Thursday, September 27, 2012


Robert Allen Zimmerman was born on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, but he is better known to the masses as Bob Dylan. His first studio album was self-titled and came out in 1962. For what it’s worth, my favourite Dylan albums are his three gospel records, SLOW TRAIN COMING (1979), SAVED (1980), and SHOT OF LOVE (1981), plus MTV UNPLUGGED (1995), TIME OUT OF MIND (1997), AND CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART (2009). His early songs such as ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘The Times they are a-Changin’’ became anthems for the U.S. civil rights movement and anti-war movement. He’s been inspired by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, and Elvis Presley. Among the musical styles he has experimented with over the years are: folk, blues, country, gospel, rock and roll, swing, and jazz. In May of this year he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. His thirty-fifth studio album TEMPEST (Columbia Records) released on September 10, 2012 in the U.K. and on September 11, 2012 in the U.S.

A single from the record, ‘Duquesne Whistle’ was co-written with Robert Hunter, and starts things off with an instrumental bit that makes me think of a gal playing the piano in a saloon. It features these playful lyrics: “Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing/Blowing like it’s gon’ blow my blues away/You old rascal, I know exactly where you’re going/I’ll lead you there myself at the break of day/I wake up every morning with that woman in my bed/Everybody telling me, she’s gone to my head.” ‘Soon After Midnight’ is a terrific ballad that finds Dylan fairly optimistic: “I’m searching for phrases/To sing your praises/I need to tell someone/It’s soon after midnight/And my day has just begun…My heart is cheerful/It’s never fearful/I’ve been down on the killing floors/I’m in no great hurry/I’m not afraid of your fury/I’ve faced stronger walls than yours.” ‘Narrow Way’ is a rollicking country song where one finds themselves in a real pressure cooker: “This is hard country to stay alive in/Blades are everywhere and they’re breaking my skin/I’m armed to the hilt and I’m struggling hard/You won’t get out of here unscarred/It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way/If I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me someday.”

‘Long and Wasted Years’ is musically innovative. I have to wonder here if Dylan’s lyrics are autobiographical: “I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes/There are secrets in ‘em that I can’t disguise/Come back baby/If I hurt your feelings, I apologize…We cried on a cold and frosty morn/We cried because our souls were torn/So much for tears/So much for these long and wasted years.” ‘Pay in Blood’ according to one internet interpretation, draws from Ezekiel 3:9. In Ezekiel 3, the prophet is told by God to go to the house of Israel, a hard-headed people. God tells Ezekiel He’ll make him just as hard-headed. Ezekiel is made a watchman by God. He’s to warn the people of impending disaster. If they do not listen, the blood is on their own heads. If Ezekiel does not warn the people, the blood will be on his own head. Christ’s blood covers Bob, but he’s still trying to warn people of disaster to come. Here are some of the lyrics: “Low cards are what I’ve got/But I’ll play this hand whether I like it or not/I’m sworn to uphold the laws of God/You can put me out in front of a firing squad/I’ve been out and around with the rowdy men/Just like you, my handsome friend/My head’s so hard/Must be made of stone/I pay in blood but not my own.” ‘Scarlet Town’ is a weak, boring composition. It does, however, make a plea for racial equality and understanding: “If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime/All things are beautiful in their time/The black and the white, the yellow and the brown/It’s all right there in front of you in Scarlet Town.”

‘Early Roman Kings’ has a slow blues groove to it and contains these dark lyrics: “I was up on Black Mountain the day Detroit fell/They killed them all off and they sent them to hell/Ding-dong Daddy, you’re coming up short/Gon’ put you on trial in a Sicilian court/I’ve had my fun, I’ve had my flings/Gon’ shake ‘em on down like the early Roman kings.” ‘Tin Angel’ is sparse when it comes to instruments. It is a story song, over nine minutes long, that is based around a traditional folk song performed by Woody Guthrie, called ‘Gypsy Davy.’ In this song of Dylan’s a man confronts his lover right while she’s cheating on him: “She turned, she was startled with a look of surprise/With a hatred that could hit the skies/’You’re a reckless fool, I could see it in your eyes/To come this way was by no means wise’\’Get up, stand up, you greedy lipped wench/And cover your face or suffer the consequence/You are making my heart feel sick/Put your clothes back on, double quick.’” The tale ends tragically, with all three parties dead: “All three lovers together in a heap/Thrown into the grave, forever to sleep/Funeral torches blazed away/Through the towns and the villages all night and all day.”The title track, ‘Tempest’, is a gem of a song, one of Dylan’s best ever. It has an astonishing forty-five verses with no chorus and clocks in at 13:55! That’s even longer than a Hillsong hit! ‘Tempest’ is a musical film if you will, about the sinking of the RMS TITANIC, a British passenger liner in April 1912. The song is good to slow dance to. Here are select lyrics: “T’was the fourteenth day of April/Over the waves she rode/Sailing into tomorrow/To a golden age foretold…/Lights were holding steady/Gliding over the foam/All the lords and ladies/Heading for their eternal home…/The ship was going under/The universe had opened wide/The roll was called up yonder/The angels turned aside…/They battened down the hatches/But the hatches wouldn’t hold/They drowned upon the staircase/Of brass and polished gold…/When the Reaper’s task had ended/Sixteen hundred had gone to rest/The good, the bad, the rich, the poor/The loveliest and the best.” The album ends with ‘Roll on John’, a strong, fitting tribute to the late great John Lennon, who was shot to death by Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980. Here are some of the lyrics: “Shine your light/Movin’ on/You burned so bright/Roll on, John…/I heard the news today, oh boy/They hauled your ship up on the shore/Now the city gone dark, there is no more joy/They tore the heart right out and cut him to the core.”

On TEMPEST Bob Dylan’s voice sounds more gravelly and ragged than I’ve ever heard from him before, if that’s even possible. There is no doubt that this effort is on the more somber, slower side overall musically. One of its weaknesses is that some of the tracks sound like Dylan is reciting poetry and that the background music is just an afterthought. That being said, there are enough solid songs here that only an artist of Dylan’s longevity could deliver as well as he does. I recommend TEMPEST to fans of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong, and Phil Driscoll. I’m rating it 84%. For more info visit

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Nichole Ellyse Nordeman was born on January 3, 1972. Her first album was 1998’s WIDE-EYED. She has twice won the title of Female Vocalist of the Year at the Dove Awards (2001 and 2003). She is best known for songs such as ‘Holy’, ‘Brave’, and ‘What If’. Her song ‘Hold On (Love Will Find You)' was recorded by country star Paul Brandt for his 2007 album RISK. More recently she has writing credits on seventeen songs for the 2011 album MUSIC INSPIRED BY THE STORY which features the vocal talents of Matthew West, Michael W. Smith, Mandisa and many others. It has been seven years since she has put out a new solo record. One can only hope she does so sooner than later.

Nichole’s latest venture is her first book LOVE STORY-THE HAND THAT HOLDS US FROM THE GARDEN TO THE GATES (2012, Worthy Publishing). In it she brings to life the stories of various Bible characters including Adam and Eve, David, Mary, the thief on the cross, and Paul. Nordeman hesitates to call them heroes. She points out convincingly that they were human with fears and doubts like the rest of us. What I highly value about this book is that Nichole is very transparent about her doubts, questions, and insecurities when it comes to her own faith. She is so vulnerable that it is refreshing. Especially at a time when I am examining my own faith.

Nichole recounts how when she was early on a music minister at a United Methodist church, she was asked by her fellow pastoral staff to find some songs to lead that were gender neutral when it came to God being referenced: “I must not have done much to conceal the panic on my face because she quickly (and with great compassion) explained their reasoning. It was not because they had some wishy-washy lukewarm center from which their liturgy had sprung. It wasn’t because they had a liberal agenda and sought to undermine the whole of evangelical rhetoric, and it most especially wasn’t because they were women who hated men.” You will have to read the book to find out how this episode ended!

Nichole spends a good deal of time writing about our fear of being spiritually lukewarm. The Message has God saying of those who are neither hot or cold: “You make me want to vomit” in Revelation 3:16. She has some concerns however: “From this passage, and others like it, an ideology is born. A brand of ‘take no prisoners’ faith emerges. A battle cry goes up, uniting large numbers of people who, arms linked, move across the landscape of culture and politics and art. Putting stakes in the ground. Congratulating each other on our Sold Outness. Everything black or white. Hot or cold. No danger of lukewarm allegations. Nobody’s gonna make God vomit on our watch.” Nichole admits she has been guilty of: “Taking firm stands and hard lines on things that I don’t feel firmly in my heart of hearts, all out of the deep fear of sounding lukewarm.” This makes me not a ‘sold-out Christian’ but one who’s selling out. In a panic that somehow these many gray places in my faith will be sniffed out by the Wishy-Washy Patrol.” These are thoughts that I as a born-again believer can certainly relate to. There seems to be a group mentality in many of today’s evangelical Christian circles. No longer is it good enough to believe Jesus is the only Way to Heaven. We have now added all kinds of other moral stances that must be held on issues that I don’t think are going to matter greatly in the grand scheme of things. Being a clone is valued more than diversity of opinion on issues of our day now. And many are leaving or won’t enter our churches because of it.

Nichole daringly reflects on the fact that because Paul was a Pharisee while he was Saul, even after his conversion he may have had a tendency to be a stickler when it comes to laying down rules. She allows for some of his humanness to have crept into his Scriptural writings. Many evangelicals will take issue with this. I, find it to be, a refreshingly honest take on interpreting the Scriptures. Nichole’s writings on the Second Coming are also particularly well done. She admits when Christ returns: “I’ll probably be looking for the really bad guys to drag out of the bushes by their ankles, hoping to create a diversion. I will look left and right and left again. Hiding like a hippo behind a telephone pole. Wishing for an invisibility cloak.”

LOVE STORY is at the end of the day, really the story of God’s love for the entire human race. I recommend this book to those who have been Christians for some time and are finding their faith becoming stale and suffocated by doctrine and dogma to the point where God’s voice has become very distant, and to those people who are not believers but are interested in what God says about them, not what the church says about them. God loves you! You don’t have to jump through hoops to impress Him, and you most certainly are loved just the way you are. I’m rating LOVE STORY 90%. For more info visit and

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Alanis Nadine Morissette was born in Ottawa, Ontario on June 1, 1974. Her fantastic 1995 rock record JAGGED LITTLE PILL birthed such great songs as ‘All I Really Want’, ‘You Oughta Know’, ‘Ironic’, and ‘You Learn’. During this time I was attending Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener, Ontario. Her angst-filled songs really struck a chord with me. I would blare her songs from my dorm room, wore a self-made fan t-shirt in her honour, had her poster on my wall, and used her lyrics in a sermon I preached in front of my classmates. Over the years Alanis has won sixteen Junos and seven Grammy Awards. Over the years she has also been romantically linked to Dave Coulier (Uncle Joey on Full House) and Ryan Reynolds. In 2010 she married rapper Mario MC ‘Souleye’ Treadway. Alanis is a vegan and an environmentalist. She had a Catholic upbringing, but more recently has practiced Buddhism. HAVOC AND BRIGHT LIGHTS (2012, Collective Sound) was produced by Guy Sigsworth and Joe Chiccarelli. It is her eighth studio album.

The lead single, ‘Guardian’, starts things off and is a refreshingly joyous pop song. It contains these words that we’d all love for someone to speak to us: “I’ll be your keeper for life as your guardian/I’ll be your warrior of care, your first warden/I’ll be your angel on call/I’ll be on demand/The greatest honor of all, as your guardian.” ‘Woman Down’ is another cool pop song. It has a chorus that is akin to a feminist rally cry: “Calling all woman haters/We’ve lowered the bar on the/Behavior that we will take-come on now/Calling all lady haters/Why must you vilify us?/Are you willing to clean the slate?/Woman down.” ‘Til You’ is a, dare I say it, pretty tune with airy vocals. It includes these words of someone waiting for another to come and enter a relationship with them: “I’ve been taking notes, nursing the thought of you/Research and develop as I’m biding my time/I’ve been holding up this magnet that calls to you/Entertaining myself with these consolation prizes.”

‘Celebrity’ has a dark, rock feel musically. It takes aim at our culture’s obsession with fame and how far people will go to achieve it: “Never wondered who’s pulling strings above me/Cuz I’m aware of wheels, heels and vintage Gucci/I’m on my twentieth round of Vitamin V/And I’ll cut my weight in two if you’ll have me/Give me celebrity/My kingdom to be famous/Tell me who I have to be/Starving to be famous.” ‘Empathy’ is a happy, keyboard-filled celebration of finding one’s soulmate: “Thank you for seeing me/I feel so less lonely/Thank you for getting me/I’m healed by your empathy/Oh this intimacy.” ‘Lens’ should be put in rotation on Christian radio for its great message. It speaks of how our beliefs often separate and divide us rather than being a unifying force: “So now it’s your, your religion against my, my religion/My humble opinion ‘gainst yours-this does not feel like love/And it’s your, your conviction against my, my conviction/And I’d like to know what we’d see through the lens of love.”

‘Spiral’ would make for a good, peppy TV show theme song. The lyrics admit to a desperate need for bosom friendship: “Don’t leave me here with all these critical voices/Cuz they do their best to bring me down, bring me down/When I’m alone with all these negative voices/I will need your help to turn them down, turn them round.” ‘Numb’ is heavily guitar driven and features violin by Lili Haydn. The song speaks of a tendency in today’s society to bury one’s emotions under medications: “I am lonely, I feel hungry and unloved/I feel angry, I am livid, need a hug/Here comes a feeling/I run from the feeling/And reach for the drug/Can’t sit with this feeling/I’d rather be flying/And comfortably numb.” ‘Havoc’ is a somewhat dreary ballad. On it, Alanis shares how quickly one’s lot in life can change for the worse: “Just when I thought I had handles on this/I could soften my guard behind false confidence…/I’m slipping again/I’m up to old tricks off my wagon/I have no defense/I’m wreaking havoc/Wreaking havoc and consequences.”

‘Win and Win’ is a weak song, but it reminds us of the absurdity of thinking we are better or worse than another: “In my old days someone won/Those were days of win-lose/In those bleak times I was better/I sat high: looking down my nose/Change direction: looking up/I’m not worthy to be with you/We are separate, I’m inferior/I had yearnings to sit across from you.” ‘Receive’ is a memorable song that would be good for those such as pastors and mothers with awesome demands on their time to hear: “I give hard, impart hard and now I need to retreat/I give out, dedicate and now I need to acknowledge me/Today’s all about me/All about cup filling/Today’s all about me/Learning how, how to receive, how to receive.” ‘Edge of Evolution’ ends the album on a strongly spiritual note: “In this sacred duality/The highs and lows and the heres and theres/These aversions and these cravings/Push me beyond identity into pure awareness (we’re already here).”

Much like arena rock band Petra experimented with modern rock on their albums NO DOUBT and GOD FIXATION, and rock group DeGarmo and Key experimented with pop music on GO TO THE TOP, Alanis Morissette pretty successfully ventures into new pop and adult contemporary territory on HAVOC AND BRIGHT LIGHTS, while bringing just enough of her rock tendencies along with her to please her fans. As always, Alanis’ lyrics are thoughtful and full of meaning. Introspection is one of her gifts. This album could have been made stronger by eliminating tracks nine and ten, still leaving it a ten song album. I’m rating it 86%. For more info visit