Thursday, December 31, 2020

Just released a new instrumental CD called "Just," just before the turn of the year.

 



Here is a link to the whole catalog of seven records.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

It was 2500 years ago today ...

Well, maybe today (if you reckon by Julian), but certainly it was 2500 years ago this year, that the prophecies of Haggai (and some to Zechariah) were revealed. Especially interesting to me are the final two prophecies of Haggai (2:10-19 and 2:19-end), both dated 24 Kislev. 

The first of these two speaks of this day— prior to which provisions were always turning out to be shorter and more depleted than expected because the people would not "return to" the Lord, but after which (after they returned to him) he promised: "From this day on I will bless you." (2:19).



The Great Western Road Suite (A Word of Explanation)

Why this sudden burst of musical industry? Even as avocations go, ten years of silence between projects is rather long, but twenty is (you can do the math) doubly ridiculous. But for all that 2020 has been an utterly awful year, the lockdown has afforded certain unanticipated opportunities. The absolute very least one can say about Bonhoeffer's Letters from Prison or the prison letters of Paul is that their authors made the best of a bad situation. No, this little project is not worth comparing to those towering monuments of inspiration. But such examples do have a way of poking their noses into your puny corner of the world and asking: Well, what do you, for your part, have to say? Or even: What have you been given to say?

For me, the first answer to the question was this: I have not yet done a proper recording of the three-part guitar suite that evolved during my years in seminary, and among all the keyboard sequences, guitar licks, chord progressions, and other sketchy ideas scattered about my study-o, this suite has seemed to my mind the most mature and possibly the most enduring piece I have written. Meanwhile, the occasional pangs of aging that afflict various body parts from time to time have tended to get my attention most readily when they involve the hands. So, goaded by the great sequestration of 2020, I approached what I knew would be a short summer with the aim of finally recording this suite.


I will not pretend the recording is as perfect as I would have liked. The twelve year hiatus was not lightly redeemed, not even with a year of practice, and finger strength not so quickly recovered. But with the benefit of multiple takes, I think this is a fair representation of the suite as conceived.

Over the late summer, however, I was able to find a tape and some .mp3s from two previous recordings of the same suite. The first was from a concert in 1994, when the parts of the suite (introduced under the title "Along the GWR") were scattered among other pieces (hence, there is some applause that would otherwise not interrupt the parts of a coherent whole). This one is interesting to me, since the third movement is not quite there rhythmically. The chord changes are, but the right hand had not yet fully embraced the hip-hop stroke. But it seemed far enough along at the time to use the movement to close the concert. Nothing like leaving the door ajar to say: To be continued. This third movement was very much a work in progress, so I think that explains why, in the liner notes to GWR (on the CD and in the excerpt below) I confess some uncertainty as to when exactly this piece emerged in full. I was, in fact, uncertain and that uncertainty is heard even in that recording, which was unearthed after GWR was released.

The second recording of the suite was done in the empty sanctuary of my second pastorate, in 2004, using an iTalk voice recorder attachment to a first generation iPod. In both cases, although the fidelity is lacking, there is a certain confidence to both renderings that — despite the uncertainty regarding the final form of GWR III in 1994 — argued for their preservation. For this reason, I included both previous drafts (without the benefit of overdubs or multiple takes) on Cutting Ruts: Live Tracks and Demos, which (not yet in the streaming pipeline) was released on CD in October. As I wrote to an old musicologist pal, maybe three slightly imperfect recordings, spanning 26 years, will manage to convey what one perfect, definitive performance would otherwise do.


In short, the recording and preservation of this suite has been on my bucket list for some time, but until the lockdown came to IA and the Spirit put the guitar back in my hands, I had no definite plans as to when or how to do it. 

As the pandemic has continued, of course, another word has come to mind, along with other old songs and many new things, much of which took shape in Persevere (released in September), about which I have said and may say more elsewhere.

But as for the guitar suite, and the eponymous instrumental CD that aspires to, among other things (sorry for the split infinitive), speak an encouraging word to "the West" (nothing like starting out small), let me just conclude this long post with some excerpts from the liner notes that pertain to Tracks 8—10. I will only preface this excerpt by saying how odd it is that, when it comes to a record inspired more by pastoral guitarists like Anthony Phillips and Phil Keaggy, it is strange that I must first make mention of the indirect influence of the inimitable, peculiar, and enigmatic Robert Fripp!

Track 8. I. "Setting Out"

"... The suite—or the first chord of the first movement and the same configuration (relocated by two frets) to start the second—was inspired by a photo of Robert Fripp modelling his freakishly wide hand span splayed along what seemed like the whole length of his fingerboard. The photo appeared in an edition of Guitar Player magazine, if memory serves. My response: "Well, I cannot do that, Mr. Spock of Rock, but let us see how far I can stretch." And with that I found a rather nice arpeggio lying at my fingertips, the agony notwithstanding. The piece eventually passes by way of another chord that sounds like an acoustic piece from early Crimson, maybe from Wake or Lizard. But from the opening chord, the composition, like so many others, simply unfolds according to two chief criteria: What can I possibly reach? and What sounds good next?"

Track 9. II. "The Restless and Road-weary Heart" 

"The shifted opening chord configuration has a wonderful dissonance, one that seemed very much worth juxtaposing, briefly if tortuously, with that of the first movement, and with that dissonant opening arpeggio, the whole movement takes on a search for resolution, the very character-forming stuff of spiritual journeys, which it eventually finds in a chromatic sequence I later reused (Capo 2) for "Strange Bedfellows" (The Word in the Wind), one of just a handful of songs written so far that (I think) qualifies for use in corporate worship."

Track 10. III: "Evening in the Summer Isles"

"One of my favorite pieces to both play and listen to, this was added, I think, not long after the 1994 concert, since I have no record of it from that evening. [NB: This, I now find, was incorrect. It was on the live record (as I mentioned above) but in an unfinished state.] I knew the suite needed a third movement, though, and one that took its point of departure from the final chord of the second movement. Nevertheless, this movement is about arrival, not departure. It has the feel to me of a Bruce Cockburn instrumental, whose guitar chops, like those of everyone else I have mentioned, so far exceed my own that any comparison is absurd. But he has written several pieces that convey the gently rocking waves of a safe harbor ("Salt, Sun, and Time") or even a not-so-safe one ("Waiting for the Moon"). I recorded and released this movement perhaps somewhat prematurely on The Word in the Wind, since it follows so nicely the closing riff on "Deep Blue Heart," if played in a different key (Capo 2), which I did, thus giving it the alternative title, "Turn Around." After the guitar sat in its case for over a decade, I got it out late last summer and used it for a pastor's retreat in November and for seminary chapel on December 9, 2019. I found this piece sounds just as good with Capo 4 and used it as traveling music during communion. ... Meanwhile, unless I can find something in the files to say otherwise, the only other recordings of the entire suite, prior to this release, are from home in the late 1990s [NB: still hunting for these], and from October 22, 2004, when I played it — as a concert for One — on Sunday afternoon in the empty sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church, Titusville, NJ. It being ten years old, I wanted to remind myself how it went, so I just grabbed what I was recording my sermons on, a first generation iPod with an iTalk condenser mike attachment. The recording quality is dreadful, as you might imagine, but it served the purpose of a musical 'memorandum.'"

The Great Western Road is streaming

The Great Western Road, most of which was recorded earlier this year in June, is now streaming.



Here are the streamers ...

including Spotify ...

Tidal ...

Amazon Music.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Grace Upon Grace

Here is an older post about this track, a post in which I said, and I still say, this is probably the most "single-worthy" track on this 2001 record. I do remember playing it in worship in my first congregation, just after it was written in 1999, and then again, last year in seminary chapel, on December 9, 2019, twenty years after it was first written. Oh my, how tempus does fugit

Make sure to note and enjoy the exceedingly tasty and delectable organ counter-melody—complete with burnouts, of course—in the last verse and in the final instrumental section. 

Here are those streamer thingees, including ...

Spotify.

Here it is on YT:



Your Desert Snow

Every year when the first big snowfall comes, I think of this track, "Your Desert Snow," the first song on The Word in the Wind. So too this year, now that the big one has come and the grey colorless autumn has been is transformed into a glorious winterscape. 

Here is a longer post about it from a few years ago, with lyrics included.

Here it is on Spotify.

Your choice of other streamers here.

Here's the YTM vid:



Sunday, December 13, 2020

Christmas Joy

If I had any wee bairns awakening on Christmas morning eager for that first glimpse of the tree, this track, "Christmas Joy," is what I would be playing. Even then ...



Here's the Spotify link.

The Word in the Wind is streaming

The Word in the Wind [CD link] is now up and streaming. 

Here it is on Tidal

... on Spotify

... on YouTube Music

... on Apple Music

[Watch for other streamer links to be added.]



This CD, by the way, consisting mostly of material written in the late 1990s and recorded in 2001, was built loosely on Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany texts (one track per week, in sequence) from the Christian year. And here we are in Advent again. There is some good seasonal stuff here. 

Best worship songs: Strange Bedfellows, Grace Upon Grace, Living Bread, The Oxen. The latter is a fresh setting in DADGAD tuning of a poem by Thomas Hardy, a text once used by RVW in his wonderful Hodie: Fantasia on Christmas Carols. But don't expect that here! 

Best incidental/instrumental track: Christmas Joy

I would love to have the opportunity to remaster these tracks some day. So much of their tapestry amounts to first takes laid down as I was cutting my teeth on ProTools.

I may say more about each of these in separate posts, but for now, I hope you will check them out and find them worthy of a spot in your annual Christmas rotation. [The Amazon samples do not necessarily represent the best moments here, like the instrumental guitar breaks and the organ in Grace Upon Grace, but you can hear the tracks in their entirety on YT.] 

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Nightingale

Here is some background on this old song newly recorded, and the lyrics, from the liner notes to Persevere. [Meanwhile, as I mentioned in my video on the "Dedication" to A Phenomenal Llama, the late Debbie Clark is also among the nightingales I have known.]

The phone rang a few minutes before chapel. Inconsistent with my usual practice, I had decided to skip the Wednesday (non-preaching) service to write a paper. Vanessa’s voice insisted I come to chapel right away. I dashed across campus, ran upstairs, flopped in the back pew and scanned the bulletin that had been handed to me. Among all the musical selections on the program was my “Lament.” 

 

I had forgotten that, weeks before, Barry Davies had transferred my MIDI file onto his computer. (Was it a Commodore 64? It was certainly of that vintage.)  With Barry at the organ, Vanessa breathed such life into the piece through her flute, she fairly lifted the roof off the place. 

 

Barry and Vanessa played “Lament” at least twice more in those seminary days, the last time for my senior sermon, a communion service, for which I chose far too long a passage and preached an oversized sermon. At the end, she smiled and said, “You owe me,” and sealed the deal with a good natured laugh. Vanessa was exhausted, not just by the service, but by the cancer. We graduated together that May. She was ordained in June. She died in July.

 

Written in the days after her funeral, the song bore the working title “Thirty-nine” until it was recorded in August 2020. On the morning the initial (guitar) tracks were laid down, I decided to call it “Nightingale,” in keeping with the avian imagery of the lyric, the poetry of her name, and the prospect of infusing the song with a free, fluttering flute. Partly inspired by Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending,” partly by a long line of heavenly flautists I have known, and to a large extent by the work of the great Jimmy Hastings, but mostly by Vanessa herself, her courage, her spirit, and the musical friendship she offered me that day, "Nightingale" is an elegy to her and to a number of other noble, visionary, and Christian souls (M. L. King, Jr., Dylan Thomas, Flannery O'Connor, Bonhoeffer, George Herbert, even Josiah of Judah) — all nightingales of a sort — who died too soon, at thirty-nine.

 


Nightingale

in memory of

the Rev. Vanessa Gail Knight

(d. 1995)

 

(1) A friend of God, she walked among us:

A minister, master, servant, priest.

And as her silver throat falls silent

Another caged bird finds release.

 

(2) On a mountaintop once stood a King.

His love for God was his only power.

He wore a dream for a crown and a freedom ring.

Blackbird sails from an ivory tower.

 

(3) Let hammer and nails do what they will.

O Thanatos, where is your sting?

Rolling stones will gather no moss here.

Look, the sky is full of beating wings!

 

(Chorus) My notes upon the page.

Your breath was a sea of wind,

Your life a line of grace,

Your soul my music’s friend.

 

(4) The nightingale was only thirty-nine,

Like so many martyrs, poets, kings.

I’ll see you again when we drink the wine.

Can’t wait to hear what song you’re singing! 

Here are some streamers ...

Here it is on Amazon ...

And here is the YTM vid:



And here is my YT channel. Please be encouraged to subscribe and share widely, ... especially with any flautists you know.


The Spirit is Like the Wind and He Got the Devil on the Run

I love this track. It all just seemed to fall together, one section after another, like some unseen helper was handing me just what I needed when I needed it. Each time I worked out a phrase, the next just presented itself. Each time I needed a new sound or instrument, I landed on it quickly. The title (first part) alludes to Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus, specifically his teaching about the Holy Spirit (John 3). The freedom with which he describes those born of the Spirit is like a great gust of fresh air. It brings to mind the grandeur of the great plains; the big sky over wind-swept prairies is likewise the backdrop for the second part, but now, like Jesus cleansing the temple with his whip of cords (John 2) or exorcising demons from the souls of the possessed, the Spirit cracks the whip and drives the enemy from the children of God. As the two parts form one piece, so the two actions are one and the same. Our liberation through faith is granted in and by the Spirit just as the tempter is banished. 

The last post testifies to my love of vibes, so not surprisingly they get the first word on this track. Meanwhile, one of the drum kit patches on the SY77 has a great whip crack sound just begging to be used by this kid from Kansas who used to watch too many western movies on TV. Hi-ya! The pitch bent guitar, at the end of part one and intermittent in part two, is synthesized (Korg M1), but offset by acoustic guitar cameos, doubling the melody at one point here and adding a simple rhythm section. 

I remember calling my brother on the phone when the whole thing was finished: "Listen to this!" I can't imagine is sounded very good over the phone, but he said, "It's all there!" or something like that. Sure enough. It felt like such a "perfect" (?) track at the time, it seemed like it needed a flaw introduced somewhere; so I gave the title a good dose of bad grammar.

Speaking of bad grammar: here's the streamers.



Thursday, December 10, 2020

A Soundtrack for the Close of the Age is streaming (links provided)



— Inner CD Tray Card and Disc illustration
Photo copyright TMS, 1992

Here is the whole album on ...

Tidal

Spotify

Amazon Music

Pandora

YouTube


You can download/purchase the whole thing at:

Amazon



"Co-Authoring Your Story in Light of God’s Epic: Human Identity and the Divine Word"


Here is my recent contribution to the Wendt Character Initiative's research journal, "Character and ... Identity." So grateful for the leadership, editorial guidance, and sharp eyes of Annalee Ward and Mary K. Bryant, for conversation partners Lindsey Ward and Joe Sabin, and for the thoughtful summary piece by respondent Wally Metts.

And here is a link to the issue as a whole.  

"... And They Were Given Seven Trumpets" (30 years old this month)

So, I am in the process of finally migrating my musical material—ah, the career that (mercifully) never was!—from CD-only to streaming services. No doubt as soon as I am done the music industry will make another quantum leap to, say, telepathy or something. Tech leaps always happen in audio first. 

In my last post, I shared my latest piece: all guitar (rhythm and solo) with finger snaps, no quantizing, no lack of human slippage. Here is a post to serve as a chronological and stylistic counterpoint to that piece. Although I have posted about this and other tracks before, having them immediately accessible via streaming seems like a good opportunity to do so again, so that any interested party (there must be someone out there) can listen in and hopefully gain some idea of what I am prattling on about.   

  

Last Saturday, December 5, it was thirty years since I hoicked a modest collection of gear into Woodland West Recording Studio in Olathe, KS, and recorded the first (musical) track of my first album. The engineer, believe it or not, was a guy named Jack Black, but no, he was no relation to the School of Rock guy. Thank God. This Jack was a good engineer. Quiet, helpful, no nonsense, very efficient. I don't remember the precise dates when we laid down all the other tracks, but I think the rest came together in the span of just two more days. (I had a very limited budget, so we had to fly.) That first night we just did this one track: "... And They Were Given Seven Trumpets." It was inspired, in part, by a meaty trumpet patch on my Yamaha SY77, such a beefy patch in fact that it brought apocalyptic, "last trump" texts to mind. Hence the title, a reference to Revelation 8:2. [And with that, the lifelong habit of reading backwards was begun. But that is a story for another day.] 

[The SY77, BTW, has been under dust covers with a dead battery for several years. I managed to install a fresh one the other day. No mean trick. It felt like doing M*A*S*H-style meatball brain surgery on an old friend. Not something one does very often. I'm not very handy with a soldering iron, but got the job done anyway. The old board sprang to life, defaults reloaded and ready to go, complete with awesome trumpet patch. Oomph! A minor resurrection.]

I remember spending days and days and days, and then a few more days, programming the drums on the HR-16 drum machine. (I haven't had the heart to check its vital signs lately, but fear it may be a goner.) A couple of years later, when Andy Thornton listened to this track, he commented that, where drum machines are concerned, you have to make a decision at the outset: either embrace the synthetic mechanical sound altogether or aim for realism. In this case, I had chosen the latter. I did not want the drums to sound canned, neither here nor on any of these tracks, so I tried to make each fill different, thinking in turn of great drummers like Neal Peart (raining his amazing fills cascading across dozens of toms from high to low), Bill Bruford (wedging weird, ill-timed backbeats between backbeats), and (the early, younger, jazzier) Phil Collins. That much was fun. The tortuous part consisted of flashbacks to the lower brass section of high school band rehearsals, where the snare drums and toms always sat right behind me. For three straight years I had every flam, every roll, every cadence, every paradiddle, every rimshot, every tentative click or maniacal, spasmodic whack drilled into my head (or so it seemed). Thinking through each fill here was like sticking my head between sticks and drums. Ouch! But it was worth the time and trouble to imagine how every hit should sound, every stick would bounce. 

Two other points of observation from those high school years come from being in the stage band. I made for a rather shabby addition to the trombone section, but do remember a guest percussionist performing with us who did some wonderful four-mallet work on the vibes. I've loved their sound ever since and just watching him play was so instructive. It seems obvious now, but there was something so helpful in realizing, if you want to do vibes, then you have four notes to work with. Which ones do you want? A musicologist buddy, on hearing this, said: "The vibes make the track." They certainly are a dynamic part of the foundation of the piece. Dynamic foundation. Sounds like an earthquake, as does this track, if I may say. 

The second lesson from stage band, in which I was more of a fly on the wall or a fish out of water (apologies, Chris Squire), was hearing a couple of great trumpeters — one in particular, a really sweet, affable chap named Jeff Jewsome (God bless you, Jeff!) — do burnouts better than the trombones could, which are designed for such things. I've been fascinated with burnouts ever since. You can hear several of them on this track from the synth trumpets, but they also run throughout the latest guitar piece, the one posted yesterday. Burnouts, pulloffs, downward glissandos—whatever you call them, are a staple of the flamenco guitar style.

The end result of all this: the dated FM keyboard patches notwithstanding, this track still rocks. I love the clean DX7 electric piano. Such a classic, even pastoral sound, it seemed well suited to the section that emerges, clear and undaunted, out of the chaos of the ear-splitting breakstrain. Yes, given enough amperes, this track takes my breath away, even thirty years on. Forgive my regressive adolescence in saying so, but crank it up and listen to it loud. May the Spirit stand your hair on end and remind you: "Aslan is on the move!' Or in more biblical parlance: "Keep awake, for the day of the Lord is near."

Here is a sample on Amazon. Other links may be added as they go live, but the full version is on my YouTube channel (above). To which you are welcome to subscribe. Its free.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

"Just Passing Through": Make it go inocular

Over the years, I don't think I have ever explicitly asked anyone to make something "go viral," and I am not going to start now. Not after 2020. Ugh. If anything, whoever came up with that now-irredeemably awful expression should be shown to a chair in the corner to have a long rethink under a tall pointy hat.

By way of an antidote then, let me offer you a two-for-one deal

First, a new expression for spreading something good, happy, and uplifting, and for doing so widely: to make something "go inocular." You heard it here first. [No, don't stick anything in your eye. Just think of the wide deployment of a truly healing balm, medicine, or vaccine, with no harmful side effects. Picture Lucy Pevensee making her way across the battlefield with her reviving cordial.]

Second, the thing itself, a new track, "Just Passing Through." One that, to my mind, can't wait for the rest of the album to catch up, but must go forth into the world as a single. Don't worry. I'll take more trouble with the cover image and artwork when the whole album comes out.

Meanwhile, clear the floor. Prepare to dance. Or at least join the rhythm section. Snap your fingers. Tap your feet. May this track lift your spirits, lighten your hearts, and give you all great joy. Joy that you want to share. Widely. World-widely. Like the good news of the Gospel itself: that we have a perfectly happy and blessed home beyond this vale of tears (Hebrews 11:13-16), a heavenly country in which all are welcome who trust and hope in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born to die, who arose never to die again, who is coming to renew all things and to set us free (Philippians 3:20). 

Here it is on Tidal. Here it is on Amazon MusicHere it is on iTunes

Or find it on your favorite streaming service here.

Send it — whatever link you prefer — with Christmas greetings in a spirit of good will to everyone you know. Yes, share it as you would hope to the dying, or love to the lonely, like an antidote to a virus. 

You can do it. Make it go inocular.

Merry Christmas, everyone. 

— Tim

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

A good song to use on a Road to Emmaus retreat, no?

OK, we are in Advent, not Easter. I get it. But would this song, "Cleopas," not be a good song to use for a Road to Emmaus retreat?





Monday, December 7, 2020

A Phenomenal Llama, 5. Looking to the Future


 

A Phenomenal Llama, 4. The Artwork

 


A Phenomenal Llama, 3. The Concept

 


A Phenomenal Llama, 2. The Inspiration

 


A Phenomenal Llama, 1. The Dedication

 


Why the song title, "Persevere"?


In my previous post, I mentioned how the long instrumental second half of "Half the World" was an after thought, one that came nearly 30 years (!) after I first set out to compose the intro. Why on earth did it take me so long to think of taking the words of v. 3 (which are sung twice): "We'll do a pilgrimage ..." and portraying that long pilgrimage musically with an extended and repetitive riff? Well, for one thing, I was busy with other things. But once the idea stuck, it was hard to let go of. The transformation of the song, halfway through "Half the World," really takes place with the switch to the electric guitar, but also with a slight change in which notes are emphasized in the hammered transition from the Cmaj7 (I'm talking shapes here, since this is all capo 2 stuff) to B7sus. Where in the song, I had been plucking the fifth string between the chords, the whole thing took on an entirely new feel as I went for the third string. Now when I play it, I love to get the top string ringing like a drone throughout, which sets a rather nice ceiling over the whole, not unlike the effect of those long synth pad chords. 

As for the final track, "Persevere," with its short speech for a lyric, this was inspired by the comment that I hear most often from students in my worship class, when I take them on a tour of worship through the Old and New Testaments. It is a good occasion to tell them about Kierkegaard's definition of sin as the opposite of faith (Romans 14:23), which forces us to rethink this long-standing theological aberration about a "fall from grace." No, says Jesus, "God sends rain on the just and the unjust." It is all grace, all the time, even if it does not always feel like it. As the Dominican Meister Eckhart said: "God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk." Or as I put it here: "The Fall was never a fall from grace. It was only ever a fall from faith." That places the responsibility for faith back where it belongs, and it also gives us the reassurance that, when we are "in faith," i.e., "in Christ," we really are free from sin, free from the (eternal) consequences of sin, and, yes, free to go and sin no more! So many students have been struck by this, it seemed to me worth restating in this final track as we set out once again on the "pilgrimage" with the admonition to persevere as our mission statement.


Why the album title, "Persevere"?

Why the album title, Persevere? Well, in case you hadn't noticed, this has been a tough year for many. The rate of depression and suicide has been horrible, the curtailing of so much of life, work, business, freedom, play, and most important, the church's worship of God, has been severe. Yes, the church has been amazingly resilient in adapting and carrying on under the circumstances. But with the sacraments of baptism and communion cut back, congregational singing deemed too risky (it is, but mostly for the devil and his minions), and the common fellowship of the saints set aside — there is a great risk of complacency on the part of the church and a greater risk that hostile forces will gain strength as the public presence of the witnessing community recedes. More than that, people are facing immense personal challenges and are tempted to give up, either on life or on faith. So, the times call for the church to demonstrate the premiere hallmark of the saints: perseverance.

On a musical note: don't confuse the esthetic with the spiritual. If it sounds like I am prone to a bit of musical OCD, fine. Yes, when I find a good riff, I want to carry on with it, sometimes long after others have lost interest. But this very sense of repetition, to my mind, conveys the subtext of my whole musical output, which is all about the Christian journey. On foot. "We'll do a pilgrimage to the holy place." (v. 3 of "Half the World.") What is it Ecclesiastes says? "I have seen slaves on horseback, and princes ... on foot ..." (10:7) There is, in those long, grinding passages, something of the left-right-left-right slog of the pilgrimage of princes (children of the King of kings) sonically portrayed. We are in it for the long haul. These are not two-minute earworms. 

On a creative note: I recall Tony Banks of Genesis saying that some songs just have to wait their turn. He had written "A Trick of the Tale" in 1969, and it took seven years before it appeared on the band's album of that title in 1976. I was impressed. Little did I know that these songs I had written in the early to mid-1990s would have to wait some 25 years! Again, not to compare my work with the compositions of Tony Banks, the primary creative force in that great band, but at least in this one respect, I can say "persevere" to the aspiring songwriter or recording artist and know whereof I speak. Example: The intro to "Half the World" was written in 1991-92; played as a prelude in 1994 as the first piece in the concert set recently released as Cutting Ruts: Live Tracks and Demos; the song was written after that concert and a trip to the Middle East in 1994. Then, as recently as this year, in 2020, the whole thing was extended to its ridiculous length (with the "pilgrimage" appended to double the length of the song) and the organ solo added. Greg Lake's solo on "From the Beginning" had inspired it from the beginning (!), and thinking of his death (and that of Keith Emerson) in 2016 (and the loss of so many other musical heroes in the years since then) brought to mind the vein in which, and the instrumentation with which, it seemed well to finish it off.

So the title is an imperative to the church, to saints and pilgrims, and to those who aspire to do something creative but are too soon inclined to give up: Persevere!



A little background on "Half the World"

Here is a little background on "Half the World," my favorite track — a long one! — on Persevere. Try not to laugh at the comparison to "Stairway to Heaven" and "Freebird."

 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

"Persevere" is streaming.

After having the discography residing strickly on CDs all this time, I am finally loading things onto streaming services. "Persevere" is the first one up. Here it is. Please spread the word and share widely.




Monday, November 23, 2020

Updating the Discography (again): "Short Set on the Deck" (EP)

Here is another archival record of "EP" length, recorded at dusk on November 9, 2020, with a special guest appearance by several V's of geese flying low overhead. Captured on a Tascam DR-5 in one take with no overdubs, it is what it says it is, just a "Short Set on the Deck."


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Word in the Wind (2001)

UPDATE: Here is an excerpt from an older post I thought I would rerun, since the songs on this CD are based on the lectionary texts and themes of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Some additional info that may be of interest: I am not the first to set Thomas Hardy's poem, The Oxen, to music. Ralph Vaughan Williams did so before me, but my guitar-based arrangement (DADGAD) is obviously quite different from his choral anthem. Other tuning info, for anyone so inclined: Your Desert Snow (DADGAD), Strange Bedfellows and Living Bread (both standard tuning, Capo 2), Grace Upon Grace (standard, Capo 4).




EXCERPT: The Word in the Wind consists of mostly guitar-based songs and a few instrumental tracks (fourteen tracks in all), written in seminary and during my first pastorate, and recorded about ten years ago (2001). Several of the poems recently published in The Just, Quiet Wind are set to music here (see, e.g., Psalm 1, Living Bread, There is a Reason); the songs are inspired by texts from the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle of the liturgical year, while their sequence reflects the progress from prophetic (Isaianic) expectation (Your Desert Snow, Strange Bedfellows) through the nativity (Grace Upon Grace, The Oxen, Christmas Joy, Innocents' Day) to the call to discipleship (Baptism at Nuweiba, The Response, There is a Reason, Deep Blue Heart, Believers Leap). Like its precursor, A Soundtrack for the Close of the Age (1991)The Word in the Wind may be only loosely described as a concept album, but here the concept, if it is discernible at all, will be most apparent to those who are accustomed to reading, telling, living, and rejoicing in the gospel of salvation according to the Christian year; in the case of instrumental tracks, however, even listeners who have this leg up will have little more than a title, a mode, and a mood, to go on. ...



Monday, November 2, 2020

Updating the Discography: "Cutting Ruts: Live Tracks and Demos" released

After two albums in twenty-nine years, that is now three in four months. But who's counting? (OK, I am.)

 A Soundtrack for the Close of the Age (1991)


The Word in the Wind (2001) 



 The Great Western Road (July 2020) 


 Persevere  (September 2020) 


Cutting Ruts (October 2020) 



Sunday, October 11, 2020

Persevere (CD)

 Just released last month, the second album this year, called Persevere.

As a foretaste, here are the short lyrics from the title track, a long, mostly instrumental closer:

"Now do you see?
Now do you see?
The Fall was never a fall from grace.
It was only ever a fall from faith.
Now do you see?"

That's my dog on the cover (front and back).  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Return to God: Historical and Modern Confessional Sources for the Renewal and Regathering of the Church

My latest book gathers a number of sources together that (1) are previously unpublished or are translated here into English for the first time, (2) have struck me as important both in their original  time and context and (potentially) for our time and place, (3) share a common confessional conviction (in both the "penitential" and the "professional" sense), and (4) may be of particular value as the Church shakes off it Covid shackles and regathers to pray, sing (!), worship, celebrate the sacraments, and breath in the Holy Spirit together.

Two sermons from the American Awakenings are here: one by Gilbert Tennent (First GA) on how we should listen to sermons, and another by Samuel Miller (Second GA) on the glory of the Gospel. 

Several first-ever English translations are also included (which I mention here in reverse chronological order): 

  • the long prayer from the London journal of the brilliant critic of the Enlightenment, Johann Georg Hamann; 
  • a prayer of confession "for more difficult times" from Oswald Myconius (the successor to Oecolampadius in Basel)
  • three pieces from the Oecolampadius corpus: 
    • A Litany to God the Father (a clear attempt to reform the rosary in a more orthodox direction, this is a wonderful tool for commiting the life, work, and ministry of Jesus to memory)
    • Questions and Answers for the Examination of Children (a child's catechism)
    • Discourse at the Synod of Basel (1531), delivered not long before the Reformer's death and culminating in his own Profession of Faith.
  • the opening and closing prayers of confession from the 1520 edition of Jodocus Windsheim's Confession of a Repenting Christian, to which Oecolampadius provided the preface. Earlier editions of this piece have roots going back to at least early 1517. It made a big impression on Oecolamapadius, who later wrote his own attempt to reform the penitential rite. 
These pieces by Windsheim—offered here only in partial translation for its 500th anniversary—surround his nine prayers of confession in response to the Ten Commandments (he responds to the ninth and tenth commandment with a single prayer), and this form in turn inspired my own eleven prayers of confession, offered here in the modern section of the book, in response to the Decalogue (one for the prologue and one each for the commandments) and with the current state of the church and the world in view. 

The modern section also includes four "scripture messages" or postils, if you will, consisting purely of biblical verses arranged in logical sequence and which may prove useful for either outreach or in lieu of a sermon where the services of a preacher are not available. With no pretensions of adding to the authoriatively confessional literature of the church, I have also included my own Twenty-four Theses as a personal confession of faith offered at such a time as this, in view of the social unrest of the age.

Monday, September 7, 2020

"and the moon to blood"

 Well, this is interesting. So too is the click-through link. But neither mentions Joel 2 or Acts 2. That connection is for the biblically literate to make. Don't expect it of the media.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A short, basic introduction to John Oecolampadius

I'm happy to report there is quite a bit of buzz developing in the area of Oecolampadius research. Here is a short, basic introduction to John Oecolampdius: The Reformer of Basel, by way of my recent translation of a late 19th c. biography by Theophil Stähelin. Lord willing, there will be much more to follow, from yours truly and from many others, on this wonderful first generation Reformer. Meanwhile, here is your handshake proffered.



Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Going on thirty years ...

Unlike so much ordure sloshing around the media, the culture, and the internet these days, it's going on thirty years, and A Soundtrack for the Close of the Age is still the best instrumental, Christian, progressive-rock-inspired album you have likely never heard. Yes, this has aged very well, even if I do say so myself. And here we are, thirty years closer to the close of the age!


More background on this record here (though many of the links will be out-of-date).

Two new releases to announce today: Elaborations of the Psalms (1—50) and The Great Western Road (CD)

The first is Elaborations of the Psalms (1—50), which I started writing back in 2005 and took up again and finished earlier this year. Over the course of these fifteen years, several of these psalms have been the focus of sermons, so their "elaborations" here will be somewhat longer; they will also dot the yawning gap between 2005 and 2020. But I have tried to maintain more or less the same voice throughout, despite various contexts and timeframes. The style is dense, to be sure, even Kierkegaardian, but I see no reason why an adult Bible study class could not or should not chew on this for the better part of a year. Better still, though, I think this style of exposition, commentary, "upbuilding discourse," or whatever it is, forces one to slow down and let the psalms do their work, so no doubt devotional time or the pastor's study— the native habitat (time and space) in which these elaborations grew up—will be best suited to reading them. The dedication gives thanks for Walter Brueggemann in acknowledgement, not only of his enormous contribution to the church, but for the inspiration his labors have lent my own far more modest program.




Slowing down, by the way, is among the chief spiritual benefits I have gained in my translating work as well. But it is also a quality of the second piece just released, which is my third album, The Great Western Road. Recorded (mostly) in early June, this is also my first record in nearly 20 years. Like A Soundtrack for the Close of the Age, it is instrumental, though unlike that first album, which was mostly keyboards and some guitar, this is mostly guitar, with some keys, and is more contemplative (in the style Ant Phillips' PPP series that has sustained me through the years), as will be clear from the very first track, which, if it weren't so dissonant, would remind me more of another fine meditative treatment of the psalms. After I finally got the audio files uploaded, I discovered two other records from the twenty-teens with the same or similar album title. I have not heard those albums and have no idea what style they represent. But since the title of this record comes from the eponymous guitar suite and that suite was featured in a concert (and in an intended, but never released "live album") from 1994, an "event" (such as it was) also promoted under this title, I think I can claim the oldest sell-by date, for whatever that may be worth, as well as a less urban focus (if those album covers are any indication). 

No need to tell me not to quit my day job, but based on some comments I had from folks last November/December, it became clear that I could be a better steward of this material and should probably record it before I either forget how or grow too arthritic to play it reasonably well. 




I imagine both pieces may have a pastoral function to play at this time, so it seems fitting to announce them together. "Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you." (2Thess 3:16)

UPDATE: Proof copies of The Great Western Road appeared yesterday, with UPC blocking some text. Grrr. Changes made and uploaded for clearer print and greater legibility.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year (Curate Edition)

In a couple of previous posts (now tucked away) on Daniel DeFoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, I summarized some key points that I think preachers and church leaders in particular might find instructive or at least interesting in this, our own pandemic year. While there are dozens, if not hundreds, of editions of this classic available, some for free, I have since folded an edited version of those prior posts into a short (new) Foreword to this "Curate Edition," now available both on Kindle and in paperback. The aim behind such an edition is to offer to busy pastors both the full text of the classic in question, as well as a brief orientation to what they will likely find from their uniquely theological angle. Hopefully the new Foreword and Series Introduction, in addition to the Scripture Index already included, will advance this reprint further toward the goal of being of service to working pastors.




Sunday, March 29, 2020

Hopeful developments

Set aside any personal feelings you may have about the interviewer, and note this hopeful development from a smart doctor putting two and two together.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Good Confession

Released today, The Good Confession, a collection of twenty-one recent sermons and five short table rites for the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

  

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Prayers of the People on National Day of Prayer (March 15, 2020)

God of peace, we pray for the world,
for all nations, from east to west, from north to south,
for all who are enlisted in the battle 
against disease and illness, pestilence and plague, flu and virus,
for all elected officials, administrators, 
researchers, scientists, epidemiologists, 
doctors, nurses, health care workers, 
including those caring for loved ones at home, 
and of course, we pray for the sick, especially the elderly, 
those in nursing homes, and those with underlying conditions 
and weak immune systems.
Grant your healing and protection to one and all.

We pray for workers asked to work from home, 
students whose schools are closed or who must now study from home,
for teachers who must now teach from home,
for those in need of groceries, household goods, and other supplies,
with no way to venture out. 

We pray for businesses and industries under financial stress, 
and hospitals, doctor's offices, and emergency rooms pressed to the limit.
We pray for first responders, law enforcement, 
security personnel, and our military, 
dealing not only with the day-to-day risks of their calling,
but who now must be wary of possible contagion.

We pray, O Lord, for this nation,
that in this trying time we might come together, 
not fleetingly, superficially, and opportunitistically, but enduringly
with a renewed sense of neighborliness, concern, and mutual regard, 
with a spirit of love and good will, 
with humility, gratitude, trust, and generosity,
and inspire your church to take an exemplary and winsome lead 
in so doing.

Lord, we pray for the just who know you, 
that you may guard and protect, your saints, 
heal and nurture your people of faith, 
that we might be a blessing and bearers of hope 
to one another, to our neighbors, 
and to this confused, declining, and dangerous world. 

Lord, we pray for the unjust, 
that you would guard and protect those who do not yet know you,
that you might appear to and call them as you know how best to do: 
through your Spirit at work in creation and culture, 
through your Word  at work in the church, 
through dreams and visions, by whatever means, 
that you would awaken them to your goodness in Jesus Christ, 
and usher them by the waters of baptism 
into your kingdom of grace, forgiveness, and eternal peace.

We pray for ... 



[Silence.]

And we pray for one another as people of prayer, called to prayer,
that each of us might draw nearer to you in faith, 
trusting in you to turn our petitions into concrete blessings 
for all those we name before you;
help us to model and practice the penitence and faith of your priestly people,
that you might heal this land, this nation, and this world 
far beyond our own finite reach. 
All this we ask in the name of Jesus,
who taught us to pray, saying, "Our Father ... " 
Amen.