Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Book

The new book, which I wrote with Laura, Celebrating the Milestones of Faith: A Guide for Churches, arrived at our house today - here is a picture of it.

You can get it from Faith Alive Resources

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sustainable Youth Ministry

I’m just finishing Mark DeVries’ book Sustainable Youth Ministry and I like it a lot. I’ve not written as much about books here lately but I’ve been reading lots of books about faith formation in preparation for the book I’m editing this summer and fall on the topic. I hope to write a little about some of the other books I’ve read but I’m writing this today because I’m so enthusiastic about Mark’s book.

This book is an incredibly valuable resource for Youth Leaders but also for churches. It should be read by church staffs and volunteer church leaders too – anyone who connects with a church youth program would benefit from this book because Mark has seen what works and he’s seen what doesn’t work and he lays then out nicely in this book. It is written in his whimsical style (which is even better in person – he’s a great speaker) and there is a lot of practical wisdom in here that I really appreciated.

I hope to read this book with our church ministry staff and discuss it soon. I highly recommend it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Eric Clapton - better than ever

I’ve watched Eric Clapton in three different videos so far this summer and seen him live once (with Steve Winwood – an absolutely amazing show) and I am convinced that he is playing and singing as well as he ever has. What’s more, his personal life seems to be in such good shape that he has been able to sustain this level of playing now for quite some time. In his recent Live DVD with Steve Winwood, Steve talks about how Eric is now a really fine singer and band leader – two things he did not want to do in Blind Faith. That’s been true now for about 20 years – since he got sober and straight.

It is interesting to watch the arc of Eric’s career before that point. He was always a great player but he seemed to have lots of near misses. For every album like Slowhand there was the lesser No Reason to Cry. His fans, me among them, were waiting for that killer album that would blow us all away like Layla did. We had a long time to wait because, even though Layla was recorded under “enhanced” conditions, the drugs soon took their toll on Clapton and for a while he did absolutely nothing. Then came the string of albums in the late 70’s and 80’s, which were quite uneven. He seemed to not want to do what we really wanted him to – play the guitar in a way that made us realize what all the fuss was about.

I find the live album Just One Night to be a good example of where he was during that period. There are great moments on that album but much of the album is spent playing the songs that were OK but not the ones we really really wanted to hear. He’s got some great solos but the whole album just often leaves me cold. For one thing, he seemed intent on using a really thin sound on his guitar, one that didn’t let him take control of the band the way he did back in the 60’s and early 70’s.

Then, in 1989, I remember getting his Journeyman album – the one that, for me shows him getting back to who he really is – and realizing that this was the Clapton that I had been missing all along. The live album that followed that, 24 Nights, was, according to his autobiography, almost a throw-away because of his grief over the loss of his young son. But you can hear that he’s playing better than he has for quite a while and his song choice harks back to songs from Cream and Derek and the Dominoes as well as the great new songs on Journeyman. And to show that it wasn’t a fluke, his Unplugged album, which was released right after 24 Nights, showed him to be a fine acoustic player and highlighted his singing voice. It also featured the song “Tears in Heaven,” which won him the first of his THREE Grammy Awards for pop VOCAL.

Since then he’s released a number of really fine albums including the amazingly personal Pilgrim and what I think is his definitive live album, One More Car, One More Rider. His latest studio solo album was, frankly, the weakest one he’s released in a while, but even that one has great playing on it. I was also really impressed, both times that I’ve seen him this decade, with his professionalism and his fine playing. He’s come through the rock and roll excesses and emerged a winner. If you get the chance to see him now you’ll be seeing one of rock’s premier players and singers at the top of his game.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Concert for George

I watched some of The Concert for George this morning again, the George Harrison tribute concert. Especially with the recent Michael Jackson tributes I was struck with how the tone of this is just about exactly right. First of all it was a year to the day after his death. His friends, primarily Eric Clapton, not just entertainment industry folks who wanted to show that they knew George, put it together. The people who appear in the concert represent many parts of George’s musical life – Paul and Ringo, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty (from the Traveling Wilburys,) Billy Preston, Gary Booker, Ravi Shankar, Joe Brown (for whom the Beatles opened in the early 60’s) and even Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The night did not feature any over-the-top tribute speeches proclaiming him the greatest entertainer who ever lived – OK, the Monty Python bit featured one that was SO over the top that it was hilarious but it soon morphed into “The Lumberjack Song.” It was a bunch of musical friends playing George’s music or music that George loved. Even the video was done well featuring two discs, one with the feature film “The Concert for George” with performances from the concert and the rehearsal as well as interview footage from the participants. The other disc has the entire concert.

The bottom line, though, is that the music is great. George was a good composer who was often great and this concert features the best of his work performed by Clapton’s crack band and some of his very talented friends. Highlights for me include the McCartney/Clapton version of “Something” which starts out with Paul’s ukulele version and shifts to be a full band version with Eric singing and playing – just beautiful. The version of “I Want to Tell You” is really cool. The Ravi Shankar composed “Arpan” suite performed by his daughter and an orchestra of Indian instruments is also wonderful – I listened to this a bit three years ago on my trip to India. Overall the DVD is well worth it – I truly enjoy watching it and listening to the CD.