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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hymn 008: The Four Horsemen by Aphrodite’s Child

War, Famine, Plague. Yep, it’s been one of those weeks on the news channels. So, in keeping with the mood of the times, what say we get a little apocalyptic for the Jukebox this week? And what better way to do that than to dig deep into early Prog Rock where we find the little heard of Greek outfit, Aphrodite’s Child.

Aphrodite’s Child’s first two albums did fairly well in European countries, especially amongst fans of moody orchestral pop like Procol Harum (listen to “It’s Five O’Clock” and you’ll see what I mean). But for their third album, lead songwriter and keyboardist Vangelis Papathanassiou (yes, that Vangelis) wanted to try something  a little less commercial, something a bit more… out there. To that effect, Vangelis teamed up with filmmaker Costas Ferris and together they composed “666: Apocalypse of St John,” a four-sided “rock oratorio” inspired by the final book in the Bible.

The general storyline of the album follows a circus troupe as they mount a big production based on The Book of Revelation (eat your heart out Cirque du Soleil), only to discover that the real Apocalypse has begun outside. The audience believes it’s all a big show, but the increasingly frantic ringmaster knows better. Finally, the tent disappears and the climatic battle between Good and Evil commences.

Yep, weird stuff, but take away the circus setting and it actually stays pretty close to the source material. The lyrics to “The Four Horsemen,” for example, are almost a direct lift from scripture. Needless to say, between the overtly religious subject matter and the dense musical explorations, “666: Apocalypse of St John” wasn’t as well received as its predecessors, at least not at the time it was released. That didn’t bother Vangelis, though. “I was tired of trying to be in the charts.” he is quoted as saying, “There’s nothing wrong with the charts, but it’s wrong to try and do the things that you think will get you in them.”

Hmm, sounds like Vangelis was familiar with more of the Bible than just the Book of Revelation…

“Better to be poor and walk in integrity  than rich and crooked in one’s ways.” (Proverbs 19:1, NABRE)

Sadly, Aphrodite’s Child broke up soon after recording “666: Apocalypse of St John.” I suppose there’s just nowhere to go after the end of the world. Oh wait, there is, isn’t there? In 1975, Vangelis recorded “Heaven and Hell.”

Purchase the album 666: Apocalypse of St John at Amazon

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hymn 007: Try Again by Big Star

You may or may not have heard of Big Star before, but rest assured, if you’ve ever listened to a college radio station over the past 30 years, then you’ve heard their influence. Pick any alt-rock band at random, and chances are pretty good they’ve got at least one Big Star record in their collection. Big Star is one those groups that other more successful acts listen and aspire to. And you know, some folks might say that’s actually better than being the top name on the marquee.

Most of Big Star’s Tunes were written and sung by two guys; Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. Chilton is probably the more recognizable name as he was the lead singer of The Box Tops during the 60s and would eventually become a darling of the indie rock scene in the 80s. But it was the lesser known Bell’s voice which seemed to hold sway over Big Star, with most of the material on their albums dwelling on Bell’s favorite subject’s: wistful loneliness and God.

If you know a little bit about Bell, that dichotomy kind of makes sense. By most accounts, Bell was something of a mess, desperately wanting to follow the tenants of Christianity as he understood it, but riddled with guilt over his heroin addiction and homosexuality. Sadly, Bell never got the time to properly work his issues out, dying in a non-drug related car accident at the age of 27. Eternal rest, grant unto Chris Bell O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Still, we have his music. “Try Again” is one of Bell’s simpler compositions, consisting of a whole two verses, and yet it touches upon an emotional experience that is all too universal. We just keep screwing up, don’t we? We want to do good, but then we don’t, especially when things get hard. But by the grace of God, only by his grace, we get up and try again. I think even St. Paul would recognize those feelings…

“It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ [Jesus]. Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14; NABRE)

Purchase the single "Try Again" at Amazon

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hymn 006: When The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash

That Johnny Cash would end up being included in The Jukebox Hero Hymnal was pretty much inevitable. The only question was, which of his songs would be first. Well, our pal, Mr. Will Cubbedge, has settled that debate by requesting the addition of “The Man Comes Around.”

Like many of us, Cash didn’t start out as a model Christian. He spent most of the 50s and 60s drunk and addicted to drugs, and most of the 70s and 80s trying to clean up. But even during his dark times, the “man in black” seemed to have an instinctive grasp on The Corporal Works of Mercy, things like feeding the hungry, tending the sick and, most notably, visiting the imprisoned. In fact, according to Cash, his wardrobe was actually a statement on behalf of the poor, the hungry and "the prisoner who has long paid for his crime."

But while Cash’s charitable actions may have reflected The Corporal Works of Mercy, the lyrics of his religious themed albums often leaned more towards The Spiritual Works of Mercy, stuff like instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful and, more often than not, admonishing the sinner.

Oh yeah, admonishing the sinner. That’s becoming something of a lost art in these non-judgmental days, isn’t it? Not for Johnny Cash, though. Maybe it was all that time he spent around convicts, but Cash never forgot that our actions have consequences and you always have to answer to someone.

“Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence and there was no place for them. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. (This pool of fire is the second death.) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15, NABRE)

Purchase the single "The Man Comes Around" at Amazon