Posted January 27th, 2011 by admin with Comments Off
Brian Wurzell, the Worship Arts Director at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Chandler, AZ, has delivered to us a refreshingly unique, modern rock worship album. GRACE OCEAN subtly tips its hat to indie-rock bands like Pedro the Lion and Starfler 59, while never becoming inaccessible.
Obvious corporate highlights (take note, fellow worship leaders) are the hook-laden title track, which is pure ear candy (Can a “worship song” also be “ear candy”? I guess so. See exhibit A: “Grace Ocean”), and the mid-tempo ballad “Great Redeemer” – a prayer that God would “take our weakness and show Yourself strong”. If you’re downloading individual tracks for a iTunes playlist, however, don’t miss other highlights, “Sing” and the very indie-rock inspired “Floodgates”. Honestly, though, I’d suggest downloaded the whole lot of them – there are no stinkers here, folks.
Another notable are the multiple, atmospheric instrumentals, which bring to mind the spinning, textured sounds of All the Bright Lights, and at times even David Gilmour’s instrumental work. Sadly, most worship folk most likely have no idea who either of those are.
So, his take on “Father’s World” didn’t really connect with me: I never was a bit fan of the original, so I won’t hold that against him.
Over all, GRACE OCEAN is a fresh approach to a familiar genre, and currently one of my wife & I’s favorite worship CDs. Download the songs “Grace Ocean” and “Great Redeemer” straight away, then let me know what YOU think.
Posted January 25th, 2011 by admin with Comments Off
I still remember the night I first heard Over the Rhine. I was mostly into indie-rock and metal, and only went to hear them because some friends had invited me. It was ’92 when I walked into a dingy bar in Columbus, Ohio, and the stage was covered in candles, with little paths amongst the candle-light to a stool for each musician. When the band took the stage, it was like an angelic visitation – I don’t think I could even bring myself to clap during the performance. I sat still, jaw gaping wide, just taking in the subtle beauty – the understated excellence – of what poured from the stage. Needless to say, I’ve followed the band faithfully since.
That said, the Long Surrender, Over the Rhine’s 11th studio album, and – counting live CDs and compilations – 19th overall, took some well-spent listening to really come to terms with, even though it is truly one of the masterpieces of their catalogue.
Stylistically, Surrender… sits comfortably with their last two studio releases, The Trumpet Child and Drunkard’s Prayer, but with a crisp, cleaner, more professional sound, thanks to the excellent production work of Joe Henry. However, Joe Henry also – in part – is what made Surrender… a bit hard to swallow on the first few listens. Track two, “Sharpest Blade” – one of two songs which Joe co-wrote with the band – contains some chord progressions that take some getting used to, which could be a deterrent to the uninitiated, especially being so close to the front of the disc. Likewise, track four, “Soon”, which Joe also co-wrote, feels noticeably different from the rest of the CD. What this amounts to is a disc that doesn’t really get in the swing of things until about track 5, and doesn’t fully LAUNCH till track seven, “Only God can save us Now”. That’s not to say that one through four aren’t fine songs – in fact number three, “Rave On”, is one of the absolute highlights of the disc. It’s just that they take a little longer to get to know – the CD seems a bit like the shy kid in class until about midway through. Let me assure you, the shy kid is VERY much worth getting to know – he’s incredibly creative, complex, and layered – a continual surprise, and very nice, once you become friends with him. It just takes a little time.
The first surprise is the fore-mentioned “Rave On” based on a poem by B.H. Fairchild. The best word to describe it is UNHINGED. Karin’s vocals feel as though she’s in the middle of a nervous breakdown – desperate – on her last rope, and the music works perfectly to accent that imbalance, especially Joe’s use of a deep bass counter-rhythm during the intro that could alter your heartbeat if you crank it too loud.
The next truly shining moment is “Only God will save us Now”, a delicately humorous look at the return to childlikeness that oft happens in old age, through the eyes of a visit to a nursing home. It’s power is found in the almost laugh-out-loud silliness of lyrics like “How now brown cow” and “Fuzzy wuzzy fuzzy wuzzy was a bear”, which convinces you of the song’s innocence, so you are almost entirely unsuspecting when it turns on you, and reminds you of the fragility of your own life, and mental state. When the song is over, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.
Immediately following is the indie-folk, broken-hearted ballad, “Oh Yeah by the Way”, which again, always catches me off guard, juxtaposing off-hand comments with brutal remarks like “What a waste that I still love you, after the mess you’ve made”. Ouch. And it’s sung so sweetly – with such innocence. Double ouch.
Next, they unleash their current single, which manages to out-sexy their sexiest song to date – until now, “Trouble” – with a double dose. It’s a perfect hybrid of classical, old school pop (I mean “old school” as in 20s and 30s, not 70s or 80s), with modern indie-rock technique. It’s so breath-taking, even on a first listen, that I won’t even try to describe it any more: download it from iTunes immediately, and you’ll most definitely buy the rest of the CD when it comes available.
The Long Surrender is solid output from a great band, showcasing Karin’s beautiful voice, and Linford’s smooth piano, singing songs of a broken, grace-filled faith, and struggling, raw, humanity. That’s just to say, it’s really, truly beautiful: a masterpiece, sitting proudly alongside their best, even if it may take some time to get to know.
As you can tell, I’m still a fan. Thank you, Karin and Linford, for doing what you do. Please keep it up for many years to come.
Posted January 24th, 2011 by admin with Comments Off
Joshua and I met while we were both speaking at the Forge Conference this past October, at which time he gave me a pre-release of his forthcoming CD, “My King is Coming”. However, I got so much new music at that conference that it honestly took me a few months to really give it a good listen.
Joshua is the worship pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel in Ontario, Canada, a 2,000 member plant of James MacDonald‘s Harvest Bible Fellowship in Illinois, as well as a top 10 finalist in the 2002 season of Canadian Idol, and a participant in the Worship Rises movement in Canada.
As a worship leader, there is much to like here: the lyrics are Biblical, the melodies are singable, and the songs would be fairly easy to interpret by any modern-rock worship band that’s cut it’s teeth on all of the popular tunes by Chris Tomlin, Kristian Stanfill, or Fee. Probably the strongest songs are this CD – which, because of the nature of Seller’s accessible songwriting are also the most corporate – are the power-ballad “Greater” and the high energy rocker, “My King is Coming”, both of which I plan to use at my church soon, however any worship pastor would do well to also check out the upbeat “Came to Save” and the timelessly beautiful “Worship Rises”.
To add to those positives, the production is near perfect, and the songs are performed with obvious passion – I can really FEEL the heart behind them. The only possible downside to MY KING IS COMING is that it sounds so much like Tomlin, Stanfill, & Fee – that’s to say, there are no creative breakthroughs here – no John Mark McMillan or Gungor moments – just well-written, accessible, corporate worship music.
Do you like well-produced collections of usable modern-rock corporate worship songs with a youthful edge? You’ll find a great deal to like here. Personally, I’m looking forward to singing “Greater” and “My King is Coming” at St. Simons Community Church, and looking forward to hearing more from Joshua in the near future. Keep them coming, bro!
Posted January 22nd, 2011 by admin with Comments Off
I know – it’s been a while. I posted part 1 months ago. Technical difficulties led to the loss of some footage, and a number of delays, but I decided to move ahead with what I had. So, wait to longer – head on over to TheWorshipCommunity and watch Part 2 of the interview as we discuss “Are we really Worshiping?”
Posted January 21st, 2011 by admin with Comments Off
Not long ago I watched the animated childrens’ move “Bolt” with my boys. We all LOVED it, but it really got me thinking: it sure must be tough, going all your life thinking you’re a super-hero, having a whole imaginary world that wrapped itself to your will, to then one-day awake to find you’re just a dog – an ordinary dog. The thing Bolt had going for him, even when he appeared to be ordinary, was that he knew what he needed to do, had a passion to get it done, and he was not alone while doing it.
I grew up wishing I were spiderman or superman, and my imagination was pretty detailed. One of my nicknames in elementary school was “martian” – even some of the teachers called me that – because I was “always in outer space.” My fantasy of choice was that some huge storm – either a tornado or flash flood – was bearing down on our school. I would imagine it in such detail that it would include the context of the rest of the room – the teacher would be saying whatever she was really saying in front of me, but in my mind she was attempting to teach us as the waters rose up around her ankles, her waist, her shoulder – somehow unaware of the danger that was overtaking her. I – in my minds eye – would then begin swimming each of the other students in my class to safety, one-by-one, until the teacher – in real life – would call on me, and I would be at an absolute loss as to what she had been talking about. “In outer-space again, Martian?”, and the whole class would giggle. Yet, to this day, some of my favorite movies are Batman, Spiderman, Lord of the Rings – give me a hero, with special abilities or an incredible call on his or her life, and I’m a satisfied dude.
But life: life feels so normal – so average – so day-to-day, pushing against the crowd, trying to make something happen. Is there anything special about that? Is there anything special about My life – YOUR life?
Let me switch gears here for a moment, and talk about Jesus. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was “… tempted in every way, just as we are…” That sounds pretty raw human to me. I think that we are far too prone – in the Bible belt especially – to walk around imagining Jesus as an all-powerful God – some sort of Superman walking around waiting to explode into a work of wonder-working power any moment. We forget where Paul tells us in the book of Philippians that Jesus, who was God, set his God-qualities aside, “…taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.“ But here’s the problem, and tell me this: do mere men, on their own, know the future? Know other’s thoughts? By yourselves, how many of you have miraculously healed the sick? Raised the dead?
I need to remind myself – WE need to remind OURSELVES: Jesus was NOT alone. All of the Gospels tell the same story: when Jesus was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist, something amazing happened – “the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke later adds that, immediately following this, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…”
So, what about me?
Jesus was set apart from the rest of the world, as a man, by three things:
I’m not at all denying the Jesus was God, but while here he set that aside to fulfill a certain call – a number of Old Testament prophecies that ONLY A MAN could fulfill: Jesus’ call was to be the messiah – a sinless human sacrifice giving himself up for the rest of mankind. And what drove Him to fulfill this call was his perfect desire to please His Father – God the Father. And what ENABLED Him to accomplish this calling was the filling and empowering of God’s Holy Spirit.
Does God have a call on your life? God called Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Esther, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul – just to give a few Biblical examples – and each one of them were not merely called to BE GOD’S, but were called to fulfill a specific purpose in God’s plan. If you’re a believer, God’s general call is made clear through-out the Scriptures, for instance, “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” This is a general call of God on EVERYONE who calls themselves “Christian”. But each of us are unique: what has God called you to?
And trust me, there is only one way you will choose to effectively pursue fulfilling God’s call: a desire to please the Father. Granted, your desire to please God isn’t perfect – Jesus’ was – that’s the benefit to being born the sinless son of God. Adam and Jesus were the only two people ever on earth who’s decisions were not marred or influenced by inborn sin, but still – as imperfect as it may be, as believers we still desire to serve God.
And lastly, if you have truly given your life to Christ, you ARE filled with God’s Spirit, and it is only through the Holy Spirit’s power that you will be able to accomplish what God has called you to.
So, in that sense, you and Jesus are not THAT different. Jesus is quoted in John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do”. So, what is our excuse? What is your excuse?
God has called you, You desire to please Him, and He’s filled You with His Spirit! Even on the most normal day, You are far from ordinary – you are God’s son or daughter – a prince or princess of the most High King of the Universe. You can accomplish awesome things, not because you are awesome, but because He is, and He is IN YOU…
Let’s live out His Kingdom NOW…
“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”
So be it.