Category Archives: Work

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”


Once again, too much time has elapsed between blog posts. Work has been keeping me really busy for the last month – studio string sessions for artists including Mark Schultz and Dan Hill and music preparation for live shows for Reba McEntire and a concert this past Saturday by the Oak Ridge Boys with the Fort Worth Symphony, for which I printed about 2,500 pages of music. When I’ve had time to write, I’ve used it to finish pieces for the Rabbit Room, like this essay on Mahler’s 6th Symphony and Psalm 88.

Kicking off their 2009 concert series earlier this year, the Nashville Symphony performed Gustav Mahler’s Sixth symphony (and being the Mahler freak that I am, I attended all three performances). Mahler wrote nine symphonies in all – and started a tenth before he died – and after hearing them, it becomes difficult to try to put his genius into words. Of course, one could say that one reason art exists at all, the reason we have symphonies and paintings and jazz and dance, is to express that which we cannot put into words. So maybe it is better to say the same thing about the creators – the sub-creators, as C.S. Lewis called them – and not try to reduce their work to the written word. Still, at times, we search for ways to describe to others the effect art has on us, to explain, to ourselves as much as to our friends, why we were so moved, why we found tears in our eyes or felt our deepest secrets were laid out in the open or saw laid out before us the way we should go.

Click here to read the full essay.

I have several posts I hope to get up here soon, including one about seeing Phish perform an amazing concert at Bonnaroo, joined for three songs by the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, in a concert experience sure to not be surpassed any time soon.

I have a couple books reviews I’m working on as well:

  • David Dark’s The Sacredness of Questioning Everything – will be posted at the Rabbit Room
  • The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University, by Kevin Roose. I picked this up on a Sunday afternoon, intending to read a couple chapters before returning to work, and wasn’t able to put it down until I had read 230 pages. I finished the last 100 pages the next day, and absolutely loved it.
  • The Year I Got Everything I Wanted: A Spiritual Crisis, by Cameron Conant. This is another quick read, a well written story of one year of Cameron’s life with the narrative of Ecclasiastes serving as the thread tying everything together and providing the story arc. It includes lines like this: “It’s easier to forgive someone when they show you how wounded they are.”

    Those reviews will have to wait until later, though, because in the morning I am heading over to a three day conference held here in Nashville, the Christian Scholars’ Conference. The theme this year is “The Power of Narrative,” and the plenary speakers are Billy Collins (US Poet Laureate, 2001-2003), Marilynne Robinson (Pulitzer Prize Winner, 2005), Hubert G. Locke, and Barbara Brown Taylor . There are also several paper and panel sessions offered, seventy-one sessions over the three days in five time slots, including presentations from my friend David Dark and fellow Rabbit Room contributor Jonathan Rogers. Some of the panels I’m planning on attending are:

  • Myron Schirer-Suter, Gordon College, Wenham, MA, Convener: “Der untote Gott/the undead God : Theology, German Literature and Literary Scholarship”

    Gregor Thuswaldner, Gordon College: “God is in the Details: The Question of God in Contemporary German Literature and Literary Scholarship”
    Olaf Berwald, University of North Dakota: “Reading as Self-Surprising Process: Hermeneutic Approaches to Religion in Schelling, Hölderlin, and Schleiermacher”

  • Michael Harbour, North Street Church of Christ, Nacogdoches, TX, Convener: “Hope for Meaning: Hermeneutics After Postmodernism”

    Kevin West, Stephen F. Austin State University: “Following Eco through Woods and Worlds: Meaning and/as Quest”
    Michael Harbour, North Street Church of Christ, Nacogdoches, TX: “Working for a Better Reading through Communities of Informed Judgment”
    Bryan Tarpley, Stephen F. Austin State University: “The Hopeful Midwife: Facing Epistemological Limitations”

  • Julie E. Harris, Harding University, Convener: “God in the Shadows or Amazing Grace?: Searching for God’s Hand in History” (A Peer Reviewed Session)

    Jason Jewell, Faulkner University: “All the World’s a Stage: The Reformed View of History”
    Allen Diles, Harding University: “Christian Historiography & Identifying God’s Hand”
    Jason Fikes, A & M Church of Christ, College Station, TX, Austin Graduate School of Theology: “Historiography in Emergent Church Movement: How Church leaders are using looking at the Past and Shaping what is to Come”

  • Richard Goode, Lipscomb University, Convener: “Case Studies in Questioning the Narratives” (Part II)

    David Dark, Vanderbilt University: “The Sacredness of Questioning Everything”
    Randy Spivey, Disciplinary Counsel, Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee: “Questioning Society’s Criminal Justice Narratives”
    Damien Durr, Vanderbilt Divinity School: Respondent

  • I plan on tweeting (twittering?) throughout the conference on my newly created twitter account,

    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.

    Andy Osenga, Futureman, Over the Rhine, and Stevie Wonder

    This past week was a good week for live music.

    On Sunday, Andy Osenga and I drove out to a concert just outside of Nashville, a fundraiser for Blood:Water Mission that featured Andy and a couple other guys playing “in the round.”
    Tuesday evening, after Handbell Choir practice, I headed over to the 12 South Taproom – featuring 22 beers on tap – for another show from Eclectica, a band that’s a side project for my friend Roy Wooten (or Futureman, drummer for Béla Fleck and the Flecktones), electric violinist Tracy Silverman, and bassist Kyle Whalum (Steve Forrest filled in for him for this gig). This was the second time I’ve seen them play, so I picked up a copy of their album this time – officially due out April 1st – and have really been enjoying it. Here’s the EPK they created for Streaming Video Soul.

    On Thursday evening, I headed over to Mercy Lounge for a concert put together by Vanderbilt Divinity School, The Enduring Chill: Remembering Flannery O’Connor. There were four artists, all inspired in some way by O’Connor, with readings from her writings in between sets. This was the third or fourth time I’ve seen Over the Rhine in concert, and probably the best show I’ve seen from them. At one point in the evening, the person responsible for putting together the concert mentioned a few movie directors and songwriters who owed a lot to her writing, artists like U2 and Nick Cave, and directors like Jim Jarmusch and the Cohn Brothers. I really need to get around to finishing up Wise Blood, O’Connor’s first novel.

    A while back, I worked with Grammy-nominated arranger Don Hart, doing the music prep for a concert full of songs from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life that Don had arranged for full orchestra. One of the featured soloists from that night, Abby Burke, performed four of those arrangements, along with three other charts Don had written, with the Paducah, KY Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening. Since Peducah is only about a two and a half hour drive from Nashville, Don and I drove up for the concert. It was nice to hear those charts again, and Abby is an incredible vocalist, with a four-octave range. But I do have to say, nothing matches hearing those arrangements played by Orchestra Nashville at the $125 million dollar Schermerhorn Symphony Center, standing on the side of the stage during rehearsal only thirty minutes after printing out the last of the charts.

    Check one off the list…


    After reading Christianity Today’s review of Randall Goodgame’s new EP Bluebird earlier this week, I put a check-mark next to one of the entries on the list of goals I keep in my head: To have a CT music review mention one of my string arrangements. Here’s the relevant paragraph:

    The opening title track could compete neck and neck with today’s very best porch-pop and coffeehouse rock offerings. Beyond just the ear pleasing acoustics, there are plenty of poetic parallels to a bluebird flying high in the sky with nothing but freedom to fall on (applicable to matters of faith, art, and dreams in general). “All the Years” is far more placid in comparison, stripping down to a sparse piano ballad with light string accompaniment, yet allowing Goodgame’s comforting vocals to come across like a textbook ’70s songwriter (imagine James Taylor turning in his six-string for a keyboard).

    Read the full review here. And don’t forgot you can buy the EP from Randall’s website or the Rabbit Room store.

    Free Music from Randall Goodgame

    So you know that new Randall Goodgame EP, Bluebird, that I’ve blogged about? The one I wrote a couple string arrangements for? Well, if you act fast – before the end of the day – you can download the whole EP for free from Randall’s website. It’s been available for free download for about a week, and I kept forgetting to blog about it. Be sure to sign up for his mailing list so you hear about this kind of thing the next time he does it.

    Download link

    Christmas tours

    I started to write this post several weeks ago, when these tours were just starting, but didn’t have time to finish it. Better late than never, I guess…

    There are several good Christmas tours going out this year, and I thought I’d write a little bit about a couple of them.

    Of course, the biggest must-see Christmas concert every year is Andrew Peterson and friends’ Behold the Lamb of God tour. This is my fourth year to see the tour – third time at the Ryman – and I was also able to catch the dress rehearsal this year. It’s always great to see friends up on stage, playing their hearts out, and the musicianship level is so high on this tour. And the reprise gets me every single time I hear it. It was fun to introduce several friends to Behold the Lamb of God this year.

    Probably the biggest mainstream CCM tour this year was Casting Crowns, with guests Natalie Grant, Denver & the Mile High Orchestra, Avalon, Michael English, and pureNRG. I’ve worked with producer/arranger Bernie Herms on recent albums for Crowns, Natalie, and Michael English, including the new Casting Crowns Christmas album, and was glad to hear they decided to add a small string section to the tour, which meant they played a couple charts I worked on. A week before the tour started, they decided to have Bernie write a new overture to kick off the show, with an arrangement of Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee that would feature different artists on each verse, and I worked on that chart with Bernie the day before Thanksgiving. Then after the tour started, Mark (the lead singer of Casting Crowns) decided he wanted to use their big hit East to West as the encore each night, so I sent Bernie the parts for the new version we worked on for the Dove Awards earlier this year. I’m sure it was a good show all around.

    The other show that I was hoping to catch, but that didn’t play anywhere near me, was the Jars of Clay / Sara Groves / Sixpence None the Richer / Leeland tour. Jars’ Christmas album, Christmas Songs, was released last year, and is a great album, one I’ve listened to quite a bit this year. Sara’s O Holy Night, produced by Ben Shive, just came out this year, and is a nice addition to her catalogue. I haven’t heard the Sixpence CD yet, but Matt Odmark, the guitarist for Jars, had an early release copy before the tour started and told me it was a great album.

    David Phelps, former member of the Gaither Vocal Band, did another Christmas tour this year, performing again with church choirs and orchestras. I worked on his new Christmas album last year, One Wintry Night, with David and producer Monroe Jones, and then put together all the string and vocal charts to be used on the tour. David has a great voice, so I’m sure you wouldn’t regret catching one of his shows.

    Michael McDonald went out on his second annual Christmas tour this year. I haven’t heard if they used a string section in the shows this year, but last year I worked with keyboardist/arranger Pat Coil on a couple charts for the first tour, doing some music preparation and orchestrating the strings in a couple songs. I’m a big fan of Michael’s voice, and enjoyed meeting him earlier this year at a rehearsal for the 4th of July show he did with the Nashville Symphony. Both of his Christmas albums are great.

    Another show that looks like it was entertaining, from the youtube clips I’ve seen, is the Jim Brickman / Tracy Silverman tour. Tracy plays a six string electric violin, and is also an arranger and composer. They did two or three shows with an orchestra on this tour, for which I printed out the charts for Tracy. I met Jim last year when I was working on a Richie McDonald (formerly of Lonestar) album. Since Richie joined him for the Christmas tour last year, Jim dropped by the studio when we were recording the strings to see how it was going.

    So those are some of the shows that I heard about this year. Any other good shows I should know about?

    I Will Be Your Home

    About six weeks before my little sister got married last month, I was talking with her and her fiancé about the music for the wedding. My sister liked a song that a friend of hers had written for a mutual friend, and was thinking about having that song in her wedding. The couple it was written for had met at a children’s ministry training institute, where my sister was at the time, and so the song came out of that, and had lines like “together we can better serve eternity.” Nothing wrong with the sentiments there, but I read it, and then said to my sister, “But this isn’t a love song, a song for a wedding. This is a business contract.” She and her (now) husband are planning on going to Africa in the near future to work with children in some capacity, so it is true that there are things they will be able to accomplish together that they wouldn’t be able to separately. But that is not why they were getting married.

    When we returned to my house after lunch, I pulled out my laptop, opened iTunes, and said, “This is my idea of a love song.” I selected Andrew Peterson’s song Don’t Give Up on Me, from his new album Resurrection Letters, Volume II that he had sent me a couple weeks earlier and that I had been listening to nonstop, and hit play. Andrew sings, “I walked beside you in the canyon flames / Deep as an ocean and hot as a thousand suns / We barely survived… // Don’t give up on me / Don’t give up on me / Don’t give up on me / I won’t give up on you // Don’t give up on me / I’m begging you, please / Don’t give up on me / I won’t give up on you.”

    That song wouldn’t work for the wedding, though, because it is more of a 14th anniversary kind of song, a song from the middle of the journey, not the beginning. My sister and her fiancé both liked it, so they asked me to write something that was built around the same idea. I tried several times over the next couple weeks to write something, but was only able to come up with a bridge; I couldn’t find anything I liked for the verses and chorus. The week before the wedding, I was down in Atlanta with Matthew Paul Turner, and after I had called my sister to tell her I didn’t know if I would be able to finish anything, I pulled out my notebook to try one more time. Matthew asked what I had so far, I read him the bridge, he tossed out the line “maybe when we’re older,” and we went from there, finishing two verses that night. The next day, I wrote the chorus and then started writing out the melody so I could send a leadsheet to my friend in Chattanooga who would be singing it. On Friday, five minutes before I was supposed to leave my mom’s house and head over to the wedding rehearsal, I finished writing a violin obbligato for it, and we were able to practice a couple times that night (I was playing piano). And the next day, the performance went off without a hitch. I’ll try to post the video from the ceremony so you can hear the song when I get a copy of it, but for now, here are the lyrics.

    Be Your Home

    Words and Music by Stephen Lamb and Matthew Paul Turner

    Written for Sarah and Daniel Roberts

    Verse 1:
    Maybe when we’re older,
    maybe when we’re wise,
    We’ll look back on our story
    and see what God designed.

    There might be a thread of sorrow,
    there might be a thread of pain.
    But the beauty and the mercy
    will be our sweet refrain.

    We know that God has brought us together
    and He has made us one.
    Our love, for Him and each other,
    will be our anchor in the storm.

    Verse 2:
    Maybe when we’re older,
    maybe when we’re wise,
    We’ll see how Jesus touched our story,
    and how His truth gave us light.

    And when we look around us
    at the faces that we see,
    We’ll see how we changed their stories,
    how their stories changed you and me.

    We know that God has brought us together
    and He has made us one.
    Our love, for Him and each other,
    will be our anchor in the storm.

    And when the storm clouds descend
    and hope disappears,
    I promise to stay by your side.
    I will not turn away,
    in the dark of the night.
    I will be your home.

    God has brought us together
    and He has made us one.
    Our love, for Him and each other,
    will be our anchor in the storm,
    our anchor in the storm.

    Ooh, ooh.
    I will be your home.

    Copyright 2008 Stephen Lamb and Matthew Paul Turner

    Update: Here’s a video of the performance from the ceremony.

    Natalie Grant – I Will Not Be Moved

    Speaking of Natalie Grant (see previous post), she just shot a music video for I Will Not Be Moved, my favorite song from her new CD, Relentless.

    One advantage pop singers like Natalie have over the singer/songwriters I usually listen to is they can afford to have the top guys mix their projects and make them sound like a million bucks. That is definitely the case with I Will Not Be Moved. It’s a more aggressive track than you’ll usually find on one of Natalie’s projects, with big fat guitar chords and huge rock drum sounds.

    And then, of course, the reason I really love the track – the strings. They were arranged by her husband, Bernie Herms, with music prep by yours truly. We recorded them on December 30th of 2006, if I remember right, with about a 20 piece string section at Paragon Studios, on this song and one other track, Our Hope Endures. If you pay attention to the strings while listening to I Will Not Be Moved, you’ll notice they are only there for eight measures, in the instrumental breakdown before the last chorus (at about 2:42). The track breaks way down, and the strings give you that big lift into the final chorus. It’s the perfect track to listen to in your car, with the volume cranked all the way up. Unfortunately, none of the things I really love about the track come through in the music video, with the compressed audio. But it’s still worth watching. If you like the song, you can buy it on iTunes.