Friday, April 11, 2014

Arthur Wachnick and Let Us Run (before God in our Linen Ephod) review by Kirk

Album: Let Us Run
released 4/11/2014

Mano Mano… another Noisetrade home run.

I love the happiness my ears feel when they discover something new,  and (given the dynamics of a marketplace without center)  might not ever encounter-- Then (given the magnetic super talent collecting arms of Noisetrade)  I am floored by artistry that is just part of another planet.

This week’s hyper-delicious  serendipitus astonistastic release belongs to Arthur Wachnik  -- and like I said, I've never heard of the guy.

But I will now.   A lots.

In as much as you can listen to the samples just like I did, and determine if this feeds your ear and heart, I won't wax extravagant except to say… Let us Run is an audio playland and a living Psalm.

For just a quick sample check out "Selah" on the Noisetrade link.

As it is, I keep thinking... Hmm.  I have heard this voice.   Sounds like something my daughter owns.  Then I read another review, and they intimated "Ben Folds" and I thought, yup.  Getting close.   Same kind of zinninesss and vocal dexterity.   (and if it looks like I cannot spell, or that I am making up  words, I am, because this work just has that kind of flexiness.

I am hearing Broadway, Gypsy, zydeco, grunge, 80s titan-voice punk  jazz, swing, Klezmer, and Gospel themes all rolled into one swagwanimous-phantom opperatus volley of praise.   There are times when Arthur's voice sounds modern (ie, kind of nervy),  then other times smooth as glass, yet other times like a Vaudeville singalong.

I don’t know how Arthur is making this music (how much is synthesized, how much of it is session players, how much is talented friends, or  how much he plays himself  but I am hearing loads of instruments, and all kinds of audio experimentation with nods to eastern Europe.   (Third listen in ... man, the strings are so smooth and shadowy like rainbow colored smoke... or something like that.)

But most of all, I am hearing creative abandon as Arthur – like David – dances in his *underwear before the Ark  (Back then it was called a linen ephod.)

So, give this a listen, and see if you too are not blown away by the sheer fun of lifting hands, swaying, or jigging it up before the throne of God.

Thank you Arthur!

Ps.  You can parts of Arthur’s first album here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Josh Garrels Sampler 2014 download

I always feel a little odd using the language of “greatness” to describe music which I find meaningful, revolutionary, and full of startling artistry. (Not that I have not been guilty of calling many artists or albums the “greatest” in the past) – It’s just that there is something kind of Oxymoronic about describing any product of the sanctified imagination as the greatest.

Isn't part of the Christian message that we, as wretched beings, are given to celebration of the Most Great, the Most Terrible, the Most Excellent, the Most Giving, the most Holy, the Most Central of all Beings?   Then there is that stuff of sideways humility.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.  (Romans 12)

So, now I am struggling to find the right words to describe a body of music that is of superior character and quality, and given to world (I fully believe) as an act of grace.

I am speaking of the Music of Josh Garrels.

In as much as I was born in 1960, I find a disproportionate body of the music to which I listen was forged in the 70s and 80s.    But now, my ear is undergoing something of a revolution as I am discovering dozens of artists who remind me that this is a decade of unparalleled exploration, artistry… and sometimes spiritual aptitude.    And among that group, I find the music of Josh Garrels ministers to me through every channel:  my senses, my mind, and that interior space where God makes home  in me.

If you are not yet familiar with the music of Josh Garrels let me introduce you.  Freely.

That is, you can find a free sample of Josh Garrels music right now through Noise Trade.  (And while Josh routinely gives music away and performs for free, may I also suggest a hearty tip.  See Noise Trade for details.)  Beyond that, you can find plenty of Josh Garrels music for sampling on Youtube.

Ps. For any locals who read this as I post.  I understand that Josh is coming to Fayetteville, Arkansas April 26, 2014.  Now to convince my wife that this would make a great way to spend her birthday weekend.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New discovery of the day -- (I cannot pronounce their name, and the translation is a little dark  (Hammers of the Underworld)

Genre: Acid Klezmer (sp)  Thoroughly diggin this.  Gonna have to find out more about this band.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Portraits to break your heart, from the inside out...Rwanda 20 years later,

Water-Sky album review and Winter-Sky tour announcement featuring Phil Keaggy and Jeff Johnson

Water Sky Album Review (Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy)
Winter Sky Tour announcement  

Artists:   Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy
Album: Water-Sky
Genre:  New-Coustic  (New Age, experimental jazz, instrumental)
(late summer 2012)

Quick Spin:  a simply extraordinary  sonic treat from two of our planet’s premier instrumentalists (when they are not singing) who, together have crafted an intimate -- somewhat brooding and minor --  sometimes  quiet and colorful, shimmering and bold, audio diary of a “Place.”   

WaterSky is something of a follow-up to the duo’s first collaborative work, Frio Suite, and draws on the same recipe and place.   (You can read my review of that work here.)

Before I get on with my album review I want to interrupt with a commercial

Kirk Jordan’s Bucket list (abridged)

1) Take a tornado/selfie combo picture, presumably with the cone over my shoulder.
2) Eat Thai food in Thailand.
3) Figure out how to map biblical predestination and free-will.
4) Give a grandkid a shoulder ride.   (First things first,  a daughter or two to be wed etc.)
5) Hear Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy together in concert.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Songbird at Midnight: The Legacy of Fanny Crosby; Amanda Noel

Album: Songbird at Midnight  (The Legacy of Fanny Crosby; Vol 1)
Artist:  Amanda Noel (vocalist)  with husband Jonathan and friends.
Song Craft: Fanny J. Crosby 1820-1915

Genre:  Christian Hymns as written by Fanny Crosby, recast with modern country and adult contemporary production.  (Compares with similar re-hymn efforts by the Indelible Grace Group.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Jacob Montague: All Creatures V 1 - review by Kirk

Artist: Jacob Montague
Album: All Creatures (V1)
Genre:  Indie, instrumental, psychedelic, improvisational city of God space folke rock - or something like that.   Whatever this is, it is simply fantastical.   (Shares traits in common with Sufjan Stevens and Josh Garrels.)

Noise Trade: Free Download, fully worthy of a major tip.

Something is amiss - or a stir in the Cosmos.  This will be the second album of chilling Psalmadic beauty that I have discovered in a couple of days through Noise Trade.  This is the second album where I want to run out into the streets, grab folks by the collar and yell: 'Listen to This NOW."  A couple of days ago I discovered the gorgeous voice of Liz Vice, today I discover the otherworldly harmonies, soaring textures, and audio imagination of Jacob Montague.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Liz Vice: There's a Light, album review by Kirk

Do you ever hear a recording that makes you want to run out into the streets, start shouting or grabbing folks by the collar and say... MAN, WOMAN, you gotta hear this.


Artist: Liz Vice
Album: There is a Light
Genre: Gospel, Old School R&B with just a touch of hipster...

I am only in my very first listen, and I can already hear a gospel masterpiece, the kind of recording I want to live in, love in, and delight in God in.

Now here is the trick.  I cannot really tell you that much about Liz.  I never heard of the women before twenty minutes ago...

Nor am I gonna spend a whole lot of time describing the music.  Because, well - it is perfect, AND
You can hear the whole album and even download it from Noise Trade absolutely free.

As for me.  I recommend the free Listen, then the Tip Jar.  and a big tip at that.

So, what grabs me.

1) approach to the music.  Motown vibe. Opening strains are structurally like something by Al Green. Simply beautiful musical "restraint" throughout.  Love the lean trippy organ.

2) Voice.   Raspy, real.   I would  use the term '"sultry" but I don't want any of those connotations.  Make that Smoky... and well SOULful....(I am not gonna embarrass myself with any direct comparisons, cause well,  I don't know my female black Gospel singers like I should, though I did hear one song that had a very ..... Roberta Flack melodic line.  Oh, and Pink.  I actually heard Pink.

3) Content.   Its part of the terrain.  Anyone can sing gospel.  Even folks who aren't really given to the GOSPEL persay.   But this album rings true.  I hear a woman deeply in love with the Lord.  It is is written all over it.  Affection, Humility, desperation, Love.

4)  Augustine.   I think the woman has read Augustine.  "How can I contain you - when you contain all things.."

Ps.   Liz is with an Artistic Collective "Deeper Well."  Find out more here. 

I will probably polish this up latter, but I wanted to get this in your ear.

Check out the Video:

or this, a single track on Youtube:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Kirk Jordan's 117 Greatest Songs in the History of the Universe

Started out to be 100, but I just couldn't stop

Just in case anyone doesn't get it... I am not really making the case that this is the best music in the history of our shared Universe, just my little section.  These are songs that have deeply impacted my life along the journey; many remain fixed parts of my being.  (If you are one of the artists on this list I want to thank you ever so much.)

It will be readily apparent that I am given to music anchored in a life of devotion.  I believe that at the center of reality is a great love story between God and man. Many of these songs (but not all) are written by persons who share my deep awareness of God, through Jesus.  On a different note:  I think I could have made a good pagan.

As for gospel themes,  not much of this is of the variety that gets played in the sound-alike world of Christian radio.  You will find my tastes tend to the edges  --  pastoral suites, folk-a-billy,  even gospel themed punk... just not much from the high production middle.   My hope --Even if you do not like (or do not think you like) music of religious sensibilities -- that you will give some of these tracks a whirl. Christian music is not unlike the broader music field, the best music rarely makes the radio... you have to search for it.

My original goal was to choose no more than one song by any one artist.  I failed.  There are a few people who have had such a commanding presence in my life and ear that they get more than one selection.

So, How many of these tunes do you know?  

How many do you also love?

Do any of these songs surprise you?

What would be your top 100 choices? (or perhaps top three)?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

the Hopeless Romantic


I am creating a list of the top 100 songs in the history of the universe.  (which of course, means... the most important songs to me.)   One of my subcategories is love songs.  These are my current selections.

So, what would be yours?

the Hopeless Romantic

I just want to Waltz with You:  Jan Krist.

Tonight: From the West Side Story (first heard performed by Booker T Washington Rep theater)

In the Garden of of Ein Gedi: Andrew Rose Gregor and the Color Red Band.

Canticle for the Bride: John Michael Talbot: For the Bride

No One But You: Mark Heard; Eye of the Storm

Georgia Moon: Pierce Pettis

With you I am Born Again:  Billy Preston and Syretta Wright

On the Street Where You Live:  From the Musical, My Fair Lady.

Without You: Crash Dog  (I suspect this may be an acquired taste.)

It's Me: Sara Groves:  Fireflies and Songs.  (cause its not all peaches and cream.)

Married to You: Mo Leverett  (I could not find my favorite Mo Leverett Love song, but this runs close second.)

Still in Love with You;  Al Green

Song of Songs: Pierce Pettis (See if this song doesn't make you seep into the Earth like a puddle.)

Mercy of the Flame:  Pat Terry (Mark Heard)  Orphans of God.    And what a mercy it is.


And for those over 50....

Our Night to Howl - Lets go Dancing.    (Daniel Amos)

OOps.  ONE MORE.   A song we borrowed and applied to our wedding.  Only we didn't call it Thigpen's Wedding.  Cause we weren't the Thigpens.  By Kemper Crabb.   One of the greatest love songs ever written or recorded:!/profile/Kemper+Crabb/22535334


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Switchfoot Switches Feet: Fading West, album review

Artist/Band: Switchfoot (w. Jon Foreman frontman)
Album: Fading West
Genre: techno, singing pirate, effervescent power-pop , indie rock – or something like that.
Release: Jan 14, 2014

Authors Note:  There is small part of me that does not want to be associated with Switchfoot anything.  As a man of advancing age, who has yet to surf and who thinks Jon Denver represents the pinnacle of pop music,  I am afraid I may loose curmudgeonly credibility if I sometimes listen to music that might be played on the radio.  This is not my music.  Except.   Well, Saturdays when I need music to overpower the vacuum or shake the cobwebs from the corners.  (Nothin like being found with  air guitar in one hand, dust rag in the other!)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Charlie Peacock: Lemonade

Album: Lemonade.  (Digital Only)  Itunes and Amazon.
release: Jan 2.2014

Genre:  Solo Piano, improvisational jazz

Quick Spin: Charlie Peacock, sans Charlie Peacock.

Beautiful, surprising, and somewhat plaintive piano dallies (though not always)  --  from ever the ever-altering  singer-songwriter, producer, and performer --  Charlie Peacock.

In my house, Charlie Peacock is a household word.

For those already familiar with Charlie Peacock’s jazz hands, this stripped down piano offering is no surprise.  We have heard Charlie go voiceless in his 2005 release Love Ex-Curio  featuring a small riotous ensemble, followed by Arc of the Circle (2009) an improvisational “dialogue” with Jazz sax-man Jeff Coffin.

And now here’s Charlie, stripped of  sax, budget, interplay,  and  electric gizmos. While I did hear one hummy-thing that might not have been a broken piano string, this is about as immediate as it gets.

I count among my instrumental piano library, music by these key-bangers: Duke Ellington,  Liz Story, George Winston, Douglas Trowbridge (aka:   Richard Souther ) Phillip Aabegg, Tom Howard, Jeff Johnson,  David Arkenstone, Ken Medema,  and others.  This is probably the Jazziest of the lot  (excluding Duke -- but  that is jazz of a different timbre) and  shares in common traits with at least two of my faves, Liz Story and Ken Medema   In short, I hear the complex melancholy tones of Liz, delivered with the improvisational flourish of Ken Medema.

(Charlie points to some of his own influences here.)

Forgive me as a non-musician for trying to describe something in layman’s terms, but the thing that makes this recording stand out:  Timing.

Intricate,  tripping and balanced….cascading feather-flourish to slow, turning on a dime….poly rhythmic…  or single finger  --- I am looking for words.  In short,  I have the sense that time-signatures are flying all over the place, but Charlie never falls down.

I cannot hope to explain what you can readily hear for yourself (ie, the short clips provided by I-tunes or Amazon – except to say, Please listen.

This is authentic, creative, skilled and emotive music, most worthy of a larger audience.   And how do we grow that audience.  One ear at a time.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Give Love on Christmas

Artists:   Collaboration, featuring Jars of Clay, Charlie Peacock, Sandra McCracken and others.
Genre:  Christmas, folk, folk-rock, chamber-coustic, and assorted indie sounds.

In the next few days I hope to put out a list of my favorite Christmas albums, and sure to make the list is this little gem… I just discovered – one hour ago.  That is, I am now on my second listen, and I fully expect this little download will get plenty of ear-play.

I must confess, as a CD man, I am not quite used to the idea that you can just get music for free (though you will certainly want to throw in a tip… or more, on this one.)

The offering…”Give Love on Christmas” is just that.   A way to give love, by donating to the Blood:Water Mission, even as the represented artists have given of themselves in this collaboration.

Like all things offered on NoiseTrade, the download itself is free, but I make it a habit to tip artists, sometimes on the spot, or sometimes later after sampling works and agreeing that I will be listening multiple times.

As is, I figure not all these songs were penned for Christmas.  In fact, I know several were not… but are given to the project in the spirit of the same.    For example, it would be hard to call the song Mystic, by Charlie Peacock a Christmas song, except it involves going home.

So what makes this a Christmas gem?  Ten of the eleven tunes are "unkowns" -- while the final song, Oh Come Emanuel, simply happens to be my favorite Christmas hymn.  Add to that, the spirit of the thing. Intelligent, lean production as the norm, the absence of smarmy gloss and fru-fru, and strongly vertical connection.  (At least half the songs highlight the love of God as expressed to his creation through his Son, while the others tend to focus on our call to love one another.

Since you can sample the whole of the album on Noisetrade I won’t go on about the sounds of the various artists, except to say… Dan Hasteltine of Jars of Clay just keeps sounding better and better. 

(I had just started to list my favorite tracks, but that list included ¾ of the offering, I figured I will just let you decide which you like best…. But happy surprise showing by Phil Keaggy, and someone called Sleeping at Last.  (Loved that song)   Oh, and the vocal of Jeannette Isabella and Joy Williams (Civil Wars) and… Rhett, Sandra,  and….I better quit.

thank you to all those who put this little treasure of an "album" in my hands.


Ps.  Now I find that this is not the first Blood-Water Mission collaboration.  Here is an earlier release, - Give Hope this Christmas.  It looks mighty interesting, though also less Christmas focused.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Warren Barfield: Redbird; Album review by Kirk

Artist: Warren Barfield
Album: Redbird
Release Date:  Oct 12, 2012
Genre: Neo-folk, southern fried country without the twang.

Quick spin: Lone guy on a guitar or with small ensemble -- muscled baritone, singing gospel-colored story songs about growing up southern fried. No direct voice comparison, but his delivery shares qualities in common with to James Taylor, Pierce Pettis, Tim O'brien, Marc Cohn, maybe even John Mayer.


I have a theory about bargain bins. They hold the worst… and the very best the music that the world has to offer. Actually found this on Ebay for a buck. Never heard of the guy. Liked the art and the description, took the gamble. Won big time.

Turns out Warren is not a new kid on the block, this would be his fourth album. Also turns out, after reading some reviews, this album represents a turning point for Warren, one that may loosen some of his fan base, even as it adds new followers.

In short, Warren started out with a denser sound, sort of a countrified adult contemporary Nashville fare.  I read that his first album scored strong air play, even as he teamed with a contemporary Christian group Need to Breath, and (or then) recorded a song that was used in the indie/Christian film “Fireproof.”  (Sample)

Since purchasing Redbird, I have started listening  to Warren’s older work. For me, it's a mixed bag… Songs range from: "Oh my, how did I miss this"… to …"that was for someone else."

As it is, there are bucket loads of extremely talented people associated with CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) industry of Nashville, but the place readily suffers from an insular sound. I have come to view the CCM label as the kind of thing you don’t want to be saddled with, even if you are extremely talented – and a Christian singing in a contemporary context!  With Redbird, Warren leaves any vestiges of CCM formula music behind. (good luck getting most of this heard on the radio:)  This album represents a dynamic shift toward the kind of music I thoroughly enjoy: stripped down singer-songwriter artistry of the highest order.

The character of his voice is different, but I would readily compare the “new” warren with another southern Folk-master, Pierce Pettis.


Redbird opens with a song that seems at once ancient… and modern.  They lyrics to The Time is Now are chiseled and direct, the voice like rugged oak.    The chorus (make that choral groups calls to mind cotton fields, chain gangs or the black church...with old women in white hats (or something like that.)

I cut my teeth, on the back of an old church pew
I learned to walk in the ways of light and truth
And I was told not to speak til I was spoken to
I heard it preached, what I should and I should not do
And the choir sang
Woh oh oh oh oh oh oh Woh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Listen between the lines and see if you don’t hear…Martin Luther King, Atticus Finch, or  thousand others who have stood their ground in the face of the boot.

The remaining songs trace a small body of heart-felt themes: Some bright and sing-along, some darker hued, even Faulkneresque.

If I were to choose a theme for Redbird it would be this.  Sticking it out.

Sticking it out in the face of injustice, sticking it out in a climate of short term love, even sticking it out when the world might crush our delight in the indwelling God.   (This albums themes  run horizontal, but that last one is strongly implied.  It is the indwelling God who grants us the power to endure.

My favorites:

The bold opener – The Time is Now, followed by the genuinely lovely Red Bird, the darker-toned Love Does -- the concrete, detailed, heart-teaching ballad anchored in the life and enduring spirit of Warren’s Grandparents, They Don't Make'em Like They Used To -- and the outrageously gorgeous duet “Once You Find Love.” Truth is, you can read a much better description of each song and probably the whole album here (but then it wouldn't be my review.)

Short form: God working through Ebay… led me tto this treasure, and I wanted you to know about. My ear is open.   Thanks Warren for taking this risk.  I deeply appreciate it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Trace Adkins: The King's Gift - Review by Kirk

Trace Adkins: The King’s Gift.
Genre:  Christmas; Celtic Country fusion.
Release Date: 10/29/2013

Quick Spin.  A true jewel of an album, featuring Celtic-colored Christmas carols -- and that continent of a voice that is Trace McAdkins.  This will likely be my Advent Fave for the year 2013.  What a great surprise.

I will be honest.  I bought this for the cover, and the very idea of it all. 

Now that CD's appear to be going the way of the dinosaur you can sometimes find good deals in the dwindling Walmart audio section.   So there I am, flipping through the new releases when I see what appears to be a Celtic-based Christmas album with all that braided tapestry stuff -- that, and back cover with the big long haired dude looking like a member of the cavalry.

I was pretty sure I knew the name Trace Adkins, but really I didn't know any of his music, nor could I have described his voice.   My country ear is pretty much limited to the likes of Johnny Cash and  Allison Krauss -- though, in the last years I have purchased music by Merle Haggard and Billy Joe Shaver.  Suffice it to say, I just don’t do much main-street Nashville. 
My mistake.

Turns out I have may have missed more than my folkster-ears have bargained for.

As I said, I was drawn by the design and even the song selection.   My Celtic music collection runs a little deeper than my country, and I can truthfully say I have at least a dozen Celtic-colored Christmas CDs.  So I was intrigued by the idea of cowboys and penny whistles.

And the verdict is…

Thoroughly delighted, utterly pleased, fan of a “new” singer… and brimming with Christmas Joy.

First.  I do not know anything about Trace or his spiritual proclivities.   But I do know, that as an album that would celebrate the birth of the King -- This album rings true.   A lot of folks sing religiously themed music during Christmas time and this could be just that.  But I kind of doubt it.  The title, the focus, the opening words, and the audio conviction that runs through this album firmly suggest that this is an act of worship.

Then there is that voice.  Forgive me Trace (should you read this review) for simply never having heard your voice.   Should anyone else be unfamiliar think….kitten paws and Thunder, or Caverns and Cathedrals.  This a mighty voice, but utterly tender.   In a day when the airwaves are populated by thin voiced adolescents scrubbed clean with auto-tune, it's almost startling to hear a deep, unpolished baritone. And it’s not like he is just lowering his voice to sing low…    Trace comes off totally un-strained when rocking those low decibels.   In fact, there is one time where Trace almost sounds like one of those huge aboriginal pipes called the didgeridoo.  (Often used in Celtic fair.)  Add to that, muscled… low guitar, and the whole things just radiates gentle machismo. Like a Mountain.

Add to that voice, the talents of the Chieftains, multiple skilled instrumentalists, a trove of real Celtic instruments… and the voice of angel vocalist Alyth McCormack (recorded in Ireland) and you have a simply magical brew.   This is one talent-packed ensemble.

As for the twining of Celtic and Western vibe: A marriage made in heaven.

Jazz, as I understand it is the child of European classical and African tribal music.   Two strands, once joined, create this whole new dynamic in music.  While I hardly expect to see a whole *new genre spring out of the fusion of American Country and Irish Country, this marriage is powerful, and living.   It makes perfect sense.  This fusion just feels right. No gimmick.  Perfectly realized. And both genres like the fiddle!

* Ps.  In one sense we already do have such a genre. The mountain music of Appalachia and the Ozarks IS a true child of Ireland and the New World… but this sound reaches just a little farther west. 

Should I have any quibble with this offering, it might be this:  A few of the tunes just played it safe.   It is almost as if, having pressed some boundaries and not wanting to push the existing fan base too far, Trace settled for tradition rather than upset.    Makes good sense to me…  It’s just I was wishing for a little more adventure in a few of the tunes.  (*** See addendum)

Trace, should you ever read this review, may I recommend the Christmas album by Canadian Bruce Cockburn.  He pretty much pushes multiple boundaries, and his violinist does some things that just astonish my ear, but which may alienate a more traditional audience.)   That said, I could not ask for any more from an artist with a well established sound.   At least one review I read on Amazon faulted this work for NOT sounding like the Trace they knew. (Dear Ed, get your ears checked., this disk in not Horrible, it is downright honoring, festive, and utterly refreshing!)   Thank you Trace for your willingness to push into this new territory.    You have gained a new fan….And I will be spreading the joy.

*** Trace, I kinda wanna rescind the playing-it-too-safe comment.  I listened to the CD at home again this weekend, and it just fit -- with family, with activity etc.  Should you have upped the kind artsy-fartsy dissonance my ears sometimes crave,  you might also have ended up with a product that wouldn't play as well in a community setting -- This is a novel offering, AND it plays well with others... 

Note:  Unless he changes his website, you can listen to the tracks at the bottom of his Christmas Tour Page.
(Ps.  Trace, you have the wrong song in the Three Kings slot;)

For those who would sample a single Tune, may I recommend "Three Ships."  Then chase that with Three Kings  (Man I love that last note!)


In closing: This album just leaves me warm in the soul.  Satisfied.   Even glowing.

This is more than a gift of sound or even talent.    It is pure recognition.  God gives us many gifts and the ultimate gift in his Son.   We in turn give gifts… or use even use his gifts, because we have been gifted.  By the King.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Hawk In Paris, Music Review by Kirk

Band.  The Hawk in Paris.  (Dan Haseltine and friends Jeremy Bose and Matt Bronleewe)
Album: Freaks

Genre:   Modern/Retro synth Pop (of the highest caliber)
Release Date: October 29, 2013
More Info and Orders: Pledge Music

Quick Spin:  For a old guy who doesn't listen to much pop-anything (even indie-art pop) I may have reformat my ear.  I have now listened to this offering a couple dozen times in just three days... It's cutting grooves.   Deep, melodic, sounds at times like a soundtrack to young love... (or old love, for a man still caught in the mystery)  There are some darker moments here, including (for me) a sense of disquietude.  But that will take a bit to explain.


I find there are two ways I can listen to Freaks. 1) Like any other offering I might hear on indie-pop radio (if such a thing exists), or 2) As part of the ongoing sound evolution and spiritual odyssey of Dan Haseltine (frontman for the band Jars of Clay, and now Hawk in Paris.) 

At this point I do not know if The Hawk in Paris is just a side project, or the future for Dan and band. (Band:  please forgive me for speaking of the song-craft and writing of the songs as Dan's, when the source may be shared... or yours.)

Way of Hearing # 1)

Utterly delicious ear candy, Freaks… by The Hawk In Paris, blends the sound sensibilities of a band like Depeche Mode, or David Bowie, or Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics  (I am limited to using the folks I know) with folks I know even less…. Like modern robo-singers Owl City or Moby.  There might be better examples, but I am an old man with an ear for Americana, so modern synth pop is a little out of my expertise.  What I do know is that this is a very forward-looking, backward-glance.  To get the idea, think of a classic building (like the Empire State building, forged in the 1920’s -- Then think of a modern building fashioned in the old art deco style, but with all the new technologies and materials.   In that same sense, Freaks takes the sonic landscape of the 1980’s then updates it with all kinds of modern sound wizardry.   We get the big spaces, the sweeping synthesizer,  the Orwellian harmony,  even the desire to dance like a robot…. And all with Dan Haseltine's liquid vocals.  Beyond that, The sound is sophisticated, cool, then dark.   

As a pop product, Freaks is simply stellar.   The melodies shimmer with all the energy of young love.  I hear magic.  And chrome, and cleanness, and all these ambient colors of the prism.  I hear too, a gifted singer using auto tune, not to correct his imperfections, but to lean into machine.   If there is anything freaky about Freaks, it is the very idea of the voice of man and the voice of machine twining like the twin rails of a double helix.  Dan at once sounds believably human… .and perfect. And sorry band mates to focus on Dan, I know your talents are there in abundance… but Dan's voice:   Ambrosia.

As for content, Freaks is given to themes common to teens,  pop music and humankind.   Ie. rejection, Love found.  Love lapping through our dreams,. Love teetering and strained.  Love in the ditch …  Stars in the eyes. etc.   But this is where the pop sensibilities end.   The caliber of the writing is such that it may confuse us to call this “Pop” anything.

On a personal note.    I find this alum is written backwards.  That is, I like all the first songs least, then find my delight grows as we venture in.  (Bad for first impressions, good for glow at the end of the voyage.)   Least favorite song:   Freaks.  Though I very much like the spaghetti western whistle, I still associate the word Freaks with deviants, hermaphrodites, and two-headed dogs.  (Mercy for the middle.)  I can hear the word “outcast, maverick, or nerd” in a positive light, but I do not want to be found alone in the Forest of the Freaks.  (Then I am afraid it is a way of sanctioning moral disobedience.)

Favorite Song, which surprised me, the breakup song, Cannons.  If this song is about the immediate hemorrhaging of a very real marriage, then I am oh so very sorry.   I guess the lyric which hooked my soul was this simple confession…. If you leave me now, you leave me better than I was before.   Kind of nice to hear a confession of love, even in the midst of unravel.

Actually there is one more favorite song.  But it is not on this album.   Turns out that Freaks is a composite offering, with seven selections that appeared in some form on two earlier EPs.  I am trying to find the very rare first EP (Boys and Girls), but the second - Freaks and Outcasts -  is available for everyone by way of Noisetrade.  (Find it here.)  I simply LOVE LOVE LOVE, the song “Dancing in the Rain” (Outcast Mix).  Dancing just brims with all the emotions of first love; I hear a fusion of Vector’s Dance, with all the exuberance of the original dancing in the Rain song, --- My Fair Lady.

Ps. For those who might buy just one song…  Start with 10) Birds on a Wire.  then peck around it.  (Oh, and the tune, Put your Arms around me....If I were a young pup in love, I might, listening to this melt right into the ground.

Final Note:

Name.  Hawk in Paris.   When doing Google search I found the name Hawk in Paris linked to an image… actually an album cover for a work by jazz legend Coleman Hawkins.  (I hate to admit it, but I was not familiar with the original Hawk, Coleman Hawkins, so now I am getting my fix on both Hawks.  Listen to some from the original Hawk in Paris on YouTube here.

or even do a download here:

or read more on the name, the band and its development with Dan H. and the Noise Trade Interview:

So.  Final word..  

Beautiful, elegant. Pulsing.  Dreamy, evocative, fresh. cinematic... (actually that was seven) tempered with a sense of dystopia.

Way of Hearing, Part 2.

I mentioned earlier that there are two ways I can hear Freaks, first as an offering of modern pop (For which is I give it my full star count)  AND as part of the unfolding sound-scape and spiritual pilgrimage of frontman Dan Haseltine.   Here I am hearing on different level, as a fellow traveler with Dan to the Celestial City… and wondering, if perhaps, Freaks may well represent a side track… into the heart of the Vanity Fair.

 (I think Dan will catch the allusion)

There is no way to write this next part without sounding preachy or overreaching, and I am afraid that someone will  say, who are you to second guess, or critique anyone’s spiritual pilgrimage?   (And of course, I am not qualified.)  But I do know that part of what it means to be part of living spiritual body… the body of Christ, is to encourage our fellow pilgrims and brothers, to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.   

When I hear Freaks, I am not sure if I am hearing just good pop, or … something which is kind of like a grand diversion from something ever so much more central, the love relationship at the center of reality.  And if human relationships can ebb and flow, or even break down and wither on the vine, so too can our relationship with the eternal groom.

It is hard not to hear the “dystopian” vibe  inside the shimmer of Freaks.   Yes there is an intoxicating celebration of love.  And yes, there is the angst that goes with parting (in whatever context), but I am also NOT hearing something I might have heard in the earlier works of Dan, through the mouth of his twenty year old band Jars of Clay; namely that desperate dependence on the God who walks with us, through the brilliance and the storm.

There is nothing here that directly proclaims a war with God.  On the other hand, the sound, the glitter, the big city slickness, even the sexual energy….in combination with the absence of anything that references the larger romance in which we live, hints hard at spiritual malaise.  I know this may not sound fair.   Should the same absence be found in the offerings of any other artist, I wouldn't think a thing about it.   (In fact, I would praise them for being extra dimensional and exploring the full range of romance.)  When I find that absence here where I one heard a "voice in the garden" It causes me to pause.  

Am I hearing things?

*the cover graphics too,  characterized by the loss of face, or a mask of sky and earth, only reinforce the idea.  Something is missing.   Something is hid.  Something is out of order in the universe.

Addendum.  For a slightly different take... on the process, purpose ... even lack of agenda, see Dan's Personal Blog.  The Hawk In Paris, a Primer.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Randy Stonehill: Lazarus Heart: album review

Artist: Randy Stonehill
Album Lazarus Heart. 1994

Genre: Pop  (adult contemporary)

First, the strengths:   The theme.  Randy’s ever melodic voice.  The collaboration with other artists. (With background vocal or musical treatments by Phil Keaggy, Christine Dente, Rick Alias, Bob Carlisle, Michael W. Smith.  

Weakness.  Radio Friendly. 

Nothing like reviewing an album almost 19 years after the fact.  Just so happens I picked this one up used, as part of an effort to flesh out my Stonehill Collection.   I regard Randy as part of my inner 12.  That is, one of those musicians whom I count as forming the soundtrack for my soul, who has left an indelible imprint, and whom I would just love to spend some time with as we talk about the deepest things of the heart. 

As is, I have the pleasure of owning  most everything Randy created before, and most things after this… And all I can say is that I am thankful that he didn’t stop here.

The reviews on Amazon kind of surprised me.  Lots of five star reviews.  As for me, this was a real hit and miss.  Not so much for his writing, or voice, but more for the production.   Way too polished for my ear.  Which may explain the strong ratings.   Some folks like that sound.   Me, I want to hear the spit and phlegm, the breaking strings and tendons, the desperation in the voice. Give me all those signs that tell me this person smokes, or is about to have a nervous breakdown. (Okay, maybe not the smokes.) A number of these songs just sounded like the musical base was made for someone else.   My sense, from writing to voice, to total concept is that Randy may have been going for a radio friendlier sound.   Which, if you want to eat, makes a little sense. 

HOWEVER, I counted at least four songs that did so fully resonate with my ears, that I gave them either or four or five star rating for rotation.   4 stars:  Under the Rug, That’s why we don’t Love God, and Troubles, with the 5 star for the utterly angelic liquid voice ballad “When I am afraid.”   This one showcases Randy at his most sensitive vocal ballet.    Hmm.  (May move Under the Rug, with extra Phil Keaggy crunch to 5)

In speaking to the “sound” of this album, I may be missing the most important element.
Lazarus heart builds around a unifying theme of  --- (hold on)  -- Being possessed of a Lazarus Heart.  Which, in addition to being the name of an earlier  song by Sting, and a later novel by someone else)  might refer to the heart of corruption (or death) in need of resurrection.

This is an album anchored in need.  The deepest need.   If some of the writing is too obvious (Ie, not cloaked in ambiguity or gritty tone color, it may be what any a troubled heart needs to hear.   Ie.  Our hearts are ravaged, by self and the world.  We need a healer beyond the doctor. 

“Then I sailed to the edge of the world, and I saw Your face, Your wonderful face”

I appreciate the fact that Randy has continually offered his music and heart, as a place in need of healing.  He needed it then.  He needs it now.   I want to thank him (despite the radio friendly production) for giving so generously of his talents to a smallish body of listeners.  I would say he deserves better.  But perhaps he doesn’t. 

And he would know what I mean by that.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Winterfold by Jeff Johnson (Album Review)

Artist: Jeff Johnson and friends.
not to be confused with the several other Jeff Johnsons who are musicians.
Ensemble:  Jeff Johnson (keys, percussion, voice) together with his very talented friends, flautist Brian Dunning and Violinist Wendy Goodwin.  (Sound fleshed out with contributions from Tim Ellis on Guitar, Phil Baker on the bass, and Mike Snyder with additional percussion.)

Album: Winterfold (Released 10/8/2013)

Genre: Instrumental (Chamber-coustic)

Quick Spin:  Think of music that might readily have been used for the more pastoral parts of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.  Winterfold is community project in which Jeff’s uber-talented friends gather with him to make living, full bodied music….fit for the best of ordinary life. Soundwise, Winterfold lives at the intersection of a chamber music and New-Age; It is largely organic (ie, acoustic, but the synthesized elements blend in seamlessly into a perfect whole.  This is not so much a music to listen to  -- like something external which we study with our ears -- but more like a music to live in.  Richly.

I have lived in the music of Jeff Johnson for over thirty years.   His various creations -- and collaborations with friends -- form something of a vital soundtrack for my life.  I figure if you were to map Jeff’s brain and mine you would find this strange body of overlapping themes, and concrete tunes.

Broadly speaking, I might divide the instrumental works of Jeff Johnson into three -- make that four categories.

There are the earliest works, characterized by extravagant dallies with percussion, and lived at the intersection of techno rock, jazz and Styx.   This is Jeff totally un-tethered, exploring every sonic landscape and mixing it up in ways that simply startle the ears.  I remember, when in art class, the instructor invited us to bring in our music and play it.  I slipped in something from Fallen Splendor, that led one kid to look up and say… “What the Hell is that….… is he playing in tongues!”

Then there are his epic “Movie-scape” works, anchored in Medieval lore or the works of the Steven Lawhead.   These are the works that should have been used to score the movie adaptations of Tolkien or Lewis… These are the tunes to conquer the new world, or set into uncharted waters.  I have driven many a back road with the likes of Byzantium guiding me through the turns in lush tapestry of sound.

Then there are those lean, stripped down, minor chord works, fit for devotion and all the pleasure that perhaps only a melancholy soul can find in deep overcast and naked branches. I remember once while playing Ships of Tarshish (From the “No Shadow of Tuning LP) my mother came in and pleaded… “Can you  please turn that off  and put something happy on.”  And while I would  -- out of love  comply, I simply could not understand.  I have found some of my deepest happiness in those most melancholy moments.    A Thin Silence, and even Jeff’s collaborations with Keaggy might fall here.  The focus is on the inner space and dallies with winter light.

Finally there is a body of music… that I call Community Music, that falls  -- as pertains to sound -- somewhere in the middle.  That is,  I hear elements of Jeff’s other works, but tempered, or meek and bathed in reality.  This music is more like the music real people (albeit extremely talented people) make…."live.” It is not so much startling, or epic, or brooding…. As it is living, breathing and round.    This is a music that I would identify with something solid.  Like tables and chairs… but crafted by artisans of the highest order.

Stop onto the stage “Winterfold.

When I first heard the title, I figured the music might be cold or bitter; But no.  This is music of the hearth, a place of protection in the midst of blistering skritchies outside.

The first thing we hear and hear throughout, are the absolutely gorgeous melodic lines, under the breath of flautist Brian Dunning.   Then add the macro-talents of violinist Wendy Goodwin.  These people simply glide tighter like a figure skaters group style.  Instruments twine and rise and fall in a blessed undulation.   As a non-musician, I try to imagine what it must be like to hear this music in its most living sense, directly inside the head of the each player.  There is a synthesis of voice that is uncanny here…. As if they are some kind of joined creation, sensing with and through each other.   As far as recording goes, I hear no sense that the layers of sound were merged in the lab… this is music at the level of a birds in flight in which the group moves together as if one. I hear trust.   Beyond that, I sometimes feel like I am hearing “inside the violin.”  That is I am hearing depth I am not used to hearing inside a recording.

As a sound, Winterfold shares much in common with “Under the Wonder Sky"- an album with deep Advent connections.   Special memory here:  I slipped a CD of Under the Wonder Sky – into my sister-in-laws holiday rotation, somewhere between and Bin Crosby and Diana Krall.  We were eating and chatting and we had good wine in our bellies. It took my sister a while to notice something fresh… Then she asked… “What is this… it is absolutely beautiful.”

In that same vein, I can much imagine slipping this disk into the track at my daughter's wedding reception, as we, fine Hobbits that we are, savor food and the wine of each other’s laughter -- even as we savor (Perhaps unconsciously) the greater of joy of what it means to be in God, in who we live and breath and have our being.  Consider this a soundtrack for being.

Should I boil Winterfold down to simply one world, it would be this.  (Actually, make that three.)

Friendship.  Beauty. 

I have listened, and I am thankful.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Jars of Clay: Inland

Note:  10/5/13:   I wrote the bulk of this review before I discovered  Dan Hasteltine's personal Blog.  (Dan is the lead singer and front-man for the band Jars of Clay.)  That blog clearly spells out that Dan is in a different place - What he calls a "middle space" with respect to his spiritual pilgrimage.   So take my comments below in the context of my first exposure to Inland, sensing that this album signals an identity shift for the band, but not knowing much of the personal context of the recording.  Should I write this review today, I suspect I would hear the album differently, then grapple with what it means to be "in a middle space."


This review consists of three parts.  1)  A review of the album Inland, by Jars of Clay, followed by 2) a review of the Jars of Clay Little Rock performance on September 10, 2013. Followed by a little 3) summary guess work.

Album: Inland
Release: August 2013
Genre: Accousta-Art-Rock of a surprisingly melodic character.

Quick Spin.

Inland, by Jars of Clay is mini “indie rock” masterpiece, drenched in gorgeous melody and impressionistic lyrics of a personal hue.   My ears are fully delighted.  Perhaps the only thing I am working with is "how to hear" what I am hearing.  This has more to do with who Jars is (or are?) historically.  For almost twenty years Jars has operated under the umbrella of the Contemporary Christian Music novelty market.   With Inland, Jars actively sheds the last trappings of  CCM world. It will be interesting to see if their traditional fan base is good for the ride into new territory.

Inland borrows its name from a line out of Homer’s Odyssey in which "Odysseus is told that his adventures will end and he will finally be at peace when he travels inland carrying the oar of his ship to a point where people have never seen the sea or a boat, and mistake the oar for a winnowing fan use to separate grain from chaff."

Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik (not related to this album) gives this insight to the Oar Metaphor: 
In other words, he reaches a place where people are totally oblivious of the world he inhabits and all ideas that are familiar to him seem unfamiliar to them.

What is the story trying to tell us? It informs us that what seems so familiar and important to us -- the sea and the ship in case of Odysseus -- mean nothing to people in other parts of the world. So vast is the universe. The oar is most critical to Odysseus to survive the seas. But it makes no sense to those inland who have never even heard of the sea. What is critical to one is not critical to another.

Now I am not quite sure if this is what the band is chasing with the title, but it certainly could mean that the Jars are given to a quest where the old language and delivery no longer make sense.  So -- New territory, intelligent music wed to personal, poetic, if not somewhat baffling lyrics. I love this album, but am still trying to figure out “how to think about it.” Perhaps I will have to hear it with some other organ.

This is Jars of Clay’s 11 studio album; the first on their own indie-label. (Gray Matter)    Fans and critics alike have noted: Jars of Clay, as a band just keeps mutating (while keeping pretty much the same folks.)  No two albums chase the same vibe;  Just when you think have pegged the band, they alter the spice and veer some new audio or thematic direction.   Jars = variation within continuity.   Sometimes those changes reflect the fact that Jars has their ear to what other folks are doing, sometimes Jars are the very fount of innovation.  In my mind people should be talking about who sounds like Jars of Clay; however it would be impossible not to note the dept that Jars  owes to bands like Cold Play, Mute Math, the Killers, the Beatles,  Death Cab for Cutie, and Toad Wed Sprocket.   (On a personal level, I am calling this my second favorite Jars of Clay Album, just slightly behind my all time favorite "Much Afraid.")

As is, there are certain things that make any Jars' album a Jars' album.   First there is lead singer Dan Haseltine’s plaintive, nervy, high, melodic -- even desperate voice.   Then there are those highly rhythmic, complex compositions, colored in the stuff of Appalachia, movie soundtracks, and Vivaldi.  Finally, there is a core commitment that the band has a being God's workmanship – even jars made of clay.   “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”    (from the bible book of Corinthians.)  So there you have it... God showcasing his glory in weak human vessels.)

A question I now ask (and will think through as we go is, "Are Jars of Clay still the same band that it was (or they were) when they recorded their first highly-regarded and self titled album some years ago?"  Are  they a band who might write and sing "Flood"  or" Love Song for a Savior"  -- Are they still vessels holding blessed treasure.   Or something else?

Quick take.   Yes.

That is, I have strong reasons to believe that they are still fundamentally "Jars"  -- But different.  This may take a bit to flesh out -- But know this, the sacred/secular dichotomy is nothing new.  Bach, a man who worked unto God with great awareness, created a large body of work, some for the church, some for the dinner party. He saw nothing inconsistent with giving God glory through the full range of his expressions, even those intended to get the people mincing, under the spell of fine wine.

As a “sound” Inland is an utterly delicious sonic treat.  Lead singer Dan Haseltine has never sounded better.  The tunes, while of varied emotional hue, are melodic, layered and crunchy. Inland features lots of curve-ball inner elements, including little dings and chings, novel percussion, floating harmonies, effervescent  counterpoint, plunging strings, galloping guitars, rattled pianos, crickets, and varied forms of audio extravaganza.  My ears cannot love this enough.   This wouldn't be a Jars' album without a brooding melancholy under-current, however… There is a brilliance, even a radiant joy that shines through many of the selections.  Beyond that, this work (with a few exceptions)  is just so smoothhhhh.  

Odd note:  I did not realize until watching Jars live, that front man Dan leads with a drum stick in hand.   They sometimes employ a second drummer with the big sit-down ensemble, but Jars is, at its heart, a band built around a hand drum or snare.   So it is kind of interesting to hear how sublimated (and delightfully complex) the percussion elements are throughout the recording.   It appears, to my amateur ear, that all kinds of things are operating as percussion that are not drums as such.  And many of those things have melody built in.   Think of a percussive rainbow.

If you want you can play this in the background as you read… but be sure not to get so detracted that you fail to come back;)

On Tuesday, September 10 2013 I had the opportunity to hear Jars live.  Front man Dan Haseltine explained: “This is an album that we have been waiting twenty years to write.  We could not have written this album when we started.”  (Loose, from memory).  He explained that the process behind this album was different.   First, this is their first wholly independent release.  They were not beholden to anybody, be they in the marketplace or in the pew.  Jars set the parameters and took the creative risk..  Second, most jars albums are built around a particular sound or focus.  They have a theme.   I think this album does too, but Dan explained that this is more like a collection of disparate songs, written by the band during the course of life and travel on the road.    They began with a large pool of collected songs and then whittled down.   The resulting collection radiates horizontally.  These are songs about relationships.... even the relationship of the self to self in introspective conversation.

Perhaps, most peculiar, are the lack of any songs that make sense as the product of a Christian Band – at least in the sense of Christian music as a commodity. (Now the title “Christian band” is multifaceted, and the theme I mean to explore further down – but it is quite apparent from their name and  past travel circuit, not to mention the bold and routine presence of Christian based themes, that Jars is rightly called a Christian band.   And I have no sense whatsoever that they have traded in their identity as sons of the King, for something else.    But that lack of “Christian identifiers” either in lyric or linear notes IS peculiar at minimum.  (An earlier alum by two -- Long Fall back to Earth clearly hinted  this direction.  But that album held a song or two that said... we are fallen men, in need of rescue.  Inland, on the other hand, has no song that even whispers "Christian radio."  Perhaps most peculiar, the preceding Jars release, The Shelter, a full voiced sing "Praise Music" singalong with other notables in the Christian Music arena, was explicitly "religious."   So the contrast is even more pronounced.

As is, I have been tickled by the efforts of people to find "Christian" meaning in lyrics.  Go to You-tube and scroll through the responses to the (three) new video offerings.  They are replete with people who wish to ascribe a range of direct or biblical interpretations for the poetry.   Example One  (A response to the song Inland by a phderrik)

I think (Inland) is  a beautiful song about the great commission that Christ had set us out to do.
In the mission field, there could be no clear plans for us to follow as no one may have done it before us. Faith in God & courage to overcome uncertainty will get us through. The most important element - a raw desire to serve people and trusting in God's provisions.

Now that is a lovely take.  It could be true.  But when I read the lyrics, none of that comes through. I do read of a push into an uncertain realm, but that the lyrics simply do not furnish that kind of information.

Example Two:  Newest video.  Fall Asleep.  A woman in a wedding dress takes a bath.  People ask: "Is she the bride of Christ?"   "Is this symbolic of baptism?"  (Etc.)  My guess.  Probably not.  She just happens to be heart-sigh beautiful, the visuals are riveting if not sensual, (but not risque or crass) and the whole thing thing shimmers with dream-world intensity.   I have no doubt that JOC use a lot of symbolism.  They tend too, to themes with water and flooding.   But it will do us no good to find concrete meaning where none is intended.

Finally, I would tell you that I  -- even with a poets’ disposition, am struggling to wrap my mind around the highly impressionistic  quality of Inland's lyrics. There are snatches and phrases in these songs  that really jell. I hear references to the altering and sustaining power of love.  I hear (and agree) that few of us were even ready for challenges that love would throw our way.  But we managed as we stumbled through.  I hear too a veiled reference to deity(?) -- All I want is Peace like a river, long life of sanity, love that won't leave too soon, someone to pull out the splinters, the reckless forgiver. (But then this could be a spouse.)

Then there is my very favorite lyric: 
I thought that everything would turn out right, now look what I've become --
A man I wouldn't have respect for -- if I'd met me when I was young

Speaking of honed christian theology... the poverty of spirit here, is downright doctrinal.

I will leave it for others to parse the meaning of the individual songs.  Suffice it to say, there is something “sub-brain” in this album.   I listen.  I yearn.  I hear the pathos but my heart is gladdened.  I feel a sense of adventure…I feel the wind in my heart, and thankfulness for my wife (who has been to hell with me and back)  … I feel like I have taken something in… traveled new ground,  but I cannot put my finger on it. 

This music makes me feel.  And that is a tremendous gift.


Part 2: Part 2: The Performance.

Earlier on I asked if this band is the same band -- In its soul.  This is not a question I really mean to answer.  I cannot.  (I will explore this question in some detail in part 3.)  However, I can tell you when it comes to concert, Jars fully identified with the full canon of their work…and gave a simply stellar live performance.

There are bands that that suffer outside the studio.  Jars, on the other hand, matched or fully surpassed the excellence of their recorded work.

Perhaps in keeping with their new direction, Jars played at a Little Rock music hall and bar (The Rev Room)  - I felt just fine with the venue but might have had second thoughts about the settings as a youth group leader.  Only drawback - few good places to sit.  And - the crowd was much too small.   Indeed.  Not a crowd.

As it is, Jars spent the first leg of their Inland tour with one of my favorite bands - The Last Bison - then traded out for a couple of new acts, given limitations in the Bison schedule.   I should have loved to hear that pairing, but now follow two new artists, both of whom have drilled new sonic landscapes in my soul.

Note: My original blog post contained my impressions of both intro acts,  Kye Kye and Brooke Waggoner. I've opted to hold those posts for another time and give each their due in a separate post.  Suffice it to say, Mind blown by the talents of both.  I own new music, and relish both acts for different reasons.  I did, however, find the particular match up -- odd.  More down the pike.

9:30 - 11:30 (?)  Final Act.

The set list and performance by Jars of Clay on September 10, 2013 left with one distinct impression.  This is simply one of the finest accousta-rock bands in the world, with the ability to forge music of distinct character...  and varied sounds, and all before our very eyes.   Seeing  the process illumined the body of their work.  This is a band that operates with few overdubs.  When you hear a studio recording by the Jars, you are hearing something very close to their direct (but more energetic) live performance.

As performers, Jars gave their all.  We were a small assembly.  Probably only a hundred at max.  And they played their hearts out, all the while modeling courtesy, energy, craftsmanship, and a real regard for we the listeners.

I have intimated that album Inland, leaves the listener wondering just who this band is, in terms of religious commitments.   But none of those questions seemed relevant in concert.  Jars played from a set list spanning years, and rich in robust proclamations of devotion to Christ, and thanksgiving for his sacrifice.  The band closed the set with requests from the audience.  Surprisingly, most of those requests came from the bands very first land-mark album (and one known for its devotional directness.)  In short, Jars ended the night in something akin to a praise service.  And there very last encore track "Frail" just left me feeling held the strong arms of a healing savior.


Part 3: Wrap up (for now)

In conclusion, I am both puzzled by and drawn to the "new" Jars.  I want to understand who they are in relationship to their past when they spoke with a more direct voice, at least as followers of Jesus.  But I am left with the fact that I do not know these people on any kind of personal level.   The lack of direct spiritual identifiers could signal one of several things.

1)  Not much of anything, these guys just wanted to produce music with a different focus.

2)  This is simply an effort by Jars (for whatever reasons) to enlarge their fan base, and shed the artistic limitations of CCM culture.

3)  The band no longer thinks of themselves as Jars holding blessed treasure.  They just kept the name.  ((In my mind, less probable.))

 4)  The band or Dan (as driving creative force) ARE in a different place in relationship to their faith walk. There are at least some lyrics within Inland that could suggest a crisis of spirit.  Example::

Every time I look in the mirror
I'm in a shadow of doubt
Maybe I'm as lost as the next guy
Just have to find, just have to find out

The problem is just how to hear such a lyric. Without larger context and clarification, I have found it best not to assume much of anything. However, I do know that Jars, as both Dan and band, are given to the introspective spirit. I would not be surprised if Inland does signal a place of disorientation within the context of lived out faith. The fact that Jars so readily played music from their larger canon, including very overt anthems of Christian praise, suggests to me that this album is part of a continuity and not a break. Even so, it does represent a substantial change in their public identity.  I wait to see where this journey Inland takes the band.  So do Jars.


Post Script.   Just discovered.  Dan Hasteltine keeps a blog, where he address the relationship between Inland and the band's past works.  His blog clearly does indicate that he (or the band) are in some new territory... a place of spiritual uncertainty.    My response then should be to pray that Dan knows a level of resolution, that leads to deeper intimacy with Christ.   It is no good to have faith bolstered up with tape or a false public presentation.   So I pray this be a tear-down, leading to refreshing.

Side note 2: when I upload the CD,  My I-tunes account lists the songs as "Religious."   It would appear that if Jars are wishing to preposition themselves, they may want to start with a new description on I-tunes.