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

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

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.


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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.
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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.
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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.