Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: For the Record

As this year is ticking quickly to a close, I felt it was time for me to put in my 2-cents about the music of 2011. I’ve seen many other best of lists, and wanted to throw my voice into the ring as well.

Anyone who knows me personally from time spent working together during my broadcasting career, or who serves side-by-side with me on the church worship team, or only knows me casually through Facebook posts, will know that I love music… but beyond that, I love to discover new music and introduce others to it. It’s like a second language for me. I monitor new releases every single Tuesday and utilize and Spotify to listen before I buy in my search of treasured projects. I love to be part of the smaller market share, on the cutting edge … U2 was my favorite college band while that’s all they were, four young college-age kids from Dublin with a couple of records out that had some great spiritual lyrics. I’m actually often saddened and ready to move on if and when my discovered artist wins the favor of the populace … not because I enjoy them less, but because I fear they will no longer be true to themselves enough to remain special and original and will instead make music that they’re told will sell to the masses. U2 has been the one exception. While the band has evolved and gone through musical seasons of style, this year they hold claim as the biggest touring success of 2011, and yes, I still follow them whole-heartedly as my favorite artist of all time.

Another artist whom I discovered two years ago when she was 19 and chasing pavements, added millions of fans this year with her release of 21. Adele’s 21 has become the biggest selling album of the last seven years and has enjoyed 43 straight weeks in the top five of the Billboard 200, setting a record for most weeks in the top five in the chart's 55-year history. Adele has a charm that’s undeniable; she offers no pretenses, other then displaying some occasional insecurity in her vulnerability to sing about her failed relationships at such a young age. That, I believe is why people love her so much. While this ability to relate gains the staying power of her fans, their original interest is in her voice, which alone is the instrument and in need of nothing else to make her music memorable. There was really nothing else like it on the radio in 2011. To make that case, "Someone Like You" is the first piano-and-vocal-only ballad to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Adele has nearly single-handedly turned around the music industry after 2010 saw album sales fall 13%, while sales averaged an 8% drop every year in the 2000s. In 2011, the industry experienced a 1% increase in album sales and more than a 3% increase in overall music sales. Michael Buble's holiday album sold almost two million records in the last several weeks to become the second biggest album of 2011 while Lady Gaga is expected to end up with the third highest seller. Gaga has only sold half of Adele’s sales even with the suspected inflation of sales during her album’s first week when Amazon sold digital copies for 99-cents.

So how does this have anything to do with my personal best of list? It lends clarification to why I have the top-selling record of the year, a popular artist and project, as my top record of the year as well. Otherwise, my selected Top 20 for 2011 list shares only 5 other records that generated enough sales to chart in Billboard’s Top 200 … and only 1 of those was in the top 100 (sales rank appears in parenthesis).

I won’t speak of each one individually, but having always felt that Charlie Peacock was underappreciated as a musical genius, I am very pleased that he garnered success with The Civil Wars. While Barton Hollow may not have charted high in sales, Jill Williams and John Paul White have gained tremendous attention and are ending up on many end-of-year best of lists. I find it ironic and disappointing that Charlie was not able to enjoy this success as producer within the Christian music industry. Congratulations to Charlie for his new success. Hopefully, he will experience even more.

My first 7 albums were extremely difficult to rank as all are amazing projects and deserve your ear. I would love to hear your thoughts, your disagreements, and your feedback on which of your favorite projects should have appeared on my list.

I can’t wait to discover even more great music in 2012!! Anyone care to join me?

1 Adele/21 (1)

2 The Civil Wars/Barton Hollow (153)

3 Gungor/Ghosts Upon The Earth

4 Fleet Foxes/Helplessness Blues (123)

5 Tedeschi Trucks Band/Revelator

6 The Black Keys/El Camino

7 Over The Rhine/The Long Surrender

8 Iron & Wine/Kiss Each Other Clean

9 Florence + The Machine/Ceremonials

10 Robbie Robertson/How To Become Clairvoyant

11 Coldplay/Mylo Xyloto (35)

12 Bon Iver/Bon Iver (100)

13 Death Cab For Cutie/Codes And Keys (143)

14 My Morning Jacket/Circuital

15 Steve Earle/I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive

16 Eisley/The Valley

17 Jamie Grace/One Song At A Time

18 Ben Harper/Give Till It's Gone

19 Bruce Cockburn/Small Source Of Comfort

20 Amos Lee/Mission Bell

(Honorable mention: Peter Bjorn and John/Gimme Some; Edwin McCain/Mercy Bound; Tom Waits/Bad As Me; Needtobreathe/The Reckoning; Ben Harper/Give Till It’s Gone; Owl City/All Things Bright and Beautiful; Cake/Showroom of Compassion; Eddie Vedder//Ukulele Songs; Gregg Allman/Low Country Blues; Sam Phillips/Long Play project)


Culturally relevant thinking points

"Culture Shift" is a collection of essay-type chapters taken in part from the author's blog and adapted for this book, filled with talking points, or perhaps what are more accurately described as thinking points. In his first book, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, covers topics ranging from abortion to natural disasters to the role of the Supreme Court to dishonesty to popular entertainment to political shifts to racism ... and a few things in-between.

In his introduction Mohler states, "We must first understand our culture and its challenges because we are to be faithful followers of Christ and faithful witnesses to the gospel. We are called to faithfulness, and faithfulness requires that we be ready to think as Christians when confronted with the crucial issues of the day. This is all rooted in our love of God." A better understanding of the culture in which we live makes us more relevant with our message and the methods of communication we employ as believers. It's best to take these topics one at a time and think through their implications upon people of faith.

A highlight of the book is the chapter where Mohlers offers five theses for understanding the relationship between Christian morality and public law! They are:

1) A liberal democracy must allow all participants in the debate to speak and argue from whatever worldviews or convictions they possess.
2) Citizens participating in public debate over law and public policy should declare the convictional basis for their arguments.
3) A liberal democracy must accept limits on secular discourse even as it recognizes limits on religious discourse.
4) A liberal democracy must acknowledge the commingling (mixing together) of religious and secular arguments, religious and secular motivations, and religious and secular outcomes.
5) A liberal democracy must acknowledge and respect the rights of all citizens, including its self-consciously religious citizens.

Another highlight is the chapter on the age of dishonesty, discussing the cultural acceptability of lying by renaming it as misspeak or exaggeration. How the culture has shifted!

Be informed, become more relevant and stretch your thinking with this very important work.

I received this book for free for review from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Destiny Unto Death; Martyr By Grace

The title says it all, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy." What other character in history do you know that was all of these? You'll be hard-pressed I'm sure, if you can think even of one.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" is a thorough and detailed glimpse into Dietrich Bonhoeffer's childhood, relationships, theology and ultimate destiny as an executed martyr of The Third Reich.

"Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" is extremely well documented with letters and writings by himself and others. Many of these letters are while he was in prison between himself and his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer. Unfortunately the two would never be together again outside of prison and never see their dreams fulfilled for a life together.

Through author Eric Metaxas's biography, we learn how Bonhoeffer felt spiritually justified in his participation as a double-agent and key contributor in the strategies to kill Hitler. It was Hitler himself, who just weeks before his own suicide, ordered the execution of Bonhoeffer.

This biography allows readers a complete look into Bonhoeffer's life from the days before his birth all the way through complete words delivered in sermon at his memorial service.

Ultimately we come away with a view of this man, who died at only 39 years of age, as one who knew God's calling on his life and allowed himself to be used knowing the potential risk and ultimate cost.

The doctor present at his death said this: Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.

"Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" was recently named "Book of the Year" by the ECPA, won the 2011 John C. Pollock Award for Biography awarded by Beeson Divinity School and a 2011 Christopher Award in the Non-fiction category. It is certainly not a read to be accomplished in a few sittings, but is so full of historical documentation and writings that it is certainly a worthy read and guaranteed that you will learn something new about Bonhoeffer, Hitler or both ... likely the latter.