Archive for category Great music

Summer soundtrack

It’s smokin’ hot out there.  Summertime and I am loving it.  Time to lose the shoes, roll down the windows, feel the wind in your face (or through your hair if you’ve got it), and cue the summer tunes.

Trouble is, I’m stuck inside writing a paper to wrap up a doctoral course.  (Yes, I’m dodging the deadline in front of me right now – apologies to Dr. Jimmy Dunn but the paper will come in on time).  I needed a little musical reminder of summer while I’m cloistered away in libraries and studies during my spare summer moments.  So here are a few of the songs that will populate some of my summer playlist.

Why these?  Summer music shouldn’t be complicated or overly intense; just simple and with a lilt of joy.  For me, there’s a bunch of different criterion for good summer soundtrack music.  Does it get me moving or swaying, tapping my feet or pumping my hands in the air?  Can I doze asleep to it on a lazy summer day or lounge with it on a hot summers night?  Does it sound fun?  How will it play with the windows down and roof open barrelling down the road?  How does it mix with the sound of waves or loons or a crackling fire in the background?  Does it make me smile?  If it can meet any one of those criterion, it’ll find its way on my playlist.

In no order, here’s a few of my favourites

  • King of the road – the Proclaimers (sung with a thick Scottish brogue, this is the perfect road tune.  Get your kilt on, open up the sunroof and enjoy the ride)
  • Sink or Swim – the Waifs (a little piece from this Aussie band has finger snapping and great harmonica. Besides, I’m thinking summer Folk Fest here.  No better summer memories than the many years of the Calgary Folk Music Festival on Prince’s Island Park.  Get the full four day pass and lounge on a blanket for fabulous days of music, sunshine and great people watching)
  • The heart of Saturday night – Shawn Colvin (Shawn Colvin singing Tom Waits – too good.  It’s a pitch-perfect evocation of summer evening cruising in the car, no matter where your main drag is)
  • Ants Marching – Dave Matthews (I love how this song gets my body moving – strong drums, great violin rhythms, soaring sax.  This song is what summer does – an invitation to stop the rushing around and break out of your routine)
  • Soak up the sun – Sheryl Crowe (to me, this beats The Beach Boys for a sense of California beach music)
  • Love Shack – The B-52’s (this was my daughter Lily’s immediate pick when I asked about songs for a summer soundtrack.  And don’t the B-52’s scream dance party?)
  • These are the days – 10,000 maniacs (because Natalie Merchant is magic and a good reminder to simply be present to all that is today)
  • Pump it up – Elvis Costello (this is musical Red Bull)
  • Say hey (I love you) – Michael Franti and Spearhead (Ok, go ahead and add Franti’s “Sound of Sunshine” but I think this is the better summer tune.  He had everyone up on our feet dancing the night away when we saw him a few years ago)
  • Ten Thousand Words – The Avett Brothers (play this on a warm night on the back deck or front porch, and you could almost imagine Seth and Scott with you, picking their guitars and you picking up the harmonies.  Cannot wait to see them later this September)
  • Mysterious Ways – U2 (a superb guitar hook, conga rhythms, this is U2 at its funkiest)
  • It’s the end of the world – Great Big Sea (these Newfies throw one big kitchen party wherever they go and just keeping up with this song is half the fun)
  • Have a little fun with me – Glen Phillips (captures the playful heart of summer.  Go ahead and grow a little younger this summer)
  • Dancing in the street – Martha Reeves (classic)
  • Boogie Shoes – KC and the Sunshine band (in our house, this song means instant “dance party.”  We put down whatever we’re doing and put on our boogie shoes)
  • The ghost of rockschool – Belle and Sebastian (love this song and this band.  That’s all)
  • Police on my back – The Clash (just a little reminder to keep it safe people)
  • Winter Song – The Head and the Heart (you know its coming, sooner or later, so stop complaining about the heat already!  And what’s not to love about The Head and the Heart)

So what’s on your summer playlist?



The Perfect Space

Entering into a new place and finding my way into a new community is providing an instant refresher course on the in’s-and-out’s of forming and living in community.  You’d think I’d have learned this by now and so it feels a little like remedial breathing lessons.  Call it “Belonging 101.”  Probably better titled “How I can’t do it alone but why is it so hard to do it together.”

Although we are so deeply discipled in the way of individualism (the demon is in so deep we have no idea how misshapen we’ve become because of it), there’s still a longing for something more than “not doing things alone.”  We struggle to live it, sometimes don’t want it, chafe against what it demands of us, but mostly yearn to be part of a living, breathing, interdependent, covenant community that shares life together and is devoted to one another’s shalom.

As I try to find myself in that sort of community, here are a few things I’m being freshly reminded of lately:

While I wish I had a “belonging” button I could easily press, community doesn’t spontaneously happen.  It is desired, sought out, intentionally formed, vulnerably entered, and patiently worked out.

While I’d prefer friendships to be at no cost to me, in fact, the gift of community requires costly investments of myself, giving some of my most precious resources, like time.  You can’t microwave community; it’s a “slow-movement” type of thing where bonds of trust and companionship are formed through shared life over time.  Which means community and friendships make demands on my time and availability.  Am I willing to allow others to place such obligations on me?

One of the crazy ironies of a community that is “natural and safe” is that it requires risk and vulnerability. In the communities I’ve entered, I’ve lost count of the times we’ve invited people over, taking the risk of seeking relationship and not had it reciprocated.  It’s a hard, vulnerable thing, isn’t it, that unrequited desire for friendship.  But it will happen along the way; get used to it.

Which means that the gift of community and friendship will likely be extended by some wonderfully unpredicted people.  So get ready to be surprised who actually ends up being part of your long-term community – it probably won’t be the usual suspects.

But to be open to that, I need to let go of my idol of the perfect community.  Filed somewhere in the back of my heart is this notion of the ideal community – all the cool kids who hit the right cafes, are well connected, know how to pronounce Goethe, dress well, engage in meaningful conversations (but never press their opinions too hard), are relationally low maintenance and yet gladly put up with – even enjoy – my flaws, love me unconditionally but don’t expect too much from me, and practice good hygiene.  Isn’t that the temptation, to yearn for some ideal community that no reality will ever measure up to?

Which is why church can be so hard for many because we come expecting an experience of distilled divinity but instead find raw and uncooked humanity.  I get to hear a variety of people lament their disillusionment with church, talking about people who have hurt and disappointed them.  But what other sort of people are there?  Isn’t part of the difficult gift of community directly related to the challenge of differences?

Another one of the quirky paradoxes of community is that the very dynamics that provide a deep sense of belonging are the same that can exclude others.  The power of the inner circle almost seems to be equal and opposite to the energy to include; its like trying to simultaneously balance both centripetal and centrifugal forces.  So if you’re newly entering a community, be gentle with people there and realize that many are likely blind to the fact that they may be excluding you; and yet if you do enjoy a rich experience of community, understand that unless you intentionally take steps to decisively include others, know that you’ll be giving off an elitist, exclusionary vibe.

All this reminds me of the gorgeously beautiful song by the Avett brothers, The Perfect Space (you can listen to it below).  They sing my heart: “I want to have friends that I can trust, that love me for the man I’ve become not the man I was … I want to fit in to the perfect space, feel natural and safe in a volatile place.

We get tastes of that perfect space here and now but all the friendship and community we enjoy will always be a partial wholeness, a trailer for life in the new heavens and new earth.  But that hope of a perfect space gives me the grace to receive the lovely imperfect gifts of community today.


An anthem for Black Friday – reprise

Just had this piece posted on the CRC Network site so figured I’d repost an edited version of it here today.

Today is Black Friday south of the 49th, the biggest consumer bender known to humanity.  Called black because merchants’ books finally crossover from the red into the black, it’s an apt adjective for other reasons.  And it would be so easy to watch the spree and smugly gloat, believing I’m free from that, above it all.  Truth is, what separates me from a Black Friday binge is merely opportunity.

In the past year, since stepping down as Sr. Pastor at River Park Church and stepping into a time of pared down living, I’ve spent a fair bit of time simply scraping away the accumulated clutter of life.  I find myself surprised, wondering where all this stuff came from? I’m developing a theory about the reproductive capacities of inert material things, certain that my books, the children’s toys, electronics and clothes are all mating with each other, my desk drawers, filing cabinets and closets their dimly lit breeding grounds, with Barry White playing somewhere in the background.

I’d happily settle for that convenient explanation but the uglier truth hitting home is that for all this stuff, I saw it, I desired it, I justified its importance to my life, I had to have it, I pursued it, and in the end, I bought it.  Here’s an illustrative event, the moment a box of books (my drug) arrives from Amazon (my dealer) – the immediate hit is like a drug entering the bloodstream; I’m flush with excitement, feeling a boosted sense of identity (just having “that” book or clothing item/gadget/outdoor gear/music/artwork/whatever makes me feel smarter and savvy, well-read and in-touch, manly and spiritual).  And yet the same unbelievably boring cycle repeats itself, that in weeks, if not days, the gleam is gone and whatever it was I saw and wanted now becomes what it really is – stuff that clutters my life, needs to be maintained and cared for, and gets stored away somewhere, forgotten, stumbled upon, then hauled off and either sold, recycled or tossed.

I’m struck scared by how deep the demon is in me (the evidence is strewn all about me), how my life has been discipled into this consumer way of living without me really seeing it happen at all.  Consumerism has become an alternative but dominant religion in our world, hawking meaning, identity and purpose for our lives.  Count up all the time, energy, and hope, let alone money, that get invested in researching, ogling, desiring, pursuing, purchasing, enjoying and acquiring stuff – then tell me how free you are from this thing.

Arguably, the problem is not the stuff itself, it’s the wantings.  It’s your heart, my heart sick with desire, the wanting for something that an Ipad, sweater, new house or Chia-pet will never fill.  Something has us and how we need healing.

Which brings me to needed beauty, a shot-to-the-heart song of confession from the Avett Brothers.  If you’ve never heard of them, Seth and Scott Avett are two Jesus looking dudes with raw, beautiful music that heals and brings life.  They blew me away two summers ago in a fantastic festival show, and now they’re on repeat in our Ipod at home.  And I can’t think of a better anthem for Black Friday than Ill with Want.


Music to raise a pint or lift a prayer

Off to see Mumford and Sons tonight so thought I’d reprise an earlier post that I wrote on their music.  Really looking forward to seeing them live tonight (but can’t share my excitement with Betty because she’s too jealous – I don’t think a t-shirt will be enough to repay her kindness).  Don’t forget to enjoy the video below.

Oh my, what stunningly great music – lyrically and musically, deeply visceral and full of heart all at once.  There’s a psalmic quality to much of their music – lamenting what is, yearning for more, angry, repentant, rejoicing, hopeful.  It’s music by which to raise a pint or lift a prayer.

One of my benchmarks for great music is its capacity to coax me out of my small little self, to make me feel fully aflame, caught in a moment forgetful of self and unconcerned with what others might think.  The music of Mumford and Sons does that for me again and again – I get lost in the power of the music – I want to jump and dance, kneel and weep, pray or just yell out “thank you”!

Just consider this sampling of their lyrics:

  • “Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free.”
  • “If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could have won.”
  • “Where you invest your love, you invest your life.”
  • “It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart but the welcome I receive with a restart.”

But those words, in text alone, seem tame; you’ve got to enter the power of the music with the beauty of the lyrics, producing at once a rich, melodic quiet space and then next a pulsing, pounding, rhythmic, breathless romp (I love how the tempo changes dare you not to dance).

Check out this video of the Mumford and Sons song “Sigh no more.”

<p><a href=”″>Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More : {}</a> from <a href=””> productions</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Music for the head and the heart

Betty and I recently attended what may turn out to be our last Calgary Folk Music Festival (cue the tears – we are going to miss this fabulous festival).  We’ve been coming for the past thirteen years and leave Prince’s Island Park every year with a few magical performances in our heart and a handful of new artists to enjoy.

This year was no different, with the highlight for Betty and me being the Seattle indie band The Head and the Heart.  First off, great name!  Who doesn’t want to live the full human experience of emotion and intellect, engaging fully both the head and the heart?  And then their music is plain lovely.  Their concert at the Calgary Folk Music Festival was emblematic of what we love about the whole festival – sun dappled lawn, summer heat, and a memorable performance.  The band was genuinely humble and so appreciative of the audience loving them and their music.

Check them out and give these two videos a look: Lost in my mind and Rivers and Roads (I guarantee that sometime later today you’ll find yourself singing the stick-in-your-head hook/chorus “rivers and roads”).

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A song for the end of all things

Yet another end of the world prediction about to come and go.  Why don’t these prognosticators read their bibles and listen to Jesus that no one but the Father knows the date.  And so instead of fretfully worrying, do a dance and enjoy this good life.  And what better way that “It’s the end of the world” from Great Big Sea.  Enjoy today, tomorrow and the song.


My soundtrack for Lent

Lent begins this Wednesday and I’ve landed on this year’s soundtrack for this season of repentance – Mumford & Sons Sigh no more.  I know I’ve blogged on them earlier here, but this album continues to capture me and much of the honest, plaintive confession of Lent.

The title song Sigh no more confesses: “My heart was never pure / You know me” and then hopes for a “love that will not betray you / dismay or enslave you, it will set you free.”  The Cave cries out the hope of Lenten penitence – “I need freedom now / and I need to know how / to live my life as its meant to be.”  Lent is a long study in giving up all the ways we try to find life, finding life as its meant to be lived in Jesus and his passion.

And it keeps coming.  In Roll Away Your Stone, they name the empty, endless chase to fill our hearts with things which always end up as ashes, and yet the hope found by every prodigal returning home to God: “You told me that I would find a hole / within the fragile substance of my soul / And I have filled this void with things unreal / And all the while my character it steals / But darkness is a harsh term don’t you think? / And yet it dominates the things I seek / it seems that all my bridges has been burned / you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works / it’s not the long walk home that will change this heart / but the welcome I receive with a restart.

Awake My Soul is an honest probe of a lumpy heart:  “How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes / I struggle to find any truth in your lies / And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know / This weakness I feel I must finally show.”  Isn’t this what Lent is – an invitation to the painful journey of revealing our weaknesses, our broken hearts and disjointed lives, praying that God would awaken us to resurrection life?

And then there’s Little Lion Man, my choice for this year’s Lent heart song.  Likely written about a love lost, it’s a powerful, pounding, holding-nothing-back lament of regret and heartbreak, equally applicable to my unfaithful heart for God:

Weep for yourself, my man / you’ll never be what is in your heart / Weep little lion man / you’re not as brave as you were at the start / Rate yourself and rake yourself / take all the courage you have left / wasted on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head / But it was not your fault but mine / …  Tremble for yourself, my man / you know that you have seen this all before / tremble little lion man / you’ll never settle any of your score / your grace is wasted in your face /” And don’t miss the spot in the song (2:45) where the band begins a sung cry, a gut-level, lyric-less lament – listen to it (see below) as the voice of Lent.

The album title comes from Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about nothing” (Act 2, scene 3: “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever, One foot in sea, and one on shore, To one thing constant never”) – this band is wonderfully literate.  In this scene from Shakespeare, Balthasar urges the other women to sigh no more, to let go of the disappointment and expectation for men to change and, instead, accept and love them as they are. Throughout Lent I’m faced with my own shadows, left sighing with disappointment again, wishing for change in my fickle heart.  But the gospel of Jesus Christ is the stunning call to sigh no more, telling me I’m accepted in spite of myself.  That is the work of Lent and the starting point of any real change, of a resurrection.

Below is the video for Little Lion Man (just a word of caution – if you’re offended by the use of the f-bomb, then do avoid this song).

<p><a href=”″>Mumford & Sons – “Little Lion Man”</a> from <a href=””>Mikey Levelle</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>