Sunday, May 23, 2010

Glass Harp’s best album

Recently Glass Harp released a 2008 concert CD that, initially I was less than excited about. That was before I heard it. You see, I figured I’d heard all these songs before. I have the original three albums. I have Hourglass, their reunion CD. I have the Carnegie Hall Live CD, the With Strings Attached set and also the massive Stark Raving Jams and they’re OK. But none of them (with the possible exception of Carnegie Hall, recorded in the early 70s) really caught the excitement and the improvisational power of these three guys. I finally got to see them about five or 6 years ago and I was thrilled – they rarely tour together anymore. But Strings Attached was just too calm and too scripted. Stark Raving Jams was too unfocussed and the recording quality wasn’t great.

So when I saw that Live at the Beachland Ballroom was being released I thought that this was just another live Glass Harp album with the same songs (they mostly still play the stuff from their three original studio albums) and that it was totally redundant. I was wrong.

Live at the Beachland Ballroom is the one Glass Harp CD that you need to have. I haven’t heard Phil Keaggy playing with this sort of abandon and fire on a recording in years. And Glass Harp is not just Phil and a rhythm section – Dan Peccio and John Sferra are totally on target here too and the connection between these guys while they play is amazing. They’re totally in sync and the band turns on a dime. This is clear in a number of places on the album but no more so than in the nearly 16-minute “Beachland Jam.” The band jumps in and out of multiple jams, mostly started by Phil on guitar but within seconds Dan and John jump in and join him. Vocally, they’ve never been better and instrumentally they’re at the top of their game. This is probably the best Glass Harp album yet. Buy it here.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Thinking about U2’s Zooropa – exile and restoration

I found myself awake a lot last night so I popped in my earbuds, hit play on my iPod and listened to Zooropa, perhaps the U2 album I have had the least affinity to. That may have changed after my careful listen last night.

I realized that you can view this album as being two halves – the first half about the shallowness of the world and the second half about restoration, a theme that shows up in scripture as exile and restoration in the overarching story of Israel and in smaller stories like the Prodigal Son.

Let's take a quick walk through the album and see what's there. (You can find all the lyrics here.) In “Zooropa” we hear “And I have no compass and I have no map / And I have no reasons, no reasons to get back / And I have no religion and I don't know what's what / And I don't know the limit, the limit of what we got” which indicate that the singer has no direction.

“Babyface” reduces the woman that Bono sings about to little more than tinfoil and lace. Perhaps the most obvious example is “Numb” with its litany of excesses in the current age. “Lemon” is a reflection on how the image is preferable to the actual person. Building the car itself becomes the destination – we’re really going nowhere. “Stay” tells the story of yet another aimless person: “Red light, grey morning / You stumble out of a hole in the ground / A vampire or a victim / It depends on who's around.”

This brings us through the first half of the album – a half that’s frankly, pretty depressing. It is an unflinching look at a world that has little going for it except an onslaught of excess.

In the second half things start to look up. We begin, surprisingly enough, with a song about a crashed car. Who “Daddy” is is never explicit but it must be a song about grace. We crash the car and God pays for it. When I first heard “some days are better than others” I thought about the bad days that are referred to. Now I think that it’s a song about the good ones. “Some days you hear a voice taking you to another place / Some days are better than others.”

“The First Time” is a song with the Trinity built into it, the Holy Spirit in verse one, the Son in the second verse and then the Father in the third. I was puzzled by the throwing away of the keys in the third verse for a while, thinking that Bono was talking about leaving the church. Now I don’t think that’s the case. The key in question is not the key to church – in all three verses we see that God has reached out and the singer has not been able to fully grasp what’s being offered – in the third verse it’s the keys to the coming kingdom but the singer is too caught up in the stuff from the first half of the album to accept them. But he still recognizes that he feels loved.

I wonder if the voice of “Dirty Day” is the voice of Jesus. Here’s why: the father to son talk, the talk about “kissin’ time” and this verse: "Get it right
/ There's no blood thicker than ink
/ Hear what I say
/ Nothing's a simple as you think
/ Wake up
/ Somethings you can't get around
/ I'm in you 
/ More so when they put me in the ground."

If, in “Dirty Day,” redemption is made explicit, then it’s made personal in the “The Wanderer.” This album is a journey – a journey from the crassness and excesses of society to the redemption offered by Christ and accepted by flawed people. It’s a story of grace. I like this album a lot better now!