Album Review: Skillet – Rise (2013)

I remember buying Skillet’s self-titled debut (on cassette) back in 1996. It was competent, but typical, post-Nirvana guitar-driven hard rock. I also remember buying their 1998 follow-up Hey You, I Love Your Soul, and wondering what in the world had happened. The distorted guitars were still present but there was also a distinct electronic element to the songs. This would remain a part of their sound for the next two albums (2000’s Invincible and 2001’s Alien Youth) with the one exception being a live worship album that really didn’t sound like them at all.

Even as their sound slowly evolved, there was always a pop element that included catchy guitar riffs and singable vocal hooks. They were an entertaining live band as well, in spite of several line-up changes. Skillet were a formidable act in the Christian music scene throughout their early career and then something happened in 2003. Another change in musical direction, this time less subtle, came with the release of Collide. With this shift came interest outside of the Christian market.

Comatose (2007) and Awake (2009) saw Skillet settle into a stable line-up and continue to polish the modern hard rock that had become popular. The addition of female vocals on some songs added an extra dimension to their sound that only increased their pop sensibility and potential audience. Massive touring in both Christian and secular circles drew in more fans, as did the inclusion of their songs in major sporting events. By the time Rise was released, Skillet had signed with a major label and had become a top band in not just the Christian scene, but in the mainstream as well.

Rise doesn’t break any new ground but it is a solid effort from a band that is hitting on all cylinders. While there is nothing earth-shattering here, the songs are tight, well constructed, and stick in your head long after hearing them. I saw them live not long after the album was released and the new songs sounded great live and had the crowd chanting along by the second chorus. Some may write Skillet off as a generic hard rock band but I have to give them credit, they put together rock anthems with positive lyrical content and are sincere about it.

My track-by-track commentary

Rise – This feels like it could be sequel to P.O.D.’s seminal hit Youth Of The Nation. It is a fist-pumping anthem that literally shakes the audience when performed live. Although it is stylistically different, it has the feel of an Eighties’ metal anthem.

Sick Of It – Another head-banging slab of power chords and singalong choruses. It’s as of John Cooper and company deliberately sat down and tried to write an album’s worth of rock anthems. I know that is the second time I have used that word and we’re only two songs in, but that is exactly what it feels like.

Good To Be Alive – Their poppier side peeks out on this one. While not a true ballad, this mid-tempo rocker sounds custom made for Top Forty radio. It almost hearkens back to the early Nineties’ alternative rock that was around during their early days.

Not Gonna Die – This one begins with chaotic strings (synths?) and razor-sharp guitars. Cooper’s voice is not quite screaming, but has a rough edge that adds power to the delivery. The female vocals (provided by drummer Jen Ledger) mesh perfectly. The change in dynamics accents the different vocalists perfectly. This is the first tune to have a true guitar solo and it is a good one.

Circus For A Psycho – Another frenetic hard rocker. The opening guitar riff (which repeats throughout the song) is absolutely insane. One thing that I really didn’t notice until I saw them live is that there is very little noticeable bass guitar on this album. Cooper has been the bassist for the band since the beginning and he does bring one out on some songs, but you can’t hear them on the album.

American Noise – This one begins with subdued piano. Cooper displays the mellow side of his range here. There is still a ragged quality to his voice when he goes for the higher notes, but it isn’t grating or annoying. Like most of their lyrics, this one isn’t overly religious, but it does offer encouraging words to those paying attention.

Madness In Me – A lot of Skillet’s lyrical content seem to be focused at young adults who struggle with the issues of the day. Self-esteem, doubt, anger, and fear are just some of the topics Cooper addresses. Musically, they use commercially accessible rock music to spread the message.

Salvation – Skillet aren’t afraid to address spiritual issues in their lyrics or from the stage. They don’t make deep theological statements or quote Scripture but it is evident that they are coming from a spiritual (even if not overtly Christian) viewpoint. They also do it in such a way that they don’t have to resort to cliches or bumper sticker slogans. I enjoy Ledger’s vocals on this one.

Fire And Fury – This album is a little more subdued than their two previous efforts. Well placed keyboards and vocal harmonies stretch them beyond three chord hard rock, even though the guitars are still present.

My Religion – I can almost hear shades of Gary Glitter on this one. The organ and plodding rhythm give this one a retro feel. Tone down the guitar a bit and put Mac Powell on vocals and this wouldn’t sound out of place on a Third Day album.

Hard To Find – The acoustic guitar and keyboards are nice start to this one. Cooper (even though he is in his Forties) has a knack for capturing young adult angst and translating it onto catchy rock songs.

What I Believe – They crank the volume back up with this one. This one follows the formula they put into place two albums ago: strings (synth?), dueling vocals, crunchy guitars, and dynamic changes. It works too well, at times it feels like you are listening to the same song over and over again.

Battle Cry – The title suggests a heavy metal onslaught, but this one begins with keyboards and drum loops. Once again, the lack of bass guitar is noticeable (to me it is) but the gaps are filled with synths and droning chords.

Everything Goes Black – I kept waiting for one final sonic blast but this one is a straight ballad. It’s a nice ballad and once again, the dual vocals lend a nice feel to it. This one would not sound out of place on Christian radio if the lyrics were a little more evangelical.

Freakshow – I like the almost tribal drum beat that begins this one. It builds up to the point where you are anticipating vicious guitars…but that never happens. The guitars are there but are mixed along with the keyboards to the point that they sound like one instrument. There is a nice riff but it is used sparingly. This one almost sounds like one of their earlier electronic efforts

Book Review – Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? …And Other Strange Questions From The Inbox At The Vatican Observatory

by Guy Consolmagno, SJ and Paul Mueller, SJ

A Completely Honest Book Review by Lee Modlin

Introduction

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how to take this book before I began reading it. The title had me wondering just how serious the authors were going to be. The subtitle should have given me a hint that this would be a semi-humorous attempt to answer legitimate questions that the authors have received throughout the years. I must note that I am a reviewing a digital copy of an uncorrected proof that was given to me by the publisher in exchange for my review. That being said, let us begin.

The authors are both members of the Vatican Observatory, which is “the official astronomical research institute” for the Roman Catholic Church. They are also both Jesuits. Consolmagno is a Jesuit brother and Mueller is a Jesuit priest. They openly admit that they are approaching this book from the perspectives of scientist, philosopher, and Catholic theologian without any conflict between the different views. The topics discussed in the book come from five years worth of e-mails from people who were seriously looking to find a balance between science and faith.

The book is divided up into six different sections, each one tackling a different issue. One interesting aspect of the format is that each section is set up as a conversation taking place in a unique location. Some are real places, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, and some are fictional, like a dining room at the end of the universe. During the introduction to the book, the authors lay out their presupposition that there is less conflict between science and faith than most would like to believe. They even go so far as to remind the reader that this supposed “eternal war” between the two is a relatively recent occurrence, dating back to the Victorian era. The truth is that “religion and science are not at war at all.”

Once I realized that the title of the book was not it’s true subject matter (although they do address it at the end) I was better able to read along and enjoy it for what it is. It is a serious (and honest) discussion of faith and science. It sincerely addresses the conflict in a manner which is not insulting to those of us who may disagree with the conclusions the authors have made. I believe books like this are important because it reminds those of us who take a more literal approach to the Bible that there are God-fearing Christians who disagree with us. It also shows us that we can have these types of discussions without resorting to name-calling.

Revelation 4

We are studying the book of Revelation during our mid-week Bible study. We began chapter four today. It is one of my favorite passages of Scripture.

1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

Revelation 4 (ESV)

NaNoWriMo 2014

It all begins at Midnight this Friday. For the month of November I will be attempting to write a novel. I have participated in this event every year for the last eleven years. I have only finished once. In order to successfully complete it you have to reach 50,000 words by Midnight on November 30.

I have a title, a story idea, and a soundtrack to listen to while I write. I don’t know if I will finish or not but that won’t stop me from giving it a shot. One of these days I am actually going to produce a book that I won’t mind letting people read.

Maybe this is my year.

Monday Evening Thoughts

I just got back from preaching at Grover Church of Christ’s Fall Preaching Rally. The theme was “Look To Jesus” and I used Hebrews 12:1-3 as my text. I feel like it was one of my better efforts. I thank the Holy Spirit for that. I attended last night and plan to go back again tomorrow night to hear the next speaker. I would really like to see the sister churches in this area do more things together. I am going to see to it that I make an effort.

I went to a meeting for volunteer chaplains at the local hospital. I need to get a flu shot and a TB test and then attend a mandatory training session. Once I do that I can join the rotation. You only have to agree to cover one day a week. That’s not too bad. The rounds only last about an hour to two hours a day. You are also on call that day in case of emergencies. I am looking forward to getting involved.

I have Monday Night Football on. The Cowboys are up 7-3 over the Redskins at the half. If we win tonight we will be 7-1. That’s the best start Dallas has had in years. We’re actually looking like a play-off contender right now. It’s still too early to get excited though. There is a lot of football left to play and anything can happen.

Album Review: Billy Idol – Kings & Queens Of The Underground

This is Billy Idol’s first new album in nine years. It is only his third album of original material since 1993’s Cyberpunk. I have to be honest, I have not followed Idol’s career. I am aware of his hit singles (nearly all dating back to the Eighties) and I have seen his episode of Behind The Music but other than that…I’m pretty much in the dark. I remember the string of videos he put out back in the day and, for the most, I like them all. I confess…I do not like his version of Tommy James’ Mony, Mony but it doesn’t make me want to gouge my ears out. Cradle Of Love kind of creeped me out (as it should have) but it wasn’t the worse song I had ever heard.

As best I can tell, Idol’s career was revived following his appearance in Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer. A sober, more mature Billy Idol took advantage of the second chance and began promoting himself again. Still, this is only the second album of original material he has released in that time frame. I haven’t heard the last one so I am not prepared to comment on it or compare this one to that one. What I can do is make the comparisons between this new album and his Eighties output, which is exactly what it sounds like he was shooting for.

While not a total retro attempt, K&QOTU does take a deliberate look back at Idol’s past…both musically and lyrically. Long-time guitarist Steve Stevens in back in the mix and the album benefits greatly from the chemistry that the two of them have with one another. It’s almost as if the two of them were meant to work with one another.

Billy Idol has always seemed able to bridge the gaps between certain genres of music and this album is no different. He was the punk kid who blended new wave, hard rock, and even rockabilly into a polished pop rock mix that managed to sound good in the rock clubs and on the dance floor. His latest effort delivers more of the same. Production duties were shared by Trevor Horn (The Buggles, Yes) and it shows. The album has a pop sheen that is very reminiscent of the videos which dominated M-TV in its early days. Idol’s voice is more mellow than it was in his youth but it has lost none of its snarl or sneer.

The album is available for $10 at Walmart or for $9.99 on iTunes. The digital versions contains an extra track. I do not have that one yet.

My track-by-track commentary:

Bitter Pill – Subdued guitar and cymbals start this off before Billy snarls and kicks things into gear. This mid-tempo rocker could have been on a Human League album. Idol’s voice sounds great in a lower register and makes you realize that he is pretty decent singer. The snarls are still there and Stevens serpentine guitar licks give this tune a bit of an edge but it still feels like a lost track from an unreleased John Hughes’ film. There is a air of melancholy and regret in the lyrics and Idol delivers them in a completely believable way.

Can’t Break Me Down – I love this track. Distorted guitar and gang vocals highlight this slice of driving new wave rock. The hook in the chorus is infectious and I have been humming ever since picking this album up. This track feels like one of Billy’s classic tunes. It also conjures images of The Cars. I can imagine Benjamin Orr singing it. Instead of having a forced retro vibe…it actually sounds like something recorded in the Eighties.

Save Me Now – If the first two songs were meant to remind the listener of the past…this one pretty much shoves you into a time machine and transports you back. One part Human League, one part Simple Minds, and ALL Billy Idol. I sometimes forget that Billy was a pop star. His look reflected his punk roots and he crossed over with the heavy metal crowd…but at his heart…he was pop star. This song would have filled the gym floor at every junior high dance in 1984. Lyrically there is more longing and regret but that only goes to show just how far he has come during the last thirty years.

One Breath Away – I have seen a couple of people lament the fact that there are too many ballads on this album. While it may be true that there aren’t as many rockers as some would like, I don’t think the album suffers for it. This one sounds like a 21st Century update of Idol’s Eyes Without A Face or Flesh For Fantasy. It is synth-driven but still has very tasty guitar work from Stevens. Once again, this would have been a top ten hit back in 1984. I love the heavy section that kicks in at the 2:20 mark. An effects-drenched guitar solo caps things off nicely. This one has a ticked-off Duran Duran vibe to it.

Postcards From The Past – A siren rings out and Billy starts singing over a pulsing synthesizer before the drums and guitar come crashing in. Five songs in and I am wondering if some of these are leftover tracks from the Rebel Yell sessions. Some artists attempt to recreate their classic sound but end up sounding like a tribute act or self-parody. I don’t know what was in Idol’s mind when he sat down to write this album but I have to believe that his fans are pleased with the effort. This sounds like an album recorded in the Eighties. The production quality is a little better, but this sounds like a thirty year record and Idol does not sound like a 58 year old man.

Kings & Queens Of The Underground – I have heard some less than favorable comments about this track. I admit…the acoustic guitar and flutes are a jarring change of pace from everything that has come before. I understand that Idol is looking back and commentating on his own life and career, but it is somewhat cheesy to litter your own song titles throughout the lyrics. All that being said, I don’t think this is a horrible song. The guitar work is nice and Idol’s voice is in top form. If anything, this track is misplaced. It disrupts the vibe that has been masterfully crafted. It’s probably my least favorite track…but I don’t hate it.

Eyes Wide Shut – This is another ballad but I think it fits the mood much better than the title track. It is more organic than the majority of the album but it still maintains the vibe. I have yet to sit down and scrutinize the lyrics but they seem to be a sincere examination of a life of excess than has left destruction and heartache in its wake. There is a real sense of regret that permeates the entire album. Idol’s voice has lost none of its power…if anything…it seems to have gained more over time.

Ghosts In My Guitar – This is the third ballad in a row and I understand why that is a negative for some fans. I don’t want to sound like I’m trashing it because I do like this song. It is based around acoustic strumming and keyboards and they complement the lyrics just nicely. Once again, it’s not a bad song but it seems to throw off the mood that was building through the first five tracks. I would have preferred a couple more rockers or even new wave throwbacks, and let him use the extra ballads as bonus tracks.

Nothing To Fear – Some may be shaking their heads at this point. ANOTHER ballad? Really? This is where I would disagree. This one actually sounds like an Eighties’ synth-pop ballad and is much more in line with the first half of the album. I wish Idol would have gotten back to this style one or two songs sooner because it would have meant a much more cohesive album. That really is a small gripe though. Overall this is a solid album and well worth the $10 it costs at Walmart.

Love And Glory – I don’t know what this one reminds me of. On one level it feels like a long-lost INXS track. It also has a decidedly U2 vibe. Neither of those things is a bad thing to me. This one sounds more like Billy covering someone else’s song. Even the jagged guitar playing echos The Edge. I imagine that those who are turned off by all the ballads may have thrown their hands up in the air by this point. If you are looking for snarling, guitar-driven rock…that is understandable. If you are like me and don’t mind the slower stuff…well…it’s not as big a deal.

Whiskey And Pills – Billy saves the raunchiest and hardest rocking track for last. More autobiographical lyrics highlight this one. Stevens’ guitar riff races along, keeping pace with the bass and drums. He also lays down a scorching guitar solo. Idol’s voice doesn’t show his age either. His snarls and screams aren’t quite as high-pitched as they once were…but they are still menacing. Although I do like his more mellow stuff…I would be lying if I didn’t say that I would enjoy and entire album of tracks like this one.

Glory To God In The Highest

The Christmas music has begun. Honestly, this is much later than I normally break it out. I usually spin Andrew Peterson’s Behold The Lamb Of God two or three times by the time July has ended. Third Day’s Christmas Offerings has typically made an appearance by now as well. I don’t know why it has taken so long this year. Anyways…it is now in my rotation and it will be played continuously until the end of January.

I have discussed this topic many times but I guess it’s time to go over it again. I’m not sure why I love Christmas songs (particularly the hymns and carols) so much but I do. I’m not as fond of the “secular” songs though. It’s not that I am opposed to them but I never really related to them. I grew up in the South and to my knowledge we never had a white Christmas. I never roasted chestnuts on an open fire. I very rarely built snowmen and when I did, you can guarantee that they weren’t big enough to put a magical hat on. There was no dashing through the snow…ever.

I do love the hymns though. I know there are some fanciful ones…I mean…do we really believe that Mary giving birth in a stable/cave was a silent night? I am willing to bet that baby Jesus cried at some point during the evening. I find it hard to imagine a woman giving birth without expressing her discomfort, especially under those circumstances. But for the most part, the Christmas carols and hymns I cherish make some pretty bold claims. I especially love the ones that talk about God coming down to earth in the flesh to save us.

Angels We Have Heard On High is probably my favorite of them all. I love singing the chorus.

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Gloria in excelsis Deo

Glory to God on High. I love that. I love the image of these dirty, ragged shepherds sitting out in the field with a bunch of smelly sheep. I live in an area with lots of cows, sheep, and other livestock. They stink. You can smell it in the air. You can smell it everywhere. These guys were sitting around like they did every night and then the heavens exploded.

Can you imagine being there? I would have been terrified. We know that they were scared because the angel actually said, “Fear not!” These filthy outcasts were the very first to hear the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ. I am encouraged by that. Most people would think that God would have revealed himself to a more worthy audience. Shepherds? Dirty, stinking, low-life shepherds? That is good news indeed…probably more than we even understand. God, who had been separated from mankind because of our filth, decided to show up in one of the dirtiest places imaginable. He was even born among the dirty, smelly animals and put in a feeding trough.

See him in a manger lay,
Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth.
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
With us sing our Savior’s birth.

Sixpence None The Richer do a version which has alternate lyrics. I love the different words of this verse.

See him in a manger lay,
Who the angels praise above.
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While we raise our hearts in love.

I think my second favorite Christmas song comes from Third Day. It’s called Born In Bethlehem and the first verse and chorus go like this:

Baby Jesus, born in a stable,
Humble Savior’s birth.
You left Your throne in heaven above
To live here on the earth.

Baby Jesus, lying in a manger,
Crying for the world.
The angels told the shepherds of
The good news for us all

Hallelujah, the king is here,
Given for all men.
For today the holy son of God
Is born in Bethlehem.

I especially love the last verse.

Baby Jesus, do You know
You’ll die for all our sins?
Don’t be afraid for in three days,
You will rise again.

Hallelujah, the king is here,
Given for all men.
For today the holy son of God
Is born in Bethlehem.

Glory to God in the Highest.

Indeed.

Album Review: Chicago – XXXVI: Now

I don’t know when I became an actual fan of Chicago, but I do know that I have been one for over half of my life. Heck…I’ve been one for over three-fourths of my life. Like I said, I don’t know the exact date, but I do know the exact album. Chicago’s 17 changed my life. I was a teenage boy who was in love for the very first time and there was something about that album, with it’s overly produced pop-rock and schmaltzy ballads, that captivated me. It didn’t hurt that they made visually appealing videos that seemed to play every five or ten minutes on M-TV.

That was how I was introduced to Chicago. Little did I know that they had a storied career and in spite of all the polish and sugar-coated pop, they were fairly decent musicians. I discovered that in marching band when our director gave us a medley of Chicago songs to perform. I was suddenly confronted with jazz rock monsters like 25 Or 6 To 4 and Questions 67 And 68. As I am prone to do, I went out and began purchasing as many of their old albums as I could. As I listened to their catalog I was amazed that one band could go through so many changes to their stye (and line-up) and keep making music. FWIW…Rush and Yes were two more bands that affected me in the same way.

By the time I had reached my early Twenties, Chicago had morphed into a rather tame (and lame) version (some would say mockery) of itself. Gone were the jazz rock meanderings. In their place were Ron Nevison power ballads. Although I continued to watch their career, I didn’t consider myself a fan of the direction they had gone off in. By the time I reached my Thirties, Chicago had pretty much stopped releasing new music and had transitioned into a tribute act. I saw them live during this part of their career and I must say, they were incredible. They stuck to the old stuff and went about recreating it note for note.

They did release a few albums during this period, including Stone Of Sisyphus, which had been shelved over ten years earlier, after the record company was displeased with it. A couple of Christmas albums and an album produced by one of the guys from Rascal Flatts were released amidst a multitude of compilation and live albums. By the time my Forties rolled around I simply assumed that Chicago was nothing more than a tribute band devoted to playing tunes from its heyday. Imagine my surprise when I saw that they had released a new album earlier this year.

Imagine even greater surprise when I picked it up and gave it a listen. While not a true return to its jazz rock roots of the late Sixties and early Seventies, it is a nod to its R&B infused late Seventies period. I was expected more middle of the road pop ballads and got much more. I can only hope that this is an indication of where the band may be heading in the future.

Apparently, the tracks on this albums were written (and recorded) independently of one another. Each member came in with his own contributions and then they were touched up as a band. That is surprising because there is a cohesiveness to the album that suggests otherwise.

My track-by-track commentary:

Now – Piano, strings, and bright horns start things off on a positive note. Some fans have never really accepted Jason Scheff as Peter Cetera’s replacement and that is a shame. His voice is eerily similar, which I can only assume was crucial in his hiring. This track sounds like latter-day Cetera pop rock, before David Foster and the skating rink ballads. A very nice guitar solo gives a nod to the late Terry Kath. The interplay between vocalists hearkens back to many of their Seventies radio hits.

More Will Be Revealed – There is nothing ground-breaking or earth-shattering here. Every song on the album reminds me of another Chicago song from a different era. This one feels more like one of their Eighties tracks. The production is more organic and the horns are up front in the mix. The guitars are not heavily processed and the drums sound like drums…not loops and samples. I cannot speak highly enough of the interaction between singers. Their voices complement one another nicely.

America – Many of their younger fans don’t realize that Chicago were once political activists and weren’t afraid to comment on social issues in their lyrics. While not in your face, this song contains a trace of the idealism that marked many classic Chicago tracks. This one is more of a nostalgic love song to the country than a protest, but it is nice to see them exploring this territory again. Musically, this one is a mellow (dare I say jazzy) mid-tempo pop number with a soothing melody.

Crazy Happy – Drum loops and muted trumpet begin this one, before it morphs into a jazzy ballad. This is probably the closest they come to the mid-Eighties’ M-TV pop they became known for, but it still feels more organic and less cheesy. There are none of the drum machines and sequencers so prevalent on that era’s hits. It’s nice to hear the horns and woodwinds back up front, instead of an afterthought. It’s also refreshing to hear actual guitar adding to the song.

Free At Last – This is probably the closest that they come to the early stuff. Funky guitar and horns kick it off before changing gears (something the old Chicago did often). I love the tempo changes and the different vibes found on this one. It really does feel like they were channeling their younger selves. Perhaps all those nostalgia shows have paid off. This sounds like a band that has been rejuvenated and is interested in making challenging music again. That has been missing from Chicago for way too long.

Love Lives On – This is a syrupy ballad, but it is less You’re The Inspiration and more If You Leave Me Now. As I said earlier, Jason Scheff doesn’t get enough credit as a vocalist. His voice is as bright as Peter Cetera’s and, if recent YouTube videos are to be believed, is in much better shape. There are times when you swear you are hearing vintage Cetera. I don’t know if that is Jason’s natural way of singing or if it comes from years of having to sing those songs but I do know this, he is just as competent as Cetera ever was.

Something’s Coming, I Know – Latin percussion hints back to such albums as 1974’s VII. This one is a bit funky and is a definite throw-back to Chicago albums of days gone by. It’s almost as if they have deliberately erased everything they did from about 1981 until 1991 from their memories. The guitar solo channels founding member Terry Kath without being derivative.

Watching All The Colors – I love the finger-picked acoustic guitar and the horns that start this one off. A flute joins in with the “oohs” and “aahs” and you feel like you’ve been transported back to 1972. I think this bears repeating, I LOVE hearing the brass and woodwinds being used as the focal point of the songs, instead of background noise. I am also digging the vocal melodies and harmonies that are a hallmark of the Chicago sound.

Nice Girl – You have to wonder what had inspired this band to go in this direction after years of chasing adult contemporary pop hits? It’s as if they have thrown their hands up in the air and said, “We’re just going to write real Chicago songs no matter what.” I couldn’t be more pleased. Yes, this is still pop music, but it recaptures the adventure and experimentation that had gotten lost after Terry Kath’s death. There are genuine musical excursions on this album that make you go, “Whoa…this is REAL Chicago.”

Naked In The Garden Of Allah – Remember how I said that Chicago used to be fairly political? Well…on this psychedelic trip they take another dive in that pool. The lyrics aren’t up front and in your face, but they still touch upon topics that could be considered controversial. Musically, this one has a couple of different vibes. As is expected, there is an Middle Eastern flavor to some of it, but there are other elements that pop up unexpectedly, like a fiddle solo. It’s good to see them take some chances. Interestingly enough, this one sounds the least like Chicago, at least until the mid-section build up.

Another Trippy Day – This one is a bonus track on the iTunes’ version. It begins with some…well…trippy keyboards and horns. A rubbery bass line carries things along. There’s a definite Seventies’ feel to this one. Chicago did make a brief excursion into disco-flavored dance territory and this one kind of has that vibe. It’s less processed and goofy, but still, it’s got that feel.

Wednesday Ramblings

I am sitting here in the office on a cool, dreary Wednesday morning. It has been raining this morning and the sky is a dull gray. I spent part of the morning reading out of a Bible I picked up at the thrift store in Canton. It’s called The Knowing Jesus Study Bible and it is divided up into 365 sections so it can be used as a one-year daily reading plan. The thing that I like most about it is that the editors have taken time to point every known reference to Christ in each book. It has a good number of notes and devotional aids as well. Not bad for $3.

I’ve got Rush’s Presto playing right now. Can this album really be 25 years old? How did that happen? There are deep memories connected with this one. It’s not my favorite Rush album (top five maybe) but it probably has more nostalgia associated with it than any other. It came out the year Robin and I officially started dating. Truth be told, one of the reasons I am so drawn to this period of Rush’s career is that these albums are part of the soundtrack of my life during that time.

I am sure that I had heard Rush before high school. I do remember seeing the videos for Distant Early Warning and The Big Money before I became a fan. I even recall M-TV playing the Exit…Stage Left video for one of its Saturday night concerts. I had heard Limelight and Tom Sawyer (who hadn’t?) but I wasn’t a fan. It wasn’t until I heard Time Stand Still on WRDU one night during my senior year of high school that I became seriously interested in them. I can remember discussing that song with Ken Medlin and just being totally blown away by it. If my memory serves me correctly Ken bought me Hold Your Fire (on cassette) for Christmas that year. It soon became one of my favorite albums.

I should also mention that this is around the same time that I started working at Pizza Inn. It’s through that job that I met Richie Davis and got involved in writing and playing music. He played drums in a band with some guys he went to school with. I played piano (somewhat) and had begun writing lyrics. Richie’s band used my lyrics for two songs and that was how I eventually joined his band when I graduated. Richie, Aaron, and I all began to gravitate towards Rush and other similar bands at the same time. It didn’t take long for me to go out and buy every album that they had released. I also began to emulate Neil Peart’s lyrics. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed with Rush but they did become my favorite band and remained so for quite a while.

On top of that, I also met Robin sometime during the summer of 1988. I had graduated and was still working at Pizza Inn. She was a rising senior at the same school Richie went to. She also began working at Pizza Inn. I was immediately attracted to her and we became pretty good friends. We even went out a couple of times but it took the next year for things to become serious between the two of us. I had a couple of ill-advised relationships during that time. I became a member of Richie’s band, which soon changed its name to All The King’s Men (ATKM for short), after one of the songs I co-wrote. I also left Pizza Inn and started working at Abbott Labs. Aaron joined the Army and ATKM went through various line-up changes.

By the time the summer of 1989 rolled around, I was immersed in a new job and had a relationship which I thought was pretty serious. ATKM unofficially broke up after playing a big graduation party at the mall. Richie and I had a falling out and as far as I was concerned, that was the end of the band. Right before the graduation show, Robin contacted me. I don’t remember the circumstances but it came at a pivotal moment in my life. My relationship with my girlfriend was not as serious as I thought. I began talking to my high school girlfriend again and then, out of the blue, Robin called me up. I realize that I was only a kid at the time but it was all deadly serious business to me. I struggled with what to do and things became complicated.

That is what was going on at the time Presto was released. That is why there are so many memories associated with that album. Robin and I started dating on September 3, 1989…her 18th birthday. It wasn’t long after that that Richie and I buried the hatchet and decided to start playing music together again. One of the first songs we learned was Rush’s Subdivisions. By this point I was die-hard Rush fan and I was determined to be in a band that wrote music like that. I loved all of their stuff but I was especially drawn to the albums beginning with Moving Pictures. ATKM (we kept the same name) ended up doing quite a few Rush songs by the time 1991 rolled around. That was the year I got married. It was also the year that Roll The Bones came out. Not surprisingly, that one has got a lot of memories connected with it as well.

We (the band) actually learned Dreamline (the first single from RTB) after taping it off the radio one night. The album hadn’t even been released and we were doing one of the songs from it in our set. That’s pretty funny now. Pretentious…but funny. We did the following Rush songs: Dreamline, Subdivisions, The Pass, Limelight, and a medley consisting of 2112: Overture/Temples of Syrinx and Tom Sawyer. We also did a bunch of Kiss songs and some assorted covers ranging from Deep Purple to Metallica to Alice In Chains. And we tried to write our own stuff. We had one 12 minute “epic” called Manderly that had four different musical sections and lyrics based upon the book Rebecca. Funny stuff.

Presto just finished up. The last strains of Available Light have just drifted from the speakers so I guess I should follow it up with Roll The Bones. It’s the right thing to do. I am already smiling a little bit as I anticipate the sound of waves that opens Dreamline. Robin and I saw them live on that tour. We drove to Charlotte and saw them and Mr. Big at the amphitheater there. We saw them again on the Counterparts tour. That show was at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill and Candlebox opened for them. That would’ve been in 1993 or 1994. I saw them again in 2008 with my buddy Steve when they were touring for Snakes & Arrows. That show was at the amphitheater in Charlotte. Robin and I saw them again in 2012 in Raleigh on the Clockwork Angels tour. That one was at the place the Carolina Hurricanes play hockey. It used to be called the RBC Center but it has changed names several times.

Counterparts came out in 1993 and that was during the period of time when Jeremy Bone and I were forming what would eventually become The Post Metal Syndrome (PMS for short…yes…I know). Aaron left ATKM and moved back to Indiana. Richie and I just couldn’t get past some of the things that had happened between us and I quit the band too. I also lost my job at Abbott during this time I ended back at Pizza Inn. Robin and I have had a pretty good marriage but I can honestly say that between 1993 and 1994 we had a pretty rough stretch. I was drinking heavily and I did some things that were pretty stupid. It is by the grace of God that we got through that time intact. I guess that’s why I don’t listen to Counterparts much anymore. It’s a good album but it reminds me of those days.

The next Rush album was 1996’s Test For Echo. Even though it has some terrible lyrics, the music is pretty good. By this point in my life I had been in two different bands (one which could have been big) and I had dropped out of Bible College. I was back at Pizza Inn AGAIN and Robin was pregnant with Geoffry. I think TFE actually came out after he was born…but I’d have to Google it and see. Needless to say, this album has some mixed memories connected to it. There are those feelings of despair and hopeless that I felt…but…there are the good thoughts that came along with Geo.

That was Rush’s last studio album for six years. Neil had his family tragedies and he disappeared. Not surprisingly, Rush kind of slipped off my radar during those six years. I got involved in church again and we had Christopher. It was also during that time that I met Phil Sabella. I have been in three more bands since then and Rush have returned. They’ve put out several live albums, an EP of cover songs, and three new studio albums. I have them all and I like them. Like I mentioned earlier, I have seen them twice in the last six years…so…I am still a fan. However, they don’t speak to me the way they did back then. The latest Rush albums are just albums I dig. There are no memories associated with them unless you count the two shows I attended.

They were a huge part of my life during the early part of my adult life. They will be forever connected with those memories…both the good and bad. There will always be songs that conjure up thoughts and emotions from that part of my life. Music…man…it can be a powerful thing.

Monday Rewind 10/20/14

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We had our Fall Revival at Granville this weekend. Denny Dennis from Lycoming Christian Church preached. His message all four services was Born To Be Wild. He challenged us to not settle for a safe, predictable faith. I was personally touched by his words. I think my favorite quote from the weekend was: The church is not a fortress…it is an armory. I hope that others were encouraged the way I was.

We went down to North Carolina last week for my grandmother’s funeral. Although her passing was unexpected, she lived to be 86 and had a pretty good life. I was honored to be able to help officiate her service. I really had a difficult time letting the fact that she had died sink in…until I was doing the graveside. It got real then. I’m going to miss her. She was truly one-of-a-kind.

I am preaching in a revival next week at Grover Church of Christ. There are different ministers preaching each night. The theme text is Hebrews 12:1-2 and the title (if that’s what you call it) is Look Unto Jesus. I am looking forward to preaching a week from tonight.

I think I want to preach a series based on Vince Antonucci’s book Renegade. I am re-reading it to get some thoughts. I have also considered Forgotten God by Francis Chan. We’ll see.