Album Reviews

I recently picked up a few new albums via iTunes and have been listening to them a good bit in the car whilst I have been traveling. As always, I like to let people know when I find some good music, so I thought I would review and perhaps recommend a couple to you.

The first record I picked up was The Statler Brothers greatest hits. Just kidding!

Really though, the first one is Leeland's sophomore release entitle Opposite Way. Leeland's first record Sound of Melodies was a solid first-record, with hardly a bad song on it. It was one of those records that I could put in and listen all the way through without having to skip any songs. Now a year or so older and a bit more experienced, Leeland has put out another solid record. The first song on the record (which was also their first single from the album) called "Count Me In" seems to pick up where they left off in the first album. These guys must have a degree in Catchy, Melodic choruses. Not to mention the lead singer Leeland Mooring has such great lyrics. He writes unapologetic words of praise and worship, but crafts songs that more-often-than-not avoid tired, overused cliches that praise and worship music is shamefully famous for.

The first half of the album stays strong. However, there are a few songs in the middle that seem to drag a bit for my taste. I am keyed in until about song 4, and then my attention starts to wane. But then the end of the record picks back up by song 8 or so.

All in all, I think it is a good record. I would agree with other reviews that Leeland didn't fall into the dreaded sophomore slump. However, I will say that with such a strong first album, the bar was set really high. While I don't think Opposite Way is quite as strong of an effort, I do believe Leeland has shown that they know how to crank out catchy and meaningful worship songs that not only allow the listener to be encouraged, but also threatens to sweep said listener in a frenzy of soaring praise to God....and I'd say worse things could definitely happen. Scale of 1-10, 10 being the best album ever made in the history of time and 1 being only a mere step up from the disaster that was The Crash Test Dummies debut that you know you bought cause you couldn't get that MMMMMMMMMM song out of your head, I give Leeland a 7......a breath of fresh air.

Ok, I'll try not to dissect so much on the next two albums. The second of my recently acquired tune-age is a band called Edison Glass. Chances are if you've hung around me at all recently you've heard me talk about this band. They are from New York, and they are really really good. This record called Time is Fiction (definitely a post-indie title if ever there was one)and is also their sophomore release. Some of you will find Edison Glass strange and unenjoyable. You other, more intelligent, sophisticated and well-rounded readers (HA!) will find them delightfull quirky, immensely talented, and surprisingly thought-provoking. I really like their lyrical stylings. Full of hope and grace, yet not to the detriment of their well-thought-out and artful packaging! I give this album an 8.

The final record is by a new group called Secret and Whisper. I think this record entitled Great White Whale will win the award for guilty pleasure for me this year. Don't get me wrong, they are a good band. However, the sheer overuse of double-base drum licks and obviously solid state-which-can-only-mean-one-thing....-artificial-harmonics-galore distortions should be the first things that turn me off. Add that with the eerie fact that the lead singer sounds like Sebastian Bach (oh come on....Skid knew just didn't want to admit it!) and you have all the ingredients for a wannabe post-1980s-hair-band disaster. But alas, they pull it off, and I can't stop playing the record! Don't get me wrong, their are no silly long guitar solos, and no spandex pants (I hope), but there is an obvious nod to a day thankfully gone by. In any case, I think half of my fascination with Secret and Whisper is my attempts to reach the previously-only-attained-by-a-dog-whistle vocal notes that the lead singer belts out. That in-and-of-itself makes the album worth having. All in all I give this album a 6.5.....the .5 is for having a big white friendly looking Whale for the cover art.

Ok, so for those of you who are still reading (because I have a feeling that many stopped after review/recommendation #2) let me know if you've pick up anything new that is worth checking out (and NO Taylor Swift, Barry Manilow, nor Ludacris is worth checking just keep those to yourself). And do yourself a favor and at least try one of those albums. You'll be glad you did......or maybe not.....if not then it's your own fault for going and getting music you've never heard....but if you do get it and are glad that you're welcome!

News Headline

As I mentioned before, I am in Atlanta all week taking a workshop for seminary. I had the TV on the news the other night while I was working on some stuff, and I just happened to hear this teaser as the news was just starting. The teaser line, quoted by a female field reporter apparently standing in Downtown Atlanta where a tornado did a considerable amount of damage, was:

"Downtown Atlanta is open for business again......(long pause).....IF YOU'RE A CRACK DEALER!"

I just laughed and laughed....not because crack dealing is a joke. Nor is the sale or use of illegal drugs is in anyway humorous....but the teaser line....the way it was said....was just so wrong it was funny. As if to say that crack dealers had an edge on the rebuilding process of businesses effected by a tornado.

Ah local news...even in a big like no other. In related news, this is a really great job of sports reporting done by a local news station in North Carolina.

Fun times!

Life's Little Lessons

Over the years I'd like to think that I've learned some things. Some of those lessons have come from the school of hard knocks, others have come from "little tricks" that I have been taught, still others from education or reading. Mostly the lessons just come from daily experience and observation. So in light of all this learning, I thought I would share with you some of the most memorable lessons I have learned through my short 20 years (yes I do know I'm not 20, but the first 7 don't really count right? And I can still pass for 20's to holding on to youth!)

1)Tostitos don’t have to have to be smothered in cheese or salsa to be good – don’t get me wrong, I still like them that way, but in light of the new diet I’ve learned how to savor the taste of the crunchy corn chip in its bare, natural state.

2)There’s always an easier way to do things – "little tricks" as me ol father is famous for showing me, are often learned by first doing it the hard way. I am thankful for those times when "little tricks" were shown without me having to do it the hard way.

3)I only perform as well as I practice – preparation is the key to performance. I am learning more and more as I lead worship that I only lead and play as well as I have prepared myself both mentally and physically. Leading a choir has really highlighted this aspect for me, as choir rehearsal goes so much smoother when I have thought out all the transitions and the rehearsal.

4)Cats really are curious – and it’s amazing how many times curiosity could get my cat killed!! Seriously though, I wish I could be as perceptive as Howard (our cat). She notices things so quickly. As soon as something new is in the house or something has been moved or rearranged, she checks it out. Wish I had that sensitive of a radar.

5)The weather never satisfies – if its hot I’d rather have cooler weather. If it’s raining? I’d rather it be sunny, if it’s cold then it had at least better snow!

6)Toilet seat covers on a wet toilet do not serve their intended purpose - need I clarify?

7)When teaching a class (assuming that I ever do that)it is a good idea to let the class out at least 15 minutes earlier than the stated time of dismissal. I check out at least 15 minutes prior to the time I am expected to leave! This is especially pressing because as I type, I am in a class that is going up to the minute of stated time to leave. Not that I would even consider blogging while in class.

8)There are very few things in life that are worth getting worked up about. What I mean is that life will throw curves, bad things happen, money runs thin, relationships get strained, life gets hard and we struggle. But I've not seen one situation where allowing myself to get bent out of shape, panic, or worry myself to death have changed or help the situation in anyway. In every situation there is something to be thankful for.

9)Passion is a blessing and a curse. I am by nature a passionate person, at least about the things I am passionate about. I am a very hot/cold person. It is either the best thing in the world, or it means virtually nothing to me. In other words, there are some things that I can and will invest myself completely in (music, my marriage, my work, etc.) But those things that I see as peripheral are just that to me, and so I somehow subconsciously feel that they are not worthy of my attention. This isn't always a good thing, as many things that I may not be passionate about are still important and still carry weight in someone's world.

10)Sunscreen, while altogether annoying to slather on, is a necessary evil for those of us with pale (translation -pasty white) complexion. I used to think that I could burn and then tan. But the whole skin cancer scare has gotten to me. Plus it mostly just turns out to be burn then peel.

And one to grow on...

11)The latest fad today will be the biggest fashion faux pas tomorrow - splatter paint shirts and leggings anyone? Or even better, remember the old clothes on backward fad started by on Kris Kross....yes, I can't believe I remembered that!

Life is full of lessons to be learned. Sometimes it is helpful to spend time and review some of those lessons. It will help you remember where you've come from, how you've grown, and where you are headed!

Goodbye Poundage

It is a dreary, rainy day here in Alabama and I am struggling to get started with my work, so I thought I would just post a short rambling. First, I must say that though the rain makes it more appealing to stay in bed than to get up, I am thankful that we are getting rain. Our land was pretty dry here, and we still have a good bit of catching up to do!

But rain isn't what I really wanted to talk about. My heart's desire this morning is to blog about something that has recently entered my life, something that I am trying to embrace as best I know how, but struggling to make it a way of life....that subject? Dieting!! That's right folks, Karen and I have finally taken the plunge to healthy eating....and a long plunge it is for those of us who like to partake in the tasty-goodness and comfort of junk food. But before you get all crazy on us about our dieting, allow me to give you the details of the diet.

First we aren't starving ourselves. We still eat. Second, we actually can eat more meals now than we used to. That's right, out with the boring ol' 3 a day meal plan, and welcome 6 count them 6 meals a day! WOOO HOOO.....well sort of. We can eat 6 meals, but each meal must be significantly smaller portions....and significantly different kind of food than we used to eat...or at least prepared differently.

When Karen and I were dating, there was a time when I really wanted to be healthy...and muscular. Mostly just muscular. So I found this diet called Body-4-Life. It is a really great 12 week program that helps you not only eat better, but also exercise. The plan allows for 6 meals a day with a 6 day a week exercise plan. So I did that diet for 12 weeks while Karen was gone to Hawaii for that same amount of time. It was great because when she came back, I had added a little muscle and was probably in the best shape of my life (which isn't saying too much I don't suppose). Well anyway, the 12 weeks ended and so did my commitment to healthy eating and working out.

NO MORE MY FRIENDS. I am now back on the wagon.....sort of. Karen and I have a new found desire for healthy eating and perhaps trading a few pounds for muscle. As I mentioned before, we can still eat, but we are eating different foods....lots of grilled chicken and steamed or raw vegetables. We have discovered the displeasure of brown rice (not like mom used to...this is like brown rice that sorta tastes like fluffy grass).

But my biggest change in diet is that I am doing my best to quit eating altogether by 7 pm. Oh man, this is hard. I mean I've gone to bed the last week and a half with my stomach growling. Usually about 8:30 I would be eating some popcorn, or a fudge round, or some cheese and peanut butter crackers, or some ice cream, or a brownie, or a cookie, or a candy bar, or the whole refrigerator topped with ice cream (what can I say, I love sweets). But now, I just push through the hunger, hoping that as my stomach growls, it finds some fat to satisfy itself.....ewww..the thought of my stomach eating my own fat.....that's nasty!

Well anyway, so Karen and I are almost 2 weeks in and things are going relatively well. She is really great with buying the food and motivating me. We make a pretty good team when we set our minds together to do something. The one big thing I have to work on is adding the exercise back in, which is pretty hard when 3-4 nights a week you don't get home until 8pm. But NO EXCUSES! We're gonna do this right. So the next time you see us, perhaps we'll look a little bit healthier!

Here's to eating stuff that doesn't taste good, but is good for you!!

Well it seems I have been tagged in a Meme from Josh Horne's blog. So after I got further clarification from Josh, I thought I would respect my tag and do my best and attempt a meme.

For those of you who, like me, don't know what a meme is, it is simply a list of things that let people know a little bit more about yourself. There are several different kinds that cover all types of topics. My meme topic is quirky things about me. This could go on for days! So without further ado, here is my quirky meme, which includes six ridiculously random quirky things/habits about me.

1. My toenails bother me when I lay down at night. I usually realize that my toenails are too long when I shove my feet into bed. One little snag, and I have to get up right then and cut them, or file them. And sometimes it takes 2 or 3 times to get it right. I get up, go to the bathroom, grab the toenail clippers and file, cut and file, go back and shove my feet once again under the cover,but then it still snags....can't have that so get up, go to the bathroom, I cut and file again....still not good...I bring the file by my bed and file as needed. It's really annoying

2. I leave little candy wrappers laying around all the time. I love those little Wint-O-Green Lifesaver mints, so we always keep a stock. Hey you never know when you need good breath. But usually when I open them, I just leave the candy paper laying on the counter or table. I forget that they are there. I think it's because they are so light and then that you can't throw them in the trashcan that makes me not want to throw them away. After all, what fun is throwing garbage away unless you can shoot it like a basketball (however I do not recommend this when throwing out leftover mashed potatoes.

3. I never remember to change my towel. It usually takes a sour smell for me to think "hey, maybe I should get a fresh towel." Either that or Karen changes it for me!

4. I count constantly. Perhaps it's the rhythm side of my brain, or maybe I'm just crazy, but I do it with my fingers the most. Back and forth 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 and so on. Watch my fingers sometime, you'll see me doing it.

5. I go through the exact some morning routine every morning while getting ready. This probably applies to everybody, but sometimes I'd just like to spice it up a bit. I'd like to fix my hair, then brush my teeth just once...but that will never happen because I have to brush my teeth before I get in the shower (can't stand the smell of my own morning breath!)

6. I walk on the insides of my feet. I never knew this until after I got married, but man it reeks havoc on my shoes. And when my shoes just sit there on the floor, they sit tilted in. It's embarrassing and expensive, as my shoes wear out really quickly.

Like I said this could go on for quite sometime. But I'll stop there. I suppose the tradition is to tag someone to do this as well, so I think I will tag Heath and Clay....not because I think they will do it, but because I would love to know their quirks....but not in a weird way...I mean I don't care that much, but because I bet they have some.... (another one of my quirks is not knowing when to shut up...even when typing).

I have now officially broken in the new Taylor, as I rehearsed with it on Wednesday night and used it yesterday morning in both services. One piece of bad news....well not really bad, just kind of awkward news, was that I broke a string on the 3rd song of the first service. I am blaming it on the fact that the guitar traveled across the country with those strings, so they were probably a bit worn out. However, despite the minor snare, the guitar is sounds fantastic and plays like a dream. I really do like the new pickup system at least so far, but know that it will take some time, attention, and some tweaking to get the sound just right.

Now for some further ponderings. I'd love to get some comments and feedback on this one if you care.....but do you ever feel like the way in which we attempt to express worship in the context of the normal Sunday church setting is a bit forced? I mean, is it really natural to go to a building of what turns out to be near strangers (due in large part to the lack of during-the-week-interaction by the same group of people) and attempt to pour our deepest affection to God? I mean, don't get me wrong, I think music is one of the best ways to communicate love, emotion, commitment, and overall worship to God. I believe the Bible commands us to use music in worship. The psalmist declares "Sing to the Lord you saints of his; praise his holy name." (Psalm 30:4). Paul also encourages the use of music by saying in Ephesians 5:19 "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord. and in Colossians 3:16"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."

However, I am afraid our context is drastically different from the context in which Paul is writing. I think the church has become something despairingly different than what it was in the early first century, and I am afraid that it is pitifully far from what God intended. So week by week we gather together in a place, some of us because we genuinely desire to worship God in Spirit and in Truth and in unity with other believers. Meanwhile, many others are there for a multitude of reasons; to see and be seen; to make themselves feel better; to check off a box of "things to do"....most of whom (here goes the stereotype) look like they'd rather be anywhere else but here, and few others still who are pretending to love God so that their reputation stays in tact. Again, don't get me wrong, I know that many are there for all the right reasons, and we all sometimes do things for wrong reasons.....all of us are guilty of selfish motivations.

But I just wonder if we should really just step back and take a good hard look at this thing we call church, specifically in the area in which I serve. I love what I do to an extent, because it involves music. But so many times I feel like this is futile....a chasing after the wind to borrow Solomon's thought.

I've probably blogged about this subject before, and perhaps you are getting sick of hearing about it. It's just that when I knew I was called to ministry, and I began this journey, I expected so much more. And I have a sneaky feeling God expects so much more. Meanwhile, we continue our routine, accomplishing a momentary good-feeling that lasts all of 45 seconds after the closing prayer, and then we turn around, walk away from the group of strangers we try to pass off as a community of believers and await another week of the same old stuff.......not so sure this is really Christ's idea of church!

Your thoughts?

Wood and Steele!

It finally came yesterday!! I think I only mentioned it once in my blog, but any one who has had any kind of a conversation with me over the last forever knows that I've been saving up for a new acoustic guitar. Well I started saving up last year, but then had to get my widsom teeth removed along with other financial things that came up, so we effectively disposed of the guitar fund. Then at Christmas time, thanks to my folks and Karen's hard work we started saving up again. So after selling some things, along with other miscelaneous income, I finally saved up enough to purchase my brand new Taylor 614 ce!! Man I am so pumped. I've wanted this guitar for quite sometime now, and I finally got it. It sounds incredible and has some fancy features to give it a good look as well.

I have to say a huge thanks to Karen for supporting this little investment. Truthfully, she'll get no personal enjoyment from it (other than she'll no longer hear me talk about wanting it) but she was so great to not only allow me to get it, but chipped in her hard earned money for it! I am very thankful!

Below are some pictures of the arrival....Karen insisted that we take a picture of the UPS man delivering it. I ordered it from Record Heaven in Griffin GA, who beat everybody else's price by $400....and they got it straight from the Taylor factory in Cajon, CA!!

The Tax Man

Quite possibly the most exciting time of the year is fast approaching. I can smell it in the air. Yesterday and today we had the almost yearly preview of spring, with temperatures reaching into the 70s and sunny blue skies (prompting the new colors for my blog!! WOOO HOOO). It's getting close to that time of year...but we're not there yet. There are still cold days to be endured before we start the warm up, and new life begins to appear on the tress. Spring has a special quality about it....a feeling of newness....rebirth.....second's good. It's not here yet.....but it is close I can feel it.

Along with the weather, March has now dawned, which means at least one other thing.....March Madness! That's will soon be at the forefront. I used to get a lot more excited about the tournament and all, but now I seem to take a bit more interest in part because Karen will watch that with me. I haven't been able to coax her into being a basketball fan. However, when we get to the Sweet 16 I think I shall be able to sneak in a few games! Pretty pumped about that.

However, with all of the good things that spring brings, there is one inevitable and unavoidable spring task that we all must face.....and it is not fun. That task......TAXES! Oh man.....taxes kill me. I realize that they are a part of life, they make the government run, and (cringe) stimulate the economy (so some say....I don't know....). But I gotta be honest, if I could actually take the money I earn and actually keep it to use as I see fit....well I gotta be honest, I'd probably do that. I'm saying that if paying taxes was an option, I'd probably choose not to pay them.....nope.....I know I wouldn't pay them. But, alas, no option is either pay them willingly, or the government takes them willingly. And in my situation, at least for now, there is no refund to be had. Honestly I am ok with that...we get all excited about a refund...but a refund means that we must have paid something to begin with...and obviously we must have paid to much.

So I spent most of the day Saturday doing my taxes....and listen I have had some fun in my life....lots of fun I'd like to think....and taxes are the exact opposite of fact....I think numbers and the addition, subtraction, or general calculation of numbers is the antithesis of fun! Fun runs away from numbers. Fun must have gotten beat up at an early age by numbers and now fears the worst from them, and so chooses to stay as far away as possible. Fun trembles at the thought of numbers, and faints when faced with taxes. Fun is like the average person, and numbers are like Chuck Norris. Fun sees numbers and quite literally wets his pants, cries like a little girl, and runs home to mom.........getting the picture? So you can imagine how little fun was had on Saturday. The best part is that I do my own taxes with the helpful application called TurboTax.....however I still find the filing of taxes so incredibly confusing that it takes me two, count them TWO full times of filling out the files just to ensure that I did everything correctly. I can only imagine in my worst nightmares how UNFUN it would be to have to go through an audit. If numbers beat fun up at an early age....the an audit did even more unspeakable acts to fun at an even earlier age, such that fun cannot shake the memory of an audit and thus must be hospitalized every time it hears even the mere mention of the word audit.

I say all that about taxes (and the lack of fun) to say this....after trying to file my taxes, may mood shall I put this.....not good? that won't do.....bad?.....hmmm...getting there......terrible?.....closer......rotten...yes yes...rotten...that sums it mood was rotten. I always feel as though I've been robbed, as I am sure that most every American who pays feels. But after a day of feeling sorry for myself and angry about my situation, I came to my senses and realized how dreadfully silly it is to get all worked up about something that is uncontrollable and inevitable (well let me clarify..the way in which taxes are paid compared to my situation could be better...but that is another discussion for....never). I realized that I have to pay taxes, and that furthermore if something like this in my life is what gets me all worked up, then woe be unto me if and when true tragedy really did strike. I mean even my current biggest problem is so stinking insignificant when compared to people all over the world who are suffering from hunger, the destruction of war and oppresion, disease, etc. If I would allow myself to just sit back (which I did as best I could) and really assess my life.....blessing, protection, provision, love, grace, mercy and a host of other indescribable good things abound. I am in want for nothing much less need.....I have food, a roof over my head, a wonderful family, the most amazing wife, an entertaining (yet sometimes only bearable) cat, reliable transportation, good health, solid job, decent education.....I mean....could I really ask for more.....and furthermore could I really allow some miniscule little problem (though that isn't even accurate...because it's worthy of the word's more like a prob...)to crawl all over me??!?!??! What a slap in the face for me to cry foul when one thing doesn't go my way!! What a denial of blessings that would be!!!

I realize that one day Karen and I will have to deal with real hardship.....perhaps a trajedy....not that I wish for that....but I just half expect is that way....why should I think myself exempt? And so when that comes along, I like Job want to approach those situations with unwaivering trust, faith, thankfulness (yes thankfulness) and ultimately obedience. In the end, this life is a vapor, and as Solomon so accurately describes it, vainity in many reguards. And we have a God who not only knows us, but cares deeply for us! That alone is something to celebrate!

Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds, becaus you know that the testing of your faith develops perserverance. Perserverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

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