Category Archives: Music

The Prophetic Imagination of Bruce Springsteen

The Art House America blog just published an essay I wrote on The Prophetic Imagination of Bruce Springsteen, my attempt to treat Walter Brueggemann and Wendell Berry as conversation partners with Bruce Springsteen’s newest album.

The first time I heard Wrecking Ball, the new record from Bruce Springsteen, I was driving through the middle of Kentucky on winding country roads, windows down, stereo cranked all the way up, wind whistling through my hair. I was on my way to the Abbey of Gethsemani — where Thomas Merton lived for most of his life — two days after my 30th birthday, looking forward to the time away to read, write, and reflect. With books by Merton (a first-edition copy of his memoir, Seven Storey Mountain, loaned to me by my friend Ian), Walter Brueggemann, and Wendell Berry in my bag as companions for the weekend, I found myself listening to Springsteen’s lyrics through the lens of Brueggemann’s and Berry’s words.

Read the rest here.

And here are a couple of additional comments, my footnotes to the essay, if you will. Continue reading The Prophetic Imagination of Bruce Springsteen

Send Andrew Osenga to Space

For at least the last five years or so, whenever I think to check the “most-played” list in my iTunes, I’m never surprised to see that at least half the songs on the list are by Andy Osenga, many of them listed there because of the late nights where I hit repeat over and over again on a song, needing to hear it just one more time.

From his work with his first band, The Normals, through the years he was with Caedmon’s Call – as Derek Webb’s replacement – to his five solo albums (and counting), I find something in Andy’s music that I need, lyrics that provide comfort and encouragement, words that give voice to unspoken yearnings, disappointments, and desires, confessions and promises. Lines that remind me of the kind of person I want to be, and how I might get there. Continue reading Send Andrew Osenga to Space

Movie review: Jeff Bridges’ “Crazy Heart”

My review of the great new Jeff Bridges film, Crazy Heart, which I wrote with a friend shortly after I saw the movie last month, was just posted on the Rabbit Room blog. Here are a couple excerpts:

I’d have to say, though, there was one thing I liked above everything else about the film, and that’s what I want to spend more time talking about here: the glimpse Crazy Heart gives us into the world of music superstars, both at the height of their career and when they’re down on their luck. Working as an arranger and music copyist in the Nashville music industry, I get occasional glimpses into that world. Watching Bad Blake play for a packed house at a corner bar, seeing how he related to the crowd and how he performed, I thought of the time I was in the studio with legendary rock singer Bob Seger.


Continue reading Movie review: Jeff Bridges’ “Crazy Heart”

The time God told me to write about the evils of rock music

My friend Matthew’s new book releases today, and I just posted a review over at the Rabbit Room. Here’s how it starts:

In his new book Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost, releasing February 16th from WaterBrook Press, Matthew Paul Turner tells the story of the time God called him to be the Christian version of Michael Jackson.

I had a similar experience in my childhood, except God’s message to me didn’t quite go along with what he told Matthew, as the still, small voice of God is wont to do. When I was 18 years old, after being convinced along with many of my friends about the evils of dating by Joshua Harris’ book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, God told me to write a book in the same style and with the same target audience. Except this one would let teenagers know about the evils of rock music. It was the role I was born for. I grew up believing that rock music was evil–and by rock music, I meant anything by Steve Green or Michael Card.

Of course music made by non-Christians like the Beatles and U2 was evil; that wasn’t even up for debate. But what many of my friends didn’t know was the danger of listening to music by people who called themselves Christians but used a style of music that was indistinguishable from the world. They didn’t realize the peril they were putting their souls in by listening to sounds that came straight from hell, music that caused natives in the depths of Africa to become possessed by Satan. Fortunately for them, I did. I’d read all the books explaining exactly how and why rock music is evil, the most influential one having been written by the music minister at a church my great uncle pastored. I wrote twenty-page e-mails to friends, under the guise of a Bible study, sharing the information I’d learned. I’m sure they counted themselves lucky to have someone watching out for their souls.

Read the full review.

Andy Whitman’s review of Joe Henry’s “Blood From Stars”

As I’ve complied a list of my favorite movies, books, and music of 2009 over the last couple weeks, I’ve gone back and reread some of the reviews of those entries from my favorite critics. Joe Henry’s Blood From Stars, my second favorite record of 2009, received its best review from Andy Whitman, describing the album far better than I ever could. Andy’s review of Bruce Springsteen’s Magic is what converted me to being a fan of the Boss, and knowing what he thought about Joe Henry is one thing that finally persuaded me to check him out, along with Jeffrey Overstreet’s repeated raves.
Continue reading Andy Whitman’s review of Joe Henry’s “Blood From Stars”

Derek Webb’s “Stockholm Syndrome” available Tuesday

Tonight, at a special event at The Rutledge, Derek Webb played a one hour documentary about the making of his new album, Stockholm Syndrome, letting the packed crowd hear several songs in their entirety through studio footage. When the documentary finished, Derek and producer Josh Moore answered a couple questions, including explaining more about the label controversy. The song at the source of the controversy, What Matters Most, as rumored, has to do with how the christian community treats gays, and also includes a version of the Tony Campolo quote, “While you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

Derek refused to back down and omit the song completely, so the compromise reached with INO, his label, is to release two versions of the record, one without the “offensive” song to the christian market, and the complete CD, what Derek called “the authorized version,” to the general market and available on Derek’s website. There will also be seven versions of the album: three CDs that will have varying content and extra material, including one version that includes the making-of documentary, three tiers of the digital download, and, my favorite one, a vinyl version of the album.
Continue reading Derek Webb’s “Stockholm Syndrome” available Tuesday

Remembering Larry Dalton

For the past couple of weeks, after hooking up an old record player I bought at a yard sale recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of the vinyl albums I have. One artist whose work I didn’t have in another format is pianist Roger Williams, and every time I put on one of his records, I’m reminded of my friend Larry Dalton, a wonderful pianist, arranger and composer, who saw Williams play when he was a boy and whose music bears his influence. I haven’t seen Larry since he moved away from Nashville two years ago, and I just received word that he tragically died in his sleep Friday night from an apparent heart attack. The sense of loss is profound.

I first met Larry at a keyboard workshop he was teaching about five years ago. One of his handouts, an exercise sheet, was handwritten, and I volunteered to typeset it for him with the music notation software I use. Through that process, we became friends, and shared many meals together. He loved telling stores of gigs he’d played and people he’d met, the times he’d played for artists like Henry Mancini and Mel Torme, the presidents he had played for, the orchestra sessions he was a part of. I’ll never forget sitting in his music room after lunch one day, listening to him play through a piano arrangement on his nine-foot Steinway grand piano that he was in the middle of writing, or seeing the score where he was transcribing a Mozart symphony by ear, because an orchestra he worked with couldn’t find the music for one of the movements and he wanted to help them out.

Growing up, I listened to and volunteered at a radio station where my mom had – and has – a daily radio program, and later worked for them for three and a half years. We had all of Larry’s CDs there at WDYN, and I played his music all the time. Larry loved to take modern praise choruses, the ones that have great melodies, and arrange them in a classical style. He was a great pianist, arranger, and orchestrator, and taught me a lot about orchestral colors, both from listening to his recordings and stories he told me. I have no doubt that Larry is one of the reasons I do what I do today. Larry, you will be missed.

Trey Anastasio (of Phish) with the Baltimore Symphony

Orchestra scores for Trey Anastasios concert with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, 5/21/09

One project that has occupied much of my time over the last couple months has been doing all the music prep. for a concert that took place this past Thursday, a concert by the Baltimore Symphony. Last year, a friend of mine, Grammy-nominated arranger and composer Don Hart, co-wrote a 30-minute piece for Electric Guitar and Orchestra, Time Turns Elastic, with Trey Anastasio, frontman for the band Phish. It was performed at a sold-out show at the Ryman Auditorium, featuring Orchestra Nashville, along with several other Phish tunes Don arranged for orchestra. In December, Trey recorded the piece up in Seattle with the Northwest Sinfonia, and that recording is now available for pre-order, releasing on June 9th. Last week’s performance was the East Cost premier, and included first performances of several other Phish tunes Don orchestrated. Last I checked, I had spent over 100 hours preparing parts and printing out several thousand pages of music for the show, and it was a real privilege to be involved in a project with such great music.

The reviews from Thursday’s show are starting to come in, like this one from the Baltimore Sun.

Musical worlds collided Thursday night when rocker Trey Anastasio took the stage with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and conductor Marin Alsop. There were no casualties.

Anastasio, founding member of Phish and a songwriter with a refreshing avoidance of conventional chord progressions, has been collaborating with traditional classical ensembles for several years now. His most ambitious effort in this field is a half-hour piece called Time Turns Elastic that he co-wrote with Don Hart, composer-in-residence of Orchestra Nashville. It premiered last September with that orchestra and received its East Coast premiere at this BSO concert, which drew a young, animated crowd.

Read the full review.

Relix Magazine review
Rolling Stone review

As one would expect from a concert connected to Phish, a live bootleg is already available on the Internet and can be downloaded here.

The next performance of Time Turns Elastic will be this Fall with a little-known orchestra, The New York Philharmonic, at this place called Carnegie Hall.

The picture is of Don Hart with scores for all the songs he arranged.

Derek Webb, Muppets, a Kick Drum and the Holy Spirit

Quick, name the last time an artist sampled a clip from Sesame Street in their song? The answer: Derek Webb, in a newly released song from his upcoming album, “Stockholm Syndrome.” Here’s the Sesame Street clip:

Derek’s song is titled “The Sprit vs. the Kick Drum,” and is apparently built around a great quote from Rich Mullins about worship. In an interview about the Caedmon’s Call record In the Company of Angels, Cliff Young relates this story: “Rich used to talk about how people would come up to him after concerts and say, ‘Wow! The Holy Spirit really moved at that certain point in the song,'” Young remembers. “And Rich would respond by saying, ‘No actually, that’s where the kick drum and the bass came in.’ It’s easy to mistake energy and emotion for worship.”

I’ve had the song on repeat all morning and love it. You can download it for free from Confused? Kat at Bloggable Music Network explains how to find the clues to download the song from the hidden page.

Derek posted on his twitter account that he’s written a bunch of this record at Ugly Mugs Coffeeshop in East Nashville, one of the two best coffeeshops in town and one where I spend a lot of time. Several times I’ve seen Derek with his notebook in his lap and his headphones on, writing lyrics, so it’s fun to finally hear one of the songs.

At the risk of self-discovery

As I was driving down to Franklin Friday evening for the Sara Groves / Ben Shive concert, I put in Sara’s CD All Right Here, her first CD that I bought and still, I think, my favorite. And I was reminded of how many great songs are on there, Maybe There’s a Loving God and Remember Surrender being my two favorites. Every Minute is a great song about friendships – Mike Card, when I was talking to him after the show, said it is his favorite song of Sara’s – and I just remembered the blog post I wrote two and a half years ago about that song. Since I still like that post, I thought I’d share it again.


I recently read Anne Lamott’s novel “Crooked Little Heart”, and as I was finishing it I came to the conclusion that all of her writing could be summed up in this way: We are messed up people, living in a messed up world. We screw up all the time, but some of us are able to hide it better than others. And life is still beautiful. We are selfish, caring only about ourselves and our needs. We do whatever it takes to try and make ourselves comfortable, no matter who is hurt by it. We go to great lengths to protect our illusions of perfection. But every once in a while we help a friend, we allow ourselves to be inconvenienced, we put aside our rights. And life is beautiful.

In today’s culture, it is impolite to tell someone if they are doing something wrong. We avoid straight talk at all costs; we even choose our churches by looking for masturbatory teaching. We are afraid to show others who we really are, in part, on the chance that they won’t like us any more or want to be around us. But I think Sara Groves is getting at something in the chorus of her song “Every Minute” when she sings “And at the risk of wearing out my welcome / At the risk of self-discovery / I’ll take every moment / And every minute that you’ll give me.” We are more afraid that we will discover ourselves than we are that others will know who we are. Why else are we afraid of silence? Why else do we surround ourselves with music, T.V., and the radio every minute of the day? If we search our hearts, what will we find?

We need to remember that life is lived in community and growth comes through sharing. In Sara’s song “All Right Here,” she sings “Every heart has so much history / It’s my favorite place to start / Sit down a while and share your narrative with me / I’m not afraid of who you are // I’m all here, and you’re all there / Some of this is unique, and some of it we share / Add it up and start from there / Well, it’s all right here.”

So we have a choice to make. Will we admit that we are not perfect and let others share in this beautiful mess of a life that we live? Will we allow ourselves to love, even though we know it could end in hurt? Or will we pretend that life is perfect, that we have it all together and everything is great, that we need no one else?

Sara Groves ~ Every Minute

I am long on staying
I am slow to leave
Especially when it comes to you my friend
You have taught me to slow down
And to prop up my feet
It’s the fine art of being who I am

And I can’t figure out
Why you want me around
I’m not the smartest person I have ever met
But somehow that doesn’t matter
No it never really mattered to you at all

And at the risk of wearing out my welcome
At the risk of self-discovery
I’ll take every moment
And every minute that you’ll give me

And I can think of time when families all lived together
Four generations in one house
And the table was full of good food
And friends and neighbors
That’s not how we like it now

Cause if you sit at home you’re a loser
Couldn’t you find anything better to do
Well no I couldn’t think of one thing
I would rather waste my time on than sitting here with you

And at the risk of wearing out my welcome
At the risk of self-discovery
I’ll take every moment
And every minute that you’ll give me

And I wish all the people I love the most
Could gather in one place
And know each other and love each other well

And I wish we could all go camping
And lay beneath the stars
And have nothing to do and stories to tell
We’d sit around the campfire
And we’d make each other laugh remembering when
You’re the first one I’m inviting
Always know that you’re my friend

And at the risk of wearing out my welcome
At the risk of self-discovery
I’ll take every moment
And every minute that you’ll give me
Every moment and every minute that you’ll give me