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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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 Masters. Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll will be broadcast Friday on PBS in honor of Black History Month.
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.
People often say the mark of a true “master of a craft” is one who makes something ridiculously difficult look easy. Chris Thile, former member of Nickel Creek and front man for folk group Punch Brothers, is one of those people. As my buddy standing next to me at last night’s Punch Brothers show in Washington, D.C. said, “It’s like he’s an extension of the mandolin. He can do anything he wants with that thing.” I mean, the guy can almost flawlessly whoop out some Bach on the mandolin.
While musicianship is certainly present on their recorded material, the talent of each member of the five-piece band is fully realized during their live shows, which are more like jam sessions. With the encore, they ended up playing for almost two hours to a sold out crowd at the 9:30 Club.
It almost got to the point where I didn’t believe they were real. They almost seemed like robots.
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, look no further than Cincinatti’s Walk the Moon. The group recently stopped in Washington, D.C., on their world tour and performed in front of an uber-hyped audience.
Their songs blend elements of pop, rock, and dance music — like what you’d expect if you mixed The Strokes, Passion Pit, and sprinkled on some of the overall vibes from the Vans Warped Tour.
Almost two years ago, I took a titanic risk. If you look at things from an earthbound perspective, what I did is: I took my livelihood, and my children's provision, in my hands alone. I quit my job at The News & Observer, a major, Pulitzer-prize-winning newspaper where I earned a decent salary and reached 150,000 to 200,000 readers on any given day.
The decision was a long time coming — my whole adult life, really. Before I ever started my first newspaper job in 2000, I’d wanted to help people explore deeper things than just tax policy, or crime, or environmental regulation. These just skim the surface of who we are as humans: why we share or hoard, why we hurt or protect one another, what we owe to Mother Earth.
What I found as a newspaper reporter was that I had no choice but to skim the surface of things. There’s not enough space to go deeper, but, more importantly, deeper takes you into hypothesis, not fact — and hypothesis is a leap of faith. What you find when you go deeper depends a lot on the gear you’re wearing when you dive. I’m cloaked in Bible stories and Christian tradition, and therefore I live in hope that there’s a Creator and that this God is working quietly to heal the world.
I read recently in Psalm 27:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation —
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life —
of whom shall I be afraid?”
I know this sounds totally bizarre, but I had a moment of clarity about the value of human life in, of all places, a kid-themed pizza joint yesterday. No, they don’t exploit their workers (that I know of, short of submitting them to overstimulated kids all day). It took a few steps for me to get there, so bear with me.
Yesterday, my daughter, Zoe, turned four years old. It’s a crappy time of year to have a birthday party, since lots of people are out of town, and those who are around are more or less partied out from the holidays. On top of that, we just moved here a few months ago and hardly know anyone. So to try and make up for all of that, we let her pick anywhere she wanted to go for dinner.
Not surprisingly, she picked John’s Incredible Pizza Company, which is like Chuck E. Cheese on steroids. Not high on my list of choices, but hey, it wasn’t my birthday. Zoe’s grandparents are in town and they invited a couple other family members who live nearby to join us. One of Amy’s distant cousins brought along her husband or boyfriend (still not sure which), and I remarked after the dinner to amy that he bore a striking resemblance to the alt-rock front man Perry Ferrell, of Jane’s Addiction fame.
“What ever happened to Perry?” Amy asked. Short of founding the Lollapalooza Festival and hitting every Coachella festival ever held, I had nothing. So I Googled him.
Christmas is less than two weeks away, and even though most of us probably started cranking the Christmas tunes the day after Thanksgiving, here’s a look at some of this year’s best Christmas compilations so you don’t overplay, say, Amy Grant’s classic 1983 Christmas Collection.
"I approached the composition as a prayer," jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck said of his "To Hope! A Celebration," a contemporary setting for the Roman Catholic Mass, "concentrating upon the phrases, trying to probe beneath the surface, hoping to translate into music the powerful words which have grown through the centuries."
Probing beneath the surface marked all of Brubeck’s music, from the revolutionary 1959 polyrhythmic album "Time Out," to his oratorio, "A Light in the Wilderness," and his setting of Thomas Aquinas’ hymn, "Pange Lingua."
Brubeck died on Wednesday of heart failure, a day before his 92nd birthday.
Brubeck is best known in the secular jazz world for his startling compositions using different time signatures, such as 5/4 time in the classic "Take Five," or the mixture of 9/8 time and the more traditional 4/4 rhythm of "Blue Rondo a la Turk." Both pieces are on the "Time Out" album, the first jazz album to sell 1 million copies and still one of the best-selling.
Religious faith, however, was never far from Brubeck’s creative mind.
Up-and coming-/singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen stopped by the Sojourners office to talk with our Brandon Hook about music, his new album Family, God, and creativity.
The Seattle-based folk artist was recently featured on Spotify’s Emerge app, which pits rising artists against each other based on play frequency, and is currently on a U.S. tour.
Special thanks to Noah for stopping by and being so open with us!
I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson by Kristin LeMay / Grace and Mercy by Jonathan Butler / Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade by Sharon Leslie Morgan and Thomas Norman DeWolf / We Are Not Ghosts by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young