it into google expecting a map. Here is the map that showed up. VERY HELPFUL! (click to enlarge)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Can’t Buy Me Love by Jonathan Gould

I finally finished Can't Buy Me Love by Jonathan Gould. It took me a long time because a) it is a long book and b) I've been quite busy lately. In the prologue, Gould writes that this book is unique in that it combines "three main perspectives – the biographical, the musical and the historical – in an effort to convey the full import of the Beatles' lives art and times." (p. 12) Gould is looking to do all these things in one book, something he claims no other book on the Beatles does. He succeeds on nearly all counts.

As for the biographical, Gould's book is not quite the definitive biography that Bob Spitz' recent book is – and it couldn't be, especially since this book is not as long and covers things that Spitz never intended to. That said, I wonder if a novice could read this book and get a sense for the whole story. I'm not sure. It struck me, at times, that one had to know the story of the Beatles to really understand what was happening in the book. For me, that was a good thing – I don't need five pages explaining things at a level that someone who is culturally illiterate would need. I just found myself wondering if this book was written primarily for people like me who has seen, heard and read it all as far as the Beatles is concerned.

The historical part I found especially enlightening and learned things about the band and the things that were influencing them that I had not learned. The part of the book that is WAY over the top for novices are track by track discussions of nearly each and every song in the Beatles catalog. While the discussions are enlightening and interesting, the level of detail sometimes goes beyond being a fan to being something else entirely. On the other hand, I really dug thinking about the songs that way, and thought that the critique was especially interesting on the Beatles' top albums, Revolver, Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road.

So if you've read at least one other Beatles book I highly recommend this one. It's very very good.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Switchfoot at Calvin College 4-5-08

I was pretty ready to see Switchfoot at Calvin College on Saturday night by the time they came out for their show. I have been playing Jon Foreman's EPs, Fall and Winter, a lot the past month, I had put their last two albums, Oh! Gravity and Nothing is Sound, on rotation in my ipod and I had them in the car. I went to the conversation with Jon Foreman in the afternoon and it was really excellent to hear him talk about his new EPs and his songwriting. We had a fairly quick dinner and then back to campus to wait in line for quite a while. While in the car I played "Stars" for Lynnae and said how it was my favorite song on the album. I sure hoped they'd play it. We got in about 45 minutes before the show was scheduled to start and then had to wait until TWO opening acts did their sets. Emory and Athlete both had 45 minute sets which were, for me, about 45 minutes too long each. To make things a bit worse Emory were really really really loud. To the point where I went to get earplugs. So, after all of that it was almost 10:00 by the time Switchfoot hit the stage. I was already tired and I hoped it was worth it.

Then the lights went down and the band took the stage with Jon Foreman going over to the piano where he sang the chorus from "The Shadow Proves the Sunshine" and when he got to the end of the chorus the band came in with a wash of sound which morphed into the amazing opening riff of "Stars." It was clear almost immediately that this band was not going to be content with merely playing album versions of their songs – they were rethinking and reworking them. I was immediately hooked. They went right from "Stars" in to "Oh! Gravity." The sound was great and the band was on target. By the fourth song Jon Foreman announced that this was the best audience of the tour and it felt like it. The crowd was very much into the band and the band responded with a high energy performance that left nothing in the dressing room.

Foreman is a really good front-man, reminding me of Bono in spots, the way he speaks between and during songs, the way his music deals with larger themes and how he seems to want to raise the level of conversation but also encourage all his listeners to be better people. Jon went out into the crowd at one point standing on the armrests of the seats just behind me. (The picture is my daughter Meredith with Jon Foreman right behind her.) It was clear that the band was watching him for cues on when to change the music around and that Foreman was free to improvise over the band because they knew what they were doing and they were following him well. I saw them a number of years ago outdoors and they've improved greatly since then. The addition of the two newer band members has allowed Foreman to have much more latitude in concert – he doesn't have to worry about playing guitar so much – he has other people to do that.

The concert ended with their hit "Meant to Live" after which Jon came out to do a solo song from his newest EP, Spring. Then he started a solo version of "Dare to Move" which was great but before he was finished with the first chorus the rest of the band joined him and rocked the song out to close out the show. I have liked their music on CD but I really didn't expect them to be that good in concert. I am now a big fan.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

a blog milestone

I've mentioned before that my daughter Bethany is a bit of an internet celebrity. Her "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks has been written up by the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune and even the Holland Sentinel!!!!

Today, her blog reached a milestone - she has had over one million page views. That is astonishing. Way to go, Bethany!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Reading / Listening / Watching – March 2008

It has been a while since I've posted so I thought I'd do an update of what I've been up to.


I'm a little past halfway through the brilliant new Beatles book Can't Buy Me Love by Jonathan Gould. I wrote about it before I started reading it and it is every bit as good as many of the reviews say it is. It does a great job of not only talking about the lives of the Beatles but it also puts that and their music in the context of the times and the political social and artistic changes that were happening in the world. On top of that there is a song by song discussion of each of their recordings. It really is special and, while it is a bit too in-depth to be anyone's first book about the Beatles, for someone like me who has read lots of books on the Beatles, I'm enjoying it immensely.

I have, for the past couple of years, participated in the Calvin Theological Seminary book of the quarter reading group and this quarter we're reading Elizabeth Strout's Abide With Me, a fascinating look at the life of a small town preacher who's wife's death has brought him, his young daughter and their community personal turmoil. It is only through allowing his church to see him broken and in need of help that he can once again effectively lead them. We'll get together three times to discuss the book, once with the author who is visiting Calvin for the Festival of Faith and Writing! It's a good book and I enjoyed it a lot.


Because I have tickets to the Switchfoot and the Police/Elvis Costello concerts coming up soon I've gotten back into their music lately and, while I've already expressed my love for Jon Foreman's EPs I have mostly lately listened to a lot of Elvis Costello and, I must say, that his gift for melody and for inventive song and chordal structure is really extraordinary. I have long thought "Couldn't Call it Unexpected" from Mighty Like a Rose was a prime example of this but I just lately came to love the album All This Useless Beauty. It is just packed with beautiful songs. And if you haven't heard For the Stars, his duet album with opera singer Anne-Sophie Von Otter, you're missing something truly special.

I have also enjoyed Bethany Dillon and Matt Hammitt's worship album In Christ Alone. Meant to be more a modern hymns album than a praise and worship album it takes a number of songs by Keith Getty and others and puts them in a more modern setting and does a credible job with them. Some of the tracks come across as sub-standard versions of very popular songs (the title cut, or "How Deep the Father's Love" for example) but others, most notably Getty's "Jesus is Lord" which is transformed to a hip, new uptempo version, work really well and gives me a new appreciation for the song.

Finally, in the flurry of new and old music that I've been enjoying, I'm ashamed to say that it took me a couple of years to finally pick up the amazing Before the Daylight's Shot by Ashley Cleveland. I should have known better since her previous album, the live You Are There, is one of my all-time favorites. It's just that she doesn't release albums' very often and so I forget just how good she (and her guitarist/husband Kenny Greenberg) is. Amazing stuff. Meant to be played loud.


I continue to work through DVDs and I'm getting near the end of both Season 6 of 24 (which is much better than I was lead to believe based on the "24 is losing it" buzz that I heard last season) and Season One of Veronica Mars which also I'm enjoying quite a bit. I must also admit to watching American Idol and I have to say that, while David Archuletta got off to a strong start, David Cook is really bringing it lately … dawg.

I also watched the film Enchanted last weekend and it was wonderful. It dragged only the slightest bit near the end but, as a send up of Disney animated classics it is really great. The songs are catchy and the effects are quite impressive. And Amy Adams is just too likeable as the soon-to-be princess. Even if there are no kids in your house, this one is too much fun to miss.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Together We Worship - again

A few days ago I wrote about The curriculum about worship that Laura and I wrote and recently published. Today it got mentioned in Dan Beerens' Nurturing Faith blog.

Thanks for writing about it, Dan!