Listen to the new album from Sara Groves!
Listen to the new album from Sara Groves!

JFH Staff Blog | February 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Alex's 20 Great Albums Over 20 Years Old - The Choir, 'Chase The Kangaroo'

 

Image result for chase the kangaroo Choir album cover   

The Choir And The Art Of Sadness 


"A sad face is good for the heart / Go on cry, does it seem a cruel world? 

A sad face is good for the heart of a girl / A sad face"

                                                                                                                                                      - From "Sad Face"

 

If you were to listen exclusively to Christian radio and view only Christian television, and have no other connection to the world, then you would likely think that the world was a shiny, happy place with only vague “struggles” every once in a awhile. And these marginal, infrequent struggles would be over at the end of a three minute pop song, and be overcome by simply having more faith and pushing through the doubt with the power of a killer keyboard line and soulful backup vocals. Anything can be overcome with the power of music (and the Lord, of course), and seeing the world through this particularly rosy lens keeps the bad thoughts at bay, and the curse of sin under wraps. There are exceptions of course (Hillary Scott’s great “Thy Will”, about her sorrow over a miscarriage comes to mind). But there are 90% shiny, happy songs to every one song with real grit.

All this sunshine is, of course, a complete fabrication, though it is very well meaning. When you keep things “safe for the whole family”, you need to keep the edges well sanded down, least little Johnny or Susie ask “what’s addiction?” or “what’s depression?”, and “why do people who believe in Jesus struggle with it? Aren’t we called to overcome?”

And little Johnny and Susie’s questions would be valid, because in this fallen world, real struggles don’t fit into a pop formula, and are far messier and longer than we care to admit. Real life throws curve balls at everyone (those of faith included), and loved ones get sick with cancer and die. Couples experience infertility and miscarriages. Children rebel, marriages crumble, democracies shake. Good, church-going folk also struggle with prescription medication abuse and infidelity. The real world must be reckoned with in the art that Christians produce. That’s not to say a song of victory and overcoming is not  a good subject matter, it’s just the balance of the dark and the light that need adjusting. The word of God speaks to all moments in a lifetime. Many books, like Lamentations and Ecclesiastes mine the dark moments of the soul, and sit next to Psalms of praise and prophetic books of doom. It’s all there, and the music that believers in Christ make should reflect this complexity.

That’s where The Choir’s 1988 masterpiece Chase The Kangaroo hits all the right tones for me. Despite its whimsical title, it’s a beautiful and haunting album about sadness, the kind that you can’t shake in an afternoon, the kind that clings to you for a season and won’t let go. “Kangaroo” is an album that lays bare the melancholy times that we all go through, and shines a real light of grace on those time, yet does so without preaching or talking down to the listener. Lyricist Steve Hindalong’s musings on the darkness are set against some of the most epic musical backdrops in rock and roll history (that's not hyperbole, this is one of the most artful, beautiful and rocking records I've ever heard). With U2 and The Cure as alternative music touchstones, the album weaves swirling dark tones of confusion and loss into every corner, and asks the big questions to God, but in a respectful and artful way. Yet the band still manages to shine a light too.

Opening song “Consider” roars to life on a circular, pounding drum cycle and driving, ghostly guitar figure, and finds lead singer Derri Daugherty giving one of his most impassioned vocal performances. In “Consider” Steve Hindalong (the band's drummer and main lyricist) extols the listener to think about all of it, the dark and the light, grace and sin, glory and depravity:

Consider one small child

Consider your cross

Consider the hope that withers like a flower

Consider my loss

Consider the fire

Consider the night

Consider the truth

Consider the light, my love

Consider your heart

Consider the ghost of the living savior… 

Big questions of doubt appear in the next song “Children Of Time”, with Hindalong pointing out that the "astronauts (or "cosmonauts" as Hindlalong cheekily refers to them) were first in space, to look for God and find no trace.” That’s a dangerous sentence for someone firmly in the CCM fold (as The Choir was at the time) to write, but Hindalong has always been one to push the envelope for what is “acceptable” subject matter for Christians to talk about. I have a dear friend in the faith who struggles mightily with doubt, and he says that the Church does not talk about this idea enough. He says it’s as if “were afraid to admit that nothingness is a distinct possibility.” Hindalong admits it, and is not afraid to talk about it in the light of faith.

But the real gem of sadness and faith is the masterful “Sad Face”, where Hindalong writes about his wife and the couple’s recent miscarriage against the backdrop of the verse in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes chapter seven that says “Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” That’s a heavy verse, from an equally heavy part of the Bible, yet it fits perfectly into the sorrow and heaviness of the soul that accompanies this sad event that befalls many couples. Hindalong masterfully writes about the weight of this event:

There's a woman in my kitchen

With a rainbow on her cheek

Well isn't that a promise?

Still I never felt so weak

There's a tiny spirit in a world above

Cradled so sweetly in our Father's love

So you don't have to cry

No there's something in my eye

That “tiny spirit in a world above, cradled so sweetly in our Father’s love” line gets me every time, and though my sweet wife Julie and I have never experienced this small, yet devastating tragedy, I feel along with Hindalong and his wife, and say a prayer for anyone I know who’s gone through this all-to common life event.

Hindalong bravely states later in the song that “maybe just now I don’t understand”, and that encapsulates the struggle of faith as succinctly as any statement that I’ve heard in a song.

The rest of Chase The Kangaroo dives into equally deep and troubling waters, but never with a hopelessness that’s common to modern man. It’s always with one hand gripping the cross, and one outstretched to the confused and lonely, looking to see if this faith thing can change their lives. “Cain” deals with crime, and the evil in the hearts of “those who wait with knives for fools” while “Rifleman” takes a hard look at revenge and the celebration of “settling the score” in American culture. “Look Out For Your Own” bemoans the exploitation of the weakest among us and “So Far Away” is an honest look at the difficulties of life on the road, separated from the ones you love.

The epic title track is the pinnacle moment, where Hindalong bemoans having to work a construction job on the side to make ends meet. The epic “Kangaroo” (which is the band’s most epic, U2-like moment of all if you ask me) builds with a throbbing bass line and finds Hindalong musing if he digs his ditch too deep that he might hit Australia and “chase the kangaroo”. But then he muses on Jesus and his digging for lost souls:

See what sparkles in our world

Never mind the stars

Mercy is the silver pearl

Vengeance is not ours

Gold glistens bright enough

To render greedy nations blind

But Jesus buried diamonds in

A land where love is rare to find

Shovel go deep

Heart be true

Chase the kangaroo

Shovel go deep

Heart be true

Chase the kangaroo

Chase the kangaroo

The Choir is still making fantastic records, and Chase The Kangaroo was the beginning of their self producing and writing all their own material stage, one that’s still going some thirty years later. Nobody writes more epic, beautifully sad songs than The Choir. But, ironically, their most hopeful record, Wide-Eyed Wonder, (celebrating the birth of children and the wonder in life) would come next, showing that they understood the dual nature of this life down here. “Kangaroo” rocks and swirls and soars, and is a gem of an album. It is an album that deserves your full attention, and a quite space to turn it up and consider all the many facets of this life under the sun. The world is not yet fully redeemed, and until that glorious day, the dark and the light are both equally valid subjects to talk about in light of the grace of God. Go over to Spotify and listen now, and then head over to the band’s website (www.thechoir.net) and help fund the next Choir album. You will be glad you did.

May we all “consider the truth”.

Dig up those hidden treasures of albums, and revel in all they have to offer.

- Tin Can Caldwell

                  

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Alex's 20 Great Albums Over 20 Years Old - 'This Beautiful Mess' by Sixpence None The Richer

 Image result for sixpence none the richer this beautiful mess 

Sixpence None The Richer And Life's Beutiful Mess
    

Messiah / I know you are there

Within, without me / Holding me

Messiah / I know you are there

Catching, carrying / This beautiful mess

                            - From “Within A Room Somewhere” 

 

If there is one idea that keeps drawing me towards the gospel, as presented in the Bible, it’s that the Lord can make good out of the crazy messes that we as humans (and me, specifically) find ourselves in time and again. Grace says that you will never get it all together, and that salvation needs to come from without, from another source. And that grace needs to keep coming, even after saving faith in Jesus. I need God’s grace as much today as I did the day I gave my life to Jesus and decided to follow him. The characters of the Bible all had back stories that should have precluded them from being used by the Lord (Moses, David and Paul, three writers who wrote 1/3 of the whole Bible, all murdered someone). But the Lord, in his power and in his grace, can take the mess of our lives and turn it into something beautiful. It takes time though. Moses needed forty years in the wilderness before the Lord visited him in the burning bush. Paul might have had a miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus, but some scholars say that it was about fifteen years till the early church trusted him enough to send him out on his early missionary journeys. Grace in action takes time. The beautiful mess of our lives is sorted out by the Father, day by day, and made into something that can be used to change the world. 

I first got a hold of this “beautiful mess” idea from Sixpence None The Richer’s best album, and magnum opus on grace, the dark, heavy and beautiful This Beautiful Mess from 1995, an album that has taken up a place in my soul.

It’s a shame that Sixpence is almost exclusively known for their 1999 novelty hit “Kiss Me”, because the band has such a depth of writing and musicianship that is overlooked. It’s like knowing U2 by their 1998, throw away pop hit “The Sweetest Thing”. There is so much more. Even the album that “Kiss Me” hails from (the band’s self-titled third album) is fantastic, and in no way mirrors that frothy, light-weight hit.

But it was hearing This Beautiful Mess that changed my view on what spiritual music could be. Here was an album that dove into darker themes of depression, loneliness and guilt (the moody alt-rock is the perfect background for this treatise on the darker themes of faith), yet shined a light of the gospel on all those dark place and talked about the redemption of all things.

And man, did it rock. The lighter Sixpence of their later years pales in comparison to the moody, alt-rock band represented on ‘Mess”. The guitars alternately swirl like the classic Christian alternative band The Choir, and crunch like Pearl Jam, yet the pop center is never lost. Add to this the other-worldly vocals of Leigh Nash, and you have an album that sounds both powerful and groovy in every decade.

I first heard the band, a few months after the album was released in 1995. I was at a festival in upstate New York, and the guitar crunch and angelic vocals of first track “Angeltread” summoned me to the main stage to mosh and dance with abandon. In those days of disposable income, I immediately raced to buy a CD and a t-shirt, and I absorbed the dark and beautiful tunes of This Beautiful Mess for months afterwards.

The second song, "Love, Salvation And Fear Of Death" rocks one of the best bass lines in all of rock and roll, and the great songs don’t let up till the stunning “I Can’t Explain” ends the album with a cacophony of sounds, showing the mess of our lives colliding with the grace of God. “Melting Alone”, with it’s moody instrumentation and spooky nature spoke to the self-conscious, unsure teen that I was, with it’s no-holds barred take on late night angst:

 

Tonight the lamplight swirls and glistens

Melting itself upon my face

I'm hanging my silhouette near the shoreline

I'm swimming underneath in the noontime

Will I ever know what's wrong with me

Will I ever see your hand again in mine  

Tonight the rain is pelting rooftops

There is no fire to melt the cold

I'm straining to hear a human whisper

And I'm painting images on the soft stone

Now I'm drinking alone

Amidst these figures of stone

I'll raise the glass once again

Then lay my head on the pillow

 

The fact that “Melting Alone” did not offer an immediate resolution to this late night ennui resonated with the teenage me, who liked to stay up late and brood about the world and my place in it. The following “Circle Of Error” could be a theme song to my life:

 

And I'll admit that I do not try

When it's easier to sit down and cry

 I'm so full of doubt, want to let it out

Let it out all over you

On my circle of error, I go round and round

On my circle of error, I go round and round again

 

I thank the good Lord for a grace that is “outside” my fickle actions and moods. On my own, the “circle of error” would just endlessly go round and round. In “Love, Salvation And The Fear Of Death”, I found a prayer for life as a young man, and one that still resonates now:

 

Well I'm staring straight into the face of hell

You're so close and you can't even tell

I'm so wrapped up inside

Because I don't have much to love

Horrified I feel from pits unseen

Falling off my pedestal of plentiful deeds

As it crumbles down on top of me

I contemplate my lack of love

Come and save my soul

Before it's not too late

I'm not afraid to admit

How much I hate myself

 

I need grace to step into my life every day, to “save me from myself”, and this will never cease to be a relevant prayer for me. 

This Beautiful Mess is a masterpiece of an album, a moody-yet-tuneful slice of alternative rock that sounds like a cross between Nirvana and Enya, and deserves a listening audience as big as a stadium. With timeless themes of grace amidst painful times, this classic album is a top ten, all-time album for me (even the art work is epic and haunting), and one of the best evidences that faith, artfully rendered, can be a tool of the Spirit that changes hearts and minds. It rocks, sooths and haunts in equal measure, like a fine piece of literature.

That festival is also where I first encountered Jars Of Clay, The Prayer Chain and The Lost Dogs, three other groups that would radically challenge my faith, and show me that that gospel is a tune for all times, the good and the bad, the clean and the messy. Grace truly is the most powerful force in this world, making holy things out of this beautiful mess.

 

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

'Confidence In Christ,' by Ayiesha Woods

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”

Philippians 1:6 KJV

This text breathes life into me. Particularly during such a crucial time in my life, career and ministry. I'll admit there is subtle, underlying desire for acceptance and approval of men (people). We ALL want to be liked. We all want to be celebrated. Especially after we've accomplished something we've painstakingly aspired for. Something like The Runway Project.

I've come to accept that everyone will not love it. Everyone will not 'get it' or truly appreciate it. But I'm so glad that I can take courage in the text! I can be confident in knowing that the greatest artist is still busy creating a masterpiece of my life; my story. And it's a GOOD WORK that He is perfecting.

I don't have to be consumed with the acceptance or approval of men. GOD is working and HIS stamp of approval is all that matters! Only what we do for Christ will last!

Today, remember to do everything for HIS glory. You've  been stamped by the King! ACCEPTED, APPROVED, LOVED.

 

-Ayiesha Woods

____________________________


After taking some time to focus on her family, former Gotee recording artist Asiesha Woods returned to music-making with her 2014 album It's Time, released through her independent label Original Peace Music Group. The Runway Project EP, also released through Original Peace, finds the artist continuing to create anthems of love and peace, delivered through her own style of pop and soul. Watch the lyric video for "Hope Again" from The Runway Project below, and grab a download on our 
Free Music Page!

 

 

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