Monthly Archives: May 2012

Questions and Answers #1: “Faithfully” (featuring Journey and Steven Curtis Chapman)

The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words — `free-love’ — as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. – G. K. Chesterton

For our first installment of “Questions and Answers,” we will focus on love and faithfulness. The first “question” is posed in one of the most famous rock ballads of all time, Journey’s “Faithfully.” (I was playing this at the house of some friends the other week, prompting the mother to say, “You are the most retro college girl I know!”)

Now of course, this song isn’t written as a question. In fact, it’s a declarative pledge of fidelity. Still, it raises all manner of unspoken questions. Written by Journey pianist Jonathan Cain (who can be seen looking at his wife’s picture at 1:00), it’s an essentially autobiographical meditation on the pain and tensions of being a married “music man.” The singer recognizes the many ways in which the rock-star lifestyle is taking its toll on both himself and his wife, but he feels helpless to do anything about it. He can only hope that their love won’t come crashing down, that the “two strangers” they become to each other when they’re apart will never stop being able to rekindle the flame. Meanwhile, he offers a promise that one way or another, if she stands by him, he will stand by her.

Sadly, Cain and his wife went on to divorce only a few years later, demonstrating that a promise without an anchor is a very fragile thing, and a well-intentioned resolution to love without fully understanding how to love can only take you so far when a marriage is cracking. This, then, becomes the question: How? How does a man truly love a woman?

Most of you, upon seeing Steven Curtis Chapman in the title, probably thought I would use his famous wedding song “I Will Be Here” as the “answer” in this entry. I certainly could have. But I actually chose a different, less well-known song also written for his wife: “Go There With You.” It’s a little more raw, a little more urgent, and it conveys a deeper sense of pain and struggle.  In fact, at the time the performance I’m featuring was recorded, Steven’s wife had just been diagnosed with clinical depression, something she had struggled with for a long time without giving it a name. Steven’s career was at an all-time peak, but she was barely holding together through it all. The Great Adventure tour, the very tour this video comes from, was almost canceled as a result.

So even while he projected an infinitely more wholesome, put-together image than your average rock singer on the stage, Steven knew even better than most musicians how painful a life on the road could be. But he had something they didn’t, and that was a true understanding of the nature of love. He knew that the words “I love you” had to mean “something more” every time he said them, even though he’d said them a thousand times before. And he understood that love meant taking a heart that was naturally selfish, because like any human heart it belonged to a broken man, and filling it up with Mary Beth. It meant taking her joy and pain and making it his own. And at the heart of it all lies this line, “I will give myself to love, the way Love gave itself for me.” The greatest Love of all has been displayed for us in the person of Christ laying down his life for the Church. And Steven sees that this is how it must be for himself as a husband.

That is why even though depression would continue to be a way of life for Mary Beth, and even though their greatest trials still lay ahead of them, they have remained husband and wife to this day. Such is the fruit of a human love that rests on the firm foundation of Christ.

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Memorial Day Devotional: “Earn This”

Saving Private Ryan is an iconic war movie, deeply moving and powerfully composed. Unfortunately, it’s also the sort of film that were I to recommend it at all, I would do so only with the most extreme reservations (at a minimum, one should skip the entire 25-30 minute opening sequence where about 90% of the violence is concentrated, though other problematic issues such as pervasive foul language still remain). However, I would like to share and discuss the movie’s (non-violent) closing moments today, because they are very beautiful and offer fertile discussion ground for Memorial Day.

To briefly fill in the background for those who are unfamiliar with the film, it tells the story of a small unit tasked to find the youngest and last of several sons in the war. All of his brothers have died in action, and the army has decided to find him and bring him home so that his mother won’t lose all her children. It is only towards the end of the film that they finally find Ryan (Matt Damon), so the main character is actually Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks), the leader of the unit. In an honest moment, he’ll admit that he doesn’t relish any part of what he does, and he wants to get the war over with as quickly as possible so he can get back to his wife and her rosebushes and continue being an English teacher.

The quest to find Ryan is slow and painful, as they know only that he is MIA somewhere in Normandy with no further specifics. Miller loses two of his six men in the process, causing him to opine bitterly that Ryan had better “cure some disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb, or something…” to make this all worth it. But when they find the young soldier, they’re surprised to find that he refuses to leave his brothers in arms (“the only brothers I have left”) until they have carried out their orders to defend a bridge against an approaching German mechanized unit. So Miller makes the choice to stay with Ryan and take command of the operation. In the brief calm before the storm, he gets to know the kid a little better and even seems to find it in his heart to start liking him.

When the final battle hits, most of the rest of Miller’s unit dies, including (ultimately) Miller himself. As Ryan comes and sits with him in his final moments, Miller draws the boy to himself and whispers, “James… earn this. Earn it.” While on the surface this just seems like a continuation of his bitter early rants, the earnestness with which he makes this last request indicates both that his meaning is deeper and that it comes from a deeper place within himself. Then he dies. The camera focuses on Ryan’s face as we hear George C. Marshall in voiceover, informing Mrs. Ryan that her son is coming home. Then it cross-fades to the old Ryan at Miller’s grave. Instead of continuing to describe how the last few minutes of the film unfold, I’ll let you watch it for yourself(or re-watch it if you’ve seen it before). It never fails to put a lump in my throat. If you are unfamiliar with the scene, you should take a minute to do so here (Godtube link) before continuing to read my thoughts on it (the clip begins with Miller’s death and continues to the end). Continue reading

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The Week In Review: Culture Warring, Idol Mourning, Kingsmen Awesomeness, and Way More

To (help) ease the randomness, I’m just gonna start grouping my weekly roundup tidbits into categories. It’ll kill two birds with one stone by making it look like I have more to say than I really do while simultaneously making it a bit easier to find what you’re interested in and ignore everything else.

On the faith and culture front:

*David French’s open letter to “post-partisan” evangelicals has been quite heavily circulated this past week, and it is a must-must-read. Hat tip to Justin Taylor through Denny Burk. French is frank, honest, insightful and to the point. The message is simple: Culture warriors, stay the course. In the course of his letter, he uses popular post-partisan speaker/author Jonathan Merritt as a foil. I’d never heard of Merritt, and after reading his truly pathetic response, I don’t feel as though I’ve missed much. Denny Burk has offered a brief but on-point rebuttal of Merritt’s response here. I also encourage you to read some of the debate underneath Denny’s initial post on the letter here. A regular reader named Joe Blackmon makes some deft comments in response to certain stock Christian left arguments.

*Speaking of culture wars, sometimes I think that maybe with the (right and proper) focus on the abortion issue, other urgent life issues don’t get quite as much attention as they should. But conservatives of all stripes should be aware that the elderly and severely disabled are in grave danger as well. See this chilling article by a son who wishes he could kill his mother as an example.

On the entertainment front:

*Jessica Sanchez lost the Idol crown to Phillip Phillips. ‘K so, I pretty much lost interest in this season around the top ten, but at least Jessica could actually, um… sing? Here’s Jessica. Here’s Phillip. You decide.

*Oh dear. Battleship was so mercilessly Hulk-smashed by The Avengers at the box office this weekend it’s not even funny. Speaking of, James Cameron should be checking his rear-view mirror on the all-time top-grossing chart, ‘cuz Earth’s mightiest heroes are catching up. Frankly, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of films  that deserve to be in the top fifty, let alone the top ten, but if it’s a choice between Hulk and Leonard DiCaprio, or a giant blue smurf… Hulk aaaaall the way. And Joss Whedon versus Cameron on the writing front? Don’t even get me started.

On the southern gospel front:

*The Mark Trammell Quartet webcast had technical difficulties, so it was cancelled. I encourage you to keep ASGM in your prayers, since this isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened. We’ll continue to cheer them on as they work through their difficulties.

*Union Street is on track to raise the money they need for their debut album. There’s just under a week to go if you’d still like to donate. [Update: Unless my eyes are playing tricks on me, they raised about $6000 between this morning and the time I put this post together. Now they're over their goal. Way to go!]

*Here’s a new trio you should check out: Barry Rowland & Deliverance. Southern Gospel fans should all recognize the name of Kyla Rowland, one of the most respected songwriters in the genre. This trio is composed of her son, his wife, and a friend named Shawn Rupert on baritone. They’re already among the best-sounding trios on the road today. Read Brian Crout’s take on their latest project here and listen to samples here.

*Speaking of trios, check out Aaron Swain’s concert review of new young trio Promise.

*Here’s a taste of what the new Kingsmen sound like. In a word… glooooory! This lineup is going places:

The thread is yours. Surely you can find something to talk about.

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New Series: Questions and Answers Through Song

Few things sadden me more than good questions without good answers. I can think of so many areas this applies to, but music is certainly one of them. Sometimes when I’m listening to a non-Christian song, I think to myself, “This is a great song, and it raises so many profound questions, but it’s missing the answer completely.”

Then other times I hear a Christian song and think, “Well, on a basic level this song has the answer… but it’s so shallow/artistically inferior that it couldn’t meet that non-Christian writer where he’s at.”

I’m not gonna lie: I have that reaction to Christian songs of all genres. So this isn’t about southern gospel versus praise and worship/CCM. This is an across-the-board issue. But the good news is that there are also many examples of Christian songs that, in my opinion, do rise to that challenge. And one of the things I love most is finding good matching pairs of “questions and answers” — an exceptional non-Christian song answered by an appropriate and also exceptional Christian song. As an extra challenge, I try to create matching pairs that are musically complementary as well (just because it makes it that much cooler).

I decided I’d like to share some of these with my readers, while analyzing their lyrical content. I’ll uncover what I think the non-Christian song is trying to say, or trying to ask, and then show how the Christian lyric provides exactly the right answer.

Stylistically, this series will cover a wide range, though you needn’t worry about seeing any rap, heavy metal, progressive rock, or similar genres appearing. This is a series designed to explore the intersection of music and art. ‘Nuff said. ;) However, the songs won’t be southern gospel either. Obviously the “questions” won’t be, and so far all the “answers” I’ve collected are drawn from CCM artists. But I know that at least some of my readers enjoy a variety of music, and I’d like to think that I have good taste, so I think and hope that most of you will enjoy this. Even if you find a particular song not to your stylistic taste, I still encourage you to think about the lyrics. This will be “deep, man” territory. Love, longing, meaning of life, life after death… as my little sister used to say, “all stuff.” If you are a songwriter, I would most certainly encourage you to tune in, because these are some of the best songs ever written, and there is no teacher like a great song.

So let’s see how this works. Expect the first installment some time next week. Oh, and if you have any suggestions, by all means leave a comment!

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The Avengers, The Gospel, and Christian Movie-Watching

Some of you might be groaning already at this post’s title. It’s okay, I know what you’re thinking. Read on.

Lately I’ve become more and more irritated as I watch how Christians react and respond to film. It seems to me that Christian moviegoers are dividing into two rough “branches,” or groups. Not everyone falls into one of these groups (myself included), but from a big picture perspective, this is what I see:

1. On the one side, hyper-conservative Christians who will watch pretty much nothing. I don’t just mean that they have standards for their families (I’m all in favor of that), but they will insist that mature Christian viewers who watch something they consider “worldly” are allying themselves with the flesh and the devil. They have no sense of perspective and (usually) a very shallow sense of excellence and art.

2. On the other side, Christians who will watch pretty much anything, because they claim they can find “redemptive themes” in pretty much anything, from the innocuous to the horrific. They’ll go see something no Christian has any business watching and come back saying, “Well God spoke to me in a powerful way through this character or that plot twist, and I realize this film isn’t for everyone, but all stories are part of the Great Story and I can see the gospel in dark places too,” etc., etc., etc. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t movies that would fit that description, and even movies where I think reasonable Christians could differ on questions of appropriateness. The problem is that these people apply it to films that, as I said, no Christian has any business watching.

To illustrate what I see as the “seed” of this perspective, I’m going to start with a film from the innocuous side of the spectrum: The Avengers. I read a column by pastor and Gospel Coalition member Mike Costner in which he was trying to do a “gospel reading” of the film. Using the superheroes’ weaknesses as his central theme, he does his best to wring profound meaning out of a decidedly not profound piece of art. He winds it up thus:

In the strange world of the Bible, we know that weakness comes before strength. The mustard seed becomes the mighty tree. The shepherd becomes the king. God himself becomes a baby, suffers in every way like us, and dies a criminal’s death, yet that death becomes the catalyst to the liberation of countless captives of sin…

Inevitably, a satisfying hero story will always involve a great, gospel-like reversal, where the odds seem insurmountable and the heroes seem overcome. But the tide turns, the heroes rebound, and evil retreats a universe away. Somehow, that story never gets old.

Now when I read a phrase like “great, gospel-like reversal” in this context…I just sort of chuckle. I know what Costner is trying to get at, and earlier in the column he does discuss one scene in the film that could be an interesting conversation-starter about how Satan tries to tear us down with our own sinful past. But I feel an overwhelming urge to respond, “Shucks, lighten up. It’s a comic book movie!” No more, no less. I’m not going to tell my fellow Christians they’re being worldly by watching The Avengers, because I have a sense of perspective and I recognize that it’s just harmless popcorn fluff. But I don’t insist on taking away something deep and meaningful from every movie I watch either, and I certainly don’t insist on finding “a reflection of the Great Story” (as people will sometimes put it) in every smaller story. That’s just wooden and shallow. We should enjoy everything in its proper place and not to try to make it more than it really is.

I was encouraged to see that Frank Turk of Pyromaniacs gets it on this point, and he left some comments on the Costner piece that capture my own thoughts very well. This paragraph sums it up nicely:

The Avengers are more like a walking book of Proverbs than they are an exposition of the Gospel, a kind of piecemeal manual on how to live, than aspects of the greatest hero of all time, the son of a carpenter and of King David and of God, who conquered death by dying for the lost. They tell us about ourselves, and if we miss that, we do the art itself a disservice.

In further discussion, he pointed to various heroic/virtuous actions that are played out in Avengers and other comic-book films like Captain America and said that while we can appreciate them as heroic/virtuous actions, this doesn’t necessitate that we read them as “Gospel-esque.” This is particularly a strain when the makers aren’t remotely Christian. And it can just become downright silly. “Well, at the end of The Dark Knight, Batman takes the blame for Harvey Dent’s crimes for the good of the city so that Dent’s reputation can remain clean while he becomes an outcast. Sort of reminds you of someone else who was rejected for crimes he didn’t commit…” See what I mean?

But here’s the thing: I think often these attempted Christian readings of innocuous material are just the beginning. They’re indicative of a certain mindset, a certain approach to art that extends much further up the spectrum. If you do enough of these “readings,” you begin to think of yourself as this very profound, insightful sort of person. And when you go to apply this approach to something that is not innocuous, but unlike The Avengers is posing as serious art, you justify it to yourself by saying, “I could even get something gospel-esque out of The Avengers, so I shouldn’t have a problem getting something gospel-esque out of this.” That’s an excellent way to become worldly, really worldly. Worldly in the sense that you allow the world to shape your standards and your perspective, to the point where you’ll make excuses for just about anything. And this is where we return to my point two.

I have lots more to say on Christian movie-watching, but for now, I think this has been a good way to set up my approach. I’d love to hear your thoughts—do you agree or disagree?

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God is God and I Am Not

A couple of years ago I was learning how to use Windows Movie Maker for the first time, and it thrilled me. Music and songs were so woven into my life that I loved the thought of being able to find the perfect images to match everything I felt when I heard a certain song, and put it all together just so. WMM is such an intuitive program that I learned quickly. I still use it today.

One project I did was a video to accompany Steven Curtis Chapman’s “God is God.” I’ve mentioned before that the loss of his little girl impacted me very deeply, and I think making this video was a kind of journey for me—the summation of all my wrestling and praying and sorrowing on that family’s behalf. I wanted to capture the entire redemption story in a few minutes, with Steven’s loss as the starting point. That sounds ambitious, but I was stubborn.

I’d like to think I succeeded, and I certainly know it touched me when I finished it. Recently I obtained permission to put the video on Godtube. I’m posting it here because Maria Sue Chapman went home to be with the Lord four years ago today. I pray it will be a reminder of the hope that we so often forget. Here’s the link (I had planned to embed it, but Godtube has changed its code so I’ll have to figure out how to convert to shortcode for WordPress all over again).

Here’s a cool note about the final shot: It looks like a painting, but it’s actually a photo of a telephone pole. The photographer was extremely gifted and caught it in a sunset, looking exactly like a cross. He called it “When the Telephone Pole Tries to Tell You Something.”


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Concert Announcement: The Mark Trammell Quartet (Webcast)

ASGM is presenting the Mark Trammell Quartet live in concert on May 21st at 7PM Eastern time. I’m very excited about this particular event. Even though I sadly have a prior commitment that evening, I’ll see if I can watch and review it after the fact. I highly recommend you check it out. Register here.

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The Week in Review: This and That

Sorry, I couldn’t come up with a catchy title for this one. Here’s this week’s random hodge-podge of tid-bits…

*I reported on Breck Duncan’s accident earlier this week. I don’t know how he’s doing in the aftermath of his surgery, but we know it will be a long recovery, so definitely keep him in your prayers. [Update: I read on Daniel Mount's blog that the surgery went incredibly well despite the fact that Breck had broken every single bone in his face. The surgeons were pleased with their "masterpiece" and even took pictures. His mouth is wired shut, so it's still no picnic for him, but this is great news.]

*Maude Aimee Humbard, wife of Rex Humbard (who launched the Weatherfords and the Cathedrals) has passed away.

*SG blogger Kyle Boreing’s father also passed away suddenly this week, so keep his family in your prayers.

*After an extended hiatus, our blogger friend Friday Night Revival has returned! Here he gives a long list of (very good) reasons why he was gone for so long.

*Culture wars… Rachel Held Evans is, like, soooo over them. If she keeps up a track record of drivel like this, the final judgment might be more than a bit awkward for her. One large millstone to go plz. Meanwhile, I felt like something was missing in Matthew Anderson’s attempted response to her. Couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but it just didn’t seem strong enough.

*Meanwhile, Doug Wilson unleashes some priceless zingers in a tussle over gender issues with Michael Horton. One of his best columns yet.

*The Avengers: Did you see it? It’s like TEH COOL!!! Okay, so it’s actually pretty goofy, but as one reviewer aptly put it, no stupider than anything else at the moment. Seriously though… some sweet touches of dialogue, some classic moments (two words: “puny god”), and an extra-large dollop of good clean cheesy fun. What can I say, I enjoyed myself, even though I hadn’t seen any of the prequels and know essentially zilch about comics, Marvel or otherwise. I have to say though, despite the ridiculous lineup of buff super-heroes, Tom Hiddleston’s villainous Loki steals the show as far as I’m concerned. Pretty dang charming for a megalomaniacal Nordic demigod. If I’m being completely honest, I thought he was the most attractive of the lot. Disturbing, I know. It must be those migraine-inducing blue eyes. The British accent doesn’t hurt either. Anyway, if you really can’t think of ANYTHING better to do with 2-2.5 hours of your time… like, totally, join the rest of the world and see The Avengers. (I know, I know, I was born to be a blurb-writer. Just a gift.)

*Moose or meese? From Brian Free and Assurance’s newly updated video blog (which has relocated to Youtube from iTunes), here’s Derrick Selph pondering the age-old question…

The thread is yours…

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Britain’s Got Talent 2012: Who Were My Favorites?

Jonathan and Charlotte

Simon Cowell may consider his life’s work complete, but I was a tad disappointed that this year’s BGT was won by a dancing dog act. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge dog lover, and Pudsey is adorable and talented, but with so many deserving acts that placed below the dapper canine and his trainer… it was just a bit disappointing, if predictable.

So I thought I would write a little post about a few of my favorites from this season, because I really think this was one of the best “batches” yet. I think I’ll work my way backwards and end this post with who my personal top three would have been. Hopefully that will keep you reading to the end. :)

First, I’ll mention one semi-finalist who didn’t make it to the finals: Hope Murphy. This 16-year-old girl was pretty quiet, but she was classy and really had a great voice. In her semi-final, she covered Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” and even though she messed up some of the lyrics at the beginning, it was an impressive moment. Because she literally left out a whole phrase in verse one, and because her accompaniment was minimal, it’s impressive that she was able to get back on track. Watch her performance here. I would have definitely preferred to see her in the finals over one of the boy bands or dancing acts who did make the cut.

Next, there were two similar contestants who both happened to fit the “clean-cut heartthrob/crooner with a guitar” image: Sam Kelly and Ryan O’Shaughnessy. I enjoyed both of these guys. I thought they were sweet, likable and had actual talent. Sam’s voice is somewhat squeaky/emotional for my taste, but all three of his performances were good, and my favorite was probably his cover of “Bless the Broken Road” in the final. Even though this song is a standard in America, neither Rascal Flatts nor the song is well known in Britain, so it was refreshing to see them getting some exposure “across the pond.” Sure enough, I went over to a video of Rascal Flatts doing the song and saw British viewers saying, “Sam Kelly brought me here!” So this is a very good thing. Watch his performance here. (Be warned though—looks like he’s been raiding Ernie Haase’s closet recently. The shirt is fine, but the pants…)

However, I preferred Ryan, both because he has a cleaner voice and because he’s a songwriter too! The Irish 19-year-old had the guts to perform exclusively original material throughout the show. There’s a bit of a sad story surrounding the song he auditioned with, “No Name,” a heartfelt expression of love for a certain girl he’d fallen for. The judges pressed him to reveal her name, but he shyly refused. Later she came forward and revealed herself, but then the story didn’t have a happy ending because she told Ryan she had another boyfriend and couldn’t go steady with him. I felt bad for him because he just seems like the nicest guy, and he wrote the sweetest songs for her. Everyone agrees it’s her loss. Here is his audition. When he puts out an album, I’ll check it out for sure. A very warm, folksy sound.

Now for my top three. In third place, I would have put child singer Molly Rainford. She’s only 11 years old, but she has an amazingly pure, mature, well-rounded voice. It’s an old-fashioned pop voice, not opera in a Jackie Evancho vein, but very impressive in its own way. And she’s an absolute dear as well. Sadly, I can’t help feeling it will be bad for her if she does become a star, since the industry always seems to take the innocent girls who enter into it and spit out ruined, sexualized young women on the end. We’ll pray that’s not Molly’s fate. Meanwhile, enjoy her innocence and sweet voice while we have it. Here is her breath-taking semi-final performance of “It Must Have Been Love.” (I had never heard the song before, and then I discovered her arrangement was COMPLETELY different from the original. Her arrangement is light-years better.)

In second place, I would put the Welsh boys’ choir Only Boys Aloud. Now these lads did take 3rd, so that wasn’t so far from where they deserved to be, just a little behind IMO. This 133-voice choir is easily one of my FAVORITE acts ever to take the stage on this show. They gave me goosebumps, they gave Britain goosebumps, they were classy and inspirational to the max. There’s nothing like over a hundred fresh-faced teenage boys singing Welsh hymns fit to burst. It’s everything I love about male singing and male bonding rolled into one. Hats off to their director and the men who have mentored them. Watch their brilliant audition here, which also provides the group’s inspiring backstory. Here are the lyrics with English translation to the hymn they were singing, “Calon Lan (Pure Heart)”.

Finally, some of you may have heard of the act I would have placed first. They came so close, but they had to be content with second: Charlotte and Jonathan. The two teenagers  (16 and 17 respectively) came on the show together to sing pop/opera duets, Charlotte being the pop half and Jonathan being the opera half. Their friendship is a really special thing, because Charlotte has encouraged Jonathan in his struggle for self-confidence as he battles obesity. His gift is truly remarkable, so remarkable that when the pair first auditioned, Charlotte was somewhat lost in his shadow, and Simon even wondered if Jonathan should “dump her.” But Jonathan determined to stick by her, and it paid off, because I saw Charlotte grow vocally as she sought to prove herself through the remainder of the competition. She could definitely have a future in musical theater. Meanwhile, I just hope Jonathan has the emotional strength to deal with his newfound stardom. Break out the tissues, prepare to be blown away, and watch a couple of their performances—their semi-final here (this was where Simon officially ate his words from the audition) and their final here.

What do you think?

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CD Review: Together Again, by the Crabb Family

The Crabb family made their mark in the 90s as a passionate young group of vocalists who did Southern Gospel a little differently from everyone else. After achieving massive popularity, the group disbanded in 2007. Since then, each member has pursued his own ministry. Jason has found great success as a solo artist, winning Dove Awards in major categories. Kelly married Mike Bowling, and they started their own family group with Terah. Adam has done solo work, and Aaron sings with Canton Junction and has a worship ministry with his wife Amanda. But last year, all five siblings decided to come together for a new project and a limited set of tour dates. Together Again was released in February of 2012.

The format for this review will be a little different than usual. I’ll take a leaf from Eaton & Murray’s “Must Buy or Not” series and present my thoughts in the form of systematic “Likes” and “Dislikes” instead of going track by track. Let me know what you think.

Likes

*The style of this project is more laid-back than typical Crabb fare. More country than soul. Die-hard Crabb fans may find some of it a bit tame, but I enjoy it.

*The production values are very high, resulting in a project that just plain sounds good. It was produced by Jason Crabb and his band—Michael Shade Rowsey, Lorie Sikes, and Blaine Johnson, all of whom played on the album.

*All five singers have good powerful voices, and while not all of them are my cup of tea stylistically, this album lets them work as a vocal team instead of just divvying up the features. This was a great idea, and it pays off everywhere. Again, props to Jason for arranging the vocals.

* “I Love You This Much” — By a margin, this ballad is the best song on the album. The title phrase takes on progressively more powerful significance as it moves from an ordinary father and his son in verse one, to Mary and her Son in verse two, to Jesus himself in verse three.

* “Say a Prayer” — This is pure pop ear candy in the vein of 90s groups like Avalon. Excellent melody and fresh chord progressions married with heartfelt lyrics make for a very solid song. Of course, I’ve always been a sucker for songs with a chorus in a different key from the verse.

Dislikes

*Virtually none of the songs made me jump out of my chair and say, “Wow.” Lyrically, many fall back on well-worn cliches.

* “If There Ever Was a Time” has a lot of good ideas, lyrically and musically, but it just didn’t keep my attention to the end. I kept wanting it to go somewhere, and it never really did. Although I do enjoy it more than some of the other songs, I’m being a little harder on it because it had the potential to be so much better. (I realize I’m in the minority here.)

* “You Can’t Do That Anymore” is a really nice song to listen to, but the take-home message is ambiguous. The verses are structured as a series of “remember whens” — when young kids could ride their bikes around town safely, when it wasn’t so imperative that you lock your door at night, and when a boy could carry his pocket-knife on an airplane with him. Judging by the chorus, it seems like it wants to be more than purely a lament for those “good ole days,” implying that we should try to live less fearfully or cautiously in the future. But it’s not made clear what that would look like, or how we could do so without compromising our safety (plus, it seems odd to lump legitimate safety precautions together with the ridiculous regulations that are imposed on us by our burgeoning police-state government). The chorus says it all started when “We started believing this world is a scary place,” but the world is a scary place. It’s called original sin. Then, to make it more confusing, the final verse protests the ban on prayer in schools. I agree it’s a shame that we “can’t do that anymore,” but now we’ve completely changed the subject! That’s a topic for a whole different song.  So the whole thing isn’t very well thought-out.

*Maybe this is a naive dislike, but…I could hear Autotune in several places. I’m sorry, I know everyone does it, but it makes me feel at least a little better if I can’t tell!

Bottom line: I enjoy how this project sounds, but some stronger songwriting would have made it appeal to me even more. Overall though, it’s a quality product. Some Southern Gospel fans might be disappointed that a few of the songs are more generic country than southern gospel in terms of their message, but I don’t think this is an issue. In fact, as I mentioned before, I thought those songs were a nice change of pace for the Crabbs from a vocal and stylistic perspective. I think ultimately, this album offers something for everyone, diehard and casual fans of the group alike.

Recommended? Yes

Rating: 4 stars

Review copy provided.

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