When I decided to record a CD of hymns, the very first song I chose was “When They Ring Those Golden Bells.” I’ve never heard anyone sing it in any church I’ve ever attended, and when I ask people about it not that many people seem to know this song.
But all of my life, I’ve heard my dad singing it. It’s the song that’s always on his lips – which was, honestly, kind of traumatic as a teenager walking into the mall with my dad singing at the top of his lungs . . .
So I knew I had to record it for my Dad.
As I was selecting the hymns for Deep Roots, I found something really interesting. For the most part, these songs don’t shy away from heavier themes. Fear and doubt, hardship and loss – even death. But at the heart of the best hymns, there’s a fierce joy, a determination to persevere and remain faithful in the face of hardship.
Easter is a truly inconvenient time for a worship pastor to lose his voice. So of course, last Easter, I was sick and (you guessed it) lost my voice.
As I was trying to nurse my voice back, I drank a lot of Throat Coat Tea, and I found it comforting to drink from my favorite mug. It’s an elegant work of art with remarkable craftsmanship that rewards close examination.
In fact, if you look closely, you’ll notice things like 1) Flying Saucers attacking a quaint village, 2) a Giant Robot, 3) an angry Sea Monster, 4) Pterodactyls, 5) Bigfoot (I think), 6) a Giant Frog, 7) an approaching Pirate Ship, and my personal favorite 8) a Zombie Poodle. In fact, if you take the time to look, you’ll find many more threats carefully hidden throughout the artwork.
According to Don Moyer (the artist who designed them) they’re called “Things Could Be Worse” Mugs. He says, “No matter how bad your day is going, [these mugs] graciously remind you things could be much worse.”
I have to say that I admire both his craftsmanship and his sense of humor.
I suppose there’s a reason that I’ve never recorded any non-religious holiday songs; even though I love “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (etc.), I guess I’m mostly drawn to songs that speak to the mystery of the Incarnation – the incredible story of God putting on flesh and living among us.
“Once In Royal David’s City” is a carol that dates back a little over 150 years. Though it isn’t often recorded, it deserves to be more widely known. It reads like a simple children’s sermon, as if explaining to a small child about Jesus’s birth and early life: “Day by day, like us He grew / He was little, weak and helpless / Tears and smiles like us He knew.”
For the music, I had a very clear idea; I wanted a very percussive guitar paired with a melodic cello and violin arrangement. The goal was to have very simple instrumentation that still felt complete and full.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment below!
It’s not too late to buy some great gifts for the music lovers in your circle of friends and family! And to make it easier (and more affordable), here are some great deals!
Combo deals, steep discounts on close-out t-shirts (only $5!) – there’s something here for all y’all. But hurry – quantities are limited and Christmas is almost here! We’ll ship things out ASAP, but don’t wait too long… Continue reading →
Nine years ago, my manager introduced me to someone that she thought I’d enjoy working with – an artist and songwriter named Staci Frenes. Ever since that day, I’ve been a true fan. In honor of the Christmas season, I’d like to recommend to you Staci’s CD “Wise Men and Angels” – a record that has become a regular part of my personal holiday soundtrack.
Christmas records can go off the rails in several ways; familiar classics arranged in ways that are just too safe and cliched. Or, conversely, songs so extremely re-worked that they are beyond recognition. Here, Staci and producer Nate Sabin have carefully – and inventively – arranged the requisite classics (What Child Is This, O Come O Come Emmanuel, Silent Night, etc.) along with one very good original song (the title track).
Acoustic, inventive arrangements. Warm instrumentation. Staci’s effortless voice. It’s a perfect little gem of a Christmas record.
One of my all-time favorite songwriters was Rich Mullins. Although I don’t think Rich intended his song “Boy Like Me, Man Like You” to be a Christmas tune, I think it works perfectly.
The song asks the questions that I’d never thought to ask, but in retrospect seem so obvious. What does it mean that God became flesh – that Jesus was truly a little boy? Did the boy Jesus ever get scared playing hide and seek? Or try not to cry when he scraped His knee? I believe so. Jesus was fully human. Just like any little boy, He would’ve taken pleasure in skipping rocks and making snow angels (or maybe sand angels?) and He probably wondered why the girls were always giggling.
In Philippians 2, Paul writes that Jesus was “in very nature God” but chose to “empty himself” and become a man. This is the heart of Christmas – Emmanuel, God with us.
Check out “Boy Like Me” below – and please comment below to let me know what you think!
After my first solo record “All I Know” took off, I was suddenly faced with the need for a follow up record. I already had arrangements for several Christmas songs and had one original tune written, so a holiday project seemed like the right idea.
I don’t know why I never singled “What Child is This” to radio – especially considering that it’s my favorite carol arrangement on that record. Mandolin! Accordion! A song that’s usually so quiet and pretty turned into something urgent and upbeat – I just love the energy of it.
So here it is for your listening pleasure! And since I’m still a needy artist, please comment below with your thoughts. Or send cookies. Either way.
Our annual Christmas tour is coming up soon! My buddies Chris Cooke and Ernie Garza will be flying out West from their homes in Nashville, TN and Branson, MO (respectively) for a two-week run of holiday shows throughout the Northwest. Check out the video below for more info – and come out to one of the shows and say hello!