20 Years, 20 Songs: A Rich Mullins Countdown (Part 2)

 

YouTube/Screenshot

Part 1 Here.

In which I continue the process of spotlighting the 20 songs of Rich Mullins that I think are the most enduring, the most memorable, the “desert island” collection I would hand to someone who was hearing his music for the first time. (But not without a long list of honorable mentions.)

One of the things that impresses me most about the work of Rich Mullins in hindsight is its versatility. He could write classically cheesy 80s pop/rock in the vein of Mr. Mister or Toto. He could write dreamy, Carpenters-style ballads. He could write pop classical take-offs and piano-abusing growlers a la Billy Joel. Here you might interject that you don’t really need that kind of versatility in your life and give him a pass. But that would be a shame, because you’d be missing his nitty-gritty bluegrass, his Springsteenian soul, his country twang, his smart taste in folk covers new and old, and his Dylan-and-Simon-esque treks across the American landscape. And worst of all, you’d miss his unique, sometimes purely instrumental touch on instruments you’d never heard of, like hammered and lap dulcimer (and the inexplicable way he turned such instruments into the stuff of #1 singles).

Part 2 of our countdown continues to showcase that versatility across my hand-picked selection of tunes. Part 1 already included a number of favorites, but I’ve kept what I feel are some of the very best for second.

Continue reading “20 Years, 20 Songs: A Rich Mullins Countdown (Part 2)”

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20 Years, 20 Songs: A Rich Mullins Countdown (Part 1)

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Part 2 here.

For those who are interested, I have written some thoughts on the life and legacy of Christian musician, writer, wise guy and unofficial saint Rich Mullins at The Stream here. As I write this late at night, it was twenty years ago this night that his life abruptly ended in a car crash. Later, it came out that neither he nor his passenger was wearing a seatbelt–a boneheaded thing, but as those who knew him could have told you, it was typical of Rich’s particular brand of boneheadedness. Most of the time, it just made him a little weird and iconoclastic. This time, it cost him his life. A lot of people he touched are pretty sore about that, including me.

Anyway, there was a time when you couldn’t browse a Christian magazine stand or turn on Christian radio without hearing the music of Rich Mullins. With the state of the CCM industry today, his success feels, in hindsight, like a dream–a weird, miraculous dream, the kind you have once and never have again. (More analysis here, for music and music biz nerds only.) Nevertheless, it has been twenty years, and that dream is fading from the collective consciousness of the American church. The worship choruses and songs Mullins wrote (partly in collaboration with friends) were the fabric of a childhood that I’m forced to admit is long gone. I doubt this would shock him. He was a canny guy, and he understood music business. He predicted exactly when his first smash, “Awesome God,” would be a smash. He also predicted when it would fall completely out of use. That’s part of why people love him: He was a no B. S. kind of guy. He knew exactly who he was and never pretended to be anything else.

I remember when I first discovered Rich Mullins. I was in high school, and I was browsing an old shelf filled with books, CDs, dry pens and cobwebs. My dad had a small collection of discs that he’d bought but didn’t have time to listen to anymore. One of them was Songs, by Rich Mullins. At the time, I had a portable SONY CD player. I pulled it out the other day. It needs new batteries. It sits on my desk now as I write. When I slipped that CD into that player, the first notes to come out were Rich’s spin on Bach’s Fugue #2 in C minor (sadly, transposed to a different key). I was hooked.

The next song was the one and only “Awesome God,” that legendarily cringe-worthy chorus at which my generation winces whenever it floats to the surface of our memory. Some ear-worms die hard. But the verses had always been fuzzy, and I heard them as if for the first time. Those verses, man. So weird. So cool. I find them even more so when I read that they came out of Rich in a spontaneous moment of improv while taking 16 hours to drag a trailer up a hill for a gig that was 8 hours away. He was bored and tired, his buddy was bored and tired, so what do you do when you’re bored and tired? If you’re Rich Mullins, and hence a little weird, you make like you’re an old black gospel preacher and start riffing. You take the Old and New Testaments and make a gumbo out of them. Out of that, you manage to pluck out an insanely hooky chorus. Then you try to remember it all for 16 hours until you can get to a piano and record a crappy demo. Then you hit stop, look up at your buddy and go, very quietly, “I think it’s gonna be big.”

Continue reading “20 Years, 20 Songs: A Rich Mullins Countdown (Part 1)”

Kickstart Something Good: Jean Watson

For those who are weary of the pablum now paraded as “music” on the airwaves of mainstream and Christian music alike, I offer an alternative: Jean Watson, a gifted singer/songwriter who also happens to be a dear friend of mine. Her style is clear, contemplative CCM, much like Fernando Ortega. She is a classically trained singer and violinist, and she enjoys an active ministry both in America and in the U.K. On her two latest projects—one Christmas and one original worship—she has teamed up with some of the best talent in Nashville, including producer Bill Smiley (WhiteHeart, Steven Curtis Chapman, Johnny Cash, Bebe & Cece Winans, Gaither Vocal Band, 4Him, and more), drummer Steve Brewster (Bob Seger, Chicago, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Richard Marx), and most excitingly, Phil Keaggy on a fresh arrangement of the carol “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Jean aims to help fund both records at once through a Kickstarter campaign she is calling “The Sound of Heaven.” She writes:

The greatest challenge for me in creating this project is simply financial. Whatever I have to pay towards the cost of production, manufacture, artwork, photography, travel, etc, etc, simply puts a burden on the ministry which provides the bulk of my income. I desire to be in a place where I am not hindered by any debt and can give away as much of my ministry proceeds as possible!

The total cost of ‘The Sound of Heaven Project’ is projected at approximately $40,000 which includes all expenses from start to finish. Kickstarter is a great way to raise funds for projects like this, but if I don’t raise the whole $14,000 that I am asking for to help me, I get nothing! Kickstarter will help me meet as many of those expenses as possible so I can focus on MINISTRY, not money! 🙂

Reading the numbers closely should impress upon us all just how difficult it is to be an independent artist in today’s economy. As you can see, this Kickstarter campaign won’t cover half of her costs even if it’s successful. But it will be a significant help. Click here to back her project, and if you want to hear her music, you should go to her website. The soundtrack to the promo video is music by Hillsong, not Jean. Here is one of her original songs:

A Southern Hymn from Steven Curtis Chapman

It’s finally here—SCC’s first “proper” pop album since his daughter’s death. After the immediate, gut-wrenching lamentation of Beauty Will Rise, The Glorious Unfolding shows Chapman slowly returning to his old self–not the same, but healing. This is not going to be an album review, but I’ll just say very quickly that after listening through the whole thing last night, it’s encouraging to hear SCC in this mood again. Is the music as good as his glory days? Well, much of it follows the Speechless/Declaration template, which, for those of you who don’t have his entire album timeline memorized (grin) was the phase where he left the beaten path of MOR Christian pop and began adding rockier textures to his style. While that was creative and different then, each successive time he’s duplicated the formula feels like a progressively fading photocopy (and even then, truth be told, he’d already written a large chunk of his best songs in the late 80s/early 90s).

So, if I’m being honest, there were some tracks on here that didn’t grab or hold my attention. Musically speaking, that is. Most of the lyrics are excellent, and so far beyond anything else spinning on CCM radio right now it’s not even funny.  And, oh my, can this man still write a ballad! Here are just a few lines that particularly struck me. This one is from “Michael and Maria,” dedicated to his own daughter and another child lost by some close friends:

Michael and Maria

Someone said they thought they saw you

Giving names to babies this world never knew

I’m sure by now you’ve found your great grandparents

And some friends like Dave and Erin

I bet you’ve met Moses too…

Or this from the Five-for-Fighting-flavored “See You In a Little While,” a song dedicated to his grandmother:

And just one more thing before I let you go

Please tell my little girl I love her

Though I’m sure she already knows

And ask the Father to please tell the Son

That we’re ready and waiting for Him to come…

But my personal favorite is this closing, hymn-like track, “At the Feet of Jesus,” which feels like it could fit easily onto an Alison Krauss project. Enjoy:

 

SG vs. CCM Smackdown: “Your Love Broke Through” and “Love Was in the Room”

Pitting southern gospel songs against similar songs from the world of contemporary Christian music. I think I’ve done precisely one of these so far. High time for another installment.

Both of these songs use some of the same language and imagery to refer to God’s redemptive love. But stylistically, they couldn’t possibly be more different. Keith Green’s “Your Love Broke Through” may be a blast from the past for some of you. It’s the epitome of light 70s pop. Karen Carpenter could have sung this one and it would have been a perfect fit. “Love Was In the Room” is a warm, country-styled harmony vehicle, done to perfection by the Booth Brothers.

This might come down to a matter of taste, but surely some objective comparisons could be made. I’ll just say, to kick things off, that a big strength of both songs is melodic richness. Let’s see what y’all think:

 

Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: Sisters and The Andrews Sisters

This one occurred to me the other day, and my instant thought was “Duh! Of course!” So here’s a family harmony installment of Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World.

First, The Andrews Sisters. I have a special fondness for these gals because I grew up on them. My folks gave me a greatest hits collection and a double-disc collection of their duets with Bing Crosby for Christmas one year when I was a little girl. That was around the same time they put The Great Gershwin Decca Songbook in my hands. For months on end, I was in jazz heaven, singing along with everything from Judy Garland to Louis Armstrong’s trumpet (mixed success on the later). Continue reading “Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: Sisters and The Andrews Sisters”

CCM vs. SG Smackdown: “Wish You Were Here”

I’ve decided I’d like to start a new series. Here’s the idea: I take two songs, one drawn from Southern Gospel, the other drawn from a different genre like CCM or country,  that have very similar themes (maybe even similar titles)  and ask my readers which one they vote as better. Now, it would be all too easy to just pick a favorite either way and then choose something that’s obviously dreadful for the other side, but I’ll restrain myself to make it as fair as possible (although obviously I will have my own preferences). I should make it clear that my intention is not to set off a “SG versus x or y” flame-war among my readers. Rather, my hope  is that this series will ultimately showcase some of the best of all genres.

I thought I would start with two songs that happen to have not merely similar, but identical titles: “Wish You Were Here.” My readers will I’m sure be familiar with the song of that name that was recorded by the Kingsmen and became a big hit for them in the 90s. But there was also a beautiful song of the same name by CCM singer Mark Harris.

So, who wins this round? The Kingsmen or Mark Harris?

Make your choice and leave a comment!

Rare Old Dove Awards Footage: Bill Gaither, Mark Lowry, Twila Paris, Vestal Goodman, 4Him, and Many More…

Well, it’s that time of year again. This week, the GMA will supposedly recognize the brightest and best in Christian music (tee-hee!) At this point I am unsure whether the mediocrity of the Dove Awards is due to the fact that a lot of talent is being ignored, or whether there just aren’t that many good artists anymore. I think it’s some of each.

As you can probably guess, I am hardly on the edge of my seat in anticipation of this year’s installment of said awards show. But perhaps my readers would like to take a little journey back in time with me… say, to the mid-90s. Aaaaaaah, the mid-90s. Excuse me while I get a little misty-eyed. You see, the 90s hold some of my first musical memories. This is the stuff I grew up on. This is the stuff my radio used to play. And best of all, it was a time when the worlds of CCM and gospel were much closer than they are today.

So, I present two videos which aren’t the best in quality, but nevertheless are priceless little time capsules of this golden age in Christian music. First, we’ll send our Delorean back to 1994 and watch a little montage of presentations and interviews, in which Twila Paris interviews Vestal Goodman on the 25th Anniversary of her win of the first ever Female Vocalist Award, Steven Curtis Chapman wins Long Form Music Video for his classic concert The Live Adventure, the Mark Lowry Vocal Band wins Southern Gospel song of the year, and more:

 

 

And this is the opening of the 1995 show, in which Mark Lowry gets himself disinvited from co-hosting with Bill Gaither, after which 4Him comes out for a slightly pitchy but infectious rendition of their latest hit as of 1995, “Real Thing.” Unfortunately the video is a little choppy on this one, though the audio is constant. Be sure to stick around for the announcer’s reel of featured artists for the evening at the end—if watching the videos hasn’t already brought back a ton of memories for you, just seeing all those names read off in a list is sure to do the trick.

[Edit: Link broken. Sad face.]

Concert Review: Keith & Kristyn Getty in Kalamazoo, MI (Pictures and Video)

Last Saturday, I had the amazing opportunity to see Keith & Kristyn Getty live in concert in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The auditorium held as many people as it could seat, which is approximately 2000 people.

It was a huge concert. Keith and Kristyn were joined by a mixed Irish/American band, including Dave Cleveland and Fionan de Barra on guitars, Deborah Klemme on fiddle, Jeff Taylor on accordion/mandolin/penny whistle/concertina, and Patrick D’Arcy on Uillean pipes, plus a bass player and drummer whose names I didn’t catch. Dave and Fionan are involved in arranging the Gettys’ music and are considered to be the band directors. (More on the band later. If I don’t mention their awesomeness on every single song, it’s because they were so awesome on every song that I just sort of got used to it and took it for granted. So, yeah, they were awesome.) A mass choir backed them up comprising singers from the choirs of two local churches.

I brought a camera which ran out of battery power partway through and had to be replenished (we figured out what the problem was—continuous image stabilization, huge battery hog). I recently got Lightroom 3 as a Christmas present and was able to improve some of the less-than-optimal shots I got from my less-than-optimal seat in the balcony. My best shots were taken during the after-concert I mentioned earlier this week when three of the musicians came out to the reception room for an informal jam. I was right there up close to them with perfect lighting. But I managed to get some good concert shots too. Enjoy the images and scroll down for the review. Also, there’s a special surprise at the very end of this post!

Set list

O Come Redeemer Of the Earth/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: The prelude was slow and expectant, a song that I think may be new from the Gettys. From there they moved into a rousing version of “God Rest Ye Merry.” Like many of the carols on their new Christmas album (which you should buy immediately), it’s combined with a traditional Irish reel. This one features the Star of Munster. It set a vigorous, energetic tone for the evening.

What Child Is This: This is an exciting arrangement. Ordinarily, this carol gets the quiet, contemplative treatment, but this arrangement moves along and has a lot of punch to it.

Good Christian Men Rejoice: The Gettys turned this not-quite-so-well-known carol into a congregational sing-along. It worked splendidly. We were treated to some glorious penny whistling from Jeff Taylor as the audience clapped and worshiped. I loved the way they took the line “Christ was born today, Christ was born today,” and instead of drawing out the first “today” for two syllables, they sang “Christ was born today, OH! Christ was born today!” Keith was at the piano throughout the concert, but for audience singalongs, he was always turning to lead them in clapping, sometimes even jumping up from the piano. The enthusiasm with which the Gettys tackle their music is infectious.

Here there was a break between songs as Keith talked about being in Kalamazoo for the first time and took a few jabs at Dutch people. 😆 (Southwest Michigan is full of Van-this-er-mullens and Hoekstras and Kooistras and what-not.) He said he was looking forward to having their first ever Dutch-Irish Christmas with us. He generated a good response when he said that even though he and Kristyn have lived in Ohio for about six years, they never supported Ohio state (perhaps that was his way of trying to smooth things over after all those Dutch jokes!)

Then Kristyn took the microphone and said that she became a mother back in March, to a little girl named Eliza Joy who now travels with them. The fiddle player also has a little boy who travels with her, and Kristyn expressed her hope that both children were fast asleep in the bus.

Magnificat: From there Kristyn introduced their new musical setting for the “Magnificat,” which they wrote several years ago when they were still hoping for a child. She talked about how the beauty of Mary’s song is that she looks beyond her own personal joy to God’s plan for mankind in sending the Messiah. Kristyn understandably referred to it as “God’s redemptive plan,” though it is debatable whether Mary really understood Christ’s true purpose in coming to earth at the time. (But that deserves a post of its own!) Keith left the piano to play guitar. I love the melody they wrote. It’s got a stately, almost medieval dignity.

How Suddenly A Baby Cries: This is a new Christmas lyric written to the traditional folk tune “Star of the County Down,” which most people know as the tune for “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.” It has always been one of my favorite melodies. The Gettys’ lyrics are a sweeping meditation on the mystery of Christ’s birth and salvation. The first couple of verses are soft and pregnant with anticipation, but then it suddenly picks up and turns into a reel. I lost count of how many verses there are, but it’s a very impressive piece.

Keith said that County Down was one of C. S. Lewis’s favorite places in North Ireland (mentioning it when asked what he thought heaven would be like). So when they were writing a new reel to tack onto their arrangement of the tune, they christened it the Narnian Reel in his memory.

Joy Has Dawned: Keith said that every hymn-writer wants to write a Christmas carol, and this is their attempt at one. After talking a little about the history of carols, he said that joy seems to be a major theme of Christmas wherever you go. Whatever people’s view of the season, they want to get as much enjoyment as they can out of it. Keith quoted a writer who said that the world’s attempt to find that kind of materialistic joy is like “grabbing a raindrop to find the ocean,” because true joy isn’t found within. True joy came to us in the form of Christ’s incarnation.

This is one of my favorite songs on the new album. (It’s also been recorded by a couple other artists, but this arrangement is so much better it’s not even funny.) The tune sticks in your head and is easy to remember, plus you want to remember it. Also, the lyrics are some of the best I think I’ve ever heard from them. They sound most similar to an actual hymn of anything the Getty/Townend team has written. The closing verse is my favorite:
Son of Adam Son of heav’n

Given as a ransom

Reconciling God and man

Christ our mighty Champion!

What a Saviour what a Friend

What a glorious myst’ry

Once a babe in Bethlehem

Now the Lord of hist’ry

For their Christmas album, they chose to blend this carol with “Angels We Have Heard On High.” It works great.

Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven: Probably my absolute favorite new song of theirs (it would definitely be “The Star On Top” if I were including it in my new series), this was specifically written as a children’s carol. Keith wrote the melody, and Kristyn wrote the lyrics while she was pregnant. It’s very easily singable, as it was meant to be, and the lyrics are just perfect, obviously not just for children:

Jesus, take away every darkness

Steady my simple footsteps

That I might in your goodness

Live as a child of God

Jeff Taylor played a really sweet accordion on this one.

When Trials Come: This was one of a few non-Christmas songs they did that evening. Kristyn set it up by talking about how the history of Irish music is wrought with pathos because of the various things its people have suffered through the centuries. This song was written in that spirit. It’s always been one of my favorite songs of theirs, because the melody and lyrics come together to create such a potent sense of longing and hope. It starts slowly and poignantly, then builds in intensity to a triumphant finale. Hugely uplifting and drew a great response.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing: Time for another carol/reel combo! This is a definite highlight on the new project. It has a great bluegrass flavor, but it’s a little rocky too. The fiddle player really tore it up on this one, but then again she tore it up on everything. The fiddle was an essential instrument in most of their arrangements.

[Intermission]

After intermission, Keith introduced the various band members. For those of you who think southern gospel singers are the only ones who tell corny jokes, guess what… they’re not! I couldn’t follow it all, partly because of Keith’s thick Irish brogue and partly because I was way up in the balcony, but I caught some. I heard Patrick D’Arcy talk a little about his pipes, joking about the fact that you don’t have to blow into them by saying “You can have a cigarette while you’re playing!” (That’s one joke you wouldn’t hear at a southern gospel event. :lol:) Patrick is an Irish studio musician who’s played on film scores. Then when Jeff Taylor was introduced, he provided some perfectly timed comedy, saying “I play the accordion. Please don’t take any Youtube videos, it would break my wife’s heart to know what I did for a living. She thinks I’m a professional wrestler.” Then, when talking about his mandolin’s official name, he said, “This is a bazouki, unless you’re going on a plane ride. Then it’s ‘an octave mandolin, sir.’ ” Guitarist Dave Cleveland was introduced as one of Nashville’s top studio musicians, having played for people like Michael W. Smith and Point of Grace. He also told us that he got to play all the guitars for the movie Courageous, which generated a lot of applause! And Fionan de Barre has played with all the top Irish musicians, including Riverdance in the 90s.

The band then treated us to an instrumental number. Keith set it up by talking about Greengrass parties, where Irish musicians and bluegrass/Americana musicians come together to sit around and play Celtic/bluegrass tunes. I didn’t catch the name of the tune—it sounded like “The Village Reel.” It was a treat to watch all these fine musicians go at it. Dave and Fionan were particularly fun to watch all night because they were physically so into the music, bouncing up and down side by side.  Jeff Taylor switched artfully from instrument to instrument. I know he played at least penny whistle and accordion, and I think he may also have played his bazouki (er, I mean “octave mandolin”). I wouldn’t have minded a whole concert just with the band (which we sort of ended up getting later). The audience was clapping along and soaking up every minute of it.

Simple Living: This cheerful meditation on being a cheerful giver comes from a new collection of songs written with Stuart Townend, which looks at how different parts of the gospel apply to daily Christian living. “For this song,” said Keith humorously, “We thought we’d take an uncontroversial topic, so we chose money.” It doesn’t really sound like a hymn, but Keith said that churches had been picking it up anyway (“Because presumably they have building projects and stuff…”) With reference to the widow’s mite, the song insightfully observes, “Not what you give but what you keep/Is what the King is counting.” The audience was invited to sing along.

Still, My Soul Be Still: Here Kristyn talked about life as a new mother, during which she realized that her previous goals of having eight hours of sleep at night in a row and one interrupted hour of quiet time per day were now permanently unattainable. This song is a prayer that God would help us to be still in His presence despite the busy-ness of life in this world. The accompaniment was very tasteful. Keith once again left the piano to play guitar, and other instruments gradually joined in to flesh it out.

Carol of the Bells: This is a fun carol for any arranger to work with. The Gettys combined it with the Young Tom Ennis Jig. There was a lot of great pipe-work on this one, and the choir got to some dramatic “ding dongs.”

Fullness of Grace: A new Christmas song, this has a hushed, minor key feel. Kristyn preceded it by reading John 1. It would have been even better if she had used a translation which said that the light lighteth every man that cometh into the world (instead of “everyone”), but in terms of cadencing and rhythm, it was a pretty good translation that sticks fairly close to the familiar King James.

In Christ Alone: This is a new arrangement. It’s a little slower and mellower than the original. Everyone stood and sang.

Joy to the World: With everyone on their feet, the Gettys segued into this rousing favorite. This was arranged with a brand new reel composed by Keith, named Miss Eliza’s Reel after their baby girl. There was some surprisingly kickin’ electric guitar work on this one. Watch a high quality live performance of it here , filmed in New York the very night before.

An Irish Christmas Blessing: Here my dad suggested that I might want to get down the first floor so that I’d have a chance to meet Keith and the band before the mob stampeded in. So I slipped out in the middle of this song. But I couldn’t resist lingering a moment in the back of the balcony, letting the blessing wash over me. I can’t describe how beautiful this piece is—the music and lyrics combine for a gorgeously peaceful effect.

So may his joy rush over you

Delight in the pow’r he has called you to

May all your steps walk in heaven’s endless light

Beyond this Christmas night

Go Tell It On the Mountain: This was a little extra piece that they pulled out while I was downstairs scouting out the reception room. Fortunately I sneaked back in on the bottom floor to catch the end of it. This arrangement is not on their new project, but it makes a capital closing number. They gave it a rootsy folk/rock flavor with lots of killer guitar and fiddle licks. Here is another high quality video, also from the New York concert.

[Editor’s Note, 2018: Links for the videos below were removed when my GodTube channel folded.]

And now I come to the best part, which is that I took video of two numbers performed after the concert! At first it was just Patrick and Fionan, but Jeff Taylor came and joined them, and that’s when I started taking video. The first one I took was a request from me — “Be Thou My Vision.” Patrick fumbled a little on one note, but c’mon, this was totally impromptu!

The second was some unidentified reel/jig. This was a little longer, so I had time to zoom in on the players some:

They were still playing when I left. I have no idea how long they kept on going, but Keith said they would stay until the last person left, which was incredibly classy considering how many people there were. I got to meet him myself and slipped him a demo CD of some hymns stuff I’ve done, and then Dad got him to sign the new CD to me while I was over watching the band. Kristyn didn’t come out and instead went back to the bus (presumably collapsing in exhaustion with her baby).

This was probably the best produced show I’ve ever seen. But tonight I’m going to see the Homecoming friends, and I hear their band is pretty decent too. 😉

New (Instrumental) Music From Michael W. Smith

The other day I was browsing some Twila Paris music, and noticed an unfamiliar album cover over in Michael W. Smith’s “related artists” spot. (Yes, I’m one of those geeky people who absorbs useless information like album covers as though I were a sponge.) Turns out that the sequel to his acclaimed instrumental project Freedom is releasing TODAY. It’s called Glory.

I would have known that it was awesomely awesome without hearing samples, but the samples confirmed what I already knew sound unheard. I then discovered all the tracks in full on Youtube. Here is a sampler, with comments from Michael on each song in subtitles:

I’m tempted not to re-write them here so I can force you to listen to all the music in the video if you want to read them, but since the way it’s formatted really is kind of annoying, I’ll go ahead and type them out.

1. Glory Overture

“This is in many ways a tribute to my favorite soundtrack composer John Williams (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark). It’s a fun, big piece of music that takes some adventurous left turns and then goes back to the main melodic theme. It’s the right way to set the stage for this album and the orchestra sounds fabulous.”

2. The Patriot

“This one feels very patriotic, very Americana to me. I wrote it as a tribute to the Armed Services of our country and can picture it being played at a military ceremony. I’ve already started playing this at concerts with my band; we have to retool it of course, without the London Session Orchestra, which adds so much to this version on Glory.”

3. Heroes

“While ‘The Patriot’ is an upbeat rendering of the American spirit, ‘Heroes’ is a more somber counterpart. There’s a hint of sadness to the melody that feels as though someone has lost their life to defend our lives.”

4. Forever

“I’ve had this song for quite some time; my friend Wes King has even written a lyric for it, but it stands here as an instrumental. It seems to be everybody’s favorite song in my world right now, especially for my two daughters who still live at home. I had a hard time naming this one but decided to call it ‘Forever’ with my wife, Debbie, in mind. It’s for her.”

5. The Blessing

“I helped write a book that came out earlier this year called A Simple Blessing. This song is sort of a musical expression of that; people have said it reminds them of personal blessings they have experienced and evokes a feeling of thanksgiving.  This to me feels like music that just washes over you in a majestic, spiritual sort of way. I hope it’s a blessing to you.”

6. Whitaker’s Wonder

“There’s a childlike feel to the music which inspired me to name it after my grandson, who is named after me. The name Whitaker goes way back in my family.”

7. Joy Follows Sorrow

“The next four songs are important in terms of sequence; they go together and have intentional spiritual thread running through them. There’s an air of sadness to ‘Joy Follows Sorrow’ — it’s a reflection on the life of Jesus and Him knowing what He would go through on earth.”

8. Glory Battle

“There’s an intense feel to this piece that is meant to represent spiritual warfare — there’s a fight happening here between good and evil, and so the arrangement here becomes pretty massive. I tend to think of soundtracks when writing this type of music, so stylistically, I was imagining Gladiator meets Braveheart.”

9. Atonement

“This piece is representative of the death of Christ. It goes to a minor key to reflect His sacrifice, and the music brightens to signify a breakthrough, that death has been conquered.”

10. Redemption

“I wanted this to feel big and celebratory, the victorious conclusion to the four-song cycle. You can hear some of John Williams’ influence in here again, but ultimately we arranged it to sound more like the work of composer Aaron Copeland (Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid), bringing in elements of Americana and the Old West.”

11. The Romance

“I wrote this for my wife Debbie, an amazing and inspiring woman. We have been married thirty years. Enough said, really.”

12. The Tribute/Agnus Dei

“‘Tribute’ was written and dedicated to President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara, on their Sixtieth wedding anniversary. I will never forget that moment playing it for them at the White House. When it came to concluding Glory, the piece blended nicely into our symphonic arrangement of ‘Agnus Dei.'” [Note: The clip in the sampler is just of the “Agnus Dei” part.]

Go. Get. It. Unless you just don’t like good music.