some songs just make me stop in my tracks and listen intently, like watching a beautiful and mysterious bird sing its little heart out, while (if you’ll forgive a little melodrama) perhaps a tear is shed for the sheer loveliness of it all.
songs like “Hidden Place” by Sandra McCracken (whose new album will be released shortly, and I highly recommend you go get it here). and if a tear may be shed for the beauty of the music, when the emotions of the poetry are thrown in, all bets are off. even so, few songs can make me cry (like Sufjan’s version of “Holy Holy Holy”, and his “Casimir Pulaski Day”, as well as the last verse of “In Christ Alone”, and some Edgar Meyer stuff if I’m in the right mood).
of course this particular song hit me and Michelle at the exact right time. we’re pregnant with our 4th child (in case you haven’t heard!), and she hasn’t felt well at all for most of the year. while thankful for the untold blessing of another baby, we haven’t done particularly well with her feeling sick and tired most of the time. right on the heels of a really good year of God working on us and through us at our little church and neighborhood, we’ve lately been experiencing the chaos and loneliness of “survival mode.” yet it is true that God uses the hard times to really teach us, and I’ve been learning more and more about my great need for Him at all times, and how unconditional His love in Jesus is.
but I came here to talk about a song. listen to it here: http://www.newoldhymns.com/in-feast-or-fallow/hidden-place/ in a blurb accompanying it, the songwriter says it is “…maybe one of the most personal that I have ever recorded…[written] 10 days before my daughter was born…”
one thing this lovely little song showed me is that amidst all the relational chaos and God pruning us in various ways, I’ve neglected to treasure this latest blessing. grounded firmly and based loosely on Psalm 22:9-10, the song “touches on all the wonder, the waiting, the amazing privilege it is to carry this little one, the amazing gift and favor of God it is to have children” (if Michelle doesn’t mind me quoting her).
so, while I was at work listening and shedding a discreet tear, Michelle was home listening and openly crying, for the joy that is growing in our hearts and her belly. “Who am I to have known such favor?”
thank you Ms. McCracken for opening our ears to hear.
(cross-posted on the family blog)
last night we went to see the premier of documentary about Norman Blake, a local and international folk music icon, and a great inspiration to me in many ways. here’s a brief review:
firstly, this is still a relatively rough-cut production. geeks might call it a beta release. apparently the original filmmaker did this 6 or 7 years ago, and he passed away before completing it. then his digital files were corrupted. someone resurrected the files and now we have a mostly-complete film. given the circumstances, I think the film was rather well done, with good production values (although the projector equipment was having problems at the venue too, so it’s hard to tell what was film glitches and what was playback issues)
anyway, there wasnt anything necessarily groundbreaking here, but I think it was a very good portrait of Norman and his work. there were appearances/interviews from George Gruhn, Sam Bush, Michelle Shocked (!), Nancy Blake (of course), John Hartford (who had some very funny stories), a music historian whose name I forget (he gave some good perspective on Norman’s chosen career path) as well as some vintage footage from the Johnny Cash show.
there was a jam with Sam Bush, and a few other songs from Norman throughout, mostly on the guitar, although he was on mando in the Johnny Cash clip, as well as one other time.
he discussed his youth, the old days playing with all the legends, song writing stuff, touring stuff (and his decision to stop flying in 1974), spoke about Nancy (they’re very quirky in an endearing and cool way), O Brother, etc.
I think the best stuff (besides John Hartford’s stories) was him talking about how he hopes his music can serve people in some small way, and the importance of staying humble. this attitude is in stark contrast to that of the vast majority of the music industry, in my opinion, and I find it very inspiring, to say the least.
the guy in charge of the project now (didnt catch his name) said they’re planning on adding some to it to bring it up to today, and they’ve had interest from producers and from PBS. so hopefully that will go well and everyone will get to see a final version sometime in the near future.
I’m not qute a fan (yet) of Ben Gibbard and DCFC, since I havent heard much yet. but I think I’ll like it once I get a chance to check his stuff out. he had a good quote about songwriting that brings out what I’ve felt about writing songs. it seems like there’s an unwritten rule that you shouldnt be able to understand a song for it to be good? like for some reason for something to poetic it needs to be obtuse? these days I prefer straightforward. so does Ben, it seems:
I decided a handful of years ago that I just want to write songs that you can understand as soon as you put the record on. There’s no need to veil what’s happening in the song the way I used to.
My goal as a songwriter now is to simply write some memorable turns of phrase. The reaction I’d like from every song I write is, “Wow, I listen to this song, and it’s about such-and-such, and there’s this lyric in there that’s just awesome.” At the end of the day, that’s what I want.
later in the article there’s this bit, which I’ll consider a cautionary word. I guess he’s OK with it like this, but I find it quite sad although I feel drawn to this at times. I pray I’ll never put music or anything else this high on the pedestal:
…music is the most important thing in my life. It’s more important than anyone else could ever be. I don’t want to be overly dramatic and say it’s the only thing that gets me up and keeps me going. But people in your life come and go. As you go through your life, you make friendships, you break friendships, you have relationships. Music is the one thing I’ve always been able to rely on. So why wouldn’t it be the most important thing in my life?
I’ve been a big fan of the band Vigilantes of Love since my freshman year of college (thanks Todd!) and they’re one of the few I’ve liked for a long time. it’s been a long journey for the band, some of which is detailed in this interview with Bill Mallonee. the interview made me pretty sad to see Bill so bitter at this point. his stuff will stand the test of time I believe, but it’s hard to see a musical hero on hard times.
anyway, in listening to some of their stuff lately (Slow Dark Train, Audible Sigh), and considering Bill’s lyrical style, I’m struck how often he makes sure to leave a strong thought at the end of the chorus or line. a lot of his songs revolve around a particular idea, and he encapsulates that idea in a short phrase that he drives home at the end of the line of the chorus (usually). sometimes this is the name of the song, sometimes he names the song from another snippet in the lyrics, leaving you something else to think about.
I suppose this isnt a revolutionary idea, but I thought it was good to note how effective it can be in creating a hook, using emphasis and repetition. I tried it a little with my latest song I wrote last night (“Mystery”). hopefully that’ll be ready to share in a little while.
I’ve been into Caedmon’s lately, as well as Derek Webb, who sorta sings with them, and does his own stuff, including Indelible Grace stuff. he also sings with his wife Sandra McCracken, who has her own albums and IG tracks too. they’re both good songwriters, and one of her songs is one of the best on the new Caedmon’s album. the song apparently made a splash being featured on the TV show Gray’s Anatomy (I know nothing about the show) so they’re offering her version of the song for a free download. good stuff. so here it is. I think this is a better version than the Caedmon’s edition, but they’re both pretty good. enjoy.
we’re in a bit of a budget crunch, so we’ve been looking around for things to sell. so off went the stack of CDs to McKay. it was fun digging through everything, and a little hard to let them go, but we’ve got it all on the hard drive and such. so they rewarded us with $100, which isnt too bad, and that will be heading to Visa very soon. so now it’s all MP3s (or burned CDs). yay.
I was going to do a most-played songs list, but I almost always listen to things by album, so they’re almost all grouped together. so here’s my list from this past year, some songs, some albums:
1. (song) Clap Your Hands – They Might Be Giants – we sometimes do dance parties with the kids and put this one on repeat, so it’s at the top of the most-played list
2. (album) In the Company of Angels II – Caedmon’s Call – a worship album heavily influenced by Indelible Grace that I listened to over and over for a while, and keep coming back to. top track: Draw Me Nearer (we did this one in church)
3. (album) All I Owe – Matthew Smith – an Indelible Grace spinoff. pretty much same story as above. top track: Thy Blood Was Shed For Me
4. (song) Keep Your Distance – Buddy and Julie Miller – I’m still in love with Buddy and Julie’s version of alt/country, and this is a great track that I tried to learn to play with the guys from my old work. the song Rock Salt and Nails off the same album isnt far behind, and we hack at that one too when we jam.
5. (album) Coil – Toad the Wet Sproket – this album is pretty old but there’s lots of good tracks on it. I listened to a lot of Toad (and Glen Phillips) this year because I love Glen’s songwriting and they do just the right amount of rocking out for me. top track: Throw it all Away (“burn your TV in your yard” — classic line)
6. (song) Be Still – Bob Wiegers – this is my own song that I worked on for a while, so I’d listen to it over and over to see what I could work on.
7. (album) Beams of Heaven – Indelible Grace – still a huge influence on our church music especially. I’m looking forward to getting the new album very soon.
we busted out all the Christmas stuff, including the CDs. here are my current favorites:
Sufjan Stevens – Songs For Christmas (5 CD set) – lots and lots of Sufjan holiday goodness
David Grisman – Acoustic Christmas – mandolin fun
Nathan Clark George – A Midwinter’s Eve – a new one for us. laid back, usually just guitar, bass and mando
(I hate to admit it, but:) Amy Grant – A Christmas Album – lots of memories associated with this one, which helps account for the 80s cheesy synth on some songs. plus “Tender Tennesee Christmas” applies to us now.