Wednesday, March 01, 2017

What Caught My Ear in February (17.6, 17.7 and 17.8)

Hi readers... getting harder and harder to keep up with this weekly, even bi-weekly, so catching up here for the last 3 weeks. I've selected one release each week that introduced me either for the first time or just a bit deeper into who these artists are. So enjoy...

What Caught My Ear for 17.6 (Feb 10 releases)
Its the throwback 70's vibe that catches my ear hear on Mr. Elevator and The Brain Hotel's second album, 'When the Morning Greets You'. Amazon's editorial review says "the bands' love for vintage keyboard sounds, concept albums, and 70s pop remains intact, furnishing an album that entrances listeners and evolves over the course of its run-time into an array of bright, complex patterns and shapes." See, makes you want to listen to, doesn't it?

What Caught My Ear for 17.7 (Feb 17 releases)
Biggest standout for the week comes from Strand of Oaks and their project "Hard Love". Had a chance to hear this band live last year in Charlottesville when they opened for Alabama Shakes. A reviewer of the record on Exclaim! writes "Written by a person whose conscience seems to keep him from having too much fun, Hard Love is a conflicted yet summarily good record that breathes new life into good ol' rock'n'roll." The reviewer says the record is "rough around the edges but still soft, sensitive and introspective where it matters."

What Caught My Ear for 17.8 (Feb 24 releases)
This week I was drawn to "Freedom Highway", Rhiannon Giddens' second solo album. Paste Magazine has already named this one their top album so far of 2017 and had this to say in their review: "Always ambitious, Americana/traditional folk artist Rhiannon Giddens uses Freedom Highway, her second solo album, for a contemporary end: tracing the roots of the #BlackLivesMatter movement from plantation property to today." Gidden, a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, provides a great cover of the Pops Staples' tune as the title track.

As Victor Hugo is quoted to have said “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”
― Victor Hugo

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Tonight's Grammy Awards

It is like my Super Bowl of music ... as sometimes my team is playing and often-times not.

So just for fun, before the players hit the field, here are my picks and predictions for a few of the biggest categories.

Picks are those that I think should win the coveted Grammy. Predictions are who I think will win.

Album Of The Year:
Pick -- 25 — Adele
Prediction -- Lemonade — BeyoncĂ©

Record Of The Year:
Pick -- "Hello" — Adele
Prediction -- "7 Years" — Lukas Graham

Song Of The Year:
Pick -- "Hello" — Adele Adkins & Greg Kurstin, songwriters (Adele)
Prediction -- "Love Yourself" — Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin & Ed Sheeran, songwriters (Justin Bieber)

Best New Artist:
Pick -- The Chainsmokers
Prediction -- The Chainsmokers

Best Pop Vocal Album:
Pick -- This Is Acting — Sia
Prediction -- 25 — Adele

Best Pop Solo Performance:
Pick -- "Piece By Piece (Idol Version)" — Kelly Clarkson
Prediction -- "Hold Up" — Beyonce

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance:
Pick -- "Stressed Out" — Twenty One Pilots
Prediction -- "Closer" — The Chainsmokers Featuring Halsey

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album:

Pick -- Fallen Angels — Bob Dylan
Prediction -- Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway — Barbra Streisand

Best Rock Performance:
Pick -- "Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)" — Alabama Shakes
Prediction -- "Blackstar" — David Bowie

Best Rock Song:
Pick -- "Burn the Witch" —Radiohead, songwriters (Radiohead)
Prediction -- "Blackstar" — David Bowie, songwriter (David Bowie)

Best Alternative Music Album:
Pick -- A Moon Shaped Pool — Radiohead
Prediction -- Blackstar — David Bowie

Staying away from the country because I'd just be guessing. Have thoughts on the Christian categories but doubt they'll be on the recorded broadcast. So, get some popcorn popping later and settle in to see if we can outsmart the music industry. Love to know your thoughts on these categories as well. Who are your favs and where do you see it differently than I do?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

What Caught My Ear - 17.4 and 17.5

On the eve of another new music release day, I find myself catching up for the last two weeks.

“Music is the mediator between the life of the senses and the life of the spirit.” Beethoven (1770-1827) The search for new music is never-ending because of this connection to the senses, to the spirit, to the soul.

What really caught my ear for 17.4 (Jan 27 releases):

I find no better expression of that this year so far than Ellie Holcomb's "Red Sea Road". Not only is Ellie's voice beautiful, but the vulnerability from which this sophomore release was written finds a place to connect with each of us on this journey of life. Ellie has a great blog with recent posts that explain how her songs came into being. A big influence behind this project was the pain of learning that her father, CCM-famed Brown Bannister, was diagnosed with cancer. Just this week she wrote "the past two years for our community have been heartbreaking. Red Sea Road is one of those songs that I had to write because I needed to sing what was true. I remember sitting down with my dear friends and co-writers, Christa Wells and Nicole Witt. I cried my way through catching them up on the year, and the tears were for the pain and the struggle and the loss we were walking through with several dear friends, but they were also for the way I kept being surprised by God’s faithfulness to draw near to our breaking hearts and make a way for us to carry on, even when the grief and the pain felt unbearable."

This one deserves listening and re-listening. There is beauty in her voice and so much comfort, inspiration and encouragement in the songs and lyrics.

Moving on, you'll recall I was looking forward to the Japandroids release "Near to the Wild Heart of Life". It did catch my ears, but wasn't as much as I was expecting. I'd agree more with the review from Uncut than some of the others I've read. "An expansive record which fizzes with a desire to play around with the possibilities of the studio rather than the stage, shifting the parameters of their music beyond the fast and frantic." The title track may be my favorite as I still love the opening lyrics:

"The future's under fire
The past is gaining ground
A continuous cold war between
My home and my hometown"


Fun release but don't think I'll find myself listening to it as much as some other of this year's releases so far.

What really caught my ear for 17.5 (Feb 3 releases):

This week was all about inspiration and the spiritual connection. Kari Jobe's "The Garden" is bound to be around for years to come with new songs that will touch the soul and spirit and you will probably hear a few of on Sunday mornings. The duets with her husband Cody Carnes are beautiful and no doubt will get Christian radio airplay. CCM's website predicts it will garner some Dove Awards.

Listen to Kari, and then the simple and stirring interpretations that Reba brings to some classic hymns on the 2-disc release ‘Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope’ and you've got a heart-stirring pair.

A reviewer on Sounds of Nashville writes -- "Whether it be the “Faith” or the “Hope” disc, each of these cuts resonate with hope and peace. Life has a way of knocking us down the ladder a few times, and I don’t know whether she could have approached the lyrical content the same way, say twenty years ago. The fact that the legendary songstress has lived through life, and survived some of the hardest knocks one can go through shows the timeless power of these songs."

So pick an inspirational release from the last two weeks - there's several to choose from - and soothe your soul.

In the meantime, any picks for the Grammy's?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What Caught My Ear - 17.2 and 17.3

So sorry to have left you hanging for a week - but no worries, we'll catch up and look at both weeks, though I think I'm already excited about 17.4 which comes our way tomorrow.

So what new music have you found so far in 2017? I think that music can help bring us together, whatever our politics, religion, worldview, or life experiences - and we really need that now! As Levon Helm once said "If you pour some music on whatever's wrong, it'll sure help out."

What really caught my ear for 17.2 (Jan 13 releases) will surprise some of you. I listened several times to Oczy Mlody by The Flaming Lips. Wait - I can explain. Yes there are some really silly lyrics like:

At first there should be unicorns.
The ones with the purple eyes,
not the ones with green eyes.

And yes, there are enough (4-letter and other) words dropped which I don't use in the course of normal conversation, garnering the 'explicit' warning label on the cover - and some drug references (there you were warned). Yet those moments sneak in as they are sung so softly and are nearly-ethereal sounding that you barely notice. Maybe it is the unexpected of this album and that irony that catches the ear.

Don't be mistaken, there are still moments like this in "Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)":

Tell me love is neither living or dying
It's a power in your mind
I think it's with you all the time
It only hurts when it leaves you

Paste Magazine says The Flaming Lips here "manage to build a bridge to the rest of us norms, making some of their must listenable and straight-up lovely music along the way."

Moving on to less-sombre sounding music that caught my ear... this one comes from the garage rock sound of The Molochs on America's Velvet Glory. A reviewer on www.musicexistence.com describes 'The One I Love' as a tune that's "sweet without ever being too sugary with lyrics such as “I will pour the water on your heart to grow”.

Another project just as happier-sounding and fun comes from Colony House, a group making the late-night circuits to promote their sophomore release "Only The Lonely". Part of their fame comes from the fact that two of the band members' father is Steven Curtis Chapman, known for his success in contemporary Christian. The web site www.wepluggoodmusic.com credits their U2 and The Killers influences as the reason their sound is "a nostalgic trip to when music was not about perfection but about energy and making people dance."

What really caught my ear for 17.3 (Jan 20 releases) was first and foremost, Foxygen's Hang, on which the band enlisted the help of a 40-plus-piece symphony orchestra. I've loved Foxygen ever since 2013's "We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic". That's still a classic in my book and if you've never heard it, you should. I love how Foxygen takes elements from so many places, that, as you listen will sound familiar, yet fresh. Your mind will be so active, causing you to ask yourself repeatedly 'what does that remind me of?" - yet its like nothing you've heard before.

From the song "Rise Up":

Quite a few shall wonder
Very few shall know
Everybody wants to change the world
Everybody wonders where the red fern grows
Everybody wants to save their souls
And everybody wonders
The very few shall know

Here, Foxygen is performing the opening track on Conan, Follow The Leader.


Want something really different? Try Throwing Snow's Embers. The album ends as it begins, with the smoldering remains of a dying fire, driving home the album's theme of interconnectedness (www.allmusic.com). This is the second full-length release for the British electronic producer Ross Tones and includes natural field recordings from around the small English village he held the recording sessions at (www.metacritic.com). It will draw you in, not with lyrics, but with feelings, and with the imagery in your mind.

Now about tomorrow - 17.4! Japandroids release their new project Near To THe Wild Heart Of Life. The title track is already out and if it is anything like the rest of the album, I'll have good things to say. Title track kicks off with these lyrics:

The future's under fire
The past is gaining ground
A continuous cold war between
My home and my hometown

Also looking forward to Ellie Holcomb's new release. Her beautiful, rich and emotive tones have captured my ears for the last couple years. If you need to catch up, her last release "As Sure as the Sun" is available now via www.noisetrade.com. Get it now and prepare yourself for tomorrow and 17.4

Thursday, January 12, 2017

What Caught My Ear - 17.1

New music every Friday ... its like perpetual Christmas, even a dream come true. I'd like to think that the search for new favorites yields satisfaction through the process of discovery alone, but also connects with something deep in our soul that music speaks to as well as making us culturally more relevant. Dietrich Bonhoeffer claimed that music "will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” Henry David Thoreau knew that when he heard music, it made him stronger - “I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”

For years I have welcomed new music release day - always a Tuesday in the USA until July 2015 when it was moved to Fridays to get the entire world synced on the same day to standardize chart performance and reduce the potential for illegal downloads. So, I thought this year I'd let everyone in on what catches my ear as I look through the releases. I know my favorites will still be influenced by first what catches my eye - either by cover art, title, or the artist and will most likely be genres that I have an affinity towards - but I'll try to be more inclusive and wider in my considerations in selections.

So for the first release day of the year - 17.1 - I have two titles that I've been listening to.

Gone is Gone is a metal "super-group" composed of Troy Sanders (Mastodon), Tony Hajjar (At the Drive-In), Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age), and film composer Mike Zarin. Not a head-banger? I wouldn't say I am either, but don't let that stop you from giving "Echolocation" a spin. At times bleak and heavy, the disc has a solid rock groove. As the reviewer on consequenceofsound.net writes, this collaboration is "a steely and glum collection, with crunchy guitar riffs giving way to brief expanses of ethereal textures".

One that I've listened to on repeat in the car even more this week is "11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory" - a product of the always-fun and raw Dropkick Murphys. Addictive in energy, Paste Magazine's description sums it up best... "Loss and the possibility of redemption represent the twin themes of pain and glory fueling the Celtic-punk band’s ninth album". And you really haven't heard "You'll Never Walk Alone" until you hear this brilliant cover version!

Let me know what you think about either of these ear-catching selections of the week.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Remix: Tori Kelley

Watching NBC's The Voice this week, there was a segment where Adam had asked Tori Kelly to help mentor his team in the Battle Rounds. Natalie Yacovazzi and Nate Butler performed Kelly's "Hollow" during their battle.

So hold me
Wrap me in love, fill up my cup
Empty and only your love can fill up my cup
Cause I'm hollow

While watching her coach these two on the song, four words she said jumped out to me -- "since it's about God". Now, that may not be news to everyone, but as much as I love to discover new music and artists and was aware of some of Kelly's story, I hadn't listened to much of her music. Takes me a little longer for me to get there with the 'pop' sound. Now with the realization that she is a woman of faith, I had a new desire to give her album a listen and dig deeper.

While running today I listened to the album. Some lyrics from some of the songs jumped out (click on the links to hear the songs as well) -

City Dove:

All I know is I'm holdin' on

I haven't figured anything out
I haven't figured anything anything anything out

City dove, fly between the buildings and fences
Soft inside but rough on the edges
Waiting here for something to come just holdin' on

Try to get to the heart of it
Fly low but lookin' for Heaven
I know, I know I'm holding on


Something Beautiful:


Breathe in and let it go, oh
Your tears are not for nothing
Let them fall off
In every tear drop there is something beautiful, oh
You are stronger than you know, oh
Oh you're something beautiful

Falling Slow:

But here I am, just a lot of broken pieces
I don't plan to leave and break your heart

[Chorus:]
What if I messed up? Would you give up on us?
Would you tear the page out like it never ever happened?
What if I told you you're doing fine? Stay cool
Swear I'll make it worthwhile, baby
You should know I'm always falling slow in love
Slow in love
Falling slow in love

Unbreakable Smile:

The way you live your life, depends on you
That’s when I realized I wanna make a difference
Use my name for good and change the game I could

Sure there is a bit of flirtation on the record too, that comes from being young and trying to find love - but the overwhelming themes are about love, commitment, loyalty, hope ... and just goes to prove that a Christian can make music anywhere, not just on a Christian label. Maybe this is part of what it really takes too to bring change to this world.

Here's a clip of Tori singing John Mark McMillan's How He Loves and another of Kari Jobe's Revelation Song - both from 2011.

Makes so much sense that I like her. She grew up listening to one of my favorite Christian artists from the 80's, Crystal Lewis.

If you're not a fan - hopefully you'll give Tori a first listen or at least a re-mix.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Slow Trauma

Bill Mallonee himself may even have lost count as "it's getting close to something like 80 for me" but Slow Trauma is at least his 73rd album released. Slow Trauma became available a few days ago in a very limited run. The project contains 10 tracks where you'll hear a seasoned voice that has clearly traversed through many experiences of just plain living. You can hear it in the rasp, the grit, as well as in the poignant and sometimes weary lyrics. Mallonee sings "only time will tell" from a longing heart that is clearly still holding on to hope while "waiting for the stone to be rolled away". Slow Trauma is born out of life, just like all blues and Americana - sounds that take root first in the soul. As a huge Bruce Cockburn fan, I've been a fan of Mallonee since the early days with his group Vigilantes of Love because I can hear many of the same qualities that made me a fan of both. Vigilantes of Love was an indie band Bill formed back in 1990 while a student at the University of Georgia. And, it can't go without saying that the truly great and sadly late Mark Heard, another of my favorites in this musical genre, had a hand in the production of their recordings. I need to clarify that Cockburn has not influenced Mallonee. In fact, this week, Mallonee told me he is not really a fan. Though he was early on and likes some of the first Cockburn projects, he commented that he found him "not really edgy enough or immediate enough for my tastes".

Now a couple decades removed the Vigilantes days, Bill and his wife Muriah have lived in the rural, high desert of New Mexico for the last 6 years. On his digital liner notes found on his web site, he says he is happy to have a home studio in which he feels increasingly comfortable... to the point that he has hit a creative output unlike anything he's ever done previously. "It's been a journey lyrically & musically. I saw David Bowie in the Elephant Man. And a line he delivered will always move me to tears: "There are so many ideas in my head that sometimes I feel like it will explode." I had to find out how he can be so creative, so prolific and keep it fresh. He clearly had some thoughts:

"...that's a lot of writing over 22 years, but it stills feels as fresh as the first song i ever wrote. the songs keep coming, so i record quick demo ideas and get to work on lyrics. I'm releasing something like 3-5 albums a year, and I stand by them all. That's the best thing about bidding the "industry" adieu in 2000. There's no one to answer. I tell younger artists all the time that you really don't need someone in a superstructure to give you "permission" to be artist. BUT, I also tell them that they better be willing to find their own voice, (not someone else's) and strive for originality.... and lastly, to make peace with the poverty and deprivation that will go with such a decision..."

Among all of his recordings, Mallonee considers "Slow Trauma" to be one of his 4 landmark recordings. It's that good! If you are interested, you can sample it at his website https://billmalloneemusic.bandcamp.com/album/slow-trauma You need to hurry though, while digital downloads and streaming will remain available, Bill is only doing a limited run of 500 CDs.

Grace is so important in our life and a consistent message in Mallonee's music, so I want to close with some profound words he penned in the liner notes, especially as we approach Easter and Resurrection Sunday:

"Still, the visible Church (it seems to me) often spends much of her time putting boundaries on just how far and to whom the Cross of Christ reaches; boundaries on just how far His Mercy reaches and how efficacious His Grace is.
No wonder eyes roll and hearts despair.

I must tell the whole truth, however:
On my “better days,” I have no doubts.
Well, fewer.
Love Wins,
Grace Triumphs
And that we’re all made Whole.
And I do mean “ALL.”
Everyone.
Every. One.
"He Is Risen," goes the Easter liturgy.
And you & I, the stumbling, wayward congregation of the spiritually poor, blind, sin-sick and lame respond:
"He Is Risen, Indeed!"
I'm there."

What keeps Mallonee writing, even if its to relatively small audiences compared to what others who have remained in the "industry" might have? ...the idea behind writing, he says, is to portray an honest human; one struggling with his own brokenness and wrestling to define what the million little daily manifestations of Life & Death may look like or be about.

So please ... get your copy of Slow Trauma ... join the journey.

Grace and Peace.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Being Served

Since jury service is the patriotic and legal duty of every American, and is a civil service to the community, I will share with you my service experience of today. It began a couple months ago when I received notice my name had been randomly chose and if I qualified, I would be on-call for jury service in Federal Court for a six-month period into July. I was recently summoned to report today for a trial expected to last 3 days. After a quick walk from the parking garage to the court in the rain, stood in line to have my possessions screened and to pass through the metal detector. Then, check-in with the clerk's office presenting photo ID - all by 8:15am - and not able to bring coffee, phone, a book... just me and about 40 other people I didn't know. Actually I saw 2 people wearing jeans which were specifically prohibited on the brochure, and a few had coffee (not mentioned in the mailer but assumed wouldn't be able to bring) and one had a book! I envied him! In our holding room, we waited ... and waited ... and waited, while randomly taking turns to use the restroom - it seemed to help with the increasing restlessness. Some were lucky to know others and struck up easy conversations. Otherwise, no windows, no visitors to give us a status report. It started to feel as though this may be a unique occurrence but being my first time in this court, really didn't know what to expect. The watched clock moved quite slowly... 8:30a, 8:45a, 9:00a, 9:15a, 9:30a... when finally we were told the delay was due to some discussions in the courtroom. We'd re-organize ourselves alphabetically with the help of the US Marshall and wait again until the judge was ready for us. Being a "D", I was 6th in line. This meant that once called, the first 16 would be seated in the jury box and the rest would remain in order using the courtroom seats. We were told 14 of us would be selected to serve and the rest would be excused. It was now about 10:00a when we got the word that the judge was ready. The courtroom was 4 floors above our holding room so it took several elevator trips to get us all up to the courtroom. Remember, I was 6th and the jury box holds 16, so I was seated in the front row. Figured that could be good - or bad - depending on one's perspective. The courtroom was stoically quiet. Once we were all in position, the Judge thanked us for our attendance and patience this morning - almost apologized, but instead said he regretted that we needed to come out this morning for though there had been a planned 3-day trial, the defendant pleaded guilty and the matter was settled. Being no further need for our presence or participation, we were excused. The judge explained that this was very unusual - in fact he said he doesn't remember it ever happening before during his 18 years on the bench. Normally a plea takes place well ahead of a jury physically being present and ready for a case. He said, however, some people do try to game the system. This particular defendant had made a plea earlier, then retracted it asking for a jury trial, and had really struggled with her decisions. So, when she was ready to again make a plea this morning, the judge explained he could not have us leave until the case status had been secured for fear that once we left there would have been another attempt to change her mind, which would have required the case to be again scheduled 3 or 4 months out. So we all had some time given back to us today and looks like we potentially saved the tax-payers some money by this case concluding and not being stretched out. So what was the case? Apparently today's defendant was accused (along with 2 others whose dispositions were/will be separately decided) of defrauding insurance companies and the federal student loan program. News stories on the web state "investigators say between 2011 and 2014, all three women submitted financial aid forms in order to get credit refunds while enrolled at Liberty University. The charges include mail, wire and student loan fraud. If convicted, all three women could go to prison for a long time. Some of these charges carry 20 years in prison each and several fines." No word yet on the sentence or the plea agreement, or whether that has even been decided yet. Since its only February - and I'm on-call for another four months... maybe my next time will be more routine and more exciting - or as a friend warned, just very "tedious" and "long" days.

Monday, April 29, 2013

It's a simple choice ... Lead, or be led!

When you "Save your drama for your Mama" you don't take it past the front door of your workplace. Charlie Sheppard has written a great book on the two triangles that leaders can find themselves in - the Drama Triangle and the Leadership Triangle. "By being determined, by being a leader, you stay out of the world of the Drama Triangle. When you are out of drama, so is the world around you. When you are in the Leadership Triangle, you can be a leader, and create more leaders, directly impacting the world around you." Sheppard discusses the various roles we play - the Rescuer, the Victim, the Coach, the Visionary. No doubt it's pretty obvious where you want to be just from reading the classifications. But Sheppard makes the point that our choices are reflected in our behaviors from the roles we adopt in life. He writes "When you fully embrace a role, you embrace its power - or its lack of power. You embrace its potential - or its limitation. You eventually embody the role." He goes into great detail about our motivations - are they internal or external (locus of control)? One of the most important points is that leaders make choices. Leaders don't lead because they have to, but because they want to, they choose to and they are constantly developing themselves over the years. Leaders have vision which makes them catalysts for change, for progress, and are constantly coaching others to become leaders too. There is so much wisdom, common sense and information that hits home in this work that it is worth reading again; it should even be required. Sheppard presents concepts in his work which are seeds to be planted in our life, teams and community and "stored within these ideas is vast potential." You won't be able to read this book without getting at least one great idea or thought you can implement to make yourself a better leader.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Come To Jesus Meeting


I first learned that Jesus was coming to Lynchburg, VA in February while attending a Dunbar Middle School theatre performance of “Rally Round the Flag, Boys”.  The Dunbar program is the best in Virginia, has received national attention and even participated in international competition.  What makes it even more special is that Albert and Lori Carter, who head up the program, are dear friends from Liberty University ‘back in the day’.  The added connection is that our nephew attends Dunbar currently and our son will next year.  It’s a school that many students hope to be able to attend by acceptance via application, but we are fortunate enough to reside in the area zoned for Dunbar, so we’re in automatically and are looking forward to those years, the next five.   Seems like our eyes veered away from Jesus here for a moment, but the school's connection was important enough to lay as a foundation.  So now… back to the announcement of the coming of Jesus. 

Ted Neeley, who portrayed Jesus, both on Broadway’s version and in the film “Jesus Christ Superstar” would be gracing the local stage to kick off his tour with The Little Big Band, which was also in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the film’s release.  Making the night even more remarkable was that Ted himself wanted the tour-kick-off-event to happen in Lynchburg at Dunbar because of his close ties and friendship with Carl Anderson, who played the role of Judas opposite Neeley and grew up in Lynchburg, VA.  The very auditorium that Ted wanted to rehearse and perform on is named in tribute to Carl, the Carl Anderson Auditorium.

Growing up in a conservative Christian family and attending a conservative Christian school, I’ve got to be honest and say I’ve never seen the movie all the way through and was a bit self-conscious to have to admit that a couple nights ago to Ted when I met him since I never really took the time or had the opportunity to explain why.  Readers should know that it is on my list of things to do first chance I get.  I’m very relieved that it can be streamed on Netflix.   As I’ve matured in years and in the faith, I have come to realize it is important to make our own assessments and decisions and not automatically allow someone else’s to become ours.  To protest anything without knowing what we are protesting personally is not the wisest approach.  A blog I’ve recently found, authored locally last year, delves into that controversy over the film and theological matters much better than I can here, so I provide this link before I move on, http://www.theruthlessmonk.com/why-ill-spend-easter-watching-jesus-christ-superstar/.  Maybe Easter is when I’ll find myself watching it as well, but in a brand new light.

Ted and his band were in town the entire week and I was able to somewhat experience their local town discoveries, their new friendships and their rehearsals albeit vicariously through Facebook posts, photos, videos from my friend Lori.  Albert was there too, but it only takes one minute to realize he’s the more reserved one.   She can make anything or anything feel great about themselves and so loved.  In fact, if Albert hadn’t been by her side and part of the 2-member southern hospitality and visitation committee, I doubt he would have seen his wife at all until days after Neeley and band left town.  I’m convinced Lori denied herself of the right to sleep to complete her costume transformation into Miss Congeniality, Miss Hospitality, Miss Love and well, all around supportive, encouraging, scolding, rock and roll band mother.  I hope she can catch up soon and that Albert can get her back for himself … well, he, as well as the school full of kids they love so much!

Any reader who knows me already knows that I have an addictive passion for vinyl and the hunt to always add to my growing collection.  I have collected records since dorm days at Liberty (then Baptist College) University began 34 years ago… I have more records than I have space to display so they bleed over into boxes and other rooms but that doesn’t stop me!  Knowing however that Ted was in town, I knew I had a couple of records with his name on them… two copies of the “Jesus Christ Superstar” movie soundtrack, circa 1973 …one of which I had only owned for about a week, having located at the local Goodwill in anticipation of the concert event.  I contacted Lori about whether Ted would be available to sign them.  In more ways than one it can quite the disappointment to carry the extra luggage of vinyl to a concert, keep them safe at my seat, and then not have the opportunity to get the desired autograph.  I reached out to Lori because I needed to know it was worth the effort.  She contacted me immediately … during one of the band’s late rehearsals … and said she could do even better if I would contact her the next evening, and then took the phone up on stage for my own private listening party.

I got the call from Lori the next night at about 9p to inform me “we are leaving the school now”.  Laura, Lily and I arrived at the revealed location for the late dinner shortly before 10p.  After formal introductions, we launched immediately into a warm, open, give and take conversation with one of the most kind, caring, generous, thoughtful men I’ve ever met.  Ted invited us to join them for dinner and we talked about music, movies, pets, family, theater, regrets, living your dreams, and heard stories about the making of the film in 1972.  Ted was delighted to sign my albums and did so in a very personal way, thoughtfully crafting what he would say and whom he should address including Lily.  As he opened the vinyl fold and paged through the photo insert, he told us stories of his first trip to Israel, the challenge of being there to portray Jesus, how he met his wife on set, how they had to grow grass for one scene, chase off sheep for another, and credited Golda Meir for their ability to get out of the country safely.   More than once he mentioned how remarkable it was to be in Israel and be there to play Jesus, like he still couldn’t fathom it.  He said while there he was able to walk the Stations of the Cross.  We did not ask Ted for a photo together since it was quite late, the restaurant was cleaning up and closing and we knew Ted and band needed rest for the show the next night plus we needed to get Lily home for some rest with school the next day.  We knew we could get the photo opportunity after the show.  Ted hugged each of us, like he had known us much longer than simply the last 75 minutes.

Fast-forward to the concert… great time for all who were there, including Carl’s family.  For their sake and for the sake of the theatre program, I wish the place would have been packed out.  Ted and band, an incredibly gifted bunch of musicians who had only been together for two weeks and no one could tell, opened with the “Tommy” classic “Pinball Wizard” and rocked it!  Neeley played the original Tommy so he nailed it and kicked off the night perfectly.  One of many special moments happened when the middle school’s show choir accompanied a recording of Carl singing “God’s Gift to the World”.   They later returned to join Ted and band with “Let the SunShine In” from Hair and remained up front for the closing Beatles medley … a night these young actors, singers and dreamers will never forget.  Ted and band performed nearly every song from his new CD, of which a shipment had just arrived that afternoon, so it was being sold for the first time.  Ted also played a clip of Carl Anderson performing “Superstar” on The Tonight Show many years ago.  This was so poignant as Carl had returned to the very stage on which he started.   Not every eye remained dry, I’m sure.  For those who do not know, Carl passed away in 2004 after a battle with leukemia.   After that video played, Ted performed “Gethsemane” from JC Superstar.  It was chilling to hear as Ted, now 68, still nailed those high notes, but more importantly how he performed in character, dropping to his knees and looking heavenward as the song reached its emotional end filled with surrender and energy spent.  Ted sprinkled acting and audition stories between songs and, other than when the band members were rocking the tunes so flawlessly, even with a broken string during “White Buffalo”, it felt more like Ted was sitting with you in your living room as a friend than a performer of Broadway, film and stage for the last 40 years.  Even his comments like “be patient with us”, and “I hope we get it right” could not distract from the cohesiveness the band displayed.  Ted is clearly still learning some of the new songs and hopefully as he becomes more comfortable with them, can step away from his notebook of lyrics so he can even better connect and showcase the new material, but his humility shined through.

After the show Ted held a meet and greet in the hallway outside the auditorium.  There were probably 25-30 people who waited in line with the last autographed signed 3 hours later, at 1:30am.  Ted clearly is energized by meeting people and would take personal time with each one.  Ted, of course, appreciated that we came back to the show, and were willing to wait to greet him again, seemed genuinely happy to see us, appreciating our feedback and praise for his performance and the band’s expertise.  He took time to sign our CD and poster and pose for a few photos.  Lily had fallen asleep while waiting and he wanted us to tell her he was sorry it took so long and that he missed seeing her.

As we waited … and waited … to see Jesus, we wondered what it would have been like to be waiting with the large crowds to see the real Jesus a little over 2,000 years ago.  Would we have waited, or would we have grown tired and walked away prematurely?  Maybe we would have been a skeptic, perhaps one of the religious zealots?  If we were in the line waiting to meet the Messiah, when would the wait have become too long?  Would we have been selfish, impatient, pushed to the front or just been content to wait our turn?  Would we have even slightly realized the historical impact of this moment, this man?  Actually, I feel the answer lies in how much faith we would have had that Jesus possessed exactly what we needed, and that He was willing to give it to us upon our first meeting.  How badly would we want it?  Today, are we willing to wait?  Do we sacrifice time in order to meet with Him?  Convicting questions for myself, and I expect, for you the reader.  One lady in the Bible didn’t even need to meet Him personally; she just wanted to touch His clothing, which takes pressure off about what to say once you do meet face to face.  The great thing about having met the other Jesus – Ted Neeley – is the believability and confirmation in my heart, that Jesus receives us in a similar way, with arms open.   I did meet the real Jesus in 1976 and have tried to follow Him for these 37 years since, but as a visually influenced person, this weekend was as close to an epiphany as it gets, and it has a lot to do with branding of sorts.  If Ted Neeley had played Jesus on stage and film but had turned out to be rude, arrogant, apathetic, and ungrateful, it could taint the name of Jesus to a searching soul who may doubt His claims.  Now, I know that my God and my Jesus are big enough to take care of themselves and rise above that, but the opposite is also true.   Ted Neeley showed love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, generosity … and though I didn’t have enough time or opportunity to speak with him about deeper spiritual things and find out what he thinks about the real Jesus and whether he has met Him, those attributes Neeley genuinely displays are without question, according to Paul in the scriptures, fruits of the Spirit. 

Meeting Ted this weekend, gave a face to Jesus and not in a sacrilegious way but in a relational way.   You see, Jesus really did come to Lynchburg this week, Jesus really did spend time with us, and Jesus did love on us, showing us that each has worth and should aspire towards what He has placed in our hearts as our purpose and calling … and He did this through Ted Neeley, His wonderfully made creation and gift. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

Real People in Black Robes


A book about the highest court of the land, written by the long-tenured first woman to serve, may sound a bit clinical, stodgy and reminiscent of a history textbook but is anything but.  Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court is a delightful, fun, and very informatively entertaining read in both content and style.   Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has organized a collection of captivating stories about "real people, with real emotions, real foibles, and a very real - if sometimes conflicting - commitment to doing what is right."  She may have been the first woman on the court, but she delves into many other Supreme Court firsts as well as discussing the most iconic justices, the history of how the court began, how it moved between several locations until its current home in its own building, and even how circuit riding greatly tired out early justices as they served their jurisdictions.  Did you know the nation's highest court has a court above them?  A basketball court.  "Serious and stressful though the job can be, it has always been important to the Justices that the law clerks enjoy a social and collegial environment" like letting loose at weekly basketball games.  Mainly used for the clerks, there have been a couple justices who have played the game upstairs themselves.  One justice on the court was a former NFL rookie star leading the league in rushing, another played semi-professional baseball and beyond athleticism, many have an incredible sense of humor largely unknown by the public.  O'Connor believes this comic relief is "a valuable commodity in any occupation, and it certainly is appreciated in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court of the United States."  Did you know that a former President served as Chief Justice - the only one to do so?  William Howard Taft was both the 27th President of the United Sates and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States.  So, that’s enough for the spoilers.  O'Connor's book will help you appreciate the history and the current role of the highest court as well the passion with which these men and women now serve, while at the same time making them human beings with quirks and personalities just like the reader.  O'Connor closes her work by including in entirety the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, which she also carries with her always.  It’s a great reminder of how we can agree to disagree in America, while all trying to do the right thing, and a reminder of why we do what we do and how blessed we are to be an American.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Little-g gods and the big-g God


Our gods (little g) are not little cows made of gold, but they are just as strange… sometimes they can fit in the palm of our hand and have touch screens, sometimes they are rectangular and green, sometimes they can be the very things that are supposed to be good for us in religion and family.   Elizabeth Scalia authors a regularly updated blog at www.patheos.com and has written this book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life.  The front cover will catch your attention immediately as a church’s stained glass window is created by very recognizable app icons … point is, you may indeed identify what could be your strange god before even cracking the book open.   She writes “Idols are not like opinions or even convictions.  They don’t ask for consensus or even strong advocacy – they demand worshipers.”  This book is not written in a preach-in- your-face style, as Scalia realizes we all struggle with gods that end up taking the place of the one true God and writes from a place of personal experience.   She covers just a few of the gods we’ve made … Idols of I, the Idea, Prosperity, Technology, Coolness and Sex, Plans, Super Idols and more.   Recognizing her own frailty in this area, she admits the chapter on the idol of technology was inspired by her own awareness that she had put the “very strange god of Internet infotainment before God Almighty – and too often before my God-given family or commitments” succumbing to the distracting and destructive power of seeing her own ideas looking right back at her. Scalia’s purpose in this work is that we are able to identify our idols for what they are, and begin to remove them “from the high places we have allowed them to be enshrined – before our eyes, in our hearts, between each other, and between God and us.”  We need to understand that the roots of all sin, including idolatry are “seeded within the mind”.  If Scalia is successful with this easily read, but not necessarily easy to read book, then the reader will be left with the challenge to identify their own strange gods and launching a mission to destroy them and instead exalt God (big G). 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Understanding Israel's Place in Prophecy - the Seed Promise


Even if you know nothing about Bible prophecies for the last days or how from the start God chose a specific nation to be His special people, you've heard much political attention given to Israel.  In his book, Rabbi Jonathan Bernis would argue this is because Israel has been and will be important in practically all events that fall on history's timeline from Genesis through Revelation.  Bernis, a Jew who has come to accept the Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish Messiah, contends that everything about Israel's part in biblical events is traced back to Genesis 3:15, the Seed Promise.   In that verse, "God decreed the seed of the woman would ultimately crush Satan's head and bring about his destruction".  That promise depended on Abraham's seed, the line through which the Redeemer would eventually appear.  Satan's mission was to stop it before it happened.   Bernis believes that Satan's number one priority is to destroy that seed, even to this day and this is the basis and rationale of all anti-Semitism.   In the book, he explains why this promise is yet to be fully fulfilled.  He believes that Calvary was a "down payment", the "first installment" since the domain of Satan has not yet been brought to completion.  The promise will ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus returns as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in victory.  This two-part fulfillment is why Satan has worked so hard to destroy the Jewish people, even at times in the name of Christianity.   Bernis goes into detail, outlining specific prophecies and what is happening in Israel today that convinces him the end days are at hand as he sees these in fulfillment.  He spends the latter sections of the book encouraging the reader to reach out to their Jewish friends.  To do so, we must love them and make them jealous of the goodness of our God through our lives and personal stories.   If you understand the verse about blessings coming to those who bless Israel and curses to those who curse Israel, then it is easy to grasp how we should treat our Jewish friends with kindness and a love for them that cares about where they will spend eternity.  We will also want to pray for the nation and its people.  Bernis shares how we can do that.   Knowing that the people of Israel are not loved by God any more than you or I are but are uniquely special to Him, you'll want to learn more about their struggle, their pain, their abuse in history, and their place in prophecy.  I highly recommend this book for that reason alone.   The book was released on Jan 15, 2013 but my copy was a free advance courtesy of the publisher for review through www.netgalley.com.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Case for the Truth (a book review)

As a fan of television shows such as Bones, Cold Case and CSI I was quickly drawn in by the title of J. Warner Wallace’s new book "Cold-Case Christianity" and was certainly not disappointed.   Years from now, I expect this book to be referred to with the likes of Josh McDowell’s “Evidence That Demands A Verdict”, Francis Shaeffer’s ”The God who is There” or C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”.

Wallace’s journey parallels Lewis’s in that he was once an avowed atheist arguing against the existence of the God they both would come to believe in and defend.  What makes Wallace’s perspective unique is his profession as detective, investigating cold cases and his experience in the courtroom.

Early in the book Wallace writes “even before examining the Gospels with the rigor we are going to apply…I recognized that they were consistent with what I would expect to see, given my experience as a detective.”  Wallace uses his investigative and courtroom experiences as examples and analogies in his arguments in defense of the authenticity of the Bible.  He counters opposing claims to biblical errors by citing historical (non-Christian) writers of the day, archeological finds and addresses the courtroom parallel of chain of custody and circumstantial evidence as convincing perspective.

About the claim from skeptics that the Gospels were written after the life of Christ as part of a conspiracy,  Wallace says the best way to counter this is to retrace the chain of custody to look for a mishandling of the evidence from point of ‘crime scene’ to first appearance in the ‘courtroom’.  After much meticulous detail, he could find none. 

Wallace contends that just as a defendant should be considered innocent until proven guilty, skeptics get it wrong when they claim that the burden for the proof of the Christian worldview belongs to Christians, adding that naturalism is the default position that need not be proved.   Wallace believes that if a declaration is being made which cannot be supported by evidence, it is only an attempt to destroy or distract, which if those same tactics used to try to disqualify the Gospels were used on other writings they would also disqualify non-biblical historical texts. 

After a fascinating read, Wallace’s passion which led him to write the book is clear.  His hope is that his skeptical friends would lay aside presuppositions long enough to consider the possibility of a substantive circumstantial case supporting the reliability of the gospel writers.  He also hopes that Christians will be more ready and able to make “a case for the truth.”  ...and that, I am.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Yep, that's me ... with the opportunity to speak at the local Weight Watchers and share my journey of losing 50 pounds.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Why I will not eat at Chick-Fil-A today!

You don’t like them?  You obviously don’t know me very well.  I’ve posted about my visits in the past… and not a week goes by that I don’t go there at least once, maybe twice … even while on weight watchers.

That’s right! You’re trying to lose weight so you can’t?  Wrong again.  I’ve made my weekly visits (or more) while losing over 40 pounds.  Sometimes I’m forced to select the grilled option or omit the waffle fries though, and always get a calorie-free drink, but I still enjoy the chicken.

You don’t like chicken?   What? Are you paying attention or just skimming through until you see the key word gay?  I love chicken.  It’s my leaner protein meat of choice, and the reason I give myself the right to get the breaded over the grilled is … is there really a need to answer that?  It just tastes so great that grilled is like cardboard in comparison!

I know, you just don’t like their business practices or the company themselves?  You would be completely in error my friends.  I am fascinated by the success of a business with a limited menu, a shorter work week, and so much consistency in management and customer service that I know I will always be greeted with a smile and a genuine “my pleasure”.  I’ve attended several John Maxwell led Chick-Fil-A leadercast seminars just to try to learn how to be a better manager myself.

Obviously then, in light of all of the recent hype and publicity, you must be gay!  Really?  I am happily heterosexual, married to one woman for one lifetime, celebrating 27 ½ years together as of next Thursday, August 9.

Ah, should have realized, there are no restaurants near you then!  Actually, there are three.

Friends, while I am a Christian, and believe, along with Dan Cathy that God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman, and value freedom of speech, I know that we are each on our own journey with God.  I have more friends today who are self-proclaimed homosexuals than ever before in my life.  When God started bringing these friends into my life years ago, it rocked my theological world a bit.  I found myself in discussions with some of them trying to change them.  I ultimately realized I personally had enough things needing changing in my own life that I needed to just love them and accept them and let any changing I felt God required up to God Himself.  It wasn’t my job.  I only needed to focus on myself.  These friends are very kind to me and accept me for who I am – heterosexual white male Christian and all hopefully because they see my heart first.   

Because almost all of my gay friends say they are followers of Jesus, I refer to the writings of Paul in Romans 15 which reminds me:
May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.

While Jesus Himself never spoke about homosexuality, plenty of times He spoke of love and even proclaimed the greatest commandments of all to involve love…love for God Himself, and love for our neighbors equal to how we love ourselves.

So while it is important to thank a business whose CEO has convictions he is not ashamed of, and important that in America we have freedom to do or to not do business with any business we choose for whatever reason we choose, it is also not a war of us versus them, especially when some of them are some of us.  Love over-rides our differences because Christ died for all ….   I respect those who took part in the appreciation day because I’m sure their intent was good at heart.  I have many friends in that group as well … in number, probably more.  I just hope we can look at our motivations and how we treat people differently than knee jerk reactions from both sides have done.

While I may not always agree with statements or positions of the CEO of my own employer, he should still have the freedom to speak and to act.  I’m sure I frequent companies whose ideals I may disagree with … maybe they aren’t brave enough to admit their philosophical convictions for fear of losing customers.   So, I will be thanking Dan Cathy in writing with a copy of this blog instead of with my dollars today.  My sandwich can wait -- it is not as important as declaring how much I value all of my friendships.  These relationships are the vehicles that God uses to allow us to speak into the lives of each other and how He can change the things that need changed – which ironically may or may not be what we actually think needs changed in our friend.  That’s why He is God and we are not.

One other point I hope that my gay friends will acknowledge...  Of the hundreds (at least) of times that I have walked into a Chick-Fil-A, or passed through their drive-through, I have never been asked about my sexual orientation, never refused service, never received a smile only if I was with my wife and kids, never asked if I was a Christian … but always treated kindly and respectfully, and my money and presence was valued exactly the same as the customer both in front of and behind me because yes… there is always a line … much longer today I’m sure, just one other reason I won’t be eating there.  They’ll be fine.  And so will my friends…