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
How is it possible that the creative life can feel simultaneously self-giving and narcissistic? On the one hand, the artist, or musician, or writer has a gift that not everyone has. And because paintings and songs and books give other people great joy – and might even change their lives — those gifts must be shared. But that means the artist herself must be shared, and that’s the problem.
For the artist, self-expression is unavoidable – it is part of the job description. As a songwriter, my raw material is the world as I observe it. That’s all I’ve got. The most realistic painter or sculptor still has to rely on his own vision. Even as a journalist, I have to draw upon my five senses, my own mind and my own experiences. Even as I tell someone else’s story, it is in part my story. I can’t tell your story without filtering it through my story; it’s how we make sense of new information. I’m only human, after all.
There are some artists whose work leaves you walking away thinking, “How in the world did they do that?” The Yeasayer performance at the 9:30 Club in D.C. on Nov. 15 was one such performance.
The psychedelic electro pop group hailing from Brooklyn pumped out a wholesome set of favorites from its older releases as well as songs from its recent — and divisive — album Fragrant World, all to the backdrop of what looked like a chunk of the Epcot ball from Disney World.
But the elaborate — and frequently trippy — back drop and light show seamlessly augmented the synth-laden songs, morphed electric guitar, and catchy hooks. It was truly and audiovisual experience. Had their performance included some neon gummy worms or something, it would have engaged nearly every sense.
It’s not unusual to hear someone rapping about clothes — and how expensive theirs are — on the radio these days. Consider Jay Z and Kanye West’s collaboration “Otis,” where Jay Z belts, “Photo-shoot fresh, looking like wealth / I'm 'bout to call the paparazzi on myself.”
And if you don’t hear about their diamond studded jewelry and designer clothes, some rappers aren’t shy about showing them off in music videos.
But Seattle-based hip hop group Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who recently hit number one on the iTunes album charts and stopped by D.C.’s 9:30 club on Nov. 13, chose a different approach to the whole clothing concept and, for the most part, hip hop in general.
If you were overwhelmed by all that election business, you might have forgotten that October just happened, and with it came a new release from one of my personal favorite musicians, Andrew Bird.
Hands of Glory, Andrew Bird’s latest record and companion to March’s Break it Yourself, is the product of a pair of recording sessions prompted by an immense response to Bird’s “old-time” sets on recent tours.
Reinterpreting songs from Break It Yourself and featuring covers of classic country tunes, these “old-time” performances find Bird and his full band playing to a single microphone with an entirely acoustic setup.
Drawing inspiration from these sets, Hands of Glory features two brand new original tracks, a new interpretation of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and covers of Van Zandt, the Handsome Family, Alpha Consumer and others.
The results are fantastic.
Steve Taylor, film director and rock hero, visits our (mine and Jordan Green's) Homebrewed Christianity podcast to talk about the disappointing theater run of his film, Blue Like Jazz, what made him leave music for film, and to announce his return to music through a new album he’s been working on.
So, yeah, that’s a big deal. And yeah, we’re pretty much breaking the story.
In the Echo Chamber, we talk about the election, Superstorm Sandy, scary movie commercials, and, you know, a bunch of other stuff. Finally, we discuss some common Christian cliches.
Listen ... inside the blog.
Freelance Whales’ performance on Wednesday was a bit like my experience with Hurricane Sandy: One minute was jubilation at the prospect of no work for two days, and the next minute was a mellowed out restlessness, presumably from staying inside for too long.
That is definitely not to say that the performance was by any means terrible or disengaging. Rather, it simply means that the group from Queens meandered through most of their current catalogue, which consisted of the poppy, upbeat Weathervanes and the recently released, mellow, ambient Diluvia.
For popular catchy songs like “Generator ^ First Floor,” “Hannah,” or “Ghosting,” the crowd was quick to nod their heads, raise their hands, and sing along.
What is it that music actually does? What is that thing? I'm not entirely sure.
That music has physical qualities is unquestionable. A certain pitch can shatter glass. Low notes can cause the trunk of the car stopped next to you in traffic to shimmy and shake. Volume hurts our ears. Music, temporally bound, is material.
It affects the world around us. It engages the world around us. Sound waves travel through various substances...with greater or lesser ease depending on the substance, but it does travel. It moves.
But does it live, move, and have being?
Cosmic Christ – depth of reality. The resurrection of Christ is also of the body…exit wounds and all. So can the music that changes the shape of the world we live in not help us access the God who inhabits the world and heaven at the same time?
So often I read passages like the one above from Rock and Theology (an amazing blog, by the way) and I wonder what the hell we're all going on about. Music does not have agency in any conscious sense. It is substantive, of course, and could be analysed liturgically like any other liturgical object.
According to Rolling Stone:
Paul McCartney says that Yoko Ono isn't at fault for splitting the Beatles or tearing John Lennon away from the group in an upcoming TV interview with David Frost, the BBC reports. "She certainly didn't break the group up," McCartney says, countering the commonly held belief that Ono caused the Beatles' dissolution. "I don't think you can blame her for anything," McCartney says, adding that Lennon was "definitely going to leave."
Read the Rolling Stone report in its entirety HERE.
For our brothers and sisters on the East Coast, in the path of the storm they call "Sandy," I've put together a little music for you to help pass the time. Sending you prayers of protection, peace, and grace (and, I hope, more than a bit of musical joy and solace) from the shores of the Pacific here in California at the SoJo West office.
Inside the blog, there are 30 videos. For those of you with power (and an Internet connection), I hope it helps pass the time and maybe even gets you to get up and dance a little in your living rooms.
Here's the song and video the playlist begins with: "No Storms Come" by our Sojo friends, The Innocence Mission:
It's been a very musical weekend.
Pictured at left is a Foster 7-string guitar. It's just like a traditional 6-string acoustic, but with the added rumble of a low-b string. It's an interesting beast to play. Lovely, really. I like that extra resonance in the low end, plus, if truth be told, I like singing with it. Here is a little recording from Soundcloud. I recorded the file below on my phone. Any tinnyness is purely because of the phone.
God Girl's New Favorite Thing for Oct. 25, 2012: Two Irish boys cover Rihanna's "We Found Love (in a Hopeless Place)"
Now who are these talented young lads?
UPDATE: WE FOUND 'EM!
More info from the singer's father inside the blog...
I was standing there on the shore, jeans rolled up, my ankles in the surf.
It was day two of the Rob Bell event and people were surfing.
Rob brings in a couple of surfing instructors and, if you want to, you can rent a board and take a lesson. It's a good time. I watched a lot of people surf for the first time as I stood on the shore ...