Friday, December 30, 2005

Top 10 Albums of 2005

It's that time of year again. I have to be honest, I look forward to this list all year, in between listens of my "Christmas Music" playlist I have been listening to all the music I have that came out in 2005 trying to make the all important decision as to whether or not they made "the list" and where they ranked on that list. Well, Here they are...

JR's Top Ten Albums of 2005!:

1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

The Good: This is one of those albums that comes along every few years or so that changes how you listen to music. You can't really classify Sufjan as Folk, because he is anything but simplistic, but his songs lean heavy on his incredible ability to tell a story through music. In Illinois, Sufjan uses various string arrangements, and horns to lead the listener through personal recollections, historical narratives, and strange facts to take you to, both lyrically and musically, the great state of Illinois. On the surface what looks like songs about cities, people (even serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr ,), and events that take place in Illinois are really songs about fear, hope, adolescents, and faith. In the end Illinois ends up being less about place then spirit. If you need further proof of it's greatness just read the reviews posted at Amazon, everyone should own this album.

The Bad: The length, 73 min. is a lot of time to spend in Illinois, it gets a little on the tedious side the first few times you listen.

2. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Cold Roses (no, NOT Bryan Adams...)

The Good: Easily my favorite Ryan Adams solo effort to date, this is a truly gorgeous album. In Cold Roses, Adams takes a step back to his "Alt. Country" (I hate that term) roots after a string of a few albums that were defiantly more "rock and roll" then his early works. Back is the pedal steal and a little bit of twang, but not in an annoying sense. Adams nails his own sound better then he has since leaving Whiskytown. Also it's a double album, so twice the music!

The Bad: It's a double album, which isn't bad in itself (see the good list), but there are a few songs that feel like they could have, and would have in a normal release, been left off this effort. Also, this is more a complement then anything else, but he reminds me (as do most good Alt. Country groups) of what country music could and should be if it weren't full of a bunch of Backstreet Boy look-a-like, wannabe-cowboy, pop-rock singing rednecks wailing about sticking their "boots" places were boots don't belong. So for as much as I love Alt. Country and old Country, I will continue to claim a strong hatred for "country music".

3. Derek Webb – Mockingbird

The Good: Wow, just wow! Webb has done it again! This could have broke into the top two, but I have had it for a totally of 23.5 hours and have only got to listen to it about 5 times all the way through. Musically he breaks into new territory for him, and does it beautifully. Not what you would expect from the former member of Caedmon's Call if that was the only place you knew him from. With Mockingbird you hear a really strong Beatles (Sgt. Peppers/Magical Mystery era) influence along with some Elliott Smith, The Shins, and a touch of Wilco going on there. Lyrically Webb is himself again, not afraid to speak the truth at any cost. This is his most controversial album yet, it is fun to see the progression of what God has laid on his heart and the willingness he has to lay his neck on the chopping block to share it.

The Bad: Late release date, so my opinion is not fully formed or completely accurate (as I am still gitty about it). Musically not as experimental as his last effort, there is less risk to the music side of this album than I See Things Upside Down, but he is making up for that in risk through lyrical content.

4. Elbow – Leaders of the Free World

The Good: This is the first album I have heard from Elbow, and I love it. Thanks to Chad for introducing me to it. This album has kind of a Coldplay meets early Radiohead thing going on. Think Coldplay if they didn't care about pop radio success and had something to say. Musically it is one of the more interesting albums I own, I feel like I find something new with each listen, which keeps me coming back to it, it's not really one to just play in the background, this is why it made it to number 4.

The Bad: Sometimes the Radiohead and Coldplay comparisons are a little to easy to make. Also, lyrically, it says something, which is good, but it is nothing new really.

5. Death Cab For Cutie – Plans

The Good: The (almost) perfect blend of lyrical and musical styles has always been a strength of Death Cab to me, and they don't disappoint with their latest.Ben Gibbard mesmerizes me with his ability to tell a story rhythmically and in such detail while still letting the mood and emotion of the song be told by the music. The perfectly combination of catchy pop and moody emotion driven ballads without becoming too "emo" (it's a very fine line folks).

The Bad: Extremely similar to all their other efforts. Overall, I am still not convinced it is better then their last one, Transatlantcism.

6. Sandra McCracken – The Builder and the Architect

The Good: Beautiful. This is one of the most lovely worship albums I have ever heard. In The Builder... McCracken takes 18th and 19th century hymns, mixed seamlessly with a few she wrote herself, and puts them to her own acoustic stylings. I have had the opportunity to see Sandra live a couple times with her husband (Derek Webb) and her voice is amazing. This album displays Sandra's amazing voice better then any of her previous commercial releases. A great example of a truly amazing singer/songwriter at her best.

The Bad: I have never been a huge fan of her commercial releases because they just don't seem to capture her live sound, this album comes a lot closer, but it's still not quite there. I come away from a Sandra studio album with a feeling that she is musically playing it safer then she really wants to. I feel like she has an inner Gillian Welch waiting to come out, and I want to hear it.

7. Coldplay – X&Y

The Good: Coldplay has an amazing sonic, atmospheric sound that I have not heard duplicated successfully, this album continues that tradition. One of my favorite bands of the last 5 years. X&Y is a great album to follow up one of the most successful, both commercially and musically, albums of the last half decade, Rush of Blood To The Head. The whole album is strong and flows well together, but there are defiantly some tracks that stand out as near perfection. The Johnny Cash tribute song, "Kingdom Come", is one of my favorite Coldplay tracks ever.

The Bad: Chris Martin continues to write songs that sound deep but say very little. They defiantly played it safe with their sound and continued with what has made them popular as apposed to exploring what they can go musically at the risk of popularity, I am never a fan of the safe road. I still like Parachutes better.

8. Over The Rhine – Drunkard's Prayer

The Good: One of my favorite bands of all time. Drunkard's Prayer is a passionate and emotional reflection of two people relearning the joys of love, laughter, and each others company. Karin Bergquist's voice is at it's smokiest in this album and she has one of my favorite voices in the industry already. The stand-up bass, cello and sax along with Linfords graceful piano playing float through the air like smoke in a jazz club. This is an album of real, honest songs about love and faith, not the watered down junk we are use-to, like a relationship it is heavy at times, hard at times, funny at times and just plain fun at times. The album ends on a fun romantic note, a beautiful cover of "My Funny Valentine".

The Bad: Not as original, risky, interesting, and just overall great as their last album, Ohio, but it is hard to live up to that. Some of the songs sound too similar to each other.

9. Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

The Good: Conner Oberst is a musical genius.Emmylou Harris adds perfect harmonies to this collection of well crafted acoustic alt. country ballads. Released along side his Digital Ashes from a Digital Urn this was the better of the two very good Bright Eyes albums released that day. I love the unpolished feel of a Bright Eyes album. Oberst is a great songwriter, mature well beyond his years in that aspect. This album moves a little bit away from his famous self pity of previous albums, while still emotional it's a much more mature emotion.

The Bad: I little more "studio" then previous albums, I like the raw un-mixed sound of the older albums, it lends well to his vocal stylings and musical content. It is way to early for the Dylan comparisons that some like to throw around, hopefully he doesn't kill himself or overdose before he can have any chance of living up to those comparisons.

10. Switchfoot– Nothing Is Sound

The Good: One of the most culturally relevant albums of the year. Jon Foreman confronts issues that pledge young americans such as the loneliness and hopelessness that can be a part of living in a country driven by excess, but, as always, showing glimpses' of a hope that can only be found in God. Just straight up great, catch, guitar driven rock and roll music that will lift your spirit but not without making you think first. They are staying true to their message and original style despite the major market success they have enjoyed the last few years.

The Bad: Not as musically strong as New Way to Be Human (1999), but I like it more then The Beautiful Letdown (2003). Although this is a great album, I think they have better in them, I can't wait to hear it.


(what can I say, it was a great year in music, I would recommend any of these albums as well)

Jars of Clay – Redemption Songs
The Choir - O How The Mighty Have Fallen
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Andrew Peterson – The Far Country
Moby – Hotel
David Crowder Band – A Collision
Beck - Guero
Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better
Bright Eyes - Digital Ashes From A Digital Urn
Pat Metheny Group - The Way Up
Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams
Dave Matthews Band - Stand Up
Depeche Mode - Playing the Angel
David Gray - Life In Slow Motion
Gorillaz - Demon Days

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Well, it's sorta late, but whatever....

Jenny and I got back from Washington (state) on Tuesday night after spending a wonderful Christmas with friends and family. It was great to see everyone again, and we are truely sorry to those we missed. It was a little stressful trying to make 5 difrent family Christmases in 6 days but it was a blast too. The weather sucked there, although it was much warmer then it had been in KC the week we left, it pretty much rained all week and the mountain never came out all the way.

I relize now though how much one can be torn between two places, it is hard to feel like KC is home and still have such a place in my heart for Olympia. It was great to get back to Kansas City, but it sure was hard to leave Olympia.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas as well!

Sunday, December 11, 2005


I have been a member of the Nazarene Church for most of my life, I grew up attending a Nazarene church, I went to a Nazarene College (Northwest Nazarene University), and I married in a Nazarene church to a Nazarene woman by a Nazarene pastor. The only time since I was 4 that I didn't have a connection to the Nazarene church was for about 8 months in late 2004 and early 2005 when we left our Nazarene church for a Methodist church, then I accepted a job offer at the Nazarene Publishing House in Kansas City (Home of the Nazarene Theological Seminary, Nazarene World Headquarters, and of course the Publishing House).

All this time, the only explanation I have ever heard for the name "Nazarene" is that Jesus was from Nazareth, therefore a Nazarene, so we use the word. Well, today in church I learned there is much more to it then that.

2000 years ago Nazareth was, how do you say it... the ghetto. It was the "wrong side of the tracks", the bad part of town, where the losers and outcasts hung out. It was odd that Joseph, a descendant of the great King David ended up in Nazareth. Even odder was the idea that this was the hometown of the great King that had come to free his people once and for all.

In the late 1800's when Phineas Bresee and friends were sitting around talking about starting a church, they were contemplating a name for this church. One night Pheneas went to bed thinking and praying about it, the next morning he presented the name "Church of the Nazarene" meaning, church of the poor, the outcast, the downtrodden, the trash of society. He felt this is who Christ ministered to, and who the church should be ministering to.

Never before did I feel so proud of my Nazarene heritage. A church founded on reaching the "least of these", that is a church I want to be a part of. It makes me sad to see so many Nazarene churches abandoning these roots. So many who are not proud of the name "Nazarene". "It's not good marketing, it scares people off", they say as they hide their tradition behind labels like "community church". It is very comfortable for us to hide in our all white, upper middle class Christian country clubs of churches, but Christianity is not supposed to be about comfort. If we get comfortable we are missing the whole point. It is not comfortable sitting in a church surrounded by the poor, the outcast and the "sinners". The reason I think that it's so uncomfortable for us, is that it shows us how much we truly fit right in with that crowed, how we are all really, at our best, the least of these, sinners.

I hope Nazarene churches will learn to re-embrace the name "church of the wrong side of the tracks" and welcome in all the sinners and outcasts to join with the rest of us who are already here, maybe then we will stop pretending we are not.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Andrew Peterson Concert

Jenny and I got to see the Andrew Peterson Christmas show in Elkhorn Nebraska this weekend, one word, amazing. It featured a Christian singer-songwritter all star line-up of: Andrew Peterson, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Gabe Scott, Ben Shive, Marcus Myers, Andy Gullahorn, Jill Phillips, Garrett Buell (Caedmon's Call), Andy Osenga(formerly in the Normals and now CC), and Cason Cooley (formerly in the Normals, and now Derek Webb's band).

It was a two part show with a singer-songwritter roundtable to start with, featuring Peterson, Webb, McCracken, Shive, Osenga, and Phillips. They each played a song, and it went around twice. All the performances were great, but Shive stole the show with pure comedy with both songs claiming "I know I am not going to get the unspoken award for best song, so I guess I am shooting for class clown. His song "North Hills Mall" had the crowed busting up.

After a short intermission they came back out with the full band and performed Behold the Lamd of God all the way through, amazing musical work by all the musicians, great guitar work. Add that to one of the most powerful retellings of the Christmas story that I have ever heard, plus art for each of the segments of the story. Easily the most powerful concert I have ever seen. I was fighting back tears a couple of times. Definatly something that is going ot become a Caines family Christmas tradition.

If they are making a stop near you I highly recommend it.