CD Review: Christmas Guitar, by Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is back with another instrumental album! It has apparently been in the works for quite a while. A year ago, Kevin told me he’d been hoping to get it out then, but things had fallen through. Now it’s available for our enjoyment.

Unlike Kevin’s last project, Acoustic Sunday, the style on this project is orchestral and nostalgic. Kevin’s guitar weaves in and out of thick orchestrations, with some background singers sprinkled in too. Personally, I find BGVs on instrumentals rather distracting, so I probably could have done without them on at least some of these tracks. However, Kevin’s guitar generally isn’t “smothered,” even though it’s a bit more subdued than usual. Out of twelve tracks, only a couple are up-tempo. Most of them find Kevin lazily, jazzily picking his way through such perennial chestnuts as “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and “The Christmas Song.”

The track that easily stands out the most to me is “Sleigh Ride.” It’s very hard for a full orchestra to go wrong on this number, and Kevin’s guitar puts a great twist on the classic arrangement. It’s the one track where Kevin “lets himself go” a bit and does a little improv towards the end. “Let it Snow” is a bit more straightforward but similar in tone.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is another standout track, featuring some beautiful piano playing which is lushly interwoven with the guitar and orchestra.

One neat thing about these arrangements is because they don’t take many liberties with the songs, it encourages easy sing-a-long. Upon listening to “O Holy Night,” I was so caught up in the song that I was actually inspired to go out into the garage (cold as it was), and try out my “chops” on the high notes. It’s another song where the full orchestra adds a lot of excitement.

One of the things that I loved about Acoustic Sunday was the way each acoustic instrument was creatively selected and blended together to make that casual, coffee-house jam sound. I think a Christmas project following the same pattern with the same musicians could have been really cool. But Kevin chose to aim for a mellow, orchestral approach instead, which is also good in its own way. (It’s also possible that he intended to record with the same musicians, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out.) The thing is that because of the deliberately straightforward, low-key style, you can feel him pulling back and not really showing what he’s fully capable of. This works perfectly for his intended effect, but those looking for really innovative music may be disappointed. If you want something fresh and creative where Kevin really gets to cut loose, check out Acoustic Sunday.  But if you want something familiar and nostalgic that would make perfect background music for tree-decorating, Christmas-cookie-baking, or a Christmas party, this is the album for you.

(Note: I seem to be having a spot of difficulty finding where it’s available from, as Kevin’s old web page seems to have disappeared. I will post a link when I find it. Meanwhile, here’s a sampler.)

[Update: Here’s the link.]

Review copy provided.

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What I Learned in 2011

I’m going to put up some New Year’s resolutions soon, but first, here are some things I learned last year. I mean, this year. (I guess it’s not 2012 yet.) As my readers know, I love to make random lists, and this is no exception:

1. I learned that there are some great people in the Church. Seriously, this is the number one thing I learned. I met some amazing people this year. Some truly amazing, humble, godly people who somehow thought it was worth their time to make time for me.

2. I learned that there are some not-so-great people in the Church.

3. I learned to take Benjamin Disraeli a little more seriously when he said “Never explain, never apologize.”

4. I learned that trolls are just about the biggest time drain in the universe.

5. I learned that I was too liberal for some conservatives.

6. I learned that I was too conservative for all liberals.

7. I learned that writing songs could be easier than I thought.

8. I learned that forgiveness could be harder than I thought.

9. I learned that bad writing, slick visuals and obnoxious liberalism will get you everywhere. (*cough*, Rob Bell, *cough-cough*)

10. I learned that stuff doesn’t always make sense (like the fact that bad writing, slick visuals and obnoxious liberalism will get you everywhere).

11. I learned that mint hot chocolate leaves regular hot chocolate in the dust.

12. Finally and most importantly, I learned that Marty McFly invented rock and roll:

 

What did you learn this year? Please share.

What Could Mary Know?

How many songs or sermons have you heard implying that Mary (or Joseph) knew the true purpose of Jesus’ birth? There’s a whole song built around the phrase “Mary Knew” — implying she knew that Jesus was God, that he died to redeem all humanity from their sins, and so forth. In the song “Then Came the Morning,” it says Mary knew Jesus would rise again.  There’s a song called “Strange Way to Save the World,” written from the perspective of Joseph, indicating by its very title that Joseph knew that the Nativity was connected with the entire human race.

While we can look back in hindsight and see God’s entire redemptive plan in perspective, such assumptions of full knowledge on Mary and Joseph’s part would be anachronistic and foreign to their cultural perspective on the Messiah. Consider the angel’s message at the Annunciation:

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:31-33)

Now, compare this with the prophet Jeremiah:

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds…Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely, and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jeremiah 23:3ff)

Put yourself in Mary’s position: What is her first and most natural idea of this baby’s purpose going to be? Immediately, she imagines a great ruler, an earthly Messiah who will save the people of Israel. I emphasize “people of Israel” to point out the contrast with what the song describes as “saving the world.” The rest of the world wouldn’t really have factored into Mary and Joseph’s concept of the Messiah. They had specifically Jewish prophecies in mind. The Magnificat says, “He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.”

This was Zechariah’s reaction too:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us….That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. (Luke 1:68-75)

“But wait a minute!” you say. What about all the other prophecies about a suffering Messiah—“By his stripes we are healed,” and all that?

The Jews knew all about those prophecies too. That was why they developed the idea that there would be not one, but two Messiahs—the ruling one and the suffering one. It’s entirely plausible that this tradition dates back to at or before the time of Christ. We certainly find it in ancient Talmudic commentaries. This passage from a commentary on the book of Zechariah summarizes:

The rabbis taught: The Messiah b. David, who (as we hope) will appear in the near future, the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to him: Ask something of me and I will give it to thee, as it is written [Ps. ii. 7-8]: “I will announce the decree . . . Ask it of me, and I will give,” etc. But as the Messiah b. David will have seen that the Messiah b. Joseph who preceded him was killed, he will say before the Lord: Lord of the Universe, I will ask nothing of Thee but life. And the Lord will answer: This was prophesied already for thee by thy father David [Ps. xxi. 5]: “Life hath he asked of thee, thou gavest it to him.”

So, this concept certainly wasn’t alien to the Jews. This means God couldn’t be accused of playing a trick on them by “setting them up” for a ruling Messiah, only to send a different kind of Messiah, one they couldn’t have possibly recognized at all. However, it is worth noting that at the time of the Nativity, Jesus’ parents and relatives would not have been unreasonable in seeing him as a future deliverer-king-ruler, with a kingdom of this world. It would in fact have been their first thought. And even after Jesus’ resurrection, we see his disciples still asking whether he would restore the kingdom to Israel.

Certainly, Mary knew that Jesus was the Son of God. But the idea that Jesus was God was so staggering that Jesus had to repeat it over and over again before it fully sank in even for his closest friends. (In fact, it is entirely possible that they only fully grasped the deity of Christ after His resurrection and ascension.  But Peter definitely “gets it” by the time we reach Pentecost.) And the idea that somehow, this baby who was prophesied to be a mighty ruler would also atone for the sins of the whole world… Well, that was why John the Baptist’s pronouncement at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry was so astonishing:  “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world!” How could this be? John himself may not have fully understood the magnitude of his own prophecy.

(I can’t take credit for gathering all this info myself. I relied heavily on this blog post, which covers the topic even more extensively than I did here. I’d encourage you to read it—it’s fascinating stuff.)

Concert Review: Gaither Christmas Homecoming, Grand Rapids, MI

On December 9th, I attended my first Homecoming. It was a memorable experience. Sadly, I was unable to take that many good photos of the actual stage, so I reverted to taking pictures of the screen, which yielded better results. There are a few “stage shots” in here (I particularly liked one or two of David Phelps, probably because of the high contrast lighting they did for his numbers), but most turned out blurry. I ended up scrapping half the photos I took, and of the ones I kept I didn’t have time to touch any up in Lightroom. So the shots in this slideshow are very rough. But I think they capture the spirit of the evening pretty well. And like I said, I owe most of them to the guys with the video cams. 😉

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Review:

As usual, Kevin Williams came out before the “concert concert” to play guitar—a couple carols from his new CD. Then Bill came up, and there was some comedy. He announced he was running for President and threw out ideas for his cabinet, including Gordon Mote for Secretary of Transportation. 😉

Then he introduced Buddy Greene, and after some banter, Buddy said, “I am the resident folk singer of this outfit, but when I get up here I feel like a rock star.” He kicked things off on the guitar with the country “Christmas Time’s A’Comin,” from his Christmas project Not Just Any Night (which is fantastic by the way—thanks Buddy for the free copy!) Becky and Sonya Isaacs joined him, and they had a great sound together. He performed it slower live than it is on the album, but it worked perfectly. After some dexterous guitar work, Buddy pulled out the harmonica and did some jamming with Gordon Mote on keys and Kevin on electric. It was an awesome way to kick off the night.

Then Buddy had the Martins come up to help everyone “get Pentecostal” on the next song (“God is With Us”), but not before eliciting some appropriately loud cheers of excitement for Christmas from the crowd. Buddy did a great black gospel impression including some great falsetto and growling. But I could tell he was hurting for some Brooklyn Tab backup, or at least Larnelle Harris. “And a hallelujah from all you white people out there…?”

Next, Charlotte Ritchie came on stage and led us in “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.” I’d never heard the song before and immediately loved the way she sang it. What a beautiful, sweet voice she has. I could listen to it all day.

More comedy, including the obligatory shots of Rory Rigdon staring into space. Kevin: “You’re laughing, but that’s Bill’s campaign manager!”

Next up, the Martins, who I believe may have been the highlight of the night. At any rate, they seemed to leave the strongest impression with my dad, who doesn’t customarily listen to southern gospel. They kicked it off with “Go Tell,” then launched right into their acclaimed acapella arrangement of “The Doxology,” which always brings the house down. As comparatively low quality as my audio recording of the event was, playing it back still gives me goosebumps. Definitely a candidate for The Moment of the concert. From here they segued into one of their best songs, “The Promise.” I am always struck by how potent and well-written the lyrics for this song are.

More comedy, then Gordon Mote, whom you can’t not love. Like everyone else, he started with an up-tempo number, “Something to Shout About.” His piano chops were on full display. After this, he told a few funny stories about the kinds of things fans ask him that I’m actually not certain were made up. One was about a man in Toronto who came up and asked Gordon for directions. “So I pointed!” said Gordon. And my favorite was the one about the woman who came to Gordon’s table, stood there without saying anything and finally walked over to the guy working it to ask, “Does he shake hands?” (All of these voices were delivered impeccably by Gordon of course.) In reply, the table guy said with a twinkle, “I don’t know. Give him a treat and let’s see what happens!” Gordon played his arrangement of “Through it All” to close out his set. Honestly, I have never really liked this song, but Gordon brought it to life in a really compelling way with a heavy black gospel swing. The audience sang along.

Next came the Booth Brothers, who delivered a predictably flawless set: “I See Grace,” “He Saw It All” (done with a live band), “Trading This Old Cross For a Crown,”  then “In Christ Alone.” I didn’t get to see them do that one at the concert in the fall, so this was a pleasant surprise. (Though I guess it wasn’t a surprise, since most of the artists were singing some material from the new Gaither Homecomings.)

Break for a product pitch. Bill announced the CDs, and Rory was shown holding them up. It was humorous when he would get “mixed up.” The best moment was when Bill was pitching something else and Mark Lowry sneaked up behind Rory to wave his new solo project in everyone’s face. “I can’t believe he did that! Shameless self-promotion!” cried Kevin indignantly, proceeding to display his two new projects (thanks for the free copies Kevin!)

Bluegrass time with the Isaacs. A highlight of their set was when they showed Aedan Isaacs on the screen, chewing on something or other. Bill said, “There’s nothing in that honey. But go for it, go for it.” Then, “Enjoy that. One of these days, you’ll have to get a job.” The baby’s reaction was so perfectly timed that my dad was literally trying to argue that the footage had been shot beforehand and spliced in. I don’t know if the rest of us quite convinced him that baby Aedan really was there, sitting on Charlotte Ritchie’s lap and reacting in real time. They sang “It’s Christmastime Again,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Why Can’t We,” and “I Will Praise Him.” I always love to hear them sing that hymn acapella. Because it’s not as familiar to me as some other hymns, it strikes me fresh every time.

Then Bill introduced Gene McDonald singing “Lonesome Road.” He’s excellent! I’m not sure why people have said he’s overrated, but he has the complete package—smooth as silk and killer lows. It’s just a matter of time before he becomes the Gaither Vocal Band’s official bass singer.

Then, the moment everyone was probably waiting for… the Gaither Vocal Baaaaand! They started with a great choice: “Hide Thou Me,” for which Bill has taken to accompanying them on the piano. David was himself. Next they pulled out an unexpected tune from the Wes/Guy/Marsh lineup, “I Catch ‘Em, God Cleans ‘Em.” Mark Lowry sang the step-outs. It wasn’t the same without Guy but still fun.

Here there was some comedy with Bill and Mark where Mark asked the different denominations in the audience to identify themselves. “Church of Christ! You get to hear a PIANO. It’s almost like SINNING, isn’t it? [evil cackle]” My favorite moment was when Mark told the Catholics, “Oh, God bless you. Thank you for coming to hear Baptist Protestants sing. Tell Mary I said hey. We’re not allowed to talk to her. Tell her I said thanks for that song though, I appreciate it.”

Next was “My Journey to the Sky,” then “Greatly Blessed, Highly Favored.” Wes Hampton was in great form. Then… the moment I’d been secretly dreading… David Phelps, “Nessun Dorma.” Very impressive, of course, but still too frilly… that scooping thing he does on the word “splendera” still drives me batty. He had a nice new haircut though—Shirley Temple isn’t quite so envious anymore. And he certainly landed in the center of each note, that is, when he wasn’t deliberately dancing around it. I think in all fairness he may actually have been a little less “pop” than usual that night, a bit more true classical.

Then they gave Wes his moment with “He is Here.” Putting him and Phelps back to back was obviously intentional, but for me, it served as a reminder of why I’ve always preferred Wes to David. Even though Phelps is more talented, Wes appears to put more of his heart into what he sings. There’s such a feeling of authenticity about Wes that’s just not as obviously apparent when David sings. Though by that I certainly don’t mean to imply that David is a cold fish or Wes has no talent. So no letters, please! 🙂

Then it was time for Mark to sing “Mary, Did You Know?” Powerful moment, as always. I was expecting a standing ovation, but it was a relatively quiet crowd that night, so no standing-O for Mark, or even Phelps! (Shock.) The live band provided a great touch.

Michael English sang “Please Forgive Me,” and then David launched into “He’s Alive.” It was an appropriately exciting finale for the first half.

[Intermission]

Gordon Mote played a piano instrumental to start the second half. Meanwhile, Dad fixed Mom’s lighter. Then Bill led the audience in “Joy to the World.” Next was  “Come and See What’s Happening” (Gordon Mote sang the solo with some assorted female backup singers—perhaps Charlotte Ritchie and the Isaacs?) Bill played the Christmas Homecoming video along with this song and did so again with several others throughout the night.

Next was the Martins’ “Rejoice With Exceeding Great Joy.” It was the first time our family had heard this song, and it was a HUGE hit. We’ve been walking around the house singing it ever since. Mom asked a picky musical friend whether it sounded Jewish, and he said it was more just white jazz. 😉 The audience had fun blinking their lighters back and forth in time to make starlight (under Bill’s instruction of course). A local choir was singing by the stage, but they were virtually hidden in the shadows.

Bill and Buddy Greene had some harmonica fun at this point. Buddy showed off his mad skillz with a little stylistic sampler (Mark Lowry had a rather loud “stomach growl” during the prairie snippet and said “That’s what Michigan Mexican food will do to you!”) and then the famous Classical Medley. Then he sang “Little Drummer Boy” and forgot some of the words on the first verse. He stopped, looked dazed and said, “Oops, what happened?” “You forgot the words!” Mark offered helpfully. That was priceless, and I’m confident it was unplanned, partly because he also stumbled a little on later verses.

Then Mark Lowry did his recitation “Piper the Mouse” with some whimsical piano accompaniment from Gordon Mote, eliciting many “awwwwwws.” After this, Bill led the audience in “White Christmas.” Ronnie Booth sang a solo, and his voice was a perfect fit for the song. Then Bill played a video clip of Jake Hess singing a solo.

Then it was the Gaither Vocal Band’s turn to come back. They sang “Glorious Impossible,” originally on Give it Away but fitting perfectly with the Christmas spirit. It was written by my friend Wendy Wills, who also co-wrote the recent hit single “Jesus is Holding My Hand” with Lyn Rowell.

The Isaacs then did an acapella rendition of “Away in a Manger.” Afterwards Bill played a clip of Gloria Gaither doing a monologue from a Christmas homecoming. It set up the GVB’s next song, “Reaching.” They did this with just piano accompaniment. It worked brilliantly. Afterwards, Buddy’s harmonica led the audience on “Silent Night.” And FINALLY, David Phelps sang “O Holy Night,” which I had been hoping he would do all evening. He started in complete darkness, but I think it was the first key change when they switched to a pure white spotlight on him. Then after he hit the high note and everyone joined in, the whole stage lit up. It was pretty electrifying. As I’ve said before, I genuinely enjoy what he does with this song, even though he still can’t resist just a few “tweaks.” 😉 I think you have to see David Phelps live to really appreciate his talent. Nothing beats being in the same auditorium as he is when he unleashes “it.” I was astonished that it didn’t get a standing ovation.

So there you have it! My first Homecoming. I’ve already discussed my between- and after-concert chats with various artists like Buddy Greene, Gordon Mote, and Kevin Williams. Other members of my family also met artists like the Martins. Everyone we met was wonderfully kind and gracious. If “them Gaithers” are ever in your area, and for some reason you’ve never seen them, you should make an effort to do so. The variety of music they offer is incredible. Anyone is sure to find something he will like. That’s the beauty of a Homecoming. Certainly it’s a must for any southern gospel fan to experience, but even if that isn’t necessarily your bag, a Homecoming concert will incorporate elements of other genres like pop, folk, bluegrass and classical as well. So whether you have a passionate love for southern gospel or not, the bottom line is that Bill Gaither has a knack for picking good music.

And with that, I leave my readers for the Christmas weekend. I hope to be back some time next week. Until then, Merry Christmas to all!

I’m Dreamin’ Of A…

Well, it’s looking like there will be no snow for me this Christmas. There’s been a little snow this season, but it melted away and we’ve had weeks of cold, rainy weather without another flake.

You see, I live in the Midwest, and in this part of the country, a green Christmas and a white Easter is no joke. It’s actually happened. Spring and fall are practically non-existent. The cold season lasts forever, then pretty much melts into summer, which lasts forever until it turns into winter. But “winter” could mean just weeks of really cold weather with no snow, until it really gets rolling around January and doesn’t stop until May or so.

So dream with me…

Christmas Favorites #2: Christmas With Ernie Haase & Signature Sound

Today I’m featuring Signature Sound’s first (and best) Christmas recording, with the lineup of Ryan, Doug and Tim. If I’m not mistaken, it came out in 2004. This caught the group between their “Stand By Me” and “Get Away Jordan” eras. It is one of my favorite Christmas albums. Even though it’s definitely southern gospel, it also has a somewhat contemporary flavor. It blends the group’s traditional and progressive leanings together quite nicely.

The Star On Top: “Come Make a Place” — This is a great ballad, easily my favorite track. It has a mellow 80s feel, the perfect fit for Doug Anderson. It recalls progressive Imperials balladry. There’s even a pretty cracking electric guitar solo on the final chorus. As non-SG as it sounds, EHSS takes on the style with remarkable ease. And it’s an excellent song.

Golden Rings:

“A Quartet Christmas” — Call it cutesy, but I’ve always had fun with this song. The lyrics are cleverly done, and it follows in a long southern gospel tradition of talking about quartet singing in a quartet song. “But if the bass could go low… And the tenor sing higher…” Try not to hum along to this one.

“Glory to God in the Highest” — EHSS’s cover of this quartet favorite has become a staple for them. It was used to kick off their self-titled DVD, and they still use it as a bookend for their concerts today. This version with Tim Duncan is the best arrangement of the song ever recorded, in my humble opinion.

“The First Noel” — This is a low-key acapella take on the familiar carol. An interlude of “O Holy Night” is unexpected and gives it some excitement. Pure acapella pleasure.

Stocking Stuffer: “The Night Heaven Kissed Earth” — This ballad seems to have been forgotten, but it’s a beautiful, reverent meditation on the Incarnation. The music has a wandering minor-key feel, tastefully accompanied by some classical-sounding guitar.

Heaven was silent as angels stood by
Anxiously waiting to hear His first cry
His journey from glory to a Bethlehem stall
Brought God down to man and gave hope to all…

Stale Cookies: “Is it Christmas Yet?” It’s cute but it doesn’t jump out and grab me.

The Coal in the Bottom: “Christmas Medley” — Entirely composed of fluffy secular carols, this is sort of cute but ultimately leaves you wanting to move on.

Other good tracks include the surprisingly punchy “Tonight” and a smooth-as-silk take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” “Who Do You Think” is a quiet little number that I like as a song, though it never seemed to fit Timmy Duncan’s voice. I think Ian Owens carries it much better now (you can hear his version on their new Christmas EP).

Any fan of “that lineup” shouldn’t think twice about adding this project to their collection if he hasn’t already. I’m sure many would agree with me that the Ryan/Doug/Tim configuration was the high point of EHSS’s career. Not that Devin and Ian aren’t talented in their own way, but there was something special about that lineup. That excellent blend, combined with smart and satisfying song choices, makes this record a stand-out in their discography. Many Christmas projects are tired, uninspired affairs rushed out to make a little cash between albums, but this one does not disappoint.

What Are They Like At the Table?

On today’s topic, I would appreciate it if some SG fans could weigh in who have been “around the block” and seen more artists than I. Because of the nature of the topic, I’m going to lay out my thoughts on it as broadly as possible without naming specific names.

It seems to me that there are three rough “types” of personalities that an SG fan can observe in personal interactions with artists. First, there are the artists who are just so spontaneously warm and attentive to every single doggone person that it makes you feel downright embarrassed that you’re not just like they are. “How do they DO that?” you wonder. “How do they make every fan feel like they’re it?” Generally, this personality tends to go along with a thick southern drawl and a generally southern personality. “Come here and give me sugar, hon.”

Second, there are the artists who aren’t quite so effusive but seem infinitely relaxed and comfortable in their own skin. They’ll chat easily with you, so easily you feel like you’re having a conversation with your next-door neighbor. They are who they are—down-to-earth and instantly likable.

But the third type is the type who simultaneously inspires my sympathy and my secret relief.  On the stage, with their peers, they’re in their natural element and they come alive. Mingling with the fans, they seem to be not quite “there.” They smile, sign, pose, say “Thank you” and “God bless,” but you can just sense that they’re not really comfortable. They may be sweet, kind people, but they’re not “people people.” They don’t have that wonderful and unsettling ability to pour themselves into each and every fan. When they’re bone tired, it shows, not in the form of un-graciousness, but more subtly, in a forced smile for the camera, in a weary 200th “Thank you so much.”

They inspire sympathy, because you know what a heavy burden they’re carrying and wish it was less draining for them. But they make me relieved, because they’re just like me. Be honest now: If you had a thousand fans, could you successfully make each individual one feel like he was the only one in the world? Me neither.

God has given some people that gift, but he sure didn’t give it to me. And I think there’s a sense in which it’s nice to know that you’re not alone. Those people who seem super-human in their ability to do that… you absolutely love them, but at the same time you feel abashed, and maybe a touch jealous. But you feel something else for the shy, uncomfortable ones: You identify with them.

Does anyone else feel that way?

CD Review: The Right Time, by the Great Adventure Gospel Band

Our friends the Garms Family are BACK with yet another homegrown CD! Once again, a review copy was graciously provided for me. After listening to it, I can wholeheartedly recommend that you add it to your Christmas collection.

Let’s start with some stand-outs: The opening track is a crisp little bluegrass skip through “Angels We Have Heard On High.” It starts slower and then picks up speed without warning. I think the effect could have been improved with a small pause between the two sections, but it’s a fun piece anyway. Second comes a big stand-out, the Little Adventurers’ take on “Little Drummer Boy.” The instrumentation is minimal but tasteful—nothing but piano, accordion, and (naturally), Sam’s drums. (Dad plays accordion so smoothly I mistook it for a stringed instrument before reading the liner notes!) As always, the LAs’ uncanny ability to harmonize with each other at such a young age shines brightly on this track.

Third is a classic Mosie Lister song called “At the Right Time.” I was unfamiliar with it before hearing this rendition. It’s a great Christmas tune that more groups should cover!

The completely acapella “Dona Nobis Pacem,” a number for the ladies’ trio, may well be the best track. It’s a surprising, yet effective choice. The blend is very pure. Very short and very sweet. One thing I might have tweaked is that a final “Amen” could have been more effective than repeating the word “pacem” again.

The one track I probably would have left off is the recitation “Jesus and Santa Claus.” Although it’s cute, it distracts from the flow of the music (especially immediately following “Dona Nobis Pacem”). However, it’s nice to know that the Little Adventurers aren’t under any illusions about the reality of Santa Claus. 😉

Also acapella is the whole family’s rendition of “Ring Christmas Bells,” which features some impressive and complex harmonizing. One thing puzzles me a little about the lyrics, namely that they replace the “Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas” with “Riiiiiiiiiiiing, Christmas bells,” which seems to flow less smoothly. Here’s a live performance:

The LAs carry a sweet version of “Away In the Manger” which interweaves both known melodies. Taylor gets a feature on the meditative “What Child Is This.” Her rendition is impressive, but it could have been better with somewhat clearer enunciation. Big brother Ben gets a solo feature on “The First Noel” but sounds most comfortable when providing a warm lower anchor for the family blend on numbers like “Ring Christmas Bells” or the lovely “Silent Night.”

Two other brief numbers are a bluegrassy instrumental version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and a closing acapella refrain of “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” I’m told that this arrangement has since been fleshed out. Hopefully somebody will catch a video of it soon.

The song selection for this album was exceptionally good, and the instrumentation was just right. Vocally, the Garms family may not yet be on the same level as other family groups like the Browns or the Collingsworths, but with three talented little voices still developing, their future is undoubtedly bright. I should give young Jayme Garms a mention here, as she may be, for her age, the most talented member of the family (with the possible exception of Caleb). Her tone is very even and clear, and she has perfect pitch. In general, she sings the high harmony in Little Adventurers trios, but she is also quite capable of solo singing. She is featured on “Silent Night.” And as we know from the last project, she is a budding songwriter as well.

This project is definitely a step up from their debut _Thank You Lord_. To reflect that, I will give it a half-star more than I gave that album, landing at four stars. Merry Christmas you guys! Nice job!

Devotional Thought: “I’m Tired”

I’m tired. If you followed me around you’d hear me mumbling a lot: “I’m tired. I’m tired. Wait, did I say that already?” I don’t get enough sleep at night because of chronic sciatica from a twisted spine. Some nights are better than others, but it’s never perfect. Sometimes it’s, “I’m tired and my back hurts,” or “My back hurts and I’m tired” for variety.

The thing is though, I’m not always tired, even when I say that to myself. So why do I? Well, I think a lot of times, I’m really saying more than just “I’m tired.” I’m saying, “I’m anxious. I’m discouraged. I’m frustrated. I’m annoyed with myself and others.”

I worry about everything. The little things and the big things. I nit-pick. I obsess. I beat myself up. “Did I do this or that just right? Did I grovel enough for this or that mistake? Is everything okay? If it’s not, is it my fault?” (It often takes me a long time to let myself believe that something ISN’T my fault, even when it quite obviously isn’t. Instead I make excuses for everyone else.)

I care about everything. In some ways this is good, because it means I have a very large, tender heart. But in some ways this is bad, because it means that I care at times when it’s wiser, better and healthier not to care.

I know the Bible doesn’t say that worriers shall have their part in the lake of fire along with murderers and what-not, but I know I’m not supposed to do it. Jesus said I’m not supposed to do it. He said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” In other words, don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you. And don’t borrow unnecessary trouble.

That’s exactly what I do. Some things I worry about legitimately. I do have truly heavy burdens on my heart that keep me plenty worried for a good reason, sometimes to the point where everything else doesn’t seem to matter. But there are other times when I borrow unnecessary trouble, because I care too much about things to let them go. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” was never assimilated into my brain. And let me tell you, it’s exhausting.

And maybe that’s why I’m so tired all the time. I worry, care and think too much about things and people I don’t need to knock myself out worrying, caring and thinking about. (Wow, that was a clunky sentence.) I need to enjoy this peaceful time in my life while I have it. Later I’ll have to care about more things. But not yet. I can relax for now. I can let tomorrow take care of itself. And even in the days to come when I will have still more reasons to worry, I can let the anxiety melt away if I trust that God knows me, my heart, and my future.

And so can you.

By the way, I think this is a blog post that speaks to me where I’m at right now, and if you’re like me it may be helpful for you too.