Monday, April 25, 2011

Not the Hits-Great songs off the album.

By Nick
These are just a few good songs from albums that didn't become radio hits. Sometimes the hits by a band are good: Chicago's album songs are often unbearable. In other cases, such as The Fray and OneRepublic, the album cuts are the best songs. These songs are in no particular order.

"Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite." by The Beatles. The Sgt. Pepper's album had a lot of good hits on it--scratch that, every song on that album is good. The Beatle's musical diversity was so great that they could write a circus music song with lyrics taken from a circus flyer from the 1800s, and it was still good.

"Reflections" by the Charlie Daniels Band. I don't know if this song was a hit or not. You can find it on the 3-disc collection of his music. Songs like "The South's Gonna Do It Again" and "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" were good. This one is great. It's a tribute to musicians who have passed on, specifically Elvis, Janis Joplin, and Ronnie Van Zandt of Lynyrd Skynyrd (The most underrated of classic rock bands). "Heaven should be proud."

"Hundred" by The Fray. The Fray is best known for their hits, "How To Save A Life", "Over My Head." Those songs are awful compared to the cuts from their first album. Unlike many piano-pop bands, The Fray actually has a talented pianist, and this ballad shows him off at his best ability. All the other album cuts are very good too.

"Oh My God" by Jars of Clay. Off the Good Monsters album. Probably the best song on a life-changing album. I can't describe it, just listen to it. I will warn, however, that it makes more sense in the context of the album than listened to on its own.

"Four Walls of Raiford" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. A lost Skynyrd track, and their best song. Most of the Skynyrd songs that get played on the radio are either not that good to begin with, or played to death (There should be a moratorium on Sweet Home Alabama). This song is about a Vietnam vet who is thrown into prison for a crime he didn't commit, and is escaping. It's heart wrenching.
And in an A.D.D. moment, another great Vietnam vet song is "Rooster" by Alice in Chains, which is definitely in the top five patriotic rock songs of all time.

"All Fall Down" by OneRepublic. OneRepublic's best music is hidden. This one is an acoustic-guitar driven song, complimented by some tense strings. Despair never sounded so good, except on the other good despair songs, but that's a topic for a later post.

"Why Not Smile" by R.E.M. From the Up album, although I have never heard it in the context; I know it from a compilation. The first R.E.M. song I heard, a haunting acoustic ballad. Michael Stipe doesn't even sound like Michael Stipe on the song.

"Dearest" by Buddy Holly. The best Buddy song, free from the mindless rockabilly of his earlier music, or the mindless syrupy fluff of his later music. Buddy had a unique voice, was a great stylist, and definitely had not reached the peak of his potential when he died. If he had continued to write songs like this, he would be even more remembered.

"Life In Rain" by Remy Zero. From the Villa Elaine album. I don't know why, but most of these songs are ballads. I guess it is because the record companies pick out the fast, catchy songs for singles. This song is particularly relevant because it has been raining a lot around here lately. If you listen to it, you can feel the rain.

"The Dangling Conversation" by Simon and Garfunkel, off the Essential album, one of the songs put in as padding in between the songs like "Sounds of Silence", "Scarborough Fair", and that gospel song. Simon and Garfunkel were the first to write rock songs with intelligent, thoughtful lyrics. Bob Dylan, who came around the same time period, wrote songs with all the hallmarks of intellectualism except for intelligibility. Anyway, this song shows what good lyric-writing should be. I think Paul Simon was right in choosing Robert Frost.

"Lady Jane" by The Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones at their worst turned out crass, stupid pop music, were personally vulgar and snotty, stole music from authentic black American musicians, and sang in a stupid fake Southern accent. At their best they did songs like this, a pseudo-elizabethan ballad. The mellow Stones beat the loud and rowdy Stones or the old and ugly Stones any day.

"On Fire" by Switchfoot. From the Beautiful Letdown album. Switchfoot's ballads are killers (in a good way, not in a Jack-the-Ripper kind of way), and this is one of the best. Still not sure what it's about, but the passion in it makes up for my confusion.

"Sooner or Later (Soren's Song)" by Switchfoot. From the New Way To Be Human album. Coming in the tradition of Paul Simon (see above), Jon Foreman writes a rock song about a philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. And it's a really good rock song, too. Coincidentally, the song "Leaf" by mewithoutYou also mentions Kierkegaard's book Purity of Heart is to Want One Thing. It seems that Christian Existentialism is a popular theme in intelligent Christian rock music, and this should be explored more deeply.

"Red Hill Mining Town" by U2. From The Joshua Tree. You gotta love the good old sorta Christian liberals. The multi-millionaire rock star Bono knows so much about the working class. I mean, he's got pink glasses, so he must know everything, right? In all seriousness, this track from U2's breakout album is good, despite the fact that it probably has some sort of "share all your money" theme behind it. Back in the day, before they became big time rock stars, U2 was capable of writing lots of very moving songs. They still are, occasionally.

Do you have any favorite songs by artists that weren't radio singles? Post a comment and tell us.
Currently Listening: Abandon Kansas EP, Abandon Kansas.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Music for Easter Week-end

The Christ--His Passion--Remembering the Sacrifice
This CD is a family favorite and might be found playing anytime during the year.  I especially enjoy it during my morning reading time.  It is a marvelous collection of meditative contemporary Christian songs, all dealing with the theme of Christ's suffering and death.  It was an introduction to us of many Christian artists we now know and enjoy.  I first picked this CD up off of a bargain table at the local Baptist Book Store.  It had no price tag, so the clerk just gave it to me.  What an amazing gift.

Songs and Artists on this CD:

I Remember You - Mac Powell with Gene Eugene

Jesus Went To The Garden - Derri Daugherty, Paul Colman, and others

Kyrie Eleison - Leigh Nash (My children have often sung this short prayer from this CD.)

Marvelous Light - Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken

Were You There When The Sun Refused ToShine - Maddy Madeira

Precious Jesus - The Choir with Leigh Nash

With Every Breath - Leigh Nash & DanHaseltine

Beautiful Scandalous Night - Sixpence, None The Richer & Bebo Norman

Lamb Of God (Agnus Dei) - Bebo Norman & Mark Hall & Megan Garrett (Casting Crowns)

Yes I Will - Bebo Norman and Joy Williams

Communion - Cliff & Danielle Young & Phil Keaggy

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord - Phil Keaggy

The Stone - Jars of Clay

Another favorite CD is Songs Inspired by the Passion of the Christ.

The Passion of the Christ: Songs Inspired By
Songs Inspired by the Passion of the Christ

The songs on this collection are more wide-ranging and eclectic, some not even exactly Christian, yet overall, quite a moving collection.

This CD includes

1.  How Can You Refuse Him by Hank Williams and sung by his granddaughter, Holly Williams

2.  Stranger in a Strange Land, sung by Leon Russell and the Shelter People

3.  Are You Afraid to Die, with a clip from a Billy Graham sermon.  This is a great Ira Louvin classic, sung by Ricky Skaggs, one of the best Bluegrass artists around today.

4.  Please Carry Me Home, sung by Jessi Colter (Waylon Jennings' widow) and Shooter Jennings (Waylon's son)

5.  Ave Maria by Delores O'Riordan, a beautiful heretical song.  Some Protestant with Latin training needs to correct the song.

 6.  Why Me by Lee Ryan

7.  Darker with the Day, sung by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.  Haunting and strange.

8.  Where No One Stands Alone, sung by Elvis.  He often professed who the true King is.

9.  Harm's Way, sung by The Ghost Who Walks. 

10.  By the Rivers Dark, sung by Leonard Cohen.  Very strange song, but I like it.

11.  Precious Lord, sung by the Blind Boys of Alabama.  The Blind Boys are among the best.

12.  Not Dark Yet, sung by Bob Dylan.  Dylan often hits the nerve of reality.  Great poetry.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Lyrics

The Stanley Brothers--One of the most talented music teams ever

Central to the music of the Stanley Brothers was their Gospel songs.  Not only did they sing lots of old songs from the hills and hymnals, but they also wrote and performed lots of good songs.  Ralph Stanley wrote a powerful song called "Will He Wait a Little Longer?"  Originally, the lead part was sung by Carter Stanley, who was one of the best vocalists in the field of country music (a pretty tall order).  When Carter sings those words, "A vision of a mangled body, I can see his nail-scarred hands..." I find myself shaken to the core.  This is a beautiful Gospel call for believers to pray for the salvation of the lost.

Will He Wait a Little Longer
by Ralph Stanley

On cruel Calvary where he suffered

There he died upon the cross
That we might be saved my brother
Freed from sin and not be lost

Will he wait a little longer
There's so many out in sin
Will he wait a little longer
Give us time to gather in

A vision of that mangled body
I can see his nail-scarred hands
When He calls me way up yonder
I will hear and understand

Many loved ones gone before me
They've made their peace for the final day
But should He call before they're ready
I can almost him them say

Will he wait a little longer

There's so many out in sin
Will he wait a little longer
Give us time to gather in

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Notes from the Music Teacher, part 2.

When music teachers get the blues

Dear Mrs. Zimmerman,
Our orchestra does not include harmonica and Robert (Or Bobby or Zimmy) does not meet our standards for singing. I suggest you urge him to find another interest other than music.
The Music Teacher

Dear Mrs. Johnson,
I regret to inform you that Robert is not doing well in music class. His voice is scratchy, and he does not widen his soft palate. He shows up late to class regularly, claiming that he has "hellhounds on his trail", or that he had to stop at "the crossroads." Your son has potential, and I think that if he applies himself he could be a successful vocalist.
The Music Teacher

Dear Mrs. Johnson,
Your son is failing geography class. Please explain to Robert that Chicago is not in California, nor is it prefaced by the phrase "Sweet Home."
The Geography Teacher

Dear Mrs. Price,
Your son Ray is doing well in choir class. I urge you to let him take voice lessons. If he applied himself, he could be a successful opera singer.
The Music Teacher

Dear Mrs. Charles,
I had to rebuke your son Ray at his piano recital. He moves back and forth too much, and insists on punctuating Beethoven's Piano Concerto in C minor with shouts of "what I'd say." Unless he changes his behavior, I will have to drop him as a student.
The Piano Teacher

Dear Mrs. Penniman,
Please tell little Richard that if he continues to scream often he will damage his vocal chords. Please also tell him that it is not appropriate for choirmembers to shout "Oooh, my soul!" at the beginning of each piece. If he continues to do so I will have to remove him from choir class.
The Choir Director

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Berry,
Your son shows no aptitude for the fine art of guitar playing. Despite all that I try to teach him, Charles continues to insist on playing the same three chords over and over again. I think he would be better suited to another hobby, such as origami or ultimate frisbee.
The Guitar Teacher

Teacher to Principal
Young master Hewson continues to insist on signing his papers as "Bono", so I have sent him over to you for discipline.

Dear Mrs. King,
I am sending your son BB to the school psychologist. He appears to have a severe case of depression. He tells the teacher that "every day he gets the blues", and refuses to do his homework because "the thrill is gone." I suggest that we put him on some Ritalin to deal with his depression problems.
The Principal

School Psychologist to Principal
I believe that young BB's problems with depression are related to problems with his home life. He says that "nobody loves him but his mama, and she might be jivin' too." I suggest increasing the dosage of Ritalin.

Dear Mrs. Burnett,
Please inform Chester that his name is not "Howlin' Wolf."
The Principal

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Ember Days-Your Eyes Light Up

The Ember Days is a musician's band. From their songs it is evident that they give more attention to guitar tone and technical details than the average pop band. The Ember Days doesn't go for pop songs with catchy choruses (which in the Christian music world become pop songs with endless choruses). Instead, they prefer to stay in their own niche, alternating anthemic rock songs with more piano driven, ambient songs. The band is mainly the project of the husband-and-wife team of Jason and Janell Belcher (What an unfortunate last name.) Their first CD features three vocalists, the two mentioned above, and a third, the soft-voiced Eliot Norton, who is no longer a member of the band.

The Album.

The songs on the record sound like the band took their time writing them, as opposed to just slapping together a song with a few chords and a riff stolen from U2. The guitar tone is almost perfect, the drumming is technically skilled, and put together, they sound excellent. The best songs on the album, though, are the slower, more ambient songs sung by Janell, such as "Cocoon", "Love Song", and "Dreaming." Unfortunately, these are the least overtly spiritual. Musically, though, they sound like nothing I've ever before, and it would be worth buying the album just to hear those few.

 Lyrically, there's no mistaking where The Ember Days are coming from. Unlike some Christian bands that try to be as vague as possible, (I'm looking at you, Switchfoot), The Ember Days are explicit about their faith. However, they have a propensity to devolve into evangelical mushiness and questionable lyrics. In "Chasing the Wind", a song from the viewpoint of Jesus, Eliot Norton sings "Please don't ever say you don't need me, 'cos I need you." This doesn't quite square up with Biblical theology. YHWH is a Trinity-the Father enjoys perfect fellowship with the Son and the Spirit and so on. God did not need to create man, or to send his Son to die for them, which makes God's love even more amazing. It's also a little disconcerting to hear, in "Love Song", lyrics like "Your beautiful eyes holding mine won't let go, for in them I've found a home", which are ostensibly about Jesus. It doesn't seem very reverent to talk about Jesus like he is your boyfriend. Sorry to be the cranky Presbyterian here.
The band in its current lineup. The guy with the mustache is Jason Belcher, who bears a surprising resemblence to Mario.
  Even weirder is the screaming in "Selah." It's out of place, especially given the more upbeat nature of the song, and seems more like a bone thrown to the hardcore kid audience than anything else. It would probably fit more if the song was "The Wrath of God Descends Upon The Unrepentant Unbelievers", which sounds very Presbyterian, and will probably appear on some CREC-approved worship album. The rock songs are a little repetitive, and Jason's voice gets a little strained on the choruses, while Janell's is underused.
I criticize bands, and yet they still let me take my picture with them. :-)

 Now that I'm done attacking this musical bull elephant with a squirt gun, I will go on to say that The Ember Days are a great example of giving up your life for Christ. If they were a secular band, they would be a smash, at least in a sane world. If they did Christian pop anthems, they would be all over KLove. Instead, they take the path of most resistance, spiritually and musically, and crafted a musically worthy first album where their passion for the Lord is clearly evident in their songs. For that, I congratulate them, and recommend them to you.
     You can visit their website here. Not only are The Ember Days accomplished and talented musicians, they are also very generous and they give away all their music for free download. You should probably donate to them, because musicians are poor, and also because their van is legendary for breaking down.