Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
Music sinks into me differently than books or movies. I’m very picky with it, and prone to listen to one thing over and over again rather than gobbling up lots of different music. I treat music like I treat menus: if I know I’m going to like the chicken chimichanga, why order something else?
So rather than provide you with a straight-up list of favorite albums (I doubt I could come up with ten new albums that I’ve listened to this year), I’m going to list some of my favorite musical moments of 2007, in no particular order.
James Taylor, One Man Band.
James Taylor is one of the Great Ones in the world of songwriting. I’ve seen him live one other time, and I’ve watched his DVDs with awe, not just at how good he is at what he does, but how good his band is. He’s played with basically the same band for years and years, and they sound like it. When I heard that he’d be at the Ryman with naught but his guitar and a piano player, I bought tickets immediately. I wanted to see how well one of the Great Ones could pull off a show without all the bells and whistles. It was remarkable. His playing is so nuanced and solid, and of course his voice is nearly flawless live–but to my surprise there were still bells and whistles, and they were part of what made the show so good.
During the songs movies played on a screen behind him, old films from his childhood with pumpkins and bicycles and images that fit the nostalgic vibe of songs like “Copperline” and “Walking Man”; he told stories about old songs and showed pictures of some of the people who inspired them; once he played along with a pre-recorded virtual choir. Brilliant. I walked out of there humbled and fired up about finding ways to make my own shows better.
Playing the Waterdeep song on the Christmas tour
Don and Lori Chaffer of Waterdeep fame came to our Christmas show in Kansas City and we surprised them with a cover of a song called “I’m Still Here”. It reminded me how good Waterdeep was/is, and was a sweet-spirited way for everyone on the tour to honor Don and Lori.
Hearing Allen Levi play
Again, on the Christmas tour this year. When we were in Birmingham a kind southern gentleman named Allen Levi, who’s written more songs than I’ve eaten cheeseburgers, obliged our request to join us in the round. He played a song about Santa being set up at the mall right next to Victoria’s Secret, how they’re both dressed in their best red and white, making promises of endless delight that they can’t keep. It was nothing short of amazing to see the way he took that adult topic and charmed the audience (and all of us on the stage) in a way that not only got a lot of laughs but warmed us and reminded us of the truth. Thank you, Allan.
The Weepies, Say I Am You
My favorite discovery of last year. I first heard the Weepies during a game of WePod, in which everybody in the van takes turns picking a song that matches the chosen topic. I don’t remember what the topic was, but Ben’s friend Emmett played “Take It From Me” and I was a goner. Great songs, and a sweet, happy sound. Favorite songs, in case you want to take my word for it on iTunes: “Take It From Me”, “Stars”, “Gotta Have You”.
Ben’s been listening to this band for years, so I had heard bits and pieces. I finally bought Rabbit Songs and am glad I did. My favorite songs: “Sailor” and “Leave Me Here”. Oh, man.
Fernando Ortega, In the Shadow of Your Wings
I can’t recommend this record highly enough. Fernando’s put out a lot of excellent records, but something special happened with this one. Recorded by the great Gary Paczosa (Alison Krauss, Mindy Smith, Nickel Creek–ahem–Andrew Peterson), this album is intimate, grand, and beautiful. It’s the first thing I play on Sunday mornings, and just yesterday I jogged to it (which I realize is weird in light of its mellowness) at sunset here at the Warren and was so moved that my eyes watered. Every song is a winner, so just go ahead and get the whole thing.
The Door, Jill Phillips
Jill’s Nobody’s Got it all Together came out last year. It’s an excellent album, and I’m not just saying that because of the stellar BGVs on the song “Square Peg”. The last song on the record, “The Door”, has long been one of my favorites, but I remember listening to it on a long drive with my family a few weeks ago and being nearly overcome by it. Hearing Jill’s voice belt out that last chorus knocks me out every time. But don’t stop there. The whole record is great.
Randall Goodgame at the Army base
I had a very patriotic year. We got to see the shuttle take off (did I mention that Pat Forrester, the mission specialist, brought some of my records up with him? I will never stop finding ways to insert that fact into conversations), Ben and I played for the White House Christian Fellowship, and Goodgame and I played at a U.S. Army base in the Carolinas. I loved having the opportunity to play for the troops, but I found out pretty quickly that without a band, my music doesn’t exactly…groove. Goodgame on the other hand? He’s not afraid to channel his inner soul singer. The troops listened with barely disguised apathy to my songs, but when Goodgame stepped up to the mic to sing “Army of Angels”, or “Susan Coats’s Pants”, or “Sweet Aileen”, the crowd basically went nuts. His music brought such light and joy into these weary soldiers’ faces I just stood there in awe. I’m so thankful to have had the chance to play for those men and women, and thankful that they didn’t heckle me off the stage. I’m also thankful to call Goodgame a friend, what with that inner jive daddy knocking around inside him.
Skye singing “Over the Rainbow”
My daughter fell in love with Dorothy this year. Here’s a link to a YouTube video of her being all cutesy.
Alison Krauss and Union Station Live
Thanks to Ron Block my wife and I were able to see one of the best bands of our time play at the arena here in Nashville. They’re a remarkable band, equally talented across the board, and you’ll love them whether or not you’re a country/bluegrass fan. Great music is great music. Alison sings a song on her newest record called “Country Boy” that makes me convulse every time I hear it.
Ben Shive Concert
Jill and Andy Gullahorn planned a special Ben Shive Solo Concert for the last day of the Christmas tour. After soundcheck the whole tour sat on the front pews of the empty auditorium and forced Ben to play a sampling of his songs. It was staggering to hear how many great–great–songs he’s written. One after another he played, and we kept thinking of and requesting more. Hopefully this is the year his record will be finished.
We had a great tour in Sweden last Spring, accompanied by Erik Tilling and a rascally pianist named Hektor. Erik’s gentle spirit and great musicianship was a huge relief to us, because we knew we would be doing a week of shows that would’ve felt like a month had his music been lame. At one show someone translated his songs to me quietly as he sang, and the lyrics were potent and simple and full of truth.
The Finn Brothers/Neil Finn
I’ve been told by basically all my friends that I should listen to Neil Finn (of Crowded House fame). Finally I succumbed, and was glad. Two songs, in case you’re visiting iTunes: “Won’t Give In” by the Finn Brothers, and “She Will Have Her Way” by Neil Finn.
The Innocence Mission
Their hymns record is beautiful. It plays right after Fernando on Sunday mornings. Their new record, which I don’t know nearly as well yet, was reviewed in the Rabbit Room here.
Jeremy Casella, RCVRY
I was so proud of Jeremy when I heard this record. It sounds like he came into his own on this melodic, artful album.
Paul Simon, Surprise
In the liner notes it says, “Produced by Paul Simon. Sonic Landscape by Brian Eno.” When I read that I rolled my eyes. “What the heck is a ‘sonic landscape’?” I grumbled. But then I listened to the album and had to admit that, well, there was a sonic landscape. I hope I’m making music half this cool and thoughtful when I’m 107 years old. Seriously, though, whether or not you agree with Simon’s take on things, he has made another musically beautiful album full of songs that actually say something.
Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason
I’m just including this one because I recently found it in a bargain bin and listened to it for the first time since high school. I loved, loved this album–long, beautiful, guitar solos, creepy-cool sounds, and one of the best album covers, ever. I distinctly remember listening to this record while lying on my bed with the shelf speakers on either side of my head, geeking out at the, uh, sonic landscape.
Andy Gullahorn, Reinventing the Wheel
Of course I have to include the other Captain Courageous. Andy G’s best record to date, with songs that make me seriously consider quitting this whole songwriting sham I have going.
Jason Gray, All the Lovely Losers
Jason is great at what he does. He tells a whopper of a story, is gentle of spirit and wise, has a great singing voice, and thinks deeply and carefully about his ministry. It has been a thrill seeing my kids singing his music in our house lately, right along with George Harrison and Rich Mullins. If you haven’t yet listened to Jason’s music, be sure and check out his newest record.
I’m running out of steam here. But I have to also mention Sara Groves’s huge part in the Christmas tour this year, and how moving her songs were to me every night. The same could be said of Andrew Osenga. Not to mention the great times I had on the road with Michael Card, or playing “The Howling” at the Rich Mullins tribute concert.
As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.