It’s My Blog And I’ll Kvetch If I Want To

Mind if I vent?

Yesterday I posted a link to my latest blog post. It’s a review of Christian rocker Randy Rose’s new album “Songs For The Ritually Abused,” which tackles head on the issue of child abuse.

You probably haven’t read it, let alone listened to the album. Which is okay. It’s your call. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. You’re definitely missing out, and even if the album isn’t in your musical wheelhouse (it’s heavy and leans heavily toward Goth), it should be easy to agree on child abuse being something we should all fight together. That said, if you’d rather not read the review and/or listen to the album, it’s entirely up to you. And, based on the roaring silence with which the post has been received, it’s clear at least this attempt to broach the subject is of little interest.

Now, had the post been about, say, how reprehensible Kathy Griffin’s video was, people would lap it up. Lots of people. Furthermore, should it have been one in a series of posts after posts cranked out crabbing about how Democrats are all poopyheads, or, taking the “principled conservative” angle, part of endlessly churned out copy about how Trump is a meanypants, it’s pretty much guaranteed that within a few months yours truly would have one or more gigs at a high roller, corporate owned website. I do have writing chops, and I can play the schmooze & suck up game when need be. It’d be all phony and fakery, but it could be done.

However, there are far more beneficial contributions possible than the three hundred and seventy-sixth post on today’s topic du jour. It’s the same philosophy I employ when writing country songs: given that the subjects of drinking, dancing, and honkytonking are all thoroughly covered, I’ll work on discussing something else.

That is what people want, isn’t it? A lot of them in the political junkie category say that’s what they want. We’re tired of all politics all the time, they moan. Give us something different! Break out of the echo chamber! Politics is downstream from culture!

Okay, here’s something different.

The response?

Not much of anything.

Oh, there’s the occasional “that’s nice.” But overall? Zip. Nada. Nyet. And while I’ve grown used to it, it still rankles a bit. (Okay, more than a bit.)

Now, it’s impossible to write all this and remain unaware all this leaves me wide open to charges of being a whining crybaby. Perhaps this is true. In my defense, it’s not a case of why them instead of me. Rather, it’s why not me as well.

The lyric by early Christian rock band Servant comes to mind: “Well they call me a Jesus freak / I do believe it’s true / There’s just one thing I want to know / Whose freak are you?”

Here’s the deal. The artists I write about deserve maximum exposure. They’re good people creating great music carrying an even greater message. Writing about it isn’t a choice. It’s a holy obligation. And if it’s frustrating when people who say they want something more than political yakfests, something that addresses culture and society, yet ignoring when it’s presented to them the very thing they’re asking for …

… what should be done?

That’s all.

“Songs For The Ritually Abused” by Rose is brutal brilliance

Last week, most of the world gasped in horror at the sight of children in Manchester, most of them girls, being blown apart for the crime of attending a pop concert. I say most; the satanic jihadists celebrated even as some among the oh so pure Konservative Kool Kidz Klub sneered how Ariana Grande had it coming because she’s said and done stupid stuff, and by default her audience as well for not knowing they’re not supposed to support someone not bearing the official seal of approval. Because, after all, every eight year old girl should be full up on politics.

The latter losers notwithstanding – and they have no place standing with anyone who has a heart – the terrorist attack was only one side of the war on children, specifically girls; sudden, brutal. There is another face of the war against children usually hidden from sight: the slow death of those ritually abused by adults. Be it sexual, this occasionally bubbling to the surface when another child pornography aficionado and/or sex trafficker is arrested, physical, emotional/mental/spiritual; it lives among us and almost always out of sight. As are its victims, who either put on a forced happy face to hide the truth, disappear from public view, or wind up in a morgue unless their lifeless body is thrown out with the trash. The abuse often doesn’t end at childhood’s end, as the obscenely high number of abused wives and girlfriends can attest once the swelling from their latest bouquet of physical or emotional/mental/spiritual bruises subsides. This noted, it is of the children this post speaks.

This is the world musician Randy Rose exposes in his latest offering Songs For The Ritually Abused. Rose, along with his brother Roger, is fondly remembered by hardcore Christian rock fans from his days in synth to hard rock Mad At The World. Currently working with his own band bearing his last name, Rose successfully went to the Kickstarter well last year to finance a new recording he promised would be anything but, well, roses and rose-colored stained glass windows. A few hiccups hindered the release schedule, but the album is now out. It is raw and real.

Musically, for those unaware of Rose’s sound the best comparison would be to think of Muse with the melodrama turned down and the snarl turned up to 11. Melody is often delivered with the business end of a fuzztone sledgehammer. There are quiet moments, but for the most part Songs For The Ritually Abused is pounding mid-tempo fury. It’s not metal nor goth, but fans of each genre as well as those attracted by anthems will find plenty to sink their teeth into even as the music bares its own teeth.

Lyrically, the only words that accurately capture the album’s horror and hope are its own:

You were ritually abused…battered, bloodied and bruised
But Jesus is calling your name and Girl, you’ll never be the same
Tears stain my cheek for the one who couldn’t speak
Sweet little Girl…

I know everything’s gonna be fine
Girl, I know He’ll wipe the tears from your eyes
So close your eyes and dream of things
Close your eyes and dream of things
So close your eyes and dream of things that
You thought that you’d never see

Beautiful Girl…

Havilah, your time has come
And now you get to speak…

You can speak.

For example. Other songs cut even deeper, exposing and calling out the monsters who abuse children while proclaiming Christ’s love in action for victims. It is a fearsome, brutally effective tour de force.

Songs For The Ritually Abused will not make anyone want to hit the dance floor, and it’s extremely doubtful the average Ariana Grande fan will find much, if anything, here to her liking. That said, it is precisely for her fans seeking solace in her music as an escape from their private hell that this album was made. If it moves people to action confronting this evil, or serves as a lifeline for those unwillingly described in its words, with this album Randy Rose has accomplished God’s work.

The album is available at Amazon, CD Baby, direct from the record label, iTunes, and Rose’s website.

Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing (But Richie Furay Sure Can)

NOTE: This post was first published on DaTechGuy Blog.

Following up on last week’s kvetch regarding conservative new media talking a great game when it comes to impacting culture, yet near-unanimously failing to do so, an introduction to someone who walks the talk. And has been doing so for quite some time.

Ritchie Furay pastors a church in Broomfield, Colorado, some thirteen miles southeast of Boulder. He is an unassuming man who looks far younger than his seventy-two tours of duty on this planet might suggest. He and his wife have been together going on forty-eight years, with kids and grandkids a-plenty. And lest one wonder “gee, that’s nice and all, but what does this have to do with changing the culture …”

… he’s also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Back in the 1960s, when popular music was beginning to rediscover its long neglected role as social commentary’s voice, there was for a brief time a band that proved seminal both in its impact on a generation of music, culminating with the Eagles, and on modern culture as a whole with its lyrical bent. Even as important as the band was, its members work after disbanding proved to be crucial in musical and societal change. The band was Buffalo Springfield. One of its three-headed monster leadership? Richie Furay.

Although as far as public recognition Furay remains well behind Buffalo Springfield’s other main members, namely Stephen Stills and Neil Young, Furay was a vital element of the band’s sound on all fronts: guitar, vocals, and songwriter. His “Kind Woman” became a staple of the band’s catalog, a track that perfectly captured what at the time was a revolutionary and hitherto unimaginable fusion of country and rock. Turn on any modern country radio station and you will hear the full impact of Furay’s work. He did not singlehandedly invent country rock, but Furay was one of the first artists, if not the very first artist, to make it work.

Following Buffalo Springfield’s demise, Furay rounded up a bunch of like-minded artists for a new band named Poco. Poco never made major headway commercially, but was revered by its fans and peers for refining the country-rock genre. Furay eventually left the band to get together with fellow veteran artists J.D. Souther and Chris Hillman; it was during this period in 1974 when Furay came to Christ. Over the subsequent years Furay has focused more on pastoral duties than music, although he still records and performs. And, as the following clip from his most recent album recorded a couple of years ago showcases, he still has his songwriting chops, presented via his clear with just a touch of twang tenor, hitting the high notes without breaking a sweat:

At this point, one might think “gee, that’s nice and all, but I’m still not getting what this has to do with changing the culture.” Bear with; we’re getting there.

Richie Furay breaks the mold of rock artists by being a full-bore unapologetic conservative. He routinely speaks up about political views on his Facebook page, where he equally routinely politely and directly engages with his fans. Which in and of itself breaks the mold of most rock stars and celebrities who prefer maintaining as much of a distance from their fans as possible.

Wait, you didn’t know that? Not surprising.

Here’s the deal. Want to read more about Furay; his music, faith, and political views? Hmm, let’s see. RedState? Nope. HotAir? Nada. Breitbart? Nyet. Not a word.

Try Rolling Stone.

It unfailingly amuses and saddens how conservative blogs and the people who write them can endlessly tonguebathe themselves about the great and mighty service they are providing in molding and shaping public opinion. Problem is, they’re not. Outside the echo chamber, no one knows they exist. Even within the echo chamber they change nothing. Remember the #NeverTrump torrent that poured forth daily from the high rollers? Boy, that sure changed things in favor of President-elect Rubio and … oh, wait …

Maybe it’s time to change course. These folk know the definition of insanity, correct? Then why continue to do the same thing that has repeatedly proven to not be worth, and not work, a lick?

Try talking about someone with a good guitar lick. Try something other than another rewrite rehash of today’s talking points and MSM regurgitation. Instead of blabbing all politics, all the time, all the same, write something people actually want to read. Talk about a musician. Discuss an author. Review a movie. Tell a story about what is happening, or has happened, in your or a friend’s life. In short, give someone other than hardcore political junkies a reason to read anything you write.

No one is asking anyone to disavow their political beliefs. What is being suggested is political bloggers embracing reality. You are not changing anyone. No one knows you exist. You are a one note, one trick pony in a dog and pony show playing to an empty circus tent. Stop.

Reach out. Branch out. Write like a human being for human beings. You engage culture when you engage people. Start.

And along the way, talk up great music by a good man.

Geoff Moore’s “The Next Thing” a welcome return to the heartland

Geoff Moore was one of the 1990s least likely contemporary Christian music stars. He wasn’t a pretty pop boy. His music at its heart was heartland rock, Americana with its rougher edges polished; the stuff out of which artists such as John Mellencamp and Michael Stanley Band made their careers. Nothing grating, but hardly soft pop radio-friendly fodder. Nevertheless, he enjoyed a lengthy and quite successful run before things naturally wound down as times and tastes changed. The kids do not know his music’s roots, let alone the music itself. They have never heard it, nor heard of it. The music industry has long since chosen megachurch-friendly praise and worship tuneage as its stock in trade. Not much room for music made for a rural back porch; straightforward songs of praise and ground level connection with Christ sung with fellowship, friend, and family in-between watching the kids and dogs and cats chase each other around the yard.

After a five year absence, Moore has returned with the crowdsourced The Next Thing. From the opening notes and word of “The Well Digger,” sparse instrumentation backing rich harmonies imploring all to remember not only the working person whose labor brings fruit all enjoy but the God Who creates all, it is beautifully obvious Moore is not only back making music, but back at full strength.

The Next Thing is a fairly quiet but never flaccid record. The ballads do not lack intensity or energy. Moore isn’t about rocking anyone’s socks off, but neither is he inclined to turn things down. The melodies are comforting; the guitar-rich backing strong but never cloying or overbearing. Strong songs, well done but never overdone.

Lyrically, Moore keeps it fairly simple but never simplistic. His message is roots to branches, one in which grounded fundamentals of the faith, and deep faith itself, direct a person through all aspects of life. Moore addresses societal issues from the inside out. It is the individual’s personal transformation through and in Jesus radiating outward that creates movement and change.

Freed from commercial restraints, The Next Thing is Moore playing to his strengths. He superbly maintains his identity as Christian rock’s backroads poet. With solid songwriting and equally solid faith Moore has created something of true value. Hopefully The Next Thing will find its deserving audience beyond long-time fans alone and truly become the next thing.

The record is available at Moore’s website.

The last mystery man rock star bids au revoir

We live in a society where seemingly everyone believes him or herself to be so utterly fascinating, and worthy of everyone else’s full attention – this as opposed to all the other loathsome poseurs believing themselves to be utterly fascinating and worthy of everyone else’s full attention – that everyone should know all that can be known about him or herself. This reigns especially true in the entertainment/pop culture/social media world. We are exposed to incessant self-exposure, some voluntarily provided and some semi-forcibly extracted by gossip hellhounds such as TMZ. Quite a few years back, a British documentary focusing on the 1980s, in a rather gimmicky fashion theming itself as a historical examination of events long ago regardless of their being contemporary, had this to say about Madonna: “She couldn’t sing, she couldn’t dance, and she couldn’t act. All she could do was be.” A bit harsh, but given how she has made a decades-long career out of self-focused personality cult as much as any artistic achievement, not far from the truth.

This has not always been the case, particularly in pop music. The 1960s and 1970s were a heyday of artists doing whatever they deemed necessary to cloak themselves in mystery and mystique, this aura serving as a major component if not all of their promotional outreach. Some of this was attention-seeking kitsch, embodied by left-field zaniness such as Question Mark and The Mysterions. Subsequent efforts were far more reality-based. Led Zeppelin almost never released singles. Steely Dan refused to do interviews, and were so intent on maintaining their recording studio-bound anonymous wizards image that for a time their record company handed out blank photographs in lieu of the traditional promo head shot. Christian rock founding father Larry Norman avoided almost all interview requests and seldom acknowledged, let alone publicly commented on, the many controversies that surrounded most all aspects of his life and work. While successive generations artists have occasionally tried to build a similar wall around themselves, the omnipresence of social media has made keeping yourself to yourself well nigh possible. With one very noticeable, and most likely final, exception.

Gord Downie, lead singer of Canadian textural heartland rockers The Tragically Hip, has avoided letting his audience draw near during the band’s twenty-five year plus career. He has played close to the vest offstage, saying little about his private life. For his band he pens lyrics laced with cultural, historical, and contemporary Canadian references while far more often that not binding them together with a quirky stream of consciousness vibe leaving the audience trying to keep up as much as enjoying the poetry. On stage Downie gives the distinct impression of someone playing a character based on whatever he is singing at that moment; a benevolent yet sly storyteller living within the story rather than personally living through his or her music. This is the skilled wordsmith’s marker; the ability to envelop listeners in a tale well told without placing him or herself as anything other than the story’s conduit.

The Tragically Hip are nearly universally revered by Canadian rock fans, this adulation spanning multiple generations. While other Canadian artists have enjoyed far greater popularity in the Uniter States and around the world, starting with The Guess Who and going forward to Rush, with Triumph and Loverboy enjoying lesser but still not inconsiderable success during their respective heydays, it is the Hip that has cemented itself as the Canadian band for Canadians. This made the band’s shock announcement earlier this year that Downie was suffering from terminal brain cancer all the more devastating; headline news from Vancouver to Nova Scotia and all points in-between. It also made the announcement that since Downie was still able to perform the band would mount a presumably final tour this summer bittersweet, with tickets going for five figures on the scalper market.

The band concluded its tour this past Saturday in its home town of Kingston at the local hockey arena, located at 1 Tragically Hip Way, named this in 2012. The concert was broadcast live on CBC, with an estimated audience of one-third the television sets in all of Canada tuned in for what presumably will be the band’s final performance. To say emotions were running high would be the an understatement of massive proportions.

How would Downie and the band respond to such a moment? For its part the band was sublime, filled with seamless energy as it gave classic songs, plus contemporary tunes from its June of this year release Man Machine Poem, a satisfying workout. Downie was understandably in lesser form, forcibly oversinging through much of the set resulting in multiple painfully out of tune moments; only near the end did he sufficiently control himself to where pitch was no longer an issue.

Absent was the storytelling banter during songs that had been Downie’s live stock in trade. Instead, there was Downie the visual performer, audience interaction via looks and gestures dovetailing into the song rather than typical rock star adulation-seeking fare. In presumably his artistic final act before personally entering eternity, Downie maintained his polite barrier, hiding behind virtual greasepaint. Even during the end of “Grace, Too,” when Downie repeatedly screamed “why,” it was impossible to tell if he was reacting against his impending death or remaining in the song’s character.

After three wrenching encores it was over. A country’s poet hero had said his goodbye not by saying goodbye, but rather through telling stories and leaving it guessing one final time. Whether we see Downie and/or The Tragically Hip in any fashion again remains to be seen, but for one night he and the band had received a farewell of unconditional love. For once, the recipient of this eulogy was on hand to know just how loved they are.

Pirates

“Who’ll make his mark,” the captain cried
“To the devil drink a toast
We’ll glut the hold with cups of gold
We’ll feed the sea with ghosts
I see your hunger for a fortune
Could be better served beneath my flag
If you’ve the stomach for a broadside
Come aboard my pretty boys
I will take you and make you
Everything you’ve ever dreamed”

“Make fast the guns! Tonight we sail
When the high tide floods the bay
Cut free the lines and square the yards
Get the black flag stowed away
The Turk, the Arab, and the Spaniard
Will soon have pennies on their eyes
And any other laden fancy
We will take her by surprise
I will take you and make you
Everything you’ve ever dreamed”

Some posts back, I referenced Billy Smiley (Whiteheart, The Union Of Sinners and Saints) lamenting storytelling’s increasing exclusion from current Christian music. It is curious how so much of Scripture involves both storytelling and telling of stories, yet both are routinely avoided by today’s songwriters. Parables, allegories, and even the rich poetic language of traditional hymns are rare commodities indeed.

It is not solely Christian music where this dearth of depth can be found. Today’s pop music is conveyor belt fan fodder, autotuned vocals layered atop virtual instruments without soul or satisfaction for anyone wanting more than disposable, valueless mass tuneage. There has always been an element of purposeless fluff in commercial music, but today it is a flood drowning any and all efforts to keep creativity alive. Bands like The Hyperdrive Kittens face a fierce struggle to find an audience.

Six days off the Cuban coast when a sail ahead they spied
“A galleon of the treasure fleet,” the mizzen lookout cried
“Closer to the wind my boys,” the mad-eyed captain roared
“For every man that’s alive tonight will be hauling gold aboard”

“Spare us,” the galleon begged but mercy’s face had fled
Blood ran from the screaming souls the cutlass harvested
Driven to the quarterdeck the last survivor fell
“She’s ours my boys,” the captain grinned “and no one left to tell”

In the face of this dreary plastic onslaught, it should be no surprise that catalog releases now outsell new music. Latter day fans are accustomed to streaming everything and buying nothing. One time, a number one album could be expected to sell 300,000 or more copies in a week riding atop the charts. Now it is 30,000 or less. Older fans value music as art; something to cherish and collect so it can be savored time and again.

Which brings us to Emerson Lake and Palmer’s The Anthology.

The captain rose from a silk divan
With a pistol in his fist
And shot the lock from an iron box
And a blood red ruby kissed
“I give you jewellery of turquoise
A crucifix of solid gold
One hundred thousand silver pieces
It is just as I foretold
You … you see there before you
Everything you’ve ever dreamed”

Anchored in an indigo moonlit bay
Gold-eyed ‘round fires the sea thieves lay
Morning … white shells and a pipe of clay
As the wind filled their footsteps
They were far far away

Some information for the uninitiated. Emerson Lake and Palmer was one of the leading purveyors of a genre known as progressive rock. First heard in the latter part of the 1960s, as created by bands such as Procol Harum and King Crimson progressive rock was an effort to stretch rock‘n’roll past its blues roots by incorporating more adventuresome, experimental elements. This ofttimes meant bringing both jazz-flavored improvisational and classical music notions into the mix. In lesser hands this quickly devolved into unlistenable, self-indulgent drek. But when the artists knew what they were doing … well, you had the likes of Emerson Lake and Palmer.

Keith Emerson was that rarity among childhood prodigies, namely one whose artistic development did not end once they had reached adulthood. Equally well versed in classic R&B, multiple flavors of jazz, and classical with a bent toward contemporary composers, while not the first rock‘n’roller to have keyboards rather than guitar as a band’s focus Emerson took it to a level both musically and visually far beyond Jerry Lee Lewis’ kicking over the piano stool. His ritualistic Hammond organ abuse, including shoving daggers into the keyboard, was as much Emerson’s known quality as his ferocious playing, compositions and improvisational stretches alike overflowing with creative fire channeled through breathtaking virtuoso skill. He was the Jimi Hendrix of the keys, never so far removed from the known as to be unapproachable yet inventing something altogether new. After first coming to public attention with The Nice, Emerson decided to take it to the next level by working with artists at or near his own level. Bassist/vocalist/occasional guitarist Greg Lake, fresh from King Crimson’s first incarnation, and drummer/percussionist Carl Palmer from experimental band Atomic Rooster were just the ticket, and thus Emerson Lake and Palmer was born.

Our sails swell full as we brave all seas
On a westward wind to live as we please
With the wicked wild-eyed woman of Portobello town
Where we’ve been told that a purse of gold
Buys many man a crown
They will serve you and clothe you
Exchange your rags for the velvet coats of kings

“Who’ll drink a toast with me
“I give you liberty
“This town is ours tonight”

Emerson Lake and Palmer found near-instantaneous success worldwide. In the United States, all of its studio albums save its last went gold (more than 500,000 copies sold), as did two live albums. The band routinely packed arenas and stadiums. Its music filled the FM airwaves. The early and mid 1970s were the band’s glory years, and even after fervor cooled as times and tastes changed, Emerson Lake and Palmer retained a large core of devoted fans.

“Landlord, wine! Make it the finest
“Make it a cup for a seadog’s thirst
“Two long years of bones and beaches
“Fever and leeches did their worst
“So fill the night with paradise
“Bring me peach and peacock till I burst
“But first
“I want a soft touch in the right place
“I want to feel like a king tonight”

“Ten on the black to beat the Frenchman
“Back you dogs give ‘em room to turn
“Now open wide sweet Heaven’s gates
“Tonight we’re gonna see if Heaven burns
“See how she burns
“Oh she burns
“I want an angel on a gold chain
“And I’ll ride her to the stars
“It’s the last time for a long long time
“Come the daybreak we embark
“On the flood of the morning tide”
Once more the ocean cried

As is far more often than not the case with bands from its era, Emerson Lake and Palmer has seen its music repackaged and resold at a ridiculous pace over the years. Late last year, the announcement came of yet another series of reissued albums, this time with the band’s official blessing and participation. Individual albums would be remastered and also remixed, the latter effort being resumed after an abortive effort a few years back by Steven Wilson was dropped when, after having done the first two albums in the catalog, he admitted he simply was not sufficiently into the band’s music to continue. Tragically, Emerson would not see these loving preservations come to fruition; depressed over his deteriorating playing skills and the venom spat in his direction by alleged fans unwilling to forgive Emerson’s growing old, he took his life in March of this year.

As part of the project, a three CD compilation was assembled and released a few weeks ago. Given the plethora of Emerson Lake and Palmer compilations already out there – at least ten – whether anyone needs yet another one is highly debatable. However, given how this one draws all materials from the newly remastered series, not all of which have yet to be released, it warrants attention for this alone.

So how does it serve as an overview of the band’s recorded output? Sonically it is breathtaking. The subtleties, the dynamics, of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s music have never sounded better. It is easy to forget these recording are for the most part more than forty years old. The music breathes and lives, not as a simple nostalgia trip but a brilliant example of musicians turning their full force toward creating something both new and noteworthy. On this level The Anthology admirably succeeds.

Alas, the musical selections themselves in terms of best representing the band are decidedly hit and miss. It is admittedly impossible to assemble any kind of musical anthology by any name (collection, sampler, greatest hits, etc) and please everyone. There will always be cries of “how could you have left out” and “how could you have included this instead of that” and “why did you use that version of,” and so on. This duly noted, there are some puzzlers in this collection. Including both a live version and the studio version of ‘Toccata,’ originally from Brain Salad Surgery, when the two are nearly identical makes little sense. There are too many tracks from side two of Tarkus, which was not the band’s greatest moment, and omitting ‘Black Moon’ from the album of the same name is just plain odd given how it was a not unsubstantial radio hit.

“This company will return one day
“Though we feel your tears it’s the price we pay
“For there’s prizes to be taken and glory to be found
“Cut free the chains make fast your souls
“We are Eldorado bound
“I will take you for always forever together
“Until Hell call our names”

“Who’ll drink a toast with me
“To the devil and the deep blue sea”
Gold drives a man to dream

It is no more logical to expect the average Rhianna or Ed Sheeran fan to understand, let alone appreciate, Emerson Lake and Palmer than it was to have expected the average Carpenters or John Denver fan to have understood and/or appreciated Emerson Lake and Palmer back in its heyday. This is as it should be. There was a time when artists made music for music’s sake. If an audience chose to follow all the merrier; this was a byproduct rather than the sole objective. There will never be another Emerson Lake and Palmer. But, once there was, and we are all the better for it.

(Song lyrics from ‘Pirates’ by Emerson Lake and Palmer from the album Works Volume One)

Out Of The Grey’s “A Little Light Left” brilliantly shines

I’m not sure when it changed, but in the past few years I’ve noticed more “my kid(s) is/are back in school” social media posts in mid- and even early August. Whatever happened to school starting back up in early September? Apparently that has gone the way of having to have gotten off the couch and walked across the shag carpet to turn a knob if you wanted to watch a different television channel. Or, as they were known in the murky past, stations. But I digress.

Understandably accompanying said posts are parental musings combining justified pride at their children’s accomplishments and wondering aloud who knows where the time goes. The child seen seemingly yesterday playing in the back yard is now packing books for high school or packing the car for college. The nights are long, but the years are short when you’re alive. Where did my baby boy or girl go?

Enter Out Of The Grey. When the husband and wife combo of Scott and Christine Dente first emerged in the early ‘90s Christian music scene, they were noticeable for their sophisticated adult rock style and being the most ridiculously good looking couple working in the genre. After more than a decade away from it all, the Dentes returned last year with the crowdsourcing funded A Little Light Left. For some inexplicable reason I neglected to review this gem when it first arrived. Hopefully this belated commentary will make amends.

Leaving artists to their own devices can be a dangerous thing. Some need an outside guiding hand to steer them in the right direction and/or challenge them to do their best. This duly noted, some artists thrive when serving as chef, cook, and bottle washer. The Dentes are most definitely in the latter camp. Freed from commercial concerns, they have woven a truly magical musical carpet of acoustic sunrise rock; sparse, precinct textures atop the foundation of Scott Dente’s understated acoustic guitar mastery. The sound is relaxed without slipping into lazy complacency, topped by Christine Dente’s sweet, heartfelt vocals with occasional effective accompaniment by her husband. If their vocal blend on “Giving Up Slow” doesn’t grab your heart in all the right ways, you’re doing it wrong.

The years have not dulled Out Of The Grey’s songwriting skills. Melodies are pure and comforting, backed with inventive structures and arrangement. Everything makes sense; nothing is included for the sake of ‘because we can.’ The Dentes understand that less is more without always stripping everything raw for “authenticity’s” sake. A Little Light Left makes no apologies for being warm and approachable without pandering to the lowest common pop denominator.

Lyrically, A Little Light Left addresses the concerns of middle age as seen through the eyes of faith. In the Dente’s word pictures, relationships deepen and mature as time passes. Children grow up regardless of wishes for all to somehow remain the same, as expressed with simple love in “Bubble Girl”:

And what she don’t know, she don’t know
And what she’s going to find, she’s going to find
Tell her for me to take her time
Take her time

Every parent of a daughter can relate.

On all fronts, A Little Light Left is a superb album. It touches heart, mind, and soul without heavy-handedness or cheap emotional manipulation. The album gracefully, skillfully reassures its listeners that they are not alone in simultaneously enjoying the passing days and wishing that somehow once in a while time would remain fixed at a single moment of joy. And for the record, the Dentes are still a ridiculously good looking couple making equally ridiculously great music.

The album is available at the Dente’s website, CD Baby, Amazon, and iTunes.

Daniel Amos’ “Doppelgänger” still twice as good as most everything else

Daniel Amos has made Doppelgänger, its 1983 album and second part of The ¡Alarma! Chronicles quartet of albums, available on its Bandcamp site. Any reason to talk about Daniel Amos is worth seizing, but this news makes it all the easier to discuss this brilliant outing that still speaks with power thirty-three years after its release.

Doppelgänger rocks a bit harder than its predecessor ¡Alarma!, the album on which Daniel Amos made the full transition from country rock to what was then called new wave. While Doppelgänger retains much of ¡Alarma!’s nervous, quirky energy, it also is far more at peace with itself. Terry Taylor and company took full advantage of having previously clearly establishing their musical direction, not hesitating to include relatively straightforward rockers such as “Memory Lane” and “Little Crosses” alongside somewhat heavier variations on existing new wave stylings in the presence of “Mall (All Over The World)” and the album’s best track “The Double.” Combining this with faint but unmistakable strains of the band’s original Beach Boys meets Bakersfield country vibe, Doppelgänger manages the rare feat of being both eminently danceable and melodically memorable.

Lyrically, Doppelgänger moves gracefully, if not delicately, between introspection and sarcasm aimed at the rampant materialism and false piety that permeated the world of then-popular television evangelists. This makes some of the references dated, but the bite is clear even to those who have no memory of The PTL Club and variations thereof. Terry Taylor has long been Christian rock’s thinking man, and his resulting skill in dissecting hypocrisy while not sparing himself the same critical examination through, as he would later write, the tired eyes of faith makes Doppelgänger as much a challenging feast for the mind as it is a dancing call to the feet.

Doppelgänger was a revelation when it was released; the album a Christian could take to his or her non-believing rocker friends that proved Christians could make great cutting edge rock‘n’roll. It was and is a child of its time, yet after a quarter of a century Doppelgänger is still twice as good as most everything else out there.

Kemper Crabb explains how speaking the truth in love equals speaking truth and love

As the world sinks further into madness, seldom in history has humanity’s need for truth and love been more apparent. In this part of my ongoing interview with Kemper Crabb, minister, usician, and author of Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church, discusses how speaking the truth and speaking in love are not incompatible. Actually, the two are essential.

 

The book is not an easy read, which as you stated in it is the intention. It is designed to shake up the reader. Yet the book also inspires, pointing out the living riches promised the believer who acts upon the Scriptural dictates you highlight. It is reminiscent of Christ’s mix of exhortational and comfort – “carry your cross; deny yourself; anyone who loves their family more than Me is not worthy of Me” alongside “My yoke is easy and My burden light.” How do you, as a minister, balance the two?

O.K., well, you’re absolutely right to say that Jesus’ Message brought both warning (or exhortation, as you said) and comfort. In some ways, these two categories are just two sides of the same thing seen from slightly different perspectives. Context, of course, is always important though many of us are not used to seeing Scriptural passages in context because the largely topical approach of consumer-oriented methods generally cherry-picks passages to emphasize a particular point. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I think topical preaching is bad. I don’t; though I do think that there’s a paucity of real exegetical, verse-by-verse teaching going on in the churches at this time. But I digress.

You mentioned a couple of examples of exhortational teaching on Jesus’ Part: Matthew 16:24 (or maybe the parallel passages in Mark 8:34 or Luke 9:23) where Jesus tells His Disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” But then Jesus goes on to give this statement its sort of motivational context in verse 25: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My Sake will find it.” This follows in all three of the Synoptic Gospels just the same. You could even have included Jesus’ Warning in Matthew 10:38 about this: “And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me,” which is smack-dab in the middle of the other warning passage you quoted, Matthew 10:38, part of a larger passage in Matthew 10:32-39 (which, providentially, I preached on just last week).

The passage in Matthew 10 is the one where Jesus says He didn’t come to bring peace, but rather a sword (verse 34) and to “set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (verses 35-36), following which He says in verse 37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me,” after which Jesus says that whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Him is not worthy of Him.

All of this, of course, seems very dire and downer-ish, and in many ways it is. But Jesus, again, gives the passage its context when, in verses 32 and 33, just before what I’ve quoted here, He tells us: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father Who is in Heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father Who is in Heaven.” This whole passage here is about primary, fundamental identification with Christ Jesus as both our Source and Redeemer; as the God Whose Will and Path are the very reason for our existence. We are not to be confused as to what our ultimate source and reason for being is, and our families are only our proximate sources and secondary reasons for being. If we confuse the ultimate and the proximate here (even here, where our families are generally massively central and important to us), we commit idolatry; we make our family members idols.

And, of course, back in Jesus’ Time even as now, family members frequently demand primary loyalties above anything else, even if their demand interferes with God’s Demands. This was especially true in New Testament times (as it still is in more traditional societies) where familial loyalty is seen as THE primary loyalty.

But, as Jesus teaches here, we cannot put those loves or loyalties, good as they may be in most cases, above our love and loyalty to Jesus. To do so is to deny Him, and to in turn be denied His Loyalty before the Father. This is a dire situation because we live, outside of a primary relationship with Christ, under the Condemnation and Wrath of God, as Jesus tells us in John 3, verses 18-20 and in verse 36. This is a miserable situation, which Paul talks about in Ephesians 2:1-3 where he describes the life of those outside of a relationship with Christ, as we all once were, as being “dead in trespasses and sins,” and “by nature children of wrath,” and, in Ephesians 4:17-19, as living with darkened understanding in the futility of our minds. Worse, to end life outside of a relationship with Christ causes you to be condemned to an eternity of torment separated from the Goodness of God in Hell (Revelation 20:11-15). A dire situation indeed.

This life of darkened futility and death as a result of humanity’s rebellion and Fall has bent us so that we naturally want to be our own standard of meaning. Truth is the “self:” our own self-referential darkness which leads us to value family, or our own desires, or our own futile plans to save our own lives above losing our own self-referential life for Jesus’ Sake so that He can truly save our lives (Matthew 16:25).

When Jesus says to take up our cross and follow Him, He is demanding that we do as He did: put aside our preferences and wishes and do instead what we are intended by God to do in the first place: His Desires, Intentions, and Plans, just as Jesus did by going to the Cross to die as a sacrifice for our sins (Philippians 2:4-10; Matthew 26:37-44). Further, the Command to take up our cross reminds us that the only way we can be free of our darkened, futile selves is to be joined by faith to the Sacrifice of Christ for us on the Cross (Romans 6:3-14; Colossians 2:10-14).

The Church has always seen this Demand of Jesus as a reference both to justification and sanctification, to being initially saved or redeemed by the imputation of Jesus’ Righteousness to us in our identification with Him by God (justification) as well as the subsequent path to being renewed more fully into the Image of Christ by the ongoing exercise of putting the Lord’s Will above our own (sanctification).

We should see these demands in Matthew 10 and 16 as being driven by God’s Love for us urging us away from a life of death and darkened futility toward one of renewal and joy. Life outside of a relationship with the Lord Jesus is living death and onerous struggle and darkened futility. By contrast, life in relationship to Christ is unbelievably better. This is the context for what Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My Yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am Gentle and Lowly of Heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My Yoke is easy and My Burden is light.”

You’ll note that there is still a yoke and a burden to be borne, though comparatively easy and light ones since the alternative, as we’ve seen, is futility, death, and darkness. This would also likely have been a liberating concept to those Jews who were attempting to earn their salvation by keeping the Law, which to make the situation even worse (if possible) they tended to confuse with the traditions of men, as Mark 7:6-13 illustrates.

This, again, shows the Compassion and Love of God. To my mind, these two poles, exhortation (or warning) and comfort, are better understood as truth and love. And, in some ways, these poles interpenetrate each other. Jesus tells the truth because He loves, and He loves motivated by compassion in light of the truth of mankind’s plight.

To some extent, these same poles of concern are reflected in Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:15 that we should be “speaking the truth in love.” This verse comes in a larger passage whose context speaks about believers helping the whole Body of Christ to mature and grow up into the measure of the stature of the Fullness of Christ (verse 13). As an aside, in Liberation Front I address the fact that today’s American churches are largely split into truth- or love-oriented churches: doctrine with little compassion or compassion with no content.

We are, as believers, to emulate Jesus’ Example of speaking the truth in love: of offering, as two sides of the same message, both exhortation and comfort; truth and love. And, necessarily, we have to live in light of that same message, putting aside by the Spirit’s Power our own Fallen ideas and desires to adopt and practice Jesus’ Ideas and Desires, and thus experience Jesus’ comparatively easy Burden and light Yoke.

This is the responsibility and privilege of every believer. Every believer has this challenge. As a minister, I’m part of the servant-priesthood called to serve the Royal Priesthood of all believers, as Christians are described by Peter in 1 Peter 2:9. My responsibility is to be an example to others (2 Thessalonians 3:9; 1 Timothy 4:12), and though I all too frequently fail at this task, I do make it a subject of present concern to myself to do so, and to keep the Example of Jesus in my mind, praying that the Holy Spirit will help me be the example I ought to be. That is not, of course, always easy to do, as I’m sure every believer knows.

These days, in our self-obsessed victim-culture, to express the truth of the human predicament, or to speak out critically about the state of the Church, is to frequently be seen as unloving or judgmental since people easily get their feelings hurt, or experience guilt or shame, in light of the truth of God’s Word being taught. Love demands, however, that truth be spoken, or risk that for the sake of avoiding some hurt feelings someone perish forever or fail to be as free in Christ as they could be. It hasn’t always been this way. There have been periods of time when the truth was callously laid out with no regard for the affective aspects of mankind. Our present situation is an overreaction to one of those periods. But this can’t ultimately affect my responsibility as a minister (or any believer’s responsibility) to, in a balanced fashion, speak the truth in love.

Oden Fong’s “Invisible Man” makes a welcome reappearance

By 1986, when Oden Fong released his second solo album Invisible Man, several changes has transformed the 1970s Orange County revival’s music movement of which he was such an intregal member, both as a member of Mustard Seed Faith and as a solo artist. Calvary Chapel Santa Ana had shut down Maranatha Music except for its über soft pop praise music releases, the Saturday night concerts hosted by the church were no more, and radio station KYMS, which had previously championed local artists, had switched to a mainstream label artists only format and would soon go away altogether. The support network was crumbling, and the future was decidedly uncertain.

Enter Invisible Man. Originally released on the Frontline label and now once again available through Fong’s Bandcamp page, regarding its creation he comments:

This album I recorded mostly at home with an 8 track recorder synced to a Linn 9000 drum/midi computer. Purely experimental, it is a notebook of thoughts and ideas I had at the time. All guitar parts were played though a tiny Rockman preamp. The drums, keyboards and bass were all programmed with midi. The only tracks recorded onto tape were the vocals, guitars and saxophone. This is why the album sounds more like a demo than a studio album.

Fong’s disclaimer notwithstanding, it is this somewhat unfinished element that gives Invisible Man a great deal of its musical charm. The album is unmistakably 80s flavored with its synthesizer riffs and drum machine, yet the sparse sound and rough edges provided by not being a polished product rescue the album from being a machine music outing typical of the time period (and today, for that matter). That, and Fong’s songwriting skill. His gift for hooks and melody shines throughout.

Lyrically, Invisible Man is aimed more at discipling believers than evangelistic outreach. There is a fair amount of bite in tunes such as “Joker In An Age Of Fools” and “Faith:Action” which find Fong admonishing fellow Christians to practice that about which they have heard preached. The album is far more Keith Green than kid gloves; challenging and at times confrontational.

Invisible Man tends to be the most overlooked item in Fong’s catalog. It ought not to be. No, it is not the lofty masterpiece that is Come For The Children, nor is it the Mustard Seed Faith melodic roots evangelism bringing back memories of the days when it all shone with the bright flame of newfound faith. Nevertheless, Invisible Man is a fine album more than deserving a listen, and its being available again is a blessing.