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.

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What’s the Big Deal With Michael Buble?

I originally wrote this post when Michael Buble came out with his new Christmas album. It had been brewing for a while, but I kept forgetting to write it. Then when I started to see people talking and tweeting about the new project, it reminded me of him, so I wrote it. Then I forgot about him again and this post got forgotten in the process. I’m posting it now for no particular reason, except the fear that I might forget… again.

Basically, here’s my question: What’s all the fuss about with this guy? For those of you who may not know, he’s a crooning swing-pop sensation who sings “throwback jazz” in the style of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. And he appears to have quite a few fans within Southern Gospel. In fact, I don’t keep up with the secular music scene, so that was how I first heard about him. And it was all rave reviews. So I thought I would check him out.

My conclusion was that he has some nice chops. But let’s just say his personality and ideas of comedy leave a lot to be desired.

I’ve browsed through numerous concert reviews from all different venues where people have consistently described his jokes as “R-rated.” On several different occasions, he’s even singled out small kids in the audience in some way (pointing them out, getting a picture with them, etc.) and then turned right around and done “the finger” or dropped the f-bomb. He also jokes about the fact that people think he’s gay, sometimes saying that even though he isn’t, he would be “very proud of it” if he was. And all that is just the tip of the iceberg. I should add that this kind of behavior has been noted even by people who are giving him positive reviews—they seem to think it’s funny.

There’s another thing I know some people might be able to brush away, but I think it’s worth mentioning as well. Granted his music and music videos may be tame by certain standards, but the vid for the song “Haven’t Met You Yet” features Michael lounging around with some cute chick on a bed in the middle of a grocery store. Fully clad, but still. I’d feel weird if my 10-year-old put it up for her Facebook status (which a 10-year-old I know of actually did).

However, whatever your opinion may be on that, I think a lot of his Christian fans who’ve never been to a concert of his (or who’ve caught him on a good night, as one gospel singer did) may simply be unaware of the kind of show he consistently delivers. The consensus: NOT a family-appropriate one. And I don’t know about you, but that really lowers my respect for him and makes me disinclined to listen to his music, even if I think he has some talent. It just makes me appreciate performers who have real class all the more.

Now let me clarify something before going further: I’m not against listening to secular artists. My ipod is loaded with them. Sure, Billy Joel isn’t exactly a model of morality. But he’s not aiming for the demographic Michael Buble is aiming for. And I can’t appreciate the kind of artist who markets himself to a wide age range, attracts families with children to his concerts, and then proceeds to frat-boy his way around the stage with no regard for that demographic whatsoever. If you’re going to be crude and obscene, at least don’t pretend to be the classy, family-friendly type in the image you project to the market.

And you know, the sad thing is that I can see why he’s popular. I can see why a lot of people like his music, and the reason is that his style hearkens back to a more innocent time. It’s different from the junky hip-hop and club disco and electro what-not that’s circulating around these days. People associate his music with class, elegance, and style. Would that he personally embodied those characteristics in the way he acts when he’s not singing. And tell the truth, it’s difficult not to sense that he’s immensely pleased with himself even when he sings—very much of an “Anything you can sing, I can sing smoother” attitude.

So bottom line is… if you see some of your favorite gospel singers tweeting about Buble, and you don’t happen to recognize the name… it’s a lot of hype over a guy who doesn’t deserve it. Take my word for it.

Ballad Buffet!

“It’s a ballad!”

“Oh, that’s helpful.”

There’s been some recent discussion around the southern gospel blogosphere over the vagueness of the generic term “ballad” by itself. I personally believe David Bruce Murray nailed it with his categorizations, even though they were tongue-in-cheek. There’s nothing wrong with the term, but without appropriate descriptive adjectives, it really doesn’t tell the reader much. But if you couple it with its proper modifier(s), you’re on your way.

So instead of describing the different categories of ballad in depth, I’m going to share some of my favorite ballads from all genres, just for fun and just to show how much variety they can have. And just to make it a little more fun, I won’t say what songs I pick, to try to tantalize my readers into clicking on them out of curiosity. (Though I will give you a hint that the artists range from Josh Ritter to Celine Dion to Journey to Sandi Patti.)

The Classic Ballad

Okay, so “classic” may be a kind of generic term in itself, but when I use it, I mean a long, lyrical piece of poetry that tells a story, in a folksy musical setting. The reason I call it “classic” is that it probably represents the earliest and purest manifestation of the term. Here is a perfect example of the classic ballad.

The Folk Ballad

A folk ballad can be the classic kind that tells a story, but it can also include political rants, musings on the meaning of life, or just about anything that occurs to a dude or dudette with a guitar. As DBM said, they tend to run long. Very long. Here is a classic example of such a ballad.

The Country Ballad

The country ballad typically tells a story as well, but it revolves around a limited set of themes. Familial or romantic love, heaven, and patriotism would probably claim the vast majority of country ballads. Here is a perfect example of a country ballad.

The Piano Pop Ballad

I sort of made up this category. It’s a pop song that begins with the focus squarely on the piano and then stays there instead of drowning it out in guitars and drums (see the power pop ballad). Here’s one of my favorite examples.

The Power Pop Ballad

Otherwise known as inspirational or torch songs, these are generally sung by female divas, with an adoring crowd of fans waving lighters in the audience. One or more ear-piercing high notes are regularly involved. Here is a perfect example.

The Rock Ballad

A ballad that rocks. You don’t HAVE to have long hair,  a dirty ‘stache/scruffy beard, or a sleeveless shirt to perform it… but it does help. Observe, a perfect example. There might be lighters involved here too, except they would be real cigarette lighters, not glowsticks, candles, or whatever the cute little girls are waving in the power pop ballad.

The Orchestrated Ballad

This is the category into which many southern gospel ballads fall. It starts quietly but dramatically and builds to a huge finish with all the instruments pulling out all the stops. It also covers inspirational anthems from the Steve Green/Sandi Patti era. Here is a classic example.

There might also be room, in between country and folk, for the Western ballad as its own category. Lyrically it tends to take a classic form, but instrumentation can be sparse, orchestral or anything in between. “I Hung My Head” is an example of a Western ballad that’s been interpreted both ways.

Discuss… Do you agree with my categories? Are there some categories I left out? What’s your favorite kind? (Oh, and it’s just possible that I put the wrong Youtube links in the wrong places, so if you were expecting Sandi Patti and got Journey instead… let me know and I’ll fix it. :D)

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…

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.

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. 😉

My Take on “Breath of Heaven,” Testing a Blue Yeti

I recently got a Blue Yeti microphone. I’m very, very happy with the sound. I decided to record myself singing “Breath of Heaven” with it. But because I’m a perfectionist, it took me a while to get something I really liked. I’m still not totally happy with the end result, but it will have to do. I was singing through a lot of junk in my throat when I recorded this (getting over that cold), so bear in mind it isn’t me at my best. 😉 Still, it’s a nice take, and one of my favorite songs to sing. I enjoy putting my style to it. I hear a lot of people singing it in an incredibly breathy style. Even Grant’s original is very breathy (though far from the worst I’ve heard). But I think it’s a lot more effective when sung cleanly and directly. Besides, I can’t really do the breathy thing anyway—just can’t wrap my voice around it. Which is just as well, I think. Anyway, enjoy, and don’t be shy about commenting. This was a single take with no pitch correction (and yes, I’m afraid there’s a spot or two where you can tell). In case anyone’s curious, I’ve had a little bit of voice training this fall, but beyond that nothing formal.

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.

Announcing a Short Hiatus and a Self-Challenge

Here’s the announcement: For a full week, I’m going to take a break from blogging.

But not only that, I’m challenging myself to abstain from even checking any of the blogs I regularly check for updates, or leaving comments there.

If you knew how much time I spend just going around to the many, many blogs and websites that I read, on all kinds of topics, you would know that this is going to be a bit of a challenge. But I think I just need to pull back. It really is its own kind of addiction, and even though I obviously plan to return to some kind of controlled pattern, I need to break away cold turkey for a limited time.

I actually had to think a little about how I would spend the spare time this will give me in the coming week. But it didn’t take long for ideas to start coming. Why, with all that time…

I could be spending time with my family…

Re-learning some of Bach’s two-part inventions…

Trying out a new recipe

Digitizing some cassette tapes…

Working on unfinished music videos…

Clearing out my inbox…

Clearing out my hard-drive…

Cleaning my room…

Re-reading The Princess Bride…

Sky diving…

Rocky mountain climbing…

Going two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu…

Okay, so part of that wasn’t original. (Hint: It was the part that started with sky diving.) Anyway, I will still be handling and responding to your comments this week, so don’t worry about a comment of yours sitting around in moderation for seven days.

See you in a week! Here’s a parting gift: Have you always loved U2’s music but secretly thought the lyrics were pretentious and Bono’s voice insufferable? Well okay, so maybe there are only two of you who fit that description, but I know I do at any rate. Well, enter Trace Bundy and Sungha Jung. Thanks to fridaynightrevival, I discovered this glorious cover of “With or Without You” (arranged by Jacques Stotzem, whose original is also worth watching). No lyrics! No singing! Just juicy acoustic goodness. I can’t believe six people disliked this on Youtube. Six people are idiots.

And I did a little digging of my own and found this Trace Bundy solo cover of “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Understand that I’m clueless about all things acoustic guitar, but all I know is dude can play, and he’s got some WICKED cool bells and whistles to make it swell and delay and do all kinds of stuff. Bask in the radiance with me:

Boy am I glad U2 recorded those songs so that Trace Bundy could cover them twenty-five years later.

Yeah, go ahead and stone me. Like I care.

Scotty McCreery talks us through his debut album

Well, I’m feeling kind of under the weather—coming down with something or other (and I have a ton of deadlines to meet in the upcoming week-and-a-half, which is fun). But Scotty McCreery is very cheering/comforting. Here’s a cute track-by-track commentary from him on his debut project. Okay, so maybe all country music sounds basically the same, but when it sounds this good I’m not sure I mind…

CCM vs. SG: Cover Songs

Recently I’ve been pondering yet another one of the many things that sets CCM and SG apart: cover songs (and projects). In southern gospel, it’s quite common for even top-tier groups to fill up a good percentage of their main releases with covers, whether of relatively recent songs or old standards. It’s also common for groups to put out entire projects of covers, sometimes as a tribute to another group like the Cathedrals or the Happy Goodmans.

I don’t observe this nearly as much in CCM. On occasion, various artists will collaborate on some special event covers project as a tribute to somebody significant in Christian music (like Rich Mullins). Once in a while, a group will release a project of CCM classics covers (Avalon, Another Time, Another Place). Some praise and worship artists will cover each other, but those are generally songs everybody and his uncle is doing anyway (“How Great is Our God,” “Blessed Be the Name”). In general, it would be considered odd for half of an artist’s latest project to be made up of already-recorded songs. In fact, on the rare occasion that an artist chooses to re-interpret an old song (e.g. Bethany Dillon with Amy Grant’s “Lead Me On”), it’s focused on as a somewhat surprising/significant choice. And you never see current non-worship artists regularly incorporating each other’s songs into their repertoire.

Think about it. Has MercyMe ever covered Casting Crowns? Has Third Day ever covered MercyMe? Did the new group Sidewalk Prophets start out with projects of MercyMe, Casting Crowns and Third Day covers? No—each group has its own material. Going farther back, 4Him was often compared with the Imperials, but did they ever release an Imperials tribute project in between main-lines? No (although that could have been pretty cool). Come to think of it, there were a lot of similar-sounding AC harmony groups in the 90s (4Him, Point of Grace, Phillips Craig & Dean, Avalon), but they all did their own stuff and had their own styles.

Why is this? Is it because southern gospel has even more similar-sounding artists, thereby making it easier for the same songs to get bounced around among various groups? Is it because CCM has fewer adaptable “standards,” thereby making it more urgent that new artists bring all-new material?

Here’s another thought: I see more of the “covers phenomenon” in country than in CCM, although still less than in SG.