Music

Sojo Stories: The Last Bison

Brandon Hook/Sojourners
The Last Bison talked with Sojourners about music, creativity, and God. Brandon Hook/Sojourners

Chesapeake, Virginia-based folk band The Last Bison talked with Sojourners about music, creativity, and God before their show in Washington, D.C. a while back. Be sure to listen to their recently released debut album Inheritance and catch them while they're on tour in the U.S.! Their music is definitely worth a listen.

Justin Bieber at the Anne Frank House: Our Addiction to Scandal

Justin Bieber performs on the Today Show at Rockefeller Plaza. Photo courtesy Debby Wong/shutterstock.com

On Saturday, the pop culture icon Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam while on a world tour. At the end of his visit to the museum, Bieber wrote a message in the guest book.

His three-sentence message has become Big News. Sunday afternoon I checked my Huffington Post app and discovered this headline on the homepage, “Fury Erupts over Bieber’s Obnoxious Anne Frank Comment.” On Monday morning, the scandal was front page news on Yahoo.com, “Justin Bieber Gets Blasted for Anne Frank Comment.” The New York Times reports that Bieber’s comment “set off a maelstrom of criticism.”

What did Bieber write in the guestbook?

Local Natives and Salvation

Photo courtesy of Jareed / Flickr
fresh, catchy indie rock laden with eclectic beats. Photo courtesy of Jareed / Flickr

Hipsters. Not gonna lie, that was one of the first words that came to mind when Local Natives took the stage at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., on Friday. I wasn’t sure whether it was guitarist Ryan Hahn’s floral skinny jeans, the luscious mustache of singer/guitarist Taylor Rice, or singer/keyboardist Kelcey Ayer’s flannel — buttoned all the way up, which seems to be the latest amendment to hipster fashion these days— or all of the above.

But then again, almost every young person these days seems to have absorbed some of the styles characteristic of hipsterdom, and Local Natives seem to do so in an unpretentious way. They’re cool. And, more importantly, their music is awesome.

Marcus Mumford and the Trouble With Labels

Marcus Mumford in Verona, Italy. By Andrea Sartorati / Flickr.com
Marcus Mumford in Verona, Italy. By Andrea Sartorati / Flickr.com

Labels can be helpful when, for instance, applied to cans of soup or barrels of toxic waste. But they are less so when affixed to human beings – particularly when labels are meant to summarize, indelibly, one’s spiritual identity.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Marcus Mumford, the 26-year-old lead singer of the wildly successful British band Mumford & Sons, raised the hackles of religious folks (in some quarters) when he declined to claim the “Christian” label as his own.

You see, Marcus is the son of John and Eleanor Mumford, who are the national leaders of the Vineyard Church in the U.K. and Ireland, an arm of the international evangelical Christian Vineyard Movement. Last year, he married actress Carey Mulligan, whom he’d met years earlier at a Christian youth camp.

And the music of Mumford & Sons, for which Mumford is the main lyricist, is laden with the themes and imagery of faith – often drawing specifically upon the Christian tradition. They explore relationships with God and others; fears and doubts; sin, redemption, and most of all, grace.

Is God on Our Side?

Toy battle, B Calkins / Shutterstock.com
Toy battle, B Calkins / Shutterstock.com

It's an important question. Mark Driscoll, the famed neo-Calvinist, wants us to believe that we are God's enemies and God desired our destruction until Jesus, God's own Son, put himself in harm's way and saved us from God. Interesting theological gloss...but there's something in this I'm pondering right seriously this morning...

...What's it like to wrestle with the Divine One? You know, like Jacob did there in the desert one night. You can contend with God, can you not? Is God not then your enemy in some way? Well, perhaps your adversary? I don't know for certain if any of this language suits, but I'm pondering it because God and I are engaged in a cage match and I am mustering all the courage I have not to pull out a folding chair or some such mess knowing full well that God cheats.

Tame Impala: Some Psychedelia

Maciek Pozoga/Courtesy of the artist
Tame Impala blend psychedelic classlic rock with more modern sounds. Maciek Pozoga/Courtesy of the artist

When I first listened to Tame Impala, I was almost convinced they were the late-60s Beatles reincarnated. Lead singer Kevin Parker’s nasally yet gentle voice sounds about as John Lennon as you’re gonna get.

But Parker makes it work. And Tame Impala, under his leadership, sounds fresh in a world saturated with music. Critics agree that Tame Impala manage to fuse classic psychedelic rock and blues with jazzier and more modern music. And that seems pretty accurate. Ezra Pound urged his modern contemporaries to “make it new” in regard to poetry, and even though Parker’s project may not be entirely or dramatically new, it is innovative.

From Lent To Love: From Your Friendly Neighborhood Troubadour

Guitar player, Markku Vitikainen / Shutterstock.com
Guitar player, Markku Vitikainen / Shutterstock.com

More than once I’ve been referred to as a modern-day Troubadour. I’ve always liked this designation because it has a romantic, archaic ring to it that sounds just a little bit more flattering than mere singer/songwriter, naturally appealing to my vanity. But it once occurred to me that I wasn’t entirely sure of its meaning and thought I should look it up.

Not surprisingly,  I discovered the word to have various historical uses and nuances. But the definition that intrigued me most, and which I recognize as fairly accurate of my own sense of calling and vocation is this:

Troubadour:
a lyric poet sent by one (usually of the King’s court)
with a message of chaste love to another.

Well … there you go. Just two weeks ago (on Valentines Day) I posted a song and message of chaste love in a blog. In it, I celebrated 30 years of marriage to my wife Nanci; a union that has resulted in three beloved (now adult) children, their own unions to beloved others, two grandchildren, and a deeply meaningful, long-term foster relationship with a young woman and her beautiful children who, in fact, are coming over for dinner tonight. I can’t wait.

Although not every chaste union strives to produce offspring, Fr. Gabrielle of St. Magdalen, in his meditative devotional Divine Intimacy, teaches that the highest glory of the chaste union is in it’s potential to become a willing “collaborator with God in the transmission of life.” That is: a relationship that is materially fecund; suggesting a dark, loamy richness capable of concealing and safeguarding a vulnerable seed, and providing a nutrient-rich soil from which it can spring to it’s own leafy uniqueness. It’s a lovely image.

Ironically, what struck me this morning is that Valentines Day is celebrated at the very onset of the season of Lent. And Lent, in contradistinction to Valentines, is essentially a season where the Christian “faithful” penitently consider the devastating disaster that is  infidelity — particularly, infidelity to God, and by extension, to all that God is in faithful relationship to.

Sojo Session: Branches

Our friends and up-and-coming musicians Branches trekked all the way from California and stopped by our office in D.C. last week to play a couple of their songs during their East Coast tour! 

Their songs explore the ideas of doubt, faith, loneliness, love, and above all, hope for life as it was meant to be.

Best friends turned band-mates, the lady and gentlemen of Branches are an independent, self-writing and self-producing collective. Birthed in a living room in the suburbs of Los Angeles in 2010, Tyler, Natalie, Jacob, Mitch, Tyler, and Mike have since spent their time together making friends, playing shows, and writing and recording the songs for their EPs ("O, Light!", "Cabin", "Covers", "Songs For Christmas") and their full-length ("Thou Art The Dream", released 2/12).

The Gospel Roots of the ‘Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll’

RNS photo by Charles Peterson/courtesy PBS American Masters.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe performs in Cafe Society in 1940. RNS photo by Charles Peterson/courtesy PBS American Masters.

Before Elvis and Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash. Before Aretha and Whitney and Beyonce. Before the blues met gospel and conceived rock ‘n’ roll, there was Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

The first gospel superstar, Tharpe was a guitar hero in a flower-print dress whose bluesy chops and strutting style would be mimicked by countless acolytes, both white and black.

“I mean, she’s singing religious music, but she is singing rock ‘n’ roll,” said one such devotee, Jerry Lee Lewis, of “Great Balls of Fire” fame. “She’s hitting that guitar, playing that guitar, and she is singing. I said, ‘Whoooo. Sister Rosetta Tharpe!’”

Though no longer a household name, Tharpe gets the star treatment in a new documentary for the PBS series American MastersSister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll will be broadcast Friday on PBS in honor of Black History Month.

ICYMI: February Music

 Bevan Goldswain / Shutterstock.com
Funny woman portrait real people high definition. Bevan Goldswain / Shutterstock.com

Just as the winter months tend to bring a mellower, melancholic feel to life, so too can music. And some of this month’s more obscure releases do just that. If you’re looking for an album to check out on a dreary winter morning, look no further.

That’s not to say at all that they’re bad releases. One can quickly point to the likes of Bon Iver or Radiohead as figureheads of melancholy. They’re just different from the bubbly pop one might hear a lot on the radio.

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