Friday, May 30, 2014

Sovereign - Michael W. Smith

A new label, a new dynamic

Artist: Michael W. Smith (
Label: Sparrow Records
Length: 12 tracks/54:33 minutes

Michael W. Smith is a musical virtuoso, but he may never be more dynamic than when he leads worship. Look no further than Sovereign, which is his latest and finest effort in this category. I might take this over any of his previous releases.

These songs are straightforward with restrained artistry, giving them broad appeal.

They exude the power that comes from combining rock and worship. The choruses are like the roar of many waters! The God of glory thunders and so does the music in the crescendos. In contrast, it is often like a gentle whisper at beginning and end when it’s little more than just Smith and a piano. I like hearing his earnestness and tenderness to sparse accompaniment.

Credit is due in part to partnership with a new label, Capitol Christian Music Group. Smith wisely chose to be open to input and direction, knowing that iron sharpens iron.   

Though it is a studio recording, it has the vitality of the live recordings that our popular in this genre. It’s easy to imagine it being performed in arenas filled with throngs of people singing along. It rivals its secular counterparts because of its object. The sense of majesty is but the dim reflection of God’s awesome glory, which is beyond description.

One of five cover songs is “Christ Be All Around Me.” It’s an excellent adaptation with a chorus derived from early Irish poetry:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

It serves as a lovely reminder of the pervasiveness of God’s presence.

Two of my favorites, “Hide Myself” and “You Won’t Let Go,” are collaborations with a couple of the best songwriters in Christian music, Mia Fields and Seth Mosley. These songs are such a winsome blend of pop, praise and comfort. Does it anyone do it better than Smith?

I like the closing duet with Kari Jobe (“The One That Really Matters”), but it is a little long and repetitive. It detracts somewhat from the powerful thought that in the end, pleasing God is all that matters.

Sovereign debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200. Just prior to this, Smith and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store released Hymns, Smith’s take on classic hymnody. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Beatles, the Bible, and Bodega Bay - Ken Mansfield

The only book approved by The Beatles

The Beatles, the Bible, and Bodega Bay (
Author: Ken Mansfield
Publisher: Broadman & Holman Publishers
Pages: 299

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24 ESV). In The Beatles, the Bible, and Bodega Bay (2000), Ken Mansfield, in writing about another Beatle insider book, said, “My greatest objection was the dark-side approach he (Peter Brown) took to events and the Beatles themselves. I think there must have been two John Lennons—I never met his!” (92). This is indicative of Mansfield’s viewpoint and what makes his book a delight.

His approach becomes even clearer when he describes the forces that eroded the band’s “childlike quality,” which he saw as “a common thread that ran through the very fiber and being of the Fab Four.” Mansfield writes, “My eternal naiveté and potato-bred simplicity saved me. I looked for and only found their goodness and gentle natures. I found them idealistic and still able to dream, vaguely unaware that they were being pulled into an externally induced nightmare” (243-244).

Their musical prowess made Mansfield into an awe-inspired friend. He admits that “he may have even forgotten what I don’t want to remember.” He knew that they liked him and was protective as a result. “I do know that they trusted me, and in order to dig up dirt or caustic observations about these times and these people, I would either have to become a fiction writer or betray that trust,” (245) he explains.

Even in relation to John Lennon, he offers a counter view to his much publicized caustic side. “It is unfortunate, but I fear most people never got to see the casual, lightness-of-being aspect of John Lennon. I am personally offended by the disproportionate amount of negative verbiage written about other areas of his brilliant life” (220).

It’s no wonder that this is the only book ever approved by The Beatles (Yoko One on John Lennon’s behalf). It’s honest and revealing without being critical.

Readers get warm glimpses not found elsewhere: “Life with George in these situations was always comfortable and natural, almost everyday like; he made it that way. He was easy to be with—gentle, kind, and caring. Although I was supposed to be taking care of him, he would always concern himself with how I was doing. He had a bashful, soft-spoken manner with friend and stranger alike, and always appeared to care about others” (137).

Ken Mansfield is the former U.S. manager of Apple Records. That’s him huddling from the cold against the chimney between Yoko and Maureen Starkey when the Beatles gave their final performance on that rooftop. 

Despite the weather and a host of adverse circumstances, it was a triumph that led Mansfield to conclude, “After thirty years in the heart of the record business—offstage, onstage, and backstage with everyone from Roy Orbison to Don Ho—I personally feel that the Beatles were the greatest rock and roll band of all time” (110). Mansfield sees it as the “one event that stood out above all the others during the time” (105) that he worked with the Beatles.

It would be disingenuous to let someone think that the book is merely recollections about The Beatles. Sandwiched in between these wondrous accounts are dispatches, some 20-30 years later, from Bodega Bay, known as the setting for Alfred’s Hitchcock’s The Birds. Far from the dread and fear in that movie are the serene Christian reflections inspired by the natural beauty of the fishing village’s coastline.

These are not lightweight devotionals. It’s a mature Christian seeing God’s hand in all the created wonder that surrounds him. They are much like the Psalms, expressing a full range of human emotions.

At first the transition from one time period to another can be a little jarring, and depending on preference, one can easily want to get through the sections they like least, but that would miss the beauty found each and not see this as a whole. It is a journey from the pinnacles of the music world to the riches of a life lived simply in Christ.

The book features many rare photos and images from Mansfield’s time with the group, along with timelines in the chapters showing significant dates of recordings and other events.

Mansfield also wrote The White Book, The Beatles, the Bands, the Biz: An Insider’s Look at an Era (2007), Between Wyomings: My God and an iPod on the Open Road (2009) and Stumbling on Open Ground: Love, God, Cancer, and Rock 'n' Roll (2013).

Mansfield humanizes The Beatles in a winsome way. This is far removed from the books that disillusion and dissipate hope. These gracious words are sweet to the soul and health to mind and body.

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