Category Archives: music

Underproducing to Produce

I am a musician, and I love music. i am almost always listening to something. Even if it is just resonating inside my head. One thing I have noticed though is the extreme level of production that is put into much of the music we listen to.

Its so produced, and edited that often what you head in the live concert sounds nothing like what you heard on the live album that was recorded that night.

Here is the question, at what point does art become merely product? When does our passion become our paycheck? (Note I am not against making money)

I remember listening to Eric Clapton as a child and being mesmerized by his licks. He still has crazy skills, but then MTV convinced him to do a special concert called “Unplugged” It was a reworking of some of his classics and it just blew people’s minds.

But in an age where digitization is the way to go, and where less and less actual instrumentation is required, what happened to the art form known as music?

It seems like every few months we are hearing about another person who is in trouble because they lip synced through their concert. It seems like music is more about the entertainment than the art. We see women who barely wear anything shaking everything whilst offering nothing. We have traded complex lyrical structures for repetition and simplicity… (Baby? anyone?)

Yet in the midst of this, sometimes a true gem is released. A few months ago I had the opportunity to review “Borderland” by John Mark McMillan for my good friends at All About Worship. (It’s good read it) This album was truly a work of art. With the departure of long time guitarist and collaborate James Duke, McMillan was forced to rework the sound and move in a new direction all his own. Who knew that losing the Duke would be the key to unlocking the deepest brilliance of John Mark’s mind?

The thing about the album is that it didn’t have a huge budget, high production value, or record label backing. All it had was a vision, and some true artists committed to that vision. Yet while it didn’t have the recording depth and quality of previous McMillan studio offerings, it had a reality that grabs the soul. Now, they did a collaboration with Relevant Magazine to shoot two of the songs on video raw and acoustic. Just the guitar, mandolin, and a cello accompanying brilliant harmonies. This somehow managed to take the music up another notch.

Another example of the beauty of simplicity is the newest album from indie rock troubadours Band of Horses. Their live acoustic session recorded at the legendary Ryman auditorium hearkens to the legendary musicians who have played the venue. All of the songs have been reworked to a simpler acoustic edition. Electric guitars were replaced with acoustic. Synth Keyboarding was replaced by Piano, and again it tapped into a reality that music has missed.

Sometimes to truly produce you need to actually under produce. It means stop striving for perfection and being searching for beauty. Why did Borderland captivate the human spirit? Because he was on a journey and it came through so strong in his music. He was real, he was honest, and it was beautiful. He didn’t care if every pitch was perfect or if each song was suited for this person or that.

He cut open his chest and let his passion bleed out through the recording. This album encapsulates his soul better than any other. It shows his love, his life, his questions, his answers, everything. When we stop trying to produce product and begin building beauty we will begin to feel again.

The raw emotion of music…

I saw a picture. It had twenty musicians on it who are all dead, and the caption was, “If you could see any one of these musicians live, who would it be.

What I found interesting was that with the exception of Beethoven all of the musicians were people from the last 50 years give or take. Most of the comments were stereotypical answers; Hendrix, Queen, Michael Jackson, etc…

music pianoHowever instantly I knew without question who I wanted to see. I wanted Beethoven. You see, with every other musician on the list we have recordings, some even video of them performing.

Beethoven is different. He never recorded his own music. All we have from him is sheet music. The recordings we listen to are someones interpretation of his work. I wonder what it sounded like the first time Beethoven sat down at a piano and played the first few notes of Fur Elise?

Can you imagine what it was like hearing it for the first time. To us it is a familiar tune. We have heard it time and time again. Its so familiar that most people can hum it without thinking.

But when we hear it played, it is always someone other than Beethoven at the piano. What would it be like to sit with Him and see his face as he struck the keys. To watch his passion as he furiously let his fingers dance across the piano. We will never know for sure, but I imagine it was magical. That is why His music is still being played all over the world today.

I however often feel this way of theologians as well. I never got to hear a sermon from the Wesley’s, or John Calvin, or Athanasius, or Paul, Peter, John, etc… I know what they believed based solely on their writings, but what would it be like to have actually been there and heard them as they preached.

I would love to see the look on people’s faces when Peter first explained the power of Pentecost. Or to watch as Jesus shared his heart to the people when He preached the sermon on the mount. In our reading, we can become so familiar with the text that we often forget its passion. Beethoven had passion and we will never see it. But we can get a glimpse of it in the recordings people have done of his work.

There is a raw emotion in music, that is amazing to capture. Yet, the raw emotion of the Christian faith is overwhelmingly beautiful. It goes beyond all our imagination. Beethoven’s passion was his blood, sweat, and tears, poured into music. For Christ, His blood, Sweat, and Tears were poured out on the ground for all the earth. This raw emotion, this passion, this is what drove every great man of the faith. It caused us to push farther and pursue longer.

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Sometimes, in our intellectual society I think we lose the raw nature of the emotion. I think it might serve us well to take a moment and get raw. To let the honest emotion of the cross overwhelm us again. Especially as we are coming up to the time of the year where we celebrate, and remember the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The Passion of Christ.

Take a moment this week and let that passion, that raw emotion overwhelm you and don’t suppress the emotions you feel. If you need to weep, then let the tears flow. If you need to shout, then shout it out. If you need to fall at His feet as though you were dead, you are in good company. But please, let the raw emotion of the Passion of Christ move you.

Elevation – Only King Forever

Elevation Worship recently released their newest worship offering Only King Forever which is 14 tracks and a full 73 minutes of worship. If you have heard Elevation in their previous albums, you will not be surprised at the sound.

If you are unfamiliar, I would encourage you to think of groups like Hillsong United, and Jesus Culture. Elevation has a strong stadium feel like those groups do. One small change to the band on this album is the addition of James Duke who has been the electric guitarist for people like John Mark McMillan, Matt Redman, and Jason Upton. With James serving in the worship team at this church, he brings a bit of experience and a new element to the overall tone, whilst at the same time blending well into the overall dynamic of the group.

Track four and five really stood out to me. “Grace So Glorious” and its Reprise are beautiful piano driven ballads. The song itself is a beautiful response to the beautiful grace afforded to us in the Lord, Jesus Christ. The Reprise features a brilliant exhortation from Elevation’s Pastor Steven Furtick. Both blend together so well that it serves as a reminder that the fervent preaching of the Word of God is as essential to our worship as the song itself.

Since I featured a ballad last, this time let me feature an upbeat praise track. “Mighty Warrior” This track is about the Lord as our mighty warrior. It’s driven, strong, and passionate. It’s the kind of song you can shout as well as you can sing. This is a great track that with a full band has the potential to blow the roof off. I honestly just sat and listened to it a few times through just to enjoy it and get myself pumped.

The last two songs I discussed were male lead, so let’s look at a female lead song, “Everlasting Father” This song is lyrically sweet, and has the simple feel of a beloved old hymn, while allowing for the modern flourishes. Now, I know this sounds cheesy, but I love that this was lead by a female. The lyrics are the type that a man or a woman can sit behind the piano and sing well, but something about the feeling of a precious daughter singing this to her father just pulls on the strings of the heart. This is a beautiful ballad that I hope is not overlooked as quaint. It may be my favourite track on the album.

Since I try to be honest in my reviews and share the good and bad, I want to point out the one glaring flaw I see in this album. It’s actually the same flaw I saw in the last elevation album. I do not see anything here that puts a trademark on Elevation’s worship. There is no bad song on the album, but none of them have a unique identity that screams THIS IS ELEVATION. I feel like you could give these songs to Hillsong, Jesus Culture, Chris Tomlin, or Kari Jobe, and they wouldn’t sound different. Elevation has some amazing members in the band, but they still feel like they are another band in the genre, searching for their identity.

I want to be clear and say that I really enjoyed this album, and think it was well worth listening to. There are some songs on here that I intend on learning. The album is available on itunes and if you are looking for new worship, this is a great album for you. It will encourage and inspire you. It will also give you a new group of songs to add to your repertoire.

Tim Timmons – Cast Your Cares

Worship Leader Tim Timmons just released his newest worship album “Cast My Cares” If you do not know him, you ought to check out his website http://timtimmons.com and read about his testimony. Tim has been diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer, but instead of fading away, he has pushed even harder to trust God and advance the message of the kingdom. “Instead of me just putting out more “cool” Christian music, I want to draw people into the movement of Jesus. There’s an awakening, a revolution that I want to spend my one and only life committed to.”

The second track on the album really struck a chord in me. The Chorus begins “You’re my revival song You start where I belong On my knees, on my knees” and that is such a true statement. Revival doesn’t begin with a Powerful Service, but a Pray from a surrendered soul. As you listen to “Starts with Me” you really hear the heart of someone who is not waiting for everyone. You hear the song of someone who will run hard after the Lord no matter what. This is the kind of song we need a song that spurs us to be starters of revival.

This album is filled from front to back with songs that will resonate in your spirit. I am only highlighting a few, but each one on the album could be your anthem. Each one could become the song that resonates in your heart. So Listen to this album, let these songs wash over you and soak in the heart of Tim as he pours everything he has out.

One of the standout tracks of the album is “For Your Glory” which sings about how everything is for the Glory of God. I love the simplicity of the pre-chorus which says, “Even darkness cannot hide Your shining. Even shadows cannot change the truth” The song does a great Job of building you up whilst simultaneously putting your focus on the Glory and Majesty of Christ. This is an excellent song that will fit well into your church service and draw you more into Glory driven Praise. Praise that isn’t about a good feeling, but about a recognition of the Glory of God.

Another track that really spoke to me was the track “Holy Unafraid” which is about how through the Blood of Christ we are made victorious, more than conquerors, our fear is removed, and we walk in the Blessings of God. I love the first line of the chorus, “So we pray, pray, pray Would You shake our souls awake.” Because sometimes there is a truth that The Bible tells us, but unless the Spirit awakens us to it, because He is the spirit of Truth, than we miss out on it.

All of the songs on this album are good, and I could explain why each is worth it. What I want you to know most is that these songs are the sound of an overcomer. When you hear these songs and you let their melodies wash over you, they aren’t just worship songs they are songs of victory; songs that cause faith to rise up within you. I recommend these songs, they are simple and singable. They are designed as anthems we can grab onto together and praise the Lord as the Body of Christ. I want to thank Matt Reed who has been a friend of mine for a while for providing the review copy.

Fight – Carlos Whittaker Album Review

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Today Carlos Whittaker, or @Loswhit as he is know to the twittering world, released His new album “Fight” today. For those who do not know Los, he is the father of two beautiful girls, a hilarious son who they adopted from Korea, and he is the founder of Ragamuffin Soul. I really like los. I follow him on social media, and I read his website regularly. He previous album “Ragamuffin Soul” was excellent so I was excited to check out His new offering.

Fight is a bit of a departure from his previous album. This album uses a lot more of the synth key tones. This is becoming a trend lately with Artists like Benjamin Dunn and the Animal Orchestra, Hillsong United, and others all releasing worship albums that have strong use of the synthesizer. To be honest I don’t mind this trend, but it doesn’t often wow me.

Fight is a ten track album. Rather than discussing each track, I wanted to point out a few of the songs that I really enjoy and then some of my overall thoughts on the album. One track that I really liked was “You Made A Way” This upbeat praise song was excellent, and it drips with Hope. The whole focus is to open our eyes to Jesus as our Hope and rock, and how He is drawing us to Himself, and made a way for us to be united with Him. This track really encouraged me in my spirit. The simplicity of the bridge struck me. “You will never leave us. Oh how You love us.”

It is followed up with my next stand out track. “You Bought Me.” This track grew on me. I didn’t like it the first run through because I thought the synth pads seemed out of place. However as I continued to listen through the album a few more times it really grew on me. This song features some amazing vocal work by Carlos. I really loved his soft tone here. The song is a psalm of thanksgiving, thanking Christ for purchasing us. I love songs of Thanksgiving. This one is something I am actually wanting to arrange acoustically to fit in my church services. It is a slower song, but the instrumentation is very dynamic with subtle builds that really draw your focus in.

I really liked the song “Don’t Give Up.” It had the ambient guitar feel that is found in a lot of worship, however it really makes this song fantastic. I love this tune because it is all about how awesome Jesus is and how He alone sustains us. It is softer, but it builds well and has a great bridge, “You’re the air that I breathe. The Life that I lead, from you. The song that I bring. The Life that I lead is worship.” I could sing that for a long time. I really love it.

The final Highlight I want to point out is the acoustic bonus track. “In The Arms (Acoustic)” This albums lets you hear it both ways. The electronic version didn’t really do anything for me, but this acoustic version is actually my favourite track on the album. It is amazing what arrangement can do for a song. This song in its acoustic form has a vibe similar to rend collective experiment, with claps, guitar, group vocals, and a bright over all feel. I love the hope in this song. “You will never forsake or desert us.” It is another one that I want to add to my rotation.

Overall, I thought this was an average album. I think the lyricism is great, but the musicianship at times felt like it was trying too hard to be trendy and that somewhat turned me off. I know that a few of these songs will have good radio appeal, and that is great because it will help Los gain more exposure. I give this a solid 3.5 stars. I do believe that it is available on Spotify. I would recommend you check it out. You might love it. One of my main issues is that stylistically I didn’t love the feel of the album, but you might love the synth key tones.

Special thanks to my friend Matthew Reed for sending me a prerelease review copy. Thanks to Loswhit for the opportunity to check out His new album. I always love seeing people creating new worship music, because it is them expressing their heart in relation to God.

Music you want to hear…

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I get asked a lot, what music I would recommend, and I haven’t really shared a post about new music in a while. So here is goes. All of these are things that are pretty new. I will warn you ahead of time, this is all worship. I could include a few non worship items, but there is so much worship I want to recommend that I figure its easy just to make this post about worship. These are not in any sort of order, other than scanning through my playlist which is a random order itself. (It is also important to note, that not one of the artists mentioned have paid me any money for the recommendation. This is purely my own recommendations and the things I am listening to.) 

1. “Endless Ocean // Bottomless Sea” Jonathan David & Melissa Helser: This is a 2 disc EP series. Some of you might remember their previous album “On The Shores” which was truly a highlight of 2012. After the production of that Album, The Helser’s felt something was missing. They realized that they had recorded the songs to fit in the confines of the disc, but hadn’t played the songs to their fullness. So recently they went back in to the studio and re-recorded every song from on the shores as well as a few new tracks. This time around they didn’t worry about length they simply played the songs until they were done. There was spontaneity, and beauty, and the presence of God.  The total running time clocked in about 2 hours, but not once in the two hours is there a moment that feels week or lacks anything. The extended versions of the old songs are indeed improvements of the originals. The new tracks are excellent songs that really feel right in the context of the album itself. I was lucky enough to be given it, but you can purchase it in the from of 2 EP’s on itunes, or get it directly from The Helser’s. Click the Link at the title of this section for their site.

2. “Endless Years” Will Reagan and United Pursuit: I have been a fan of United Pursuit for quite a while, lately they have been branching out with solo albums. This is a good thing because each of the members of the United Pursuit core is incredibly talented, and their solo projects let them express their musical individuality, while the group albums allow them to show their collective identity as a church and family. Endless Years captures much of the magic of Will Reagan’s musicianship and songwriting but this time in a studio setting. This album is excellent and has many great moments of worship.  I had the chance to see Will and some of the United Pursuit gang when they came to the Boiler Room in KC and the whole evening was just a joy and a delight. I recommend the whole United Puruis family of music, but as this is the most recent, check it out. You can grab it off itunes, and the link for that is in the title of this section

3. “The Fire” Samuel Lane: As I am writing this article I have been listening to this album. Samuel is a Vinayrd Worship leader from the UK, so many might not know of him, but a friend turned me on to this album and the simplicity and passion of it just hits me. The music Samuel produces is worship that is designed for both the Church at large, and the intimate passionate heart as well. I honestly can’t give you a bunch of specifics about it, I can only explain that as a whole this album manages to play a chord that truly resonates in my heart. In the title of this section I linked his personal website, and you can get information about how to purchase his music there. For a small sampling of his music, go to noisetrade. He is giving away an EP. A few of the songs on this EP are selections that are on “The Fire” including two live editions. Its worth the time it takes to download.

3. “The Invisible” Daniel BashtaThis is an album I was literally salivating over while waiting for it to come out. Daniel’s Previous Release “The Sounds of Daniel Bashta” is one of my favourite albums. It is brilliant. So when I heard he was preparing another album, I was excited, but also worried. I know how hard it can be to continue to produce such good worship, but as soon as it came to my email, I was instantly excited. This album is a bit stripped down from the previous one but maintains the power and passion of His previous release. One of the great things I love about Daniel is something that goes beyond his music and shows you his heart. Along with releasing the album itself, he posted the backing tracks for free on Noisetrade, so if you are in a church without a band you can still put the backing track on and sing his music. He also created a website where you can get the chord charts for free, and also read devotions that are themed from each of the songs.

4. “Citizens” Citizens: I really like Mars Hill Church. Citizens is one of the worship bands, they are the leaders of the U-District campus. This a great album, because it show who there are. In the current culture, so many people are trying to imitate a specific sound. The sound of Passion Conferences, Hillsong Churches, Jesus Cultures. A sound that brings a stadium full of people together, but also a sound that is to natural to the average church. There is nothing wrong with any of those groups and the songs they produce, but  lot of those tones are not typical of a small group or a four piece team. Citizens didn’t try to capture that sound, but instead found an organic sound that is all their own. Its hard hitting and driven, but it also is easily achieved with a small band and team. The sounds are simple enough and speak to the heart of the Christian walk. I really enjoy this one and I think you will too. It has a good energy to it. I linked to their artist page on the mars hill website. You can find out how to buy it from there.

5. “Campfire” Rend Collective ExperimentRend Collective is a bit of a favorite of mine. Their Irish Folk Rock sounds are just delightful, and this album is the epitome of why I like them. First off the songs are all excellent, but the Album name Campfire comes from the fact that This album was recorded in the wild. The whole crew and their friends went to a lakeside beach in Northern Ireland. They made a big campfire and they worshiped God. That night of worship was recorded and is what you hear when you listen to this album. The album is about community, and a group of people who live life together and worship God together. Its the overflow of their hearts, not as individuals, but as a community. The understanding of Living Christianity as a community is a bit of a passion for me. I love community, and I love how Rend Collective has expressed it here. I have linked their website so you can get a good Idea of how that works for them.

Well, that should keep your ears busy for a little while. Each one of these is different from the others, but each one expresses something that Needs to be expressed. I hope you get a chance to hear each and every one of them and enjoy them as much as I have.

Ed Rotheram Interview

Mathew Reames: Hello Mate, (Yes I faked a british accent in typed form) Its good to connect with you again. This is definitely long overdue. For those who do not know Ed, let me do a little introduction. Ed is a worship leader from England, so by default his singing is cooler than mine. He is also a fellow member of the Allaboutworship.com team. But today, I want to discuss creativity and worship with you. Ed, as a worship leader you have access to a lot of great music, but lately you have been working on writing your own music. What brought about this shift?

Ed Rotheram: While songwriting has always been “in the mix” for me as a worship musician and leader, I always faced the argument of “if I write this, how do I deem it more suitable for a set than an established song from an established writer?”. Chris McClarney answered this question for me last year when he said in a songwriting seminar that the Lord had told him that he didn’t just want to hear songs that were already being sung, He wanted to hear the “songs of Chris”. God is desperate for intimacy with us – how do you think He feels when He hears us pour out our hearts in personal songs to Him? The Psalmist invites us to “Sing to the Lord a brand new song, in the company of those who worship Him” (Psalm 149). He wants our songs, our worship, our praise, our hearts.

MR: When it comes to your songwriting, what are some of the challenges you face?

ER: The first is making it a habit. It’s slightly (and I do mean slightly) easier to write when you have a deadline, a studio session or an event to write for. You have the inbuilt motivation and sense of urgency to do it, and therefore it occupies more of your time. At the AllAboutWorship.com “Hymnish” retreat earlier in the year, Tony Wood (staff writer at Integrity) came out with a great quote: “Don’t wait until you’re inspired to write; write until you’re inspired”. If you consider yourself a songwriter: write – make it a habit. It’s tough at the start, but just do it. Marathon runners don’t wake up in the morning and cheerily think “I may just go for a run today” – they’re running before they’ve thought about what they do – it’s inbuilt into their mentality as runners. We writers should be the same.

Secondly – know when a song is finished (and also when it’s not). To me, a song is finished when it has said all it needs to. If the song you’re writing tells a story, or follows a timeline (think the verses to Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons”), it’s almost certainly going to need 2-3 verses. Songs like Marie Barnett’s “Breathe” say all they need to about the subject of the song in 1 verse, then have a chorus. This is also ok. Be analytical about what you write – has it said enough, not enough, or even too much? Does it have a clear subject? Does it need another section? Best way of testing this is to play it out or record it, then listen back to it. Are you left wanting more? Is there too much information?

MR: When writing with others, how do you balance between contributing your own thoughts whilst not overriding the contributions of those writing with you?

ER: This is a really good question – one I’ve only really had experience of this year. My best advice is to always bring something to the table. When you come into a writing session, you want to make sure you’re on equal terms. To give you an example, I’ve been in 2 writing sessions this year (one face-to-face and the other Skype), where I’ve brought an unfinished song to the table. One was a good idea as far as I was concerned, but the song needed structure – all the elements were there but it needed someone else to appraise and finish it. The other was a song that had a verse, pre-chorus and chorus, but needed a bridge – somewhere else for the song to go. I left this one with the other writer and they wrote me a simple yet highly effective bridge that finished the song.

Key to this: know what you’re good at. Are you a storyteller, or someone who can write catchy hooks? Are you a starter, or a finisher? Are you a melody or lyrics person? Where do you start and where do you need help? If you can answer any or all of these questions, you’re half way to great co-writing. Find someone who complements you.

Lastly, on this subject (and to get to the point of the question) – honour those who you write with – they are there for a reason too. If you have ever watched Paul Baloche’s Worship Workshop DVDs (and if you haven’t – DO IT!), he talks about a worship band being like a pizza – cut into equal slices for an equal share between members. Songwriting is no different – each person on the co-write should have just as much entitlement to an opinion as another. In the examples listed above, this might seem an odd thing when I brought a near finished song to the table – it only needed a bridge – which may in practice only have been 20-25% of the song – why give the other writer a 50% cut in it? My advice to you is NEVER to think like that – If a song’s unfinished, it’s unfinished. Without that other writer it would never have been finished – hence a 50/50 split.

MR: Ok, lets discuss some scripture for a moment. As a worship leader, and a Christian in general its important to study the word, pray, and seek God. As you have been doing this, what has God been speaking to you and revealing?

ER: I seem to have been around grace and redemption a lot recently. So much of what the world contributes to our daily existence is rubbish that needs to be filtered out. I don’t know whether I’m alone, but my mind is prone to wandering to questions I shouldn’t be asking, guilt and shame I shouldn’t be harbouring – and God keeps tapping me on the shoulder and reminding me that there’s grace for that. All this stuff was left at the foot of the cross when Jesus’ blood was spilled for me. Paul says in Romans that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He wants US. He knows about our stuff – he knows we’ll screw up, but He also knows we’ll come back to Him. Songs about grace and redemption serve as good reminders of who we are in Him, how we can rest sure in His unfailing love – knowing that He is for us and with us until the ends of the earth.

As an additional thing: I tend to go well by things I’ve experienced – talks that have resonated, spontaneous songs I’ve sung in worship, and powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit. This year, God has moved me towards the idea of surrendering myself to Him in worship – forgetting about what I bring, and more about what He reveals and how I respond to that. Herein lies another tip for songwriters – you know those talks you were in that you can’t forget and quote to anyone who’ll listen? You know those experiences you had where God knocked you eight ways from Sunday in the Spirit that keep you excited for a year? Write about them – God stirs us up in these encounters, releases more of His vision, His plan and His revelation to us in them, and GIVES US SOMETHING REAL THAT WE CAN SHARE. This is an amazing privilege as songwriters – use it.

MR: Ok, one last question. Are there any resources that you would recommend people check out? Books, Music, Podcasts, videos, movies?

ER: My best advice here is to try things until you find something that gets you going. You said yourself right at the start – there’s a bunch of amazing music to choose from to get inspiration from at the moment. My advice would be to delve into some of it – then get into the stories. Get into All Sons and Daughters and find out a bit about how they write songs if you want something real – their philosophy for the past 18 months or so has been to look at their church, see what they’re going through, and write songs that reflect that. Remember Jesus – “I only do what I see the Father doing…”? (John 5:19)

On a practical level – if these 3 books aren’t in your collection buy them: Paul Baloche (with Jimmy & Carol Owens): God Songs; Brian Doerksen: Make Love, Make War; and Bob Kauflin’s “Worship Matters”. All three have great things to offer the worship leaders/songwriters out there.

MR: Well I appreciate you taking the time to share your heart with us. It’s really great to hear how everyday people are experiencing the power and presence of God. I love how you help facilitate that. If anyone wants to know more about Ed, follow him on twitter @EdRotheram

Creative Culture

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“We are not relevant when we mirror secular culture. We are relevant when we are what they long to be.” – Bill Johnson

We have a church culture that wants to do what the world is doing. We hear a cool song on the radio and suddenly we all want to write songs like that. We see art, and suddenly we want to paint like that. Its hard wired in us to search for inspiration. We want to find something that will spark us to create ourselves.

The problem with this is that we end up turning to the world and its culture to define the next wave of church culture. I am not going to bash on pop culture. I watch Parks and Recreation, and a few other shows. I listen to Mumford & Sons and John Mayer, and a few other musicians. I have no issue with Pop culture itself. Instead my issue with it is that it has become our source and our muse.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 (NASB)

“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” John 1:3 (NASB)

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Colossians 1:16 (NASB)

There is a theme Here. God is a creative force. If you read the Bible, you see He spoke and thins existed. That is super creativity. For me as a creative, I ponder, I dream, and then I plan, eventually something is created. If God is that creative and at the same time He lives and is alive in me, how am I such a poor creative. How come I struggle to make anything worth anything? (I am not meaning in terms of money.)

The reason is because My creativity is not creativity but rather reproduction. We have all been guilty of this and will be guilty again. But we as creatives need to go to a new place. As a musician, much of this discussion is going to focus on music. But ti is no less true if you are a sculptor, dancer, or actor. The principle here applies to any type of creative.

in the 1980’s a band came onto the scene that revolutionized the music of the church. U2, lead by the creative lyricism and activism of Bono and the unique heavily effected guitar tone of The Edge. The song “Where The Streets Have No Name” is instantly recognizable and introduced a new phrase into the worship vocabulary. Dotted Eights. People heard this sound and they were drawn to it. Worship bands like Delirious and Hillsong all reference U2 as a tonal influence. For over 2 decades, this kind of tone has dominated the worship scene. It sounds good and the worship is good. I am not disputing that.

The same thing is happening today. Recently the band Mumford and Sons released their new album Babel. It’s quickly getting attention, and many Christians are calling it a great record. The sound that Mumford and Sons is using is becoming a tone that is capturing worship. The folksy feel resonates well in peoples hearts.

But, this is another instance where a secular band is shaping the church world. Shouldn’t it be the other way around. Shouldn’t we be making the kind of music and art that causes the world to take notice? I recently heard a very interesting theory in a sermon. The preacher was discussing how Moses was able to write the story of creation while he wasn’t actually alive to witness it. Most people including myself just lean toward the Idea that God told him and he wrote it down while he was in one of His “Face to Face” encounters like the one described in Exodus 33.

But this preacher was discussing the verse Proverbs 30:4

Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know! (NASB)

This preacher was just postulating, and its a take it or leave it kind of deal, but, What if when God showed moses his back He saw the waters of creation that are sealed in God’s Cloak. This preacher imagined it as almost a CGI thing where Moses saw the story of creation told in the waters Of God’s cloak. After seeing this he understood to story of creation.

Imagine that. You have an encounter with the Living God of creation, and suddenly inspiration hits and you can pen something that will be told and retold, read and reread for generations. That is a level of creativity that goes somewhere. Moses wasn’t adjusting His culture to look more like the Egyptians. Instead he created a new culture that was birthed by encounter with the Lord.

There are those who are doing this to an extent. For instance many of the musicians at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City do not set out to write songs, but rather they go into the prayer room and while they are worshiping, and leading their sets, suddenly a new song comes forth.

In this context, the place of prayer and worship, we are positioning ourselves for encounter. For instance, The Revelation song was birthed centuries ago when John, the disciple who Jesus loved was encountering God. He heard the song of the angels aroudn the throne and wrote it down. Then a few years ago, Jennie Lee Riddle arranged it with music and the song has really impacted a large number of people world wide.

We as songwriters need to take advantage of our greatest resource. The God of Creation. When we encounter Him, suddenly we have a different perspective our minds move from earthly thinking to Heavenly Kingdom thinking. Let us encounter the God of Creation. Let us experience the songs of heaven and the Heart of our Lord. Then let us set these to music and release the secrets of His throne room to a hungry generation.

Benjamin Dunn & The Animal Orchestra – FABLE [Review]

C.S. Lewis was a narrative genius, and through his writings many have found deep understandings of the Glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. One such person is Musician, Author, and Theologian Benjamin Dunn. Dunn is the front-man for Benjamin Dunn and the Animal Orchestra, (Formerly Benjamin Dunn & Friends)

I have followed Dunn’s music for many years and have a vast collection of his works, from His early days experimenting with Techno in worship on the Albums “Under The Influence” and “My Addiction,” to his more 80’s pop ballad feeling “Love Cloud” and more recently “Circus of Love” and “The Hymn EP”

So needless to say, I am a fan. That is why I was overjoyed when I got my hands on His latest release. “Fable.” This album is a natural progression musically for Dunn. Fable is a collection of songs that tell the tale of a scandalous grace. Each song is rooted in the works of C.S. Lewis who explained grace about as well as any man could.

This album expands the vibe of “Circus of Love” by incorporating more of the experimental sounds and synth work. This shows how the band has really come together and found a collective voice.

My Name Is Eustace is a great opening to the album. The whole focus of the song is the transforming Love and Grace of God while holding to the Narnian imagery of transformation and the breath of the Lion. While it is not traditional congregational music, it is a profoundly deep worship song while being up beat and filled with Joy.

Joy is a major theme in the music of Benjamin Dunn and the Animal Orchestra. The premise is that God has poured so much grace and love upon us, how can we not overflow with Joy. That theme clearly drips on each of the songs which separate themselves from alot of the music that is being written today with is ironic, reflective, and at times downright depressing.

Sail To The End is a song that I absolutely love. Its a song about a heart on a journey. A heart that is looming closer to the Kingdom of God everyday. A heart that is naturally being drawn into the God’s country. It borrows imagery from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and absolutely brilliantly expresses the deepest longings of the human heart.

When We Were Young is one of the happiest songs on the album and just gets stuck inside your brain and it longs for a time when we were younger and we hadn’t been corrupted by all the cares and distractions of the world. I love it because that is always one of my favourite parts of the Narnia mythos. No matter how old you grow in Narnia, you are always a child and when you return to the natural place you have learned so much but your youth is restored.

I wish I could give you a play by play rundown of the whole album but I know that there are strong chances that what I was feeling and what God spoke to me through this album are different even that what was intended, but that is the beauty of art. This is an artistic album and not just another cookie cutter piece of recording. There is something to be said through the music that just tears at your heart.

Clothed In Skin is easily my favourite song on the album. I remember a few months ago before the album was released Benjamin did a video blog on youtube and I heard two lines from this song. “Father of Lights, You made us one. You poured out Your love when You poured out Your Son.”  That was the only line from the song he included in the blog and I was hooked, it was stuck in my brain like a little ball of bliss that was waiting to be fully unpackaged. When the album came, I can say that the song did not disappoint. It is one of the greatest songs on Grace and the Power of the Cross that I have ever heard. It tackles the power of the cross as a moment of victory and joy, that oozes with love. Each drop of Blood Jesus shed was liquid love that has been passed down into our bodies to redeem us and bring us back into the kingdom of God reconciled and set free. SO POWERFUL…

Benjamin Never disappoints musically and you cannot help but be overcome with bliss when you listen to any of his music. Check out his website. Joy Revolution

You can buy Fable from his website, or purchase it on itunes.

Will Retherford – Walk [Review]

I don’t know why, but I feel special. A little over a year ago, I had the privilege of introducing those of you who read this page to a worship Leader named Will Retherford. Here are some of the things I said about this awesome man of God.

“…More than music, Will is also passionate about missions. He is on staff with the Oral Roberts Missions department. Will is also working to purchase supplies for a children’s home in India through the sale of his first album titled “Awake.”…”

So with that kind of character, it is not hard to believe why I would love Will and his heart. Well, last month while I was in India myself, I got an Email from my Good friend Matt Reed who introduced me to Will a year ago. He told me that Will has another CD about to come out. “Walk” I knew that as soon as I was back in America I needed to promote this. I didn’t have to listen to it to know I would love it.

When you know someone who has the heart and charecter of God, you know before the album is in your hands that it is going to speak to you. When I finally got the new tunes in my ear, I was pleased from the first 30 seconds. With this album, Will continues to grow as a musician. There is still a strong influence of musicians like Gungor, and that is fantastic. Will, Gungor, and others like them are blazing down a sonic trail that looks to redefine the way we worship.

The Album begins with the track ‘Arise’ which is about the love, power, and grace of God to save. But its more than a discussion, its a call and response. It is God tossing out the free gift of Salvation and the Church arising and saying WE WILL CARRY YOUR MESSAGE! This is a great song for the church to use to motivate people to evangelism and missions. On top of all the lyrical message and content, the song has a catchy feel that makes you naturally fall into the song. It will be buzzing in your head even after you turn the album off.

I love the vocal harmony in the second track ‘Seasons’ absolutely stunning. But more than the simple yet powerful reminder of the power of the love of God just drips with His love. It reminds me of when I first listened to the song “How He Loves” by john mark McMillan, and I found myself singing the song and falling more and more in love with Messiah. This song needs to be in the church, because the Love of God needs to be in the church.

I could run down each and every track on this album and tell you why you need to listen to it, but that would take a ton of time. So at this juncture I want to remind you that Walk is available Right now on iTunes…

-CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE ON ITUNES-

‘Rescue Us’ and its instrumental follow up  ‘Out of the Muck and Mire’ is another standout track, although it is probably not the most congregational in the album. It is one of the deepest in terms of its message and its heart. It is a song that recognizes the depravity of Man, The Human Heart, and The World at large. It is a song that cries for a Saviour to come and rescue us. I love the dichotomy within the song, switching in the verses from “will You rescue us?” to the past tense on the chorus, “You have rescued us.” It shows the inner struggle of man, who has been given everything necessary for salvation, yet still struggles with His own humanity and carnal desires. But in the end the answer is and always was Jesus, and acceptance of Jesus means accepting his Rescue which he has already provided for you. So powerful.

I love the catchy nature of ‘Narrow’ it is just a delightful song. I know that is an odd adjective, but that is the best word I can find in the English language. This song delights in God and how we will continue to run and follow after Him and His plans. It begins with a contrast, where Will is asking the Lord if He will leave if we turn and run or fail, but then it flows into the grace of Jesus who never leaves us and always pursues us and stick close to us. Such a delightful song.

Let me end my discussion of the songs with the tune ‘Let it Come’ This is another happy sounding song that is just covered with the presence of God. Its a joy filled call out for the Messiah to return. The Chorus is fantastic. They just cry “Let it come” over and over and then end the chorus by crying “The Spirit and the Bride say come” This song is entirely the cry of a Lover who is longing for the one she loves. Christ is coming, but are you eager for His return? Are you lovesick for Him? This song shows Will’s heart as one who is lovesick for The Christ.

For more information about Will and his music. Check out his Website. Follow Him on Twitter. Watch him on Youtube. Listen on ReverbNation. But Most Importantly Buy his music on Tunes. You will be very glad you did.

It is also my privilege to share with you “Awake” Will’s EP from last year which is now free and download-able  from Noise Trade.

-CLICK HERE TO GET WILL’S ‘AWAKE’ EP FREE-