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See Part 1 of my reminiscent ramblings here.

I didn’t plan on my nostalgia turning into more than 1 post, but that’s what happens when I get going.  This post focuses on a handful of Christian albums from my youth (think, mid-to-late 90’s) that I still listen to somewhat regularly (except for the first) but have probably been forgotten or never known by the majority of people.  So, you won’t find the most popular bands here, but perhaps those I consider the best.  I’ll provide links (for MP3 download, except the first two) and track listings.  Bonus points for picking out the two bands with names inspired by C S Lewis.

Five O’Clock People, The Nothing Venture

Lunar
Sorry
Blame
So Far Gone
Glass
Now I Sing
Remain
Same Old Line
This Day
Living Water
Fall Silent

Admission: I don’t actually own this album any more.  It was stolen out of my car some time ago, and it’s been hard to find a replacement.  I pretty much refuse to buy physical cds anymore, but maybe I’ll make an exception here since I can’t find it for download.  So I’m going off memory here.

These guys were really folky, relying on mostly acoustic guitars (with a touch of mandolin) and good vocals.  In a sense, they road the wave created by Jars of Clay and their acoustic rock, but were a bit more melancholy lyrically (if memory serves).  Anyway, find it and enjoy it.

Curious Fools, Read

Con Con
(You're) Dangerous
Angel
Love (Is Believing)
Heaven
Se7en
Gold
Slow
Magic
Stone
Mess
Take Me Back
Pull
Murder

Once you get over the fact that the lead singer is trying to sound like Bono (listen to se7en, you’ll get the idea), this is a really good album.  This was Curious Fools’ second album, normally a band’s worst but their best.  They had a pretty decent debut album, but I think the wheels began to fall off with their third, where every song sounded like it was trying to be a radio hit, down to the fact that every song fits into a radio-friendly 3:– rather than some of the extended songs from Read.  At any rate, Read’s pretty straight forward rock, with some good guitar work, tight playing and memorable songs. 

Sixpence None the Richer, This Beautiful Mess 

Angeltread
Love, Salvation, The Fear of Death
Bleeding
Within a Room Somewhere
Melting Alone
Circle of Error
The Garden
Disconnect
Thought Menagerie
Maybe Tomorrow
Drifting
I Can't Explain

I know, I know.  Sixpence ended up becoming super popular.  Not only that, they became popular for Kiss Me, which ended becoming something of a teen-pop sensation when it was included in She’s All That.  Having your song featured in a Freddie Prinze Jr movie is pretty much the kiss of death to your street cred.

But before that song became big, they were known to a smaller group of fans for Matt Slocum’s unique music and lyrics.  Even Kiss Me feels entirely different when you listen to it in the context of it’s album.  Anyway, my favorite album is This Beautiful Mess.  It’s aggressive but mellow, quirky and just all around cool.  I have to admit that I’ve never been big on bands with female lead singers, but this is one of my all time favorite albums.  Listen to this album and you’ll never understand how they became famous they way they did. 

Waterdeep, Sink or Swim 

Sink or Swim
No One Told You
Not Enough Time
I Know the Plans
Lonely Sometimes
And
Go
Both of Us'll Feel the Blast
Legend of Vertigo
18 Bullet Holes
I'm Afraid I'm Not Supposed to Be Like This
You Knew
Down at the Riverside
I Am
[Hidden Track]

Like Sixpence, Waterdeep is actually fairly well known to people listening to Christian music about a decade ago.  Unfortunately, most people only know their two albums released on a label, Everyone’s Beautiful and You Are So Good to Me.  It’s not they are bad albums (although You Are So Good to Me is my least favorite, even if it did give the world a pretty good worship song by that name), they just aren’t their best. 

I don’t know a single long time Waterdeep fan that wouldn’t say that Sink or Swim is their best studio album.  Good music, great lyrics.  The husband-wife duo of Don & Lori Chaffer will always hold a special place in my heart.  In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say it.  If I could only take one band’s music with me on a desert island, Waterdeep would be it.  They capture something of the ebb and flow of life- the joys and the heartache- better than just about anyone. 

Waterdeep was, in my opinion, always a better live band than a studio band- and that’s saying something.  In light of that, I was tempted to put Live at the New Earth on this list instead of Sink or Swim.  If you insist on having perfect production quality, then Live is not for you.  But if you’re like me and you prefer the feel of a live show at the expense of perfection, then you must get it.  This is especially true if you like extended rock jams with a dose of funk.  And if you really like live bootlegs, I’ve got a few I’m willing to spread around (for the record, Waterdeep encourages bootlegging).

Poor Old Lu, Sin

Complain
Bones Are Breaking
My World Falls Down
Slow
I Am No Good
Thoughtless
Hope for Always
Where Were All of You
Bliss Is
Cannon-Fire Orange
Ring True
Sickly
Come to Me
Necklace

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why this band wasn’t more popular.  When I’d bring them up in college, I felt like there were two responses: most people had no idea who they were, those that did thought they were amazing.  Everyone who did like them seemed to have a different favorite album, but Sin is mine (go here for more stuff on them). 

It’s hard to describe this album.  They’re definitely in the alternative genre, but there are a few different influences going on here: a Western themed (think: Rawhide) Hope for Always, a Spanish themed Cannon-Fire Orange, and a lot of hopeful angst (if that makes sense).  Ring True and Sickly will go down as a couple of my favorite songs, but I never skip a song on this album.  So why didn’t they garner more attention?  Perhaps it’s because CCM wasn’t ready for a group of young guys (they started together as high schoolers) who didn’t fit the boy band profile.  They were a little grungy, definitely moody.  I think they sounded more jilted than they really were.  Even when they have a happy song like Ring True, it’s “ugly” enough that some might not notice.  Sickly has some pretty inspired lyrics about dealing with pain, but it ends up (like the lamenting psalmists) in a place where it’s given over the God.  Besides all this, I never thought they got the credit they deserved for their musical abilities.  Great band, great album. 

Dryve, Thrifty Mr. Kickstar

Whirly Wheel
Nervous
Stay
Thrifty Mr. Kickstar
She Ain't Ready
It's My Fault
Rain
Television
Heart of This
Manifold

Dryve is the best band you’ve never heard of.  I promise.  Three guitars, drummer, bassist, hammond organ.  Throw in an occasional harmonica and accordian and what you get is a wall of sound.  I can’t think of another Christian band like them, which is probably why they never made it big.  This is the only release on a label, although they did have a previous one called Hum.  If you’re looking for your standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-instrumentation-chorus arrangement, go somewhere else.  Great guitar work?  Cool organ action?  This is your place.

This album is the most listened to album on my iTunes.  There isn’t a song I don’t like.  From the angry (Television) to the worshipful (Rain, which I’ve heard played as a worship song, minus the harmonica, organ and extended guitar solo), I love it all.  I love the organ, cascading in some places (Manifold) and fun in others (Whirly Wheel).  Pretty much every song makes me wish I were a lead guitarist in a rock band.  But they broke up roughly a year after this album came out, and that was it.  This cd was one of those stolen from my car many years ago, but I had to go out and download the album on MP3.  It was every bit as good as I remembered it.

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Note: I’m in a reminiscing stage of life, so forgive the break from Bible geekery (which hasn’t been happening much anyway) for a couple days of rambling.  If nothing else, read this post for the links provided.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  Thank you for your time.

I’m a nostalgic person; I have been since I was little. I would pine for the “old days” when I was barely a teenager, so you can imagine now that I’m in my 30’s (gulp) I’m even worse. It’s not that I want to go back, of course, since my life is better now than it ever has been, but I do remember fondly certain experiences from my youth. One of those areas is the music I discovered as a teenager.

I sometimes feel sorry for my friends who missed out on evangelicalism in the 90’s. I feel sorry for them because they miss out on all the inside jokes the rest of us share, especially regarding music. When I drop a “who’s in the house? (JC!)” reference, you can generally tell who got stuck listening to cheesy CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and who didn’t.  (But seriously, stop and click on that link above and watch the video.  It’s awesome on so many levels.)  It’s worth it just for the jokes.

In some ways I got a front row seat to CCM.  My older brothers, when they weren’t sneaking Metallica cassettes into the house via Sandi Patty covers (hey, the statute of limitations has run out, I can talk about it now), got me hooked on Petra and Stryper.  We wore out Petra’s This Means War! cassette, so much so that there was an unbearable screeching throughout (oh, wait, that was John Schlitt’s voice?).  I heard some of this album not too long ago and still remember a lot of the lyrics, which is amazing since it had been over 20 years since I had heard it.  But that was my older brothers’ music, not my own.  (My favorite- the Rap Sures, a painfully awesome mid-80’s rap group.  Thankfully, someone discovered their song about Jonah and put it on Youtube- whoever you are, you have quite the mansion awaiting you in heaven.  Now if someone can find their song about Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors…)

When I was 16 I started working for the Christian bookstore in my home town and became the “music guy” along with my buddy, Big Dave.  Big Dave and I listened to hours and hours of music, some good and some awful.  I listened to an album titled Brown by an unknown band called P.O.D. and thought they’d never make it big.  When Third Day came out with their first album I thought they were the best thing since swiss cheese.  I was working there when Jars of Clay and Caedmon’s Call came out with their national debut albums.  I loved Caedmon’s right away, but Jars took a bit to grow on me (until Good Monsters came out I thought their debut was their best).  I could probably rattle off dozens of bands that most people have never heard of.  (Now is a good time to plug CCM’s Best 500 Albums of All Time, written by a CCM industry insider.  He has his biases, and I disagree with him strongly in some places [anyone who thinks Everyone’s Beautiful is Waterdeep’s best album clearly doesn’t know Waterdeep, but more on that later], but it’s a fun to list to read.)

And of course there was the concert scene.  New England didn’t get a lot of Christian concerts, so when someone came through we would hit it up like it was the last concert we’d ever see.  Some of them were truly excellent.  DC Talk consistently put on some of the best shows I’ve ever seen; regardless of what you think of their music you’d have to admit they knew how to perform (I saw them at the Strand in Providence on their last show right before Jesus Freak came out- best concert I’ve ever been to).  Audio Adrenaline was a great concert band (We’re a Band was awesome live), as was All Star United (all their songs sounded exactly the same, only they kept you entertained so you didn’t care).  And then there was the Newsboys.  I remember taking a non-Christian friend to see them my senior year of high school, on their Take Me To Your Leader tour (I think he had a crush on one of the girls going with us, so he went).  He was a huge music buff, one of those guys who had hundreds and hundreds albums and saw everyone in concert.  Even he admitted the Newsboys was one of the best concerts he had ever seen.  (Note: Newsboys is still around, only Michael Tait from DC Talk is now their lead singer.  Why don’t they just name their next album “Come On, You’re an Evangelical in Your 30’s, Buy Our Stuff for Old Time’s Sake!”?)

The interesting thing, though, is that the big name CCM bands of that day are the ones I hardly listen to now.  I started listening to Newsboys Going Public the other day and realized just how painfully bad some of their lyrics are.  Same thing with their Take Me To Your Leader (seriously, listen to Breakfast and the title track sometime).  Mind you, they were capable of really good song writing (Elle G and Lost the Plot from those two albums are great examples), but I guess what counts as a radio friendly hit single one decade is laughable the next.

Anyway, I almost never listen to those big name bands anymore, except the occasional run at DC Talk, and even that’s mostly nostalgic.  But I still listen to a lot of music I discovered at that time.  So my next post will recommend some great forgotten albums from my youth, ones that I still appreciate and think you will, too.

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5.5.  This post is dedicated to my self-respect, which I released when I watched a few episodes of American Idol in a row.  Does it matter that one of the contestants (who made the top 60) used to go to my church?

5.  Louis over at Baker Book House Church Connection (longest blog title ever?) posted some of the titles to be released this year by Baker Publishing.  The highlights for me are Victor Hamilton’s commentary on Exodus, G K Beale’s NT Theology, and Craig Keener’s Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.

4.  Also in the world of publshing, Fortress Press is offering a 40% off sale of all their titles through the month of March (HT).  Fortress publishes a lot of stuff I couldn’t care less about, but they also publish a number of N T Wright’s best volumes.  If you’re a commentary collector, this could be a good time to purchase something from the Hermeneia series (although even at 40% off they’re still expensive).

3. The active and passive sides of God’s love.  Or, what makes Gordon Fee cry.

2. I need some music recommendations.  I have Christmas gift cards (iTunes, maybe even my Amazon gift card) to use, and would like to update some of my music.  By “update” I don’t mean it has to be new.  In fact, I generally am not a fan of the latest music.  I’ve already purchased some: finally got Mutemath‘s debut album (which has extra live tracks on iTunes) and Lettuce‘s Rage, per the recommendation of my co-blogger, Brian.  I’m leaning towards The Rocketboys, but also have enough money left over to get something else.  Some Stevie Wonder?  Any great blues guitarists (big fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan and old Clapton stuff)?  Great classic rock?  So many options…

1.  Our friends over at Sojourn Community Church have released another album, The Mercy Seat/The War, half Jamie Barnes songs and half Brooks Ritter.  Have a listen!

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I’m taking a break from Bible geekery today to plug a couple albums I’ve been listening to.  Now, I’m generally a rock/blues kind of guy.  I like guitar solos, loud drums and extended jam sessions (think: Clapton when he was with Derek & the Dominos, Phish and Waterdeep).  But once in a while I just need to unwind with some mellow music.  After all, as awesome as a Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar solo is, relaxing it is not.

First, there’s Brooks Ritter’s album, The Horse Fell Lame.  I first encountered Brooks Ritter as one of the worship leaders at Sojourn Community Church, whose worship album Before the Throne is one of my favorites (see review here).  A couple of those songs made me think, “wow, that guy can sing!”  So, it wasn’t hard to convince me to get his album (do people still call them ‘albums?’).  At any rate, it’s really good and serves the “mellow acoustic mood” very well.  Highly recommend.  My only problem with it is that it shows up on my iTunes as “country.”  Since my wife subjected me to the Country Music Awards last week (which is husband torture on the level of being Notebooked), I’ve vowed never to own any country music.  Needless to say, it has been appropriately adjusted to “folk” (which is actually more accurate, anyway).

Second, and more personal, I highly recommend the latest from Todd MacDonald, Pilgrims Here.  Todd is a friend from my Gordon-Conwell days, now living in Nashville.  You can listen to the entire album on his site.  For those of us who enjoyed Todd’s music back in the “old days,” you’ll be glad to hear some longtime treasures (“Lesson from an Ant” is one of my favorite from the Gordon-Conwell coffee houses).  One of my favorite memories of seminary was listening to Todd practice, his voice and guitar echoing in the stairwell.  What makes this album stand out to me even more is knowing that Todd has been battling cancer for almost a year now.  (He has recently received some very encouraging news regarding this, you can see here.)  Hearing the expressions of his faith set to music has been an encouragement to my soul.

For those who have heard me teach in our training school, you’ll remember Todd as the guy who convinced me to change my mind about Romans 7 at Brian’s wedding reception.  Worlds colliding!  And for what it’s worth, my 7-month old daughter loves Todd’s music.  You can’t go wrong with that.

So, I realize you didn’t come to BBG to get music recommendations, but there you go.  I hope you take the time to listen to these 2 men use their God-given talents for His glory.

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Special thanks to Caitlin from Baker/Brazos for a review copy of this book.

I’ve already reviewed one book by Stephen J Nichols, Jesus Made in America, which made my top 5 new reads of 2008.  I was so impressed, in fact, that I was genuinely excited when I heard he had a new book coming out, Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation.  This was not only due to the fact that Nichols is an interesting and excellent writer, but it’s a genuinely unique book.  I know more about blues music than most 20-something white guys from New England, but I’ll still admit most of what I know has to do with the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, which isn’t exactly old-school blues.  Nichols’ book deals with “Delta Blues,” the blues music that sprang up from the Mississippi Delta in the early 20th century.

I was also intrigued by the irony of a book written by an educated, relatively affluent white man living in Lancaster PA dealing with the Delta Blues, a form of music developed and mastered by the black community living in a time when gross injustice and suffering was a daily reality in that region.  This, of course, isn’t a knock on Nichols or any kind of statement that he somehow ought not to write such a book.  I simply found it interesting.  In fact, he notes in his book that he is on the outside looking in, an approach that may lead to thoughtful insights for the rest of us in the same position.

Nichols sets out to attempt “a theology in a minor key… I am not a musician, but a theologian, and so I offer a theological interpretation of the blues” (14).  Noting that evangelicals tend to avoid dealing with the difficult aspects of life and the Bible, the blues can offer us something we desperately need: an honest look at the difficulties of life. 

To be sure, Nichols shows us that the difficulties we encounter in blues music fall into different categories: women, racism, floods, insects, alcohol, etc.  Sometimes those difficulties are to be expected- you run around with loose women, they’ll probably leave you for another man.  Sometimes those difficulties are an unfortunate reality- natural disasters, for example.  Other times those difficulties are injustices that ought to be righted- racism and the refusal to allow a better life for the sharecroppers living in the Delta region.

So the greatest strength of Nichols book is that he exposes us to more than just the blues music, he reveals the reason the blues existed, and even the theology (though I doubt any of the old blues singers would have used that word) behind it all.  We are living in a painful and cursed world, awaiting the day when God sets all things right but striving to change our world for the better in the meantime.  God’s ways are difficult to understand, but He is still merciful and present.

The tour of the world of the Delta Blues is fun in its own right.  Some of the singers are well know: Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Ma Rainey.  Others are folks I hadn’t heard of: Son House, Charley Patton and Thomas Dorsey (well, I should note that I never knew Dorsey had any connection to the blues).  I even find myself inspired to start nicknaming some of my friends, though I noticed that they tend to be slightly repetitive in the Delta Blues world (Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson and The Reverend Blind Gary Davis).

Admittedly, there are times Nichols lapses into repetition, though its fewer than 200 pages.  I suppose he can’t help that, after all, the subjects of blues songs don’t stray too far from the short list given above.  And, this being my second Nichols book, I find myself contemplating the contrast between Nichols’ treatment of the blues singers and his treatment of contemporary Christian music in Jesus Made in America.  He blasts (sometimes rightly so) contemporary Christian songwriters for their often shallow and trite lyrics, whereas he praises the blues songwriters for the depth of their insight into the human condition.  I guess I can’t help but wonder if part of this is due to the fact that Nichols simply likes the blues more than CCM pop-candy.  Mind you, I can’t blame him.  If I had to choose between listening to Muddy Waters or Rebecca St James, it’s a no brainer.

But, in the end, the “theological” key is that the bluesmen (and women) are writing out of their pain and the pain of those around them.  They recognize injustice and call it out when they see it.  True, there may not be a strong variety in their lyrics (it doesn’t take long to notice some of the phrasings get recycled), but there probably wasn’t a strong variety of experience for them either.  They weren’t allowed the luxury of variety.  Thus, they lamented the pain and sought relief, sometimes from the bottle, sometimes from God, often from both.

Nichols is to be commended for writing another outstanding and incredibly fascinating book.  It’s worth reading just for the insight into blues music.  But more importantly, it’s worth reading because it helps us remember that there is a “minor key” to theology.  There are times to lament and times to cry out for justice.  Admitting that we live in a fallen and cursed world is not a lack of faith, it’s reality.  The Delta Blues, perhaps more than any music form in recent times, helps us connect to this reality.

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