Thursday, June 25, 2015

Duck Commander: Devotions for Kids - Korie Robertson & Chrys Howard

I don’t know much about Duck Dynasty, but I recognize a worthwhile devotional.

Duck Commander: Devotions for Kids
Authors: Robertson, Korie & Chrys Howard
Publisher: Tommy Nelson
Pages: 223

Before reading Duck Commander: Devotions for Kids I knew little more about the Robertsons, the stars of Duck Dynasty, than I did about the Kardashians. Thanks to this book I have a new respect for the former. I don’t know much about duck hunting, but I know an excellent devotional when I read one.

It uses concepts and language that a child can understand. Each devotion starts with a simple story from the Robertson family. Sometimes humorous, but always attention-getting, they lead to basic thoughts about a verse of Scripture.

The first one is a favorite: “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb. They make a person happy and healthy” (Proverbs 16:24). This and most of the other passages are taken from the International Children’s Bible.

The verse above precedes the thought, “You have the power to change someone’s day just by the words you use” (16). The concluding idea sums up the focus, “When you use your words to build someone up, that is using your voice to make God happy” (16).

Each section includes a short prayer and ideas for application. The title, “Words to Waterproof,” is drawn from the latter. “There are special sprays that will waterproof your boots so rain will roll right off them. Using kind words helps to waterproof the people you love, causing other unkind words to roll right off them. You will be like a kindness umbrella, covering your friends and brothers and sisters with love!” A profound thought for any age group; this is representative of the well-written and creative exposition of Biblical truth.

You don’t have to know about the Robertsons or their show to benefit. I have not seen a single episode, but reading this showed me how serious they are about their faith. There is nothing controversial here, just solid, insightful thoughts about putting the Bible into practice.

During the course of reading this I had a discouraging morning at work one day. As I sat in my car on a break, I decided to read the next devotional. It just happened to be “Handling Disappointments.” I read the verse, “Give all your worries to him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

The story followed. Sadie wanted to be a cheerleader, but when she didn’t make the team, she became discouraged. Discouragement is common to all, but “What we don’t have to do is stay disappointed” (126).

I kept reading, “When something disappoints you, learn to get over it quickly” (126). It was just what I needed. I left my car feeling a little lighter than when I started my break. I was better prepared to return to the trenches of working retail, an environment that I sometimes liken to controlled chaos.

The application section for this theme references the expression, “turn lemons into lemonade.” It then instructs, “Make some fresh-squeezed lemonade to remind yourself to turn ‘sour’ days into happy days” (127).

The book succeeds in providing activities like this one that serve to get a child interacting with family, friends and others, the outdoors, and in general, the world at large. Actually doing something related to what we read reinforces it.

This covers a wide range of subjects, including an emphasis on sharing Jesus with others. So much of what a child needs to live a well-rounded Christian life is here.

Holli Conger, the illustrator, makes the graphics and colors eye-catching. I’m glad that the human figures represent the diversity of skin shades in our world.  

I learned more about the Robertson family through the engaging stories, but of course, this is not the focus. The Robertson’s experiences point to Jesus and the Word. The emphasis here is helping children get closer to God and others. This is an admirable effort that works well toward that end.

Reborn - Finding Favour

Rural sounds and storytelling among the highlights on first full length

Artist: Finding Favour
Label: Gotee Records
Length: 11 tracks/40:42 minutes

Just learning that Toby McKeehan (aka tobyMac) is a co-executive producer and that this is on Gotee Records, the label he cofounded in 1994, is enough to interest me in Reborn, the first full album by Finding Favour.

Don’t expect this to sound like tobyMac’s music. Casey Brown is the producer, and the opening “Refuge” is a soaring worship anthem along the lines of Phil Wickham. The sound and style also remind me of Coldplay. I’m thinking, This is a pop/rock/worship band.

Though this Vidalia, GA band formed in 2005 may be that in part, I’m glad there is more. I appreciate variety; I don’t want to hear the same song over the course of an album. They could have easily done that on the remainder of this release.

The next song, “I’ll Find You,” has an energetic hook that sounds a little like an Irish reel and includes a shouted “hey!” It may be a small departure from the first song but that is just the beginning.

Song number three takes me back to my classic rock days. “Cast My Cares,” turns on power chords similar to what you hear on “Baba O’Riley” by The Who. It makes the forceful delivery of the chorus all the more powerful. This is not a sweet “cast your cares” song. I like those, but this is a declaration. It’s a resolve not to be anxious. This is also the first single.

“Feels like the First Time,” song four, is a joyous ode to marriage. One reason for this is the prominent banjo playing and the lighthearted sentiments. This erases any thought that this is just another praise and worship band.  

The fifth song, “Be Like You,” is sentimental but not overly sweet. It could easily chart on country radio. It expresses desire for God’s help in anticipation of the birth of a baby girl.

It’s becoming apparent that I hear a welcome Mumford & Sons influence. It’s a full sound complemented by acoustic and rural accents.

The title track, the sixth song, has a brief hammer dulcimer prelude. How I wish that had remained more prominent in the mix. The song celebrates new life in Christ. It reverts to a pop/rock sound; not unwelcome with its fullness, but I would like to hear what it could be with the dulcimer not being buried and more acoustic highlights. Calling tobyMac! I want a remix.

Track seven, “Tiny Town,” celebrates hometown roots. Again, this has a strong country influence. Like songs four and five, it engages in storytelling, which I find desirable and is not typically found on praise and worship recordings.

The next song, “Till Your Kingdom Comes,” mines Mumford & Sons territory with spirited singing and prominent handclaps. This is the kind of welcome variation that the worship genre needs and is becoming more prevalent.

Track nine, “On the Water,” is a favorite for its vulnerability. Here walking on the water is a metaphor for risk in the Christian life. It’s sometimes scary. I appreciate the unadorned electric guitar playing in the first part. The instrumentation is beautiful throughout and the production more sparse, a plus in my outlook.

“Hallelujah One More Time” is modern worship but sounds a little too common.

The closing, “Say Amen (Reprise),” ends in an appealing subdued style. This is a revamp of the song that was released as the band’s second single in 2014. The lyrics would fit well in an African-American setting, but the style is more country than gospel.

This is easy to like; a welcome relief from one style of worship. I appreciate the variation.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Eye’M All Mixed Up: Remixes - TobyMac

A fascinating mix of sounds adorns an unassuming style

Eye’M All Mixed Up: Remixes
Artist: TobyMac
Label: Forefront Records/Capitol
Length: 11 tracks/43:48 minutes

I never knew booming beats, high tech wizardry and scratchy noises could sound so good. And this is a remix! What must the original sound like?

Normally, I think of a remix as a lesser creation, but hearing Eye’M All Mixed Up by TobyMac has my head swirling. It’s like stepping onto the dance floor and suddenly the lights go down, the music drops, and my senses are dazzled.

I’m out of my natural element, but developing an appreciation for art of the highest caliber, I’m impressed by such a wondrous blend of synthesized and organic sounds. I could never imagine this back when I first heard Jesus music. I’m grateful that a Christian artist could become so relevant to a new generation.

Those accustomed to more conservative fare may not relate, but for the young and those open to appreciating new ways of communicating this is entertaining and meaningful.  

As TobyMac sings, “It’s always been about the music/Hoping God would use it to set some people free.” His combination of truth and grace in an assuming style goes a long way towards that end.

Being a lover of verse, many lines caught my attention. One of the most dramatic is sung over a sublime quick-tempo beat, “I want to lose myself, lose myself to find you (repeats)/I don’t care how it sounds/Burn it all to the ground/Your kingdom I desire” (Lose Myself – Capital Kings Remix). I appreciate the willingness to endure any cost to gain what matters to God.

A powerful autobiographical moment relates to concert performances: “The crowd is calling out/They want the beat to drop/But what we really need is you.” This mature attitude is also reflected in the chorus: “If you want to steal my show/I’ll sit back and watch you go/If you got something to say/Go on and take it away” (Steal My Show – Jack Shocklee Remix). May every servant of Christ have a likeminded humility.

On “Mac Daddy (Tru’s Reality) (Telemitry Remix)” TobyMac gets playful and humorous as he recalls a time when he desperately wanted a Mac computer to begin mixing beats, “I want a Mac/I want a Mac, Daddy/I need a Mac/Them apples don’t grow on trees.” This world could use more lightheartedness in music. I applaud this subtle effort.

One of the most refreshing moments comes right after the opening, high-energy title track, “Cause we all make mistakes sometimes/And we all step across that line/Nothing sweeter than the day we find, we find forgiveness” (Forgiveness – feat. Lecrae, Neon Feather Remix). It resonates because it rings true.

How different the world might be if we started a gentle revolution along these lines by speaking life to those around us. “Speak life, speak life to the deadest darkest night/Speak life, speak life when the sun won’t shine and you don’t why/Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted/Watch them come alive as soon as you speak life” (Speak Life – Telemitry Remix).

I would say more about the music but words fail to convey the creativeness. Advances in technology elevate this to a level that did not exist back in the days when it was mostly organic instrumentation. It’s a little like the leap when Bob Dylan angered his folk music following by going electric. It shows the power of this means when used with restraint and a pop sensibility. It’s a fascinating mix of sounds.

My only disappointment, be it ever so slight, is that two tracks are remixed twice. I favored the first ones over the second ones that come towards the end.

It’s no wonder that TobyMac has met with so much success since his former group DC Talk disbanded. He knows what matters most and it’s obviously not what comes with being a pop star. His faithfulness to calling, as evidenced here, is as inspiring as the music.

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