Friday, December 19, 2014

THE TAYLOR SWIFT HOLIDAY COLLECTION


Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift released her self-titled debut album in 2006.  It included the hits ‘Tim McGraw’, ‘Teardrops on my Guitar’, and ‘Our Song’.  In 2008 she returned with FEARLESS and the hits ‘Love Story’ and ‘You Belong with Me’.  Taylor grew up on a Christmas tree farm so appropriately her next release was THE TAYLOR SWIFT HOLIDAY COLLECTION (2009, Big Machine Records).  It was produced by Nathan Chapman.  In the liner notes Taylor writes: “I want to thank God for all the blessings He’s given me this past year, and every year before that.  I want to thank my family for all the quirky Christmas memories we’ve collected over the years”.

‘Last Christmas’ was originally written and produced by Wham! member George Michael and released in 1984.  Taylor performs a light country-pop version of this song about heartbreak and longing: “Last Christmas I gave you my heart/But the very next day you gave it away/This year to save me from tears/I’ll give it to someone special.../Merry Christmas/I wrapped it up and sent it/With a note saying ‘I love you’/I meant it/Now I know what a fool I’ve been/But if you kissed me now I know you’d fool me again”.  ‘Christmases When You Were Mine’ is a pretty country ballad penned by Swift, Liz Rose, and Nathan Chapman.  It reminds us that the holidays can be difficult for many: “I’ve been doing fine without you, really/Up until the nights got cold/Everybody’s here except you, baby/Seems like everyone’s got someone to hold/But for me it’s just a lonely time/Cause there were Christmases when you were mine”.

‘Santa Baby’ was originally recorded by Eartha Kitt with Henri Rene and his orchestra in New York City in July 1953.  Swift’s version has an old country twang to it and finds Nathan Chapman and Heidi Beall on harmony vocals.  It includes these playful lyrics: “Come and trim my Christmas tree/With some decorations bought at Tiffany’s/I really do believe in you/Let’s see if you believe in me/Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing, a ring/And I don’t mean on the phone/Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight”.  On ‘Silent Night’ Taylor plays with the melody to good effect, breathing new life into a holiday classic.  It includes these reverent lyrics: “Silent night, holy night/Son of God/Love’s pure light/Radiant beams from Thy holy face/With the dawn of redeeming grace/Jesus Lord at Thy birth (2x)/Halleluia (3X)/Christ the Savior is born”. 

Swift is the lone writer of the next offering ‘Christmas Must Be Something More’.  This upbeat country number reminds us just why we celebrate Christmas: “We get so caught up in all of it/Business and relationships/100 mile an hour lives/And it’s this time of year/And everybody’s here/It seems the last thing on your mind/It’s that the day holds something special/Something holy, not superficial/So here’s to Jesus Christ who saved our lives/It’s something we all try to ignore/And put a wreath up on your door/But here’s something you should know that is for sure/Christmas must be something (2X)/Christmas must be something more”.  The first performance of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ was by Bing Crosby on his NBC radio show ‘The Kraft Music Hall’ on Christmas Day in 1941.  Here the song is countrified and decidedly sentimental: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas/Just like the ones I used to know/Where the treetops glisten and children listen/To hear sleighbells in the snow/I’m dreaming of a white Christmas/With every Christmas card I write/May your days be merry and bright/And may all your Christmases be white”.

This six song holiday EP should, in my humble opinion, be in everyone’s music collection.  Taylor Swift is my favorite female vocalist of all time!  The arrangements of the songs presented here are lovely.  Instruments used include guitars, dobro, mandolin, fiddle, and bass.  Nick Buda, who also appears on the latest Newsboys album HALLELUJAH FOR THE CROSS, plays drums here.  The photos of Taylor included with this project are simply stunning and tasteful.  I’m rating THE TAYLOR SWIFT HOLIDAY COLLECTION 90%.  Visit Taylor’s official website at www.taylorswift.com.

 

 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

OH! GRAVITY


Switchfoot was founded in 1996 as Chin Up.  Their debut album as Switchfoot, which is a surfing term, was 1997’s THE LEGEND OF CHIN.  2003’s THE BEAUTIFUL LETDOWN achieved mainstream success with two singles, ‘Meant to Live’ and ‘Dare You to Move’.  OH! GRAVITY is the band’s sixth studio album.  It was released on Sparrow and Columbia Records in 2006.  It debuted on the Billboard 200 in 18th place and sold 63,000 copies the first week.  On the album Switchfoot is: Jon Foreman, Tim Foreman, Chad Butler, Jerome Fontamillas, and Andrew Shirley.  Jon wrote eight of the songs alone, co-wrote three with brother Tim, and one with Todd Cooper.

The title track ‘Oh! Gravity’ starts things off with a pounding rock beat.  It is about society’s brokenness: “There’s a fracture in the color bar/In the backseat of a parked car/By the liquor store where the streetlight/Keep you company ‘til the next night.../Oh! Gravity!/Why can’t we seem to keep it together?/Sons of my enemies/Why can’t we seem to keep it together?”  ‘American Dream’ is electric guitar and drum driven.  It speaks out versus materialism: “When success is equated with excess/The ambition for excess wrecks us/As the top of the mind becomes the bottom line/When success is equated with excess.../Like a puppet on a monetary string/Maybe we’ve been caught singing/Red, white, blue, and green/But that ain’t my America/That ain’t my American dream”.  ‘Dirty Second Hands’ portrays time as an enemy: “In the land of the free/And the home of the remedy/The old clock is a thief/With dirty second hands (2X)/Here’s the face of everything/That breaks you down/Now you face the face of everything/That breaks you down/Are you really as tough as you think?”

‘Awakening’ is a commercial sounding pop/rock number about spiritual revitalization: “Last week saw me living for nothing but deadlines/With my dead beat sky/But this town doesn’t look the same tonight/These dreams started singing to me out of nowhere/And all my life I don’t know/That I’ve ever felt so alive, alive.../Maybe it’s called ambition/But you’ve been talkin’ in your sleep about a dream/We’re awakening”.  ‘Circles’ is a more mellow song with Sean and Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek contributing guest vocals and mandolin.  It contains these lyrics: “I’ve lost all that I wanted to leave/I’ve lost all that I wanted to be/Don’t believe that there’s nothing this true/Don’t believe in this modern machine/The modern machine/In circles/Spinning, spinning, in circles, in circles”.  ‘Amateur Lovers’ incorporates cowbell and horns and includes these playful lyrics: “We don’t know what we’re doing/We do it again/We’re just amateur lovers/With amateur friends/I can tell you what you’re thinking now/Before you think it, you can settle down/We don’t know what we’re doing/Let’s do it again (2X)”.

‘Faust, Midas, and Myself’ encourages us to live life with a clear purpose and goals: “You’ve one life/You’ve one life left to leave/You’ve one life, you’ve one life, you’ve one life, you’ve one life left to lead/What direction?/Life begins at the intersection”.  ‘Head over Heels (In This Life)’ is a beautiful rock ballad.  It’s essentially a love song: “In this life, you’re the one place I call home/In this life, you’re the feeling I belong/In this life, you’re the flower and the thorn/You’re everything that’s fair in love and war/I’m coming down like a gunshot/In all these battles that I’ve fought/You’re the mark I’m aiming for/I was yours”.  Noah Lamberth plays the space pedal steel on ‘Yesterdays’, a quiet song about losing a loved one: “Flowers cut and brought inside/Black cars in a single line/Your family in suits and ties/And you’re free/The ache I feel inside/Is where the life has left your eyes/I’m alone for our last goodbye/But you’re free/I remember you like yesterday, yesterday/I still can’t believe you’re gone, oh”.

‘Burn out Bright’ is a peppy song expressing a desire to live life to the full: “If we’ve only got one try/If we’ve only got one life/If time was never on our side/Well before I die, I wanna burn out bright”.  ‘4:12’ uses violins, cello, and harmonica.  It touches on the spiritual: “I still can’t believe that all we are/And that all of our dreams are nothing more than material/Souls aren’t built of stone, sticks and bones”.  ‘Let your love be Strong’ is likely addressed to God: “Let your love be strong and I don’t care what goes down/Let your love be strong enough/To weather through the thunder cloud/Fury and thunder clap like stealing the fire from your eyes/All of my world hanging on your love/Let the wars begin, let my strength wear thin/Let my fingers crack, let my world fall apart/Train the monkeys on my back to fight/Let it start tonight, when my world explodes/When my stars touch the ground/Falling down like broken satellites/Let your love be strong and I don’t care what goes down”.

With OH! GRAVITY Switchfoot has put out a clean, solid, passionate, in touch with reality, rock album.  Jon Foreman’s vocals and songwriting are strong.  The themes presented in the lyrics should appeal both to Christians and non-Christians.  Fans of Sam Roberts, Bryan Adams, and The Tea Party need to pick this one up!  I’m rating OH! GRAVITY 88%.  For more info visit: www.switchfoot.com.

 

Friday, December 05, 2014

CHRISTMAS: THE STORY OF STORIES


Carolyn Arends has released ten albums and three books.  She has won 2 Dove Awards, garnered 3 Juno nominations, and has been named Songwriter of the Year by the West Coast Music Awards.  Billboard Magazine has called her “one of the most affecting communicators in any genre”.  Carolyn has been a regular columnist for Christianity Today and a college instructor at Pacific Life Bible College and Columbia Bible College.  Her debut album I CAN HEAR YOU was a good one!  That 1995 release included the songs ‘This is the Stuff’ and ‘Seize the Day’.  Her first holiday album was 2004’s CHRISTMAS: AN IRRATIONAL SEASON.  Her latest is CHRISTMAS: THE STORY OF STORIES (2014, 2B Records).  It contains nine originals, three classics, and a Rich Mullins cover.  It was produced by Arends and Roy Salmond, and largely funded via a highly successful Kickstarter campaign.

A light pop song, ‘It Was a Holy Night’, may disturb some traditionalists: “O little town of Bethlehem/I think it is a lie/That you were still or dreamless/On that first Christmas night.../I think He cried the way that babies do/I think His mama might have cried a little too/I bet you Joseph didn’t have a clue what to do/He was new at fatherhood/So I don’t think it was a silent night/I kind of doubt that all was calm that night”.  ‘Vacancy’ contains these admissions many will be able to relate to: “Seems like my Christmas cheer is hard to find this year/I think it vanished in the Fall/Strange how a loss or two can eat away at you/Until there’s not much left at all”.  Another light pop song, ‘Everything Changes at Christmas’, reflects on the importance of the nativity: “Well, if the shepherds were not wrong/If there was an angel song/If God planned this all along/Everything changes at Christmas/Cause if that was the Savior’s birth/That means God thought we were worth/Whatever it took to bring love down to earth/So everything changes at Christmas”.

‘Christmas Magic’ is a great ballad that includes these heartfelt words: “Come all ye faithful, there’s room at the table/And there is a gift for everyone/Friends, the whole reason we need this season/Is to help us remember, joy can still come/To a world often troubled and tragic/So bring on the old Christmas magic”.  ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is presented in country and bluegrass fashion.  It opens with some good news: ”God rest ye merry gentlemen/Let nothing you dismay/Remember Christ our Savior/Was born on Christmas day/To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray/O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy/O tidings of comfort and joy”.  ‘The Sound’ encourages us to practise spiritual reflection: “Sometimes on a midnight clear/If we close our eyes we begin to hear/A still, small voice saying ‘Christ is near’/Hush now, listen, that’s the sound of the Kingdom coming.../The Kingdom coming to your town”.

‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear’ is tender and beautiful and includes these familiar words: “Peace on the earth, goodwill to men/From heaven’s all gracious King!/The world in solemn stillness lay/To hear the angels sing”.  ‘You Gotta Get Up’ is a happy, playful cover of a Rich Mullins song.  It reminds me of my childhood: “I thought Christmas day would never come/It’s here at last, so mom and dad/The waiting’s finally done/And you gotta get up/You gotta get up (2X)/It’s Christmas morning”.  ‘Long Way to Go’ is a catchy original that talks about just how awesome God’s love for us is: “People say that love has limits/People just don’t know/How far the love that came at Christmas is prepared to go/From realms of glory to bales of hay/What a long way to go/From King of Heaven to tiny babe/What a long way to go/Goodness, gracious, glory be/God came down to you and me/From a throne to a manger, to Calvary”.

‘Story of Stories’ is a lovely ballad that tells of God’s perfect response to our sinfulness: “God has a love and the love overcomes/Cause it comes down to live in our skin/Yeah, He makes His home in the flesh and the bones.../He wants His family back/There’s just no stopping His love.../He is the story of stories/He is the mystery of old/He is the glory of glories/All that exists comes down to this newborn baby boy”.  ‘What Kind of King’ reminds us Christ did not come in the expected manner for royalty: “To have the ox and lamb/Attend His coronation/What kind of King is this?/To bid the shepherds come/With just their adoration/What kind of King is this?” ‘Dawn on Us’ zeros in on Jesus’ earthly dad: “What was he thinking in the starlight?/Did he have time to think at all?/A carpenter his whole life/Now he was a midwife/And then the shepherds came to call/When Joseph held the newborn baby.../Was it all a blur, all too much/Until at last, the sun came up?”  ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ invites us to worship Jesus with all we have: “O come, let us adore Him (3X)/Christ the Lord”.

Carolyn Arends lives in Surrey, British Columbia with her husband Mark and their two kids, Benjamin and Bethany.  In the liner notes Carolyn thanks “Pacific Theatre and Blue Mountain Baptist Church, who provoked, inspired and inaugurated so many of these songs”.  On this album, Carolyn provides vocals, acoustic guitars, piano, and ukulele.  Spencer Capier plays mandolin, mandola, guitar, violin, bouzouki, and sings.  Besides being a co-producer, Roy Salmond is responsible for organ, electric guitar, glockenspiel, strum stick, hurdy gurdy, percussion, cello arrangements and more.  Other talented folks on this album include: Julian MacDonough, Adam Thomas, Joel Strobbe, and Gayle Salmond.

Carolyn Arends sings with a childlike innocence and a sense of awe and wonder.  The multiple originals are well thought out and presented skillfully.  Carolyn here has penned many songs that will touch your heart and get you to look at Christmas with new eyes in a new way.  This is an instant classic you will not be able to resist!  I recommend it to fans of Cheri Keaggy, Sarah McLachlan, and Cindy Morgan.  I’m rating CHRISTMAS: THE STORY OF STORIES 95%.  For more info visit: www.carolynarends.com.