Monday, April 23, 2007

Speak to Me - Geoff Moore

Veteran music artists are sometimes overlooked in favor of newer ones. It’s a mistake to not consider the experience of someone like Geoff Moore, who has been making music since 1984. Much of it was with his rock band The Distance. In 1999 he went solo with the release of Geoff Moore, and the last time we heard from him was 2002’s A Beautiful Sound.

Seasoned artists reflect a maturity that can only come with time. That alone makes Speak to Me worth checking out.

Despite the use of some cover songs, Moore’s wisdom is reflected in the songs that he helped write and in his choice of music. He is a singer-songwriter at the height of his powers. An organic, roots-rock sound (reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seeger) works well with lyrics that reflect a lifetime of walking with God. These songs touch on many aspects of the Christian life. There’s the brokenness and passion of the title song and the world-weary hope of heaven in "When I Get Where I’m Going," which includes guest vocalist Christy Nockels.

"Your Day" may be the best of all. An echoing guitar leads a melodic adult contemporary sound marked by lyrics that are full of confident expectation and faith. "If I find victory or pain / If it’s in sunshine or driving rain / I will trust you and do the next thing." Moore admits that the last phrase comes from a favorite thought from Oswald Chambers, "When faced with uncertainty and unsure what to do next, he (Chambers) encourages us to ‘trust God and do the next thing.’" This is the ultimate start-your-day song.

Over the years a number of artists have recorded songs about our obligation to the poor. Petra’s "Hollow Eyes," Michael Card’s "Distressing Disguise," and the Randy Stonehill/Phil Keaggy classic, "Who Will Save the Children," are a few that come to mind. We can add to the list "Every Single One," another poignant reminder: "In a world away from luxury / Is where I found prosperity / Where greater love laid down His life / For the orphan and the widowed wife." It springs from the many years that Geoff has worked with Compassion International. The song is graced with beautiful violin playing. A more electric and programmed version is included as a hidden track.

Moore does excellent covers of two familiar songs: "He Knows My Name," a duet with Kendall Payne, and an acoustic "This Is My Father’s World."

"So Long, Farewell (The Blessing)" is a raw and musically raucous goodbye song. That same spirit of musical abandon comes through on the chorus of the title song. Loud and furious, they lack some of the distinction heard elsewhere on the recording.

The album closes with the tender and beautiful "Erase," a plea to be more like Christ. "Erase all the distance between us / replace all the space with Your presence."

Moore’s maturity shines through every aspect of this release. His first Rocketown Records recording shows that experience is worth a lot.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Music Inspired by Amazing Grace

I wonder why so many "inspired by" recordings are not produced in response to the material that supposedly serves as the basis for their inspiration. In the case of movies, why not let the artists view the film prior to its release, and let them craft songs built around scenes, themes or the ideas presented. There may be some reason why this isn’t done—it may be hard to write enough original songs, or maybe it’s difficult to let the artists see a film prior to its release. If the problem is the latter, why couldn’t those contributing songs be given something in written form? It may not be as inspiring, but it at least provides a starting point for creating a song.

This is not to knock Music Inspired by the Motion Picture Amazing Grace. It’s a fine collection of hymns by a variety of talented artists. It seems a shame though that only the song "Amazing Grace" performed by Chris Tomlin has any direct connection with the movie. John Newton, the author of the hymn, had a relationship with the key figure in the film, William Wilberforce.

Tomlin does what many of the artists do with these hymns, and a little more. In addition to a different arrangement, he takes the risk of adding some new verses to a classic song, and pulls it off admirably. Nichole Nordeman does the same with equally impressive results on "Just As I Am." Tomlin’s subdued playing and instrumentation reinvents and adds a touch of grace to one of the most popular songs of all time.

Jeremy Camp’s strong masculine voice is the perfect complement for music that thunders around the verses of "It Is Well." It’s a strong performance augmented by the background vocals of his wife Adie.

This is one of several remarkable duets, the next featuring Shawn McDonald & Bethany Dillon on "All Creatures of Our God & King." It starts off with an ethereal vibe but the vocals get a little cluttered with the programming that ends the song. Another song that suffers from programming is "Fairest Lord Jesus" by Natalie Grant.

It’s a challenge for artists to take such familiar songs and make them sound fresh. For the most part, these interpretations succeed in making these hymns sound new. The best results here are the songs that are acoustic and less complicated like the title song.

Another brilliant example is "Rock of Ages" by David Crowder & Marty Stuart. It begins and ends with a delightful acoustic instrumental that sounds like some wonderful Christmas recording. David Crowder continues to record impressive music.

The medley "My Jesus I Love Thee / ‘Tis So Sweet" by Bart Millard (of Mercy Me) starts and ends with the sounds of an accordion. The music is a relaxed blend of contemporary and pop sounds. Though the title of the song does not show this as a duet, the voice of Derek Webb is unmistakable. He is a great addition to one of the best songs on the recording.

A light country version of "How Great Thou Art" by Martina McBride is also excellent and closes the recording.

Two black gospel songs are included, but with orchestration and more production, they don’t fit as well with the many songs that lean toward acoustic pop or rock. They are well done and they do add variety, but like the songs that make use of programming, they feel a little out of place.

This is a strong collection of hymns done in a contemporary style. It won’t appeal as much to those who favor more traditional renderings.

Gospel - Joanne Cash

Many people may not know that Johnny Cash has a sister who has 27 recordings, an acclaimed autobiography (My Fears Are Gone) and performs continually in helping to perpetuate the Cash legacy. Gospel by Joanne Cash is an appropriate name for this career-spanning collection of original and gospel songs done in a country music style.

Cash sings like a veteran that is well-suited to this style of music, but the twangy pedal steel sound heard so often makes this less appealing to a broader audience. She could have benefited from the type of production that Rick Rubin gave to Johnny’s last recordings, which transcend country music. Some of the music sounds a little dated, like the heavy synthesizer on “When He Comes.”

On the plus side, there is a charm to these old hymns and gospel songs that simply present fundamental truths. Among the highlights are duets with her brother on “Lower Lights” and “Softly and Tenderly.” “Lower Lights” includes one of two spoken work introductions by Johnny Cash. His voice is a little weak, but it still sounds good on these never before released songs. One of the more outstanding cuts is the Johnny-penned “Meet Me in Heaven,” which was one of the last songs that he and Joanne sung together before the passing of Johnny’s wife, June Carter Cash.

“Glory, Glory” and “Cotton, Popcorn, Peanuts and Jesus” are autobiographical in nature, the first dealing with brother Jack Cash’s death and the second being a reflection on Joanne’s simple life growing up. She also does some rousing versions of “I Was There When It Happened” and “I’ve Got Jesus In My Soul.”

Her motives for this release are certainly praiseworthy. “My main purpose in this music is to win the lost and uplift the downtrodden,” Cash says of Gospel. “I don’t think we have much time left before Christ comes again and I want to be everything I can be for Jesus. I’ve seen so many people try and build their kingdom in music, but I don’t worry about any of that earthly gain. When you let God do it, that’s when the real effectiveness happens.”

Joanne can stand alone, but Johnny’s songwriting and performances add value. Lovers of traditional gospel and country music can’t go wrong with this collection.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Legally Blonde

The movie Legally Blonde is worth watching just for Reese Witherspoon's performance. Though there are a number of sexual innuendos, the film portrays such praiseworthy values as courage, perseverance and trust.

Witherspoon's character sheds the dumb blonde stereotype showing that first impressions can be misleading. She exemplifies a passion that is missing from the cold and calulating boyfriend that drops her. She overcomes a rocky start and great odds to deliver a stirring speech that serves as a fitting conclusion.

This movie reminds me of what someone has observed: even the deepest ocean has a shore. There's something wrong if we can't engage people on a seemingly superficial level. Small-talk is important. It's also foolish to think that some people are beneath us and have nothing to offer.

The movie highlights the value of becoming something that is in accord with how God has uniquely gifted each one of us. We don't have to deny who we truly are or surpress our past in order to be of service to others. Our uniqueness and experiences are assets rather than liabilities.

I'm glad that I can enjoy light, romantic comedies. I will admit to not laughing easily, but it doesn't seem like there are many movies that are genuinely funny. I did chuckle a few times during this one.

Rock Gets Religion - Mark Joseph

Christians making music for the many rather than the few Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil’s Music Auth...