Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Music Hath Charms

As my Christmas gift to you all I want to suggest 5 musical masterpieces you can add to your collection to enjoy in 2009. I am always wrapped in wonderment when I consider how blessed we are to be able to enjoy the creative miracles God offers us through people He has made with the skills to create joy from sound. It is even more wonderful that we have the ability to preserve and recreate these experiences through recorded music. As the Bard of Avon observed, music does have charms. In no particular order here are my suggestions:

Kathleen Edwards - Asking for Flowers - Zoƫ Records, MRCD 6487; 2008. Since her debut record Failer in 2002 Kathleen, native of Ottawa, has been a busy girl - releasing two more studio albums, a live record, touring extensively and appearing on Austin City Limits just to name a few of her exploits. This 2008 release was recorded in California with excellent players including her husband, Colin Cripps (who works regularly for Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo). This is easily Kathleen's most polished album, with superb lyrics, captivating melodies, catchy hooks and deft production. It's rootsy, country, rocky and raw in places (her publishing company is called "Potty Mouth Records"). In any case it has been in medium/high rotation on my playlist ever since I brought it home.

Maroon 5 - It Won't Be Soon Before Long - A&M / Octone, B000891702; 2007. Loads poppier than their more introspective 2002 debut, Songs About Jane, Maroon 5 appear to have hit their songwriting stride full force. I admit that I bought this one for one song - Makes Me Wonder - and then sort of forgot about it until I heard Won't Go Home Without You on the radio last week. I pulled out the CD and gave it another listen and lo and behold 5 tracks knocked me out. If the band and their A & R people are smart they'll release Not Falling Apart next on the radio. We're gonna be hearing more from these boys.

Dala are Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther from Ontario. We heard them live at "Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe Christmas - 2008" and bought a copy of their latest album - Who Do You Think You Are? - Universal Music Canada, 0251741144; 2008. I don't have the ability to describe their inimitable harmony, but once you hear them you'll understand. They also are superb songwriters and consummate musicians - and they're pretty young so we can hope for more - much, much more - from them in the years to come. Check out their tune Marilyn Monroe and then fall under their spell. Canada is producing some of the most talented musicians to be found anywhere.

Prairie Oyster has been plying their country/blues/roots trade across Canada in one form or another since 1974. Their most recent album, One Kiss - Open Road Canada / Zoom, 7210; 2006, is a tour de force of their collective abilities, which are greater than the mere sum of their parts. Founding member, Russell deCarle is getting ready to release a solo album in 2009. I didn't own any Prairie Oyster albums until this month. That was a mistake, but One Kiss is gracious redemption. Since the advent of the CD I have found that I very rarely listen to an album all the way through (unless I'm mining my vinyl collection), but I sat through this CD and didn't ONCE want to hit the skip button. I believe you won't want to skip one tune either.

My friend Ben loves music and, like many of us I suspect, has issues with Christmas music. While I agree that most of the Christmas stuff that gets pushed at us this time of year is musical dreck of the lowest order, there are a few recordings that can transcend the commercial hype and bring true enjoyment and emotion. The self-produced album Polyhymnia by Canada's own John Sheard is one of these few gems. Because it is a bit hard to find I've included a link to help you. John may be Canada's most accomplished pianist, albeit not that well known. We discovered him through Stuart McLean as John has been the musical director for the live shows we've seen Stuart in, and also collaborates with Stuart on his weekly radio program on CBC (one of the few redeeming programs on our erstwhile Canadian radio network). Polyhymnia is a collection of 16 hymns and carols, brilliantly arranged and played by John. The recording quality is also uniformly superb. If this CD can't get you in the Christmas mood then check yourself in the mirror for physical resemblances to the Grinch.

I could offer 5 more albums, and then 5 more and 5 more after that for your consideration, but these must suffice (I have other things to do). Try one or two out, I urge you. Music is a great gift from God and a wonderful gift to enjoy at this time of year or whenever.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Last Post (Probably) for 2008 - Advent & Christmastide

The Holiday season is washing over everyone I know with tsunami-like vengeance, and in the midst of the most unsettled days of my brief life since the days of Cuban Missile Crisis, it is hard to get one's bearings, let alone maintain them.

Recent events in our extended family have intersected our plans and created new ones. I won't have enough time to even post at my usually infrequent "whenever I get around to it" rate. Thankfully, according to my Sat Counter widget, I am remaining fairly true to my mission and tagline (writing for an audience of one, reaching even fewer) so I am confident that I am not disappointing a large number of my fellow pilgrims. Still, I know there are a few of you out there so this message is for you.

This season is supposedly tied in some comically and warped human way to one of the greatest events in human history and the "greatest story ever told". Sadly, but not surprisingly, we have warped and marred the meaning of this event almost beyond recognition. Almost.

We are in the season of Advent right now as recognized by followers of Christ since around the 5th or 6th century, perhaps as a balance to the growing observance of Christmas - which was a converted pagan festival - that also began around those times. Regardless of either celebration's genesis, we have what we have today, but we also have choice too.

I hope you will choose to slow down and take time to cultivate holy anticipation this Advent season - anticipation being a lost and even scorned practice in our culture of instant gratification. I even saw an ad recently for a product that purports to help make the sex act happen faster, for those who don't have time to savor the moment, I guess. Things really are getting weird out there. Anyway, I will pray that you can wait in anticipation for what God is and will be doing. And then, may you enter Christmastide (all 12 days of it) with joy, vigor and wonder. Again, having a 12-day feast to celebrate requires a bit of pacing and self-control as opposed to a one-day, all-out, over-indulgent, food-and-football-fueled Bacchanalia. Besides, what good is a celebration that you have to recover from? You'd have to recover from hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, and that would be cheaper than the usual Christmas blowout we usually get sucked into.

Now before you think we're not going to give and receive presents this year, or eat, or celebrate - let me say that I suspect that our events will look much like they do every year, but we are working to change the spirit and intention of these proceedings an ways that we pray will flow out into new appreciations and possibilities in our lives. Here's one example:

Being nearly 50 means that there really isn't anything much out there I need anymore (except increasingly excellent health care coverage). So two years ago my family bought some gifts for me from World Vision. And they did again last year. I don't know if they will again this year, but we have already agreed to use half of the "love gift" we get from the church I serve to buy what we can from World Vision. We have been gifted for years. Time to give back. Gift-giving is a GOOD part of this season if we work to keep God's perspective in view.

We will be spending some time with distant family and for reasons one might not think are worthy of celebrating, but we are committed to celebrating with them while we are together. Often at this time of year circumstances conflict with peoples Dickensian fantasies of what should be happening, but we are praying we will be able to truly "give thanks in all circumstances". God doesn't stop being gracious and abounding in love just because human sin and its consequences intersect our plans.

We are going to celebrate Christmastide. I'm not just certain how, but we will and we will include as many others as we can. Why not stretch the season, even in little ways? As many have observed, "it's a shame we act like this only one day a year".

To you few who read these ramblings from time to time, I send our heartfelt greetings of love, peace and joy in the name of Christ Jesus. Whether or not our beliefs agree, we cannot deny that we stand on the same earth and walk under the same sky and share the same ultimate human fate. You are our brothers and sisters and we pray for you, even if we don't know you well.

May the Lord Bless you and Keep you.
May He make His Face shine upon you.
May He lift up His Countenance upon you
and give you His Everlasting Peace.