While I was pondering which hymn to feature next, the decision was made for me when one of my favorite men’s quartets recorded the definitive version of it just the other day.
If I were to quote the lyrics of “Be Thou My Vision” as it was originally written, you wouldn’t understand a word of it, because it was originally written as an Old Irish poem. Its exact date and authorship is speculative, and some attribute it to a 6th century saint. However, the woman who translated and versified it in the English form known today was Eleanor Hull, in 1912. There were many more verses in the original Irish than you will hear in a single English version. Among English versions today, you’ll typically hear “the standard four,” but occasionally, a lesser-known verse shows up. Here’s one revived by Revelation Trio (a great version, though not the one I chose for The Definitive):
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
The tune is very simple and a bit repetitive, which might begin to try the patience if arranged without some variety from verse to verse. I personally find that it doesn’t really get old. The ancient prayer is perfectly translated and fits the tune like a glove. It cuts through all the kitsch and the price tags and the baggage that have glommed themselves onto Christianity over the years and strips everything down to the essential elements: father and son, son and father. Continue reading
With increasingly less time to devote to blogging as the semester marches on, it’s clear that I need to open a category that I can update simply and frequently, which will also be of interest to my readers. To that end, I present The Definitive Hymns: a series in which I look at a favorite hymn of mine, explain a bit of its background, and then showcase my personal favorite version of that hymn. You are encouraged to share your own thoughts on the hymn and favorite version(s) in the comments!
Today, I’m beginning with one of the all-time greats: “There is a Fountain.” Lyrics originally written as a poem by the English hymn-writer William Cowper, music by American Lowell Mason. This hymn has a sad history behind it, but it’s a powerful anthem of redemption.
William Cowper suffered from deep depression for much of his life. In his letters, he wrote that it sometimes took the form of nightmares in which he was dragged away to Hell. Because of his illness, he struggled with the assurance that he was actually saved. When he penned the words to “There is a Fountain” shortly before his death in 1800, they were primarily a reminder to himself of God’s unwavering promise. He never dreamed that it would be embraced by the entire Church for centuries to come. Continue reading
Goooood morning! It’s 0700 and I am waking up to another day of back to school excitement, this semester with an extra dose of crazy thanks to my new (minimum-wage) job as a teaching assistant. But thanks to the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack, I have a fresh batch of retro tunes to get me out of bed and kick-start my mornings. For those of you who can actually remember when some of these little gems first came out, you are so very welcome. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a very important caffeinated beverage to go inhale whilst I boogaloo around the kitchen.
Take a listen to the first single from Joseph Habedank’s upcoming solo album! It’s called “Never, No Never.” I’m very tough on new songs, but I can say confidently that if this is representative of the rest of Joseph’s record, I need to get me a copy!
Every now and then, I peek through the fingers covering my eyes long enough to see if there’s any music the kids like today that isn’t completely awful. Recently, I was moderately surprised and pleased to discover the band OneRepublic, and even more interested to learn that front-man and producer Ryan Tedder professes Christianity. Granted, it’s a “Bono Christianity” that gives him no qualms about also producing work for other pop artists who are decidedly opposed to all Christian morality. Still, it’s not every day you see an Oral Roberts grad, raised by Pentecostal missionaries, making mainstream pop music. There’s enough interesting material in Tedder’s career choices and philosophy for his very own Christians in Entertainment post, but that’s for another time.
At any rate, it’s clear that gospel music has influenced OneRepublic’s music. Explaining one of his signature production motifs, Tedder says, “Handclaps, always. Why? Church.” Maddy Easter told me that he and his wife are even thinking of covering one of the band’s recent hits for an upcoming project. Today, I’d like to present their most heavily gospel-infused tune as a “borrowing” candidate for another one of our own more progressive artists. While I don’t care for a whole lot of the band’s work, darned if I can’t stop hitting “replay” on this one. It’s titled “Preacher,” and it’s dedicated to Tedder’s grandfather, whose tough love and wisdom inspired him through his youth. Continue reading
Filed under Borrowing, Songs
In honor of Father’s Day, here’s a special entry in my too-long-neglected “Questions and Answers” series, where we examine two songs that address the human condition from two perspectives—the one without, the other with hope. Today’s topic is fatherhood. To those whose earthly fathers have brought them only pain and fear, what do we as Christians have to offer? What can we say to the person who says “Everyone I ever trusted has let me down”? The answer is that we have a heavenly Father whose word is sure and whose faithfulness endures to all generations. Continue reading
I enjoy browsing the winners of large songwriting contests. It’s always fun to discover brand new talent, and it reveals something about my own musical tastes when a large selection of completely new music is put in front of me. Most recently, I took a listen to some of the musicians who placed in the 2013 International Songwriting Contest. There are certain genres I just avoid altogether (electronica, hip-hop, etc.) and others where the genre isn’t what it used to be (Top 40, adult contemporary). And then, happily, there are the genres where good music is still being made. This year, I kept coming back to the Americana, folk/singer-songwriter, blues and country selections. I guess I prefer music that says something to “music” that exists merely to put a worm in your ear.
The wealth of untapped talent out there is incredible. I laughed and cried over several of the songs that placed in these categories. In several cases, I actually preferred the 2nd or 3rd place finishers to the category winner. Below are some of my favorites. Think of this sampler as a little slice of “coffeehouse cake,” or alternatively, “songs that are too good for radio.”
In 2005, Brian Free took a break from quartet singing and put out what is still one of my favorite solo efforts in southern gospel. Although I’ve never quite wrapped my brain around that other-worldly voice, his ear for a good song was as canny then as it is now. My personal favorite is the fresh, vigorous country rocker “Dare to Be a Daniel” (written by fellow Gold City alumnus Steve Lacey). Other highlights include “Anthem of the Ages,” which BFA could record today like new, and the tune I’m highlighting today, “Taking My God At His Word.” I could hear a number of artists doing this today, including the Perrys, Barry Rowland & Deliverance, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, and Greater Vision.
I think I would be most excited to hear Chris Allman take a stab at it, but for Ernie to have a go would be great fun too. What do y’all think?
It’s been a really long time since I did an entry in this series, formerly known as “Poetry in Song,” and I’m not even sure that the folks who seemed interested when I first began it a few years ago are still hanging around. But in case they are, and in case anyone else enjoys reading my rambling about songwriting and would like to explore what makes a song work lyrically with me, here is another installment! Today, we’re picking a song from the world of
pop/rock country music: “Come Back to Me” (Artist: Keith Urban, Album: Fuse). This is a heart-wrenching song from the perspective of a man whose love is leaving to chase after things that he knows can’t satisfy her.
Before we dive in, mention must be made of Urban’s ravishing guitar work and the way it just melts into that synth backdrop. True musicianship dat. But I’ll save the full-on Keith fan-girling for another day. Now, on to the lyrics of the song, which was written by Shane McAnnally, Brandy Lynn Clark, and Trevor Joseph Rosen (three members of what I like to call “The Nashville Machine,” aka that faceless throng of writers whom nobody recognizes by name and without whom good and bad pop music alike would grind to a halt). I tucked away three main tips from them.
Here are two neat videos I just found and enjoyed, where Matt Fouch and Scotty Inman take fans behind the scenes for two new songs on Legacy Five’s new album.