Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Well, unfortunately, it appears I don’t have the time to promote two blogs after all, so starting immediately, The Jukebox Hero Hymnal can now be found over on its sister site, The B-Movie Catechism. Keep sending those suggestions. Thanks.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hymn 014: Say It To Me Now by Glen Hansard

If this were my movie blog, I’d probably go on for a few thousand words about my love for the movie “Once” and how I strongly suspect that the few people who truly hate it (not just the ones trying to be cool contrarians) were probably, much like the baby in “The Seventh Sign,” born without a soul.

But we’re talking music here, and man, do the songs in “Once” go straight for the gut. The movie opens with an Irish busker played by former altar boy turned Hare Krishna, Glen Hansard, as he stands alone on a street belting out a tune fueled by the misery of a failed relationship. It’s a straight up cry to God for understanding if ever there was one.

In an interview with The Phantom Tollbooth, Hansard explains, "When I was young, I loved to read The Bible… I was greatly taken with the poetry of it, the blood and fire, the passionate existence of it… I love the preacher role, the idea of giving a sermon. You're having fun, but you are also saying, 'Be aware of this.' You have to tell people to push Satan down and to praise the Lord."

But, Hansard admits, “At some point you have to put your hands up and say that you are lost.” He goes on to joke that he enjoys feeling lost and not having all the answers because it’s good for his music, but listening to him sing, that argument isn’t so convincing. The lyrics of “Say It To Me Now” show a person in pain, someone who just desperately wants God to tell them the reason why everything is such a mess…

Scratching at the surface now
And I'm trying hard to work it out
And so much has gone misunderstood
And this mystery only leads to doubt
And I didn't understand
When you reached down to take my hand
And if you have something to say
You better say it now

Hansard’s lament here is basically the same as Job’s when he claimed that his own lyre had tuned to mourning and his reed pipe to sounds of weeping.

“I cry to you, but you do not answer me. I stand, but you take no notice.” (Job 30:20, NABRE)

“Oh, that I had one to hear my case: here is my signature: let the Almighty answer me! Let my accuser write out his indictment!” (Job 31:35, NABRE)

Say something to me now, Job pleads, but as often happens in real life, the answer doesn’t come immediately. It’s one of the big themes of the book of Job, that suffering often happens for reasons that we don’t understand until God chooses to reveal them to us. And if we occasionally feel overwhelmed during those times and can’t help asking if right now wouldn’t be a good time for a little bit of that understanding, well, after Jesus’ own moment of feeling abandoned on the cross, I’m pretty sure God recognizes the feeling and will cut us some slack as long as we hold onto our faith and trust in Him. He’s pretty good in that way.

Purchase the single "Say It To Me Now" at Amazon

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hymn 013: World Falls by The Indigo Girls

For this week’s entry into the Jukebox Hero Hymnal, we have another request, this time from Cari Donaldson, author of "Pope Awesome and Other Stories (go buy it, it’s a lot of fun)." Her suggestion is “World Falls” by the Indigo Girls, a song she finds “to be an amazingly sacramental view of the world and humanity's role as the crown of creation.”

Now for those who may not know much about the Indigo Girls beyond their few radio hits and their vocal activism for homosexual causes, it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that the duo both have religious backgrounds. Emily Saliers is the daughter of a Methodist minister, while Amy Ray is a former religion major who once considered entering the seminary. That goes a long way towards explaining why religious themes often pop up in the pair’s music, particularly in those songs written by Amy Ray, who admits to still enjoying attending church services.

In an interview with On Being, Ray spoke of her religious tunes. “I'll write gospel songs, you know, that are more like Appalachian mountain gospel songs,” she explains, “and that's a sacred song to me and spiritual in a different way than maybe an unrequited love song might be or a story song about my family or something. It's coming through me and I don't try to edit it too much… I mean, not to say that all the music's not spiritual, but there is definitely for me a place that I go into if I write a little gospel song.”

Such an emotional response, pretty common in Appalachian mountain gospel, is an appropriate vehicle for singing about a sacramental view of the world. As a sacrament is a tangible sign of the invisible grace of God, to view the world sacramentally is to see it as such. So it’s easy to see how Mrs. Donaldson discovered such a sentiment in “World Falls” when you hear lyrics like, “This world falls on me with hopes of immortality, everywhere I turn all the beauty just keeps shaking me.” It echoes the poets of old when they gazed upon the Earth and saw the hand of its creator in His work.

“The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof: the world, and all they that dwell therein.” (Psalms 24:1, DRB)

Purchase the single "World Falls" at Amazon

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hymn 012: Lost and Found by OmU

It’s about time we added a jazz influenced tune to The Jukebox Hero Hymnal, don’t you think? Now a lot of folks feel the improvisational nature of jazz makes it an uneasy fit for spiritual music because, in theory, it puts much more focus on the human achievement rather than on God.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. As acclaimed jazz guitarist Fr. John Moulder explains, “That’s one of the things that is really special about the experience of being an improviser––many times you do experience moments of transcendence. I guess we could call it a little bit of self-forgetfulness… you become immersed in a way that has parallels with spiritual practice and meditation, like being in the moment and letting go of our egos for a moment. It’s a unitive experience.”

Case in point, OmU’s track, “Lost and Found.” What’s that? You’ve never heard of OmU? Don’t worry, most people haven’t. In fact, I only stumbled upon them by accident on my local college radio station a few years back. OmU was pretty much a one-off, it’s main contributors quickly moving on to form Blue Paradox. What’s that? You’ve never heard of Blue Paradox either? Don’t worry, most people haven’t. They’re sort of the house band for the Sacred Fire Community, a relatively small affiliation of folks whose beliefs are a jumble of various new-age style wisdom traditions.

Now, most wisdom tradition types aren’t usually big on Christianity, it being a tad bit too organized for their tastes. They also don’t seem to appreciate anyone suggesting their individually chosen spiritual paths might not actually be leading anywhere good. Bummer. And yet, despite the wisdom traditions movement’s antipathy towards dogma, the members of OmU can’t help but give a musical nod in “Lost and Found” to the awesome concept of grace as taught by the Church. “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.”

Hmm, sounds like there might actually be some good stuff that comes along with all those doctrines, doesn’t it?

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7, NABRE)

Purchase the single "Lost and Found" at Amazon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hymn 011: Sunday Morning People by Honey Cone

Like her big sister Darlene Love, Edna Wright grew up singing gospel music before transitioning into R&B with the vocal group The Blossoms. From there, she moved into backup gigs for artists such as Johnny Rivers, Ray Charles and the Righteous Brothers. Finally, in 1969, she joined with Shellie Clark (one of Ike Turner’s Ikettes) and Carolyn Willis (former member of Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans) to form Honey Cone.

Honey Cone had a decent three year run, churning out hits like "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show," "Girls, It Ain't Easy" and "Stick Up." But it’s the 1971 single “Want Ads” that the group is most remembered for. The tune, which climbed to number one on both the R&B and pop charts, details a cheated-upon woman’s plan to place a want ad seeking a new young man, single and free, one preferably experienced in love, but trainees will be accepted. It’s pure pop gold and earned Wright her place in music history.

But just because Wright found secular success doesn’t mean she forgot her gospel roots. For evidence, look no further than the lead track off Honey Cone’s debut album, “Sunday Morning People.” Penned by Motown legends Holland-Dozier-Holland (with an assist by award winning songwriter Ron Dunbar), the song addresses a familiar concern with anyone who has spent time in a pew…

“Sunday morning people, better listen to me (you better take heed). You go to church on Sunday, hate your neighbor all week. You can pray as loud as you can, now. Turn your back on your fellow man, now. You swear you're on the level, then you shake hands with the devil. You got to help your brothers seven days a week if peace and happiness is what you seek.”

Of course, the problem of Christians who give lip service to their faith, but never act on it, is hardly a modern problem. Just ask James, the “brother of the Lord,” who noticed the problem already surfacing in the early days of the Church…

“Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called ‘the friend of God.’ See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20-26, NABRE)

Yeah, that’s right. If you’re one of those Sunday morning people who doesn’t live out their faith during the rest of the week, the “brother of the Lord” just called you an ignoramus right smack dab in the pages of The Bible. It might be time to get with the program.

Purchase the single "Sunday Morning People" at Amazon

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hymn 010: 40 by U2

Yeah, yeah, I’m well aware that’s it’s nowhere near cool to like U2 right now, what with their beyond megastar status and that whole iTunes debacle. But you know, if I cared one iota about being cool, I wouldn’t really be writing this blog, would I?

The story behind “40” is pretty well known. The band was recording their album “War” and, with little to no studio time left, found themselves without a good closer. "So then we had this slightly unusual piece of music” explained The Edge, “and we said, 'OK, what are we going to do with it?' Bono said, 'Let's do a psalm.' Opened up the bible and found Psalm 40. 'This is it. Let's do it.' And within forty minutes we had worked out the last few elements for the tune, Bono had sung it, and we mixed it. And literally, after finishing the mix, we walked out through the door and the next band walked in."

There’s a duality in Psalm 40, combining as it does both a thanksgiving and a lament. So joyous is the psalmist over his salvation at God’s hands that he breaks into a new song, but there are still troubles at every turn, and so he begs God for more protection.

Bono encapsulates the essence of this duality with one simple lyric, “How long?” In his introduction to the Book of Pslams (yes, he actually penned one in 1999), the singer noted, “’40’ became the closing song at U2 shows, and on hundreds of occasions, literally hundreds of thousands of people of every size and shape of T-shirt have shouted back the refrain, pinched from Psalm 6: "How long (to sing this song)." I had thought of it as a nagging question, pulling at the hem of an invisible deity whose presence we glimpse only when we act in love. How long hunger? How long hatred? How long until creation grows up and the chaos of its precocious, hell-bent adolescence has been discarded? I thought it odd that the vocalizing of such questions could bring such comfort -- to me, too.”

And it does bring comfort, and that’s pretty cool, whether U2 itself still is or not.
“Though I am afflicted and poor, my Lord keeps me in mind. You are my help and deliverer; my God, do not delay!” – Psalm 40:18, NABRE

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hymn 009: Holy Ghost by Low

As defined by AllMusic, the musical sub-genre of Slowcore “is indeed famed for the snail's pace of the skeletal music -- melodies linger forever and rhythms lurch forward, all shrouded in thick, dank atmospherics. While closely intertwined with Sadcore, which favors a similar sound, Slowcore's concerns are far more musical than lyrical -- in fact, many Slowcore bands are instrumental outfits, while those with vocalists typically employ much more opaque lyrics than their soul-baring Sadcore counterparts.

Well, you don’t get much slower than Low, the Minnesota based trio who helped define Slowcore beginning way back in 1994. And as for opaque lyrics, yeah, Low has pretty much mastered those as well. But every now and then, they deliver a song whose meaning is pretty straight forward, songs like “Holy Ghost” from their latest album “The Invisible Way.”

Guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk and drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker are devout Mormons, you see, and they’re not adverse to exploring their faith in their music. Plus, it also helps that they have something of a unique recording space. In an interview with Relevant Magazine, “Sparhawk acknowledges that some of the spirit of this new album was provided by the place where it was recorded: a decommissioned Catholic church in Duluth where Low has built a studio (they recorded their 2002 album Trust there).  ‘It's a unique space which imposes a character on everything we do there,’ he says. ‘I remember sitting in the pews while we were fiddling with stuff and letting myself feel the weight of that space, and acknowledge what had been there. The history of good intentions and hope and all that happened in that space. It made me stand a little quieter.”

That interior quietness permeates “Holy Ghost’” a song that recognizes the despair and unease which can settle on the soul, but also the comforting presence of the spirit of God which can free a person from it.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NABRE)

Purchase the single "Holy Ghost" at Amazon