Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Faithful Life

Well, I had no idea I'd be writing this post today. I had hoped to write about plans for the New Year. Instead I'm writing about the death of my grandfather.

Many words could describe him: faithful husband to Lucille for over 60 years; father to Cecille, Dennis, David, my mom Linda and Jeff; grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather (!) to many of us; United Methodist minister for his whole career...

I was so blessed to know this man. He and Grandma lived in a little apartment connected to our house when I was in high school. I loved having him around. He was a constant encouragement, coming to sports events, plays I was in, special church programs, etc.

He participated in Luanne's and my wedding in Simi Valley, California, in 1993. It was so special to have him and Grandma there to experience that moment with us.

When we moved to California back in 1998, I couldn't see him very often. In fact, I think I only saw him three times in the last decade. But we would try to connect on the phone and over email. He always remembered to send holiday and birthday cards to all of us. He would always write encouraging bible verses and messages.

He was always thrilled that I had chosen a life of vocational ministry, and several years back he gave me his clergy robe and stoles. I've never had an opportunity to wear them, but I treasure them. I wish he could have lived to see me become an ordained minister, but I know he'll see it from heaven.

He cared for my Grandma for years and years. She was a longtime diabetic and had many health problems. He was always right there to support her, right up until the end of her life.

After Grandma died, it was like Grandpa had a new life in some ways. He became very active in his retirement community. He preached, he led communion services, he sang in the choir, he visited people. Even though he had been retired for decades, he never retired from life or ministry, and I really respect that and want to emulate it in my life.

Last Thursday, on Christmas Day, we did a video chat. It was a terrible connection, but we got to see each other and talk one last time. He even badgered me into singing a song... He just wouldn't let it go no matter how many times I tried to defer. I'm really glad I sang for him one last time.

He had a great last Christmas, surrounded by family. He was in reasonably good health and good spirits.

Grandpa was known for his many, many letters to the editor of the Warsaw Times-Union. He would write about everything, but his consuming passion was to help people experiencing the saving grace of Jesus. The family was often copied on these missives, and I know that a lot of prayer came our way in addition to the many emails.

His last email came yesterday morning:

Dear family:

One more day in 2009! The Old Year Is Passing and Dying.

God has permitted me to live through 90 plus years on His earth. I thank Him for a memory to recall I was a lad with short pants and long black stockings which we wore in the early 1920s!

I pray God will give you a Blessed New Year of 2010. Start it with Him in your mind and heart, and stay with Him all year long. He will truly bless you.

Psalm 46:10

with love and a prayer,

Cecil L. Hendrix

This morning he didn't respond to the nurse's knock on his door. She came in to find him resting peacefully in his recliner. He often woke up early in the morning, sat in his chair and spent time in prayer. I guess this time he got to meet with Jesus face-to-face.

Grandpa would have been 91 next month. Thank you, God, for a long, well-lived life.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Memories & Gratitude

2009 was a whirlwind. I feel like I've lived two or three years in these twelve short months. And even though it was a year filled with great anxiety and uncertainty on the one hand, it was a year full of joy at the same time. God is good, and as I look back over the year I see his guidance in every step. Some memories...






  • My beautiful new 120G iPod Classic died, and Apple came through in a big way.
  • We said goodbye to our ministry partners, TEAM Law, at the Memorial City Mall ice rink.
  • Jake graduated from 5th Grade.
  • On June 4, we picked up our kids from school and headed for Dallas.
  • We spent a weekend in Tulsa, checking out Redeemer Covenant and the area.
  • We drove from Tulsa to Simi Valley in two vehicles... across Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
  • We moved in (for the second time) with Luanne's parents. Eight of us in a small, three-bedroom home. It was tight, and it was loud, but there was a lot of love there, so it was good.
  • My newest niece, Anne, was born.
  • I continued to candidate for worship positions and lead as a guest worship leader in Sacramento (at one of my favorite churches, Bayside of South Sacramento), Simi Valley and Los Altos. Doors opened, doors closed.

  • We spent the week of July 4 at Mission Springs in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I led worship with Luanne and her brother, Dominic. It was great to be in the Bay Area again with friends and family.
  • Thanks to David Greco and Ben Wysocki, I got to see Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin at the Greek Theater.
  • I flew to Kansas City to interview for a worship pastor position at Community Covenant Church in Lenexa. I fell in love with the people there and felt a lot of hope for the future... whether there or at Redeemer.
  • I candidated for the Redeemer job: working with the band, vocal team and choir; interviewing with the staff and Leadership Team; and having lots of meals with people.
  • On July 30, with great relief and a real sense of peace, we accepted the position in Tulsa and made plans to move in just a few short weeks...

  • On August 4, I released my 2005 recording, Still Standing, through Noisetrade.
  • Luanne and I flew to Tulsa the weekend of August 9th. I led worship at Redeemer, and we worked with our realtor, Stephanie Howerton, to find a house. Home-ownership had always been just a dream, but with the $8,000 tax credit and a lot of help and encouragement, we were able to purchase our first house, right across the Arkansas River from Tulsa, in the little town of Jenks.
  • Luanne and I celebrated 16 years of marriage.
  • We left Simi Valley on August 18, and headed across the country again. We took our time this time around, stopping in Lake Havasu for a day of jet skiing, Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Amarillo, and finally arriving at our new home in Tulsa on the 22nd.
  • The kids started school, a week and a half late, on the 25th.
  • August 30 was my first day leading worship as the new Director of Worship Ministries at Redeemer.

  • We got to know Travis Kyles, who quickly became like another son... He and Josh and Jake were just about inseparable.
  • On Labor Day, our whole church family was hit with the tragic news of the death of Zachary Wertz. Please continue to lift up this precious family in prayer as you think of them.
  • Em & Zach celebrated their eighth birthday!
  • As part of the birthday celebration, our new bunny Thumper entered our lives.
  • We lost Uncle Dominic. We will miss this great man. Lots of love and prayers went out for Aunt Merrilee, John and DonnaLee and their families, and Lou, Dolly and Jeanette.
  • I turned ::gulp:: thirty-eight.

  • On October 4, Redeemer had its "On the Lawn" festival. Unfortunately, it had to become "On the Carpet" due to rain, but I got to sing some of my music with a cool band, Pandemic, backing me up.
  • Luanne and I saw The B-52's, Dave Matthews Band and Willie Nelson live - all right here in Tulsa.
  • Josh, Jake and I drove to the OU campus in Norman to see U2 on the 360° tour. It was unbelievable. And it was all the more special to get to share it with my incredulous sons.
  • Luanne's parents drove out to visit us and stayed for 10 days or so.
  • We built a skate ramp in the back yard.

  • On November 8, Redeemer experienced "Simply Worship," experiencing and responding to God through Word, Sacrament and acoustic music. Simple, stripped-down, interactive...
  • Emily and Zach got to go on their "2nd Grade Trips."
  • I got to see Switchfoot live at our local Qdoba. Don't ask.
  • For Thanksgiving vacation, our family drove up to St. Louis and met my mom and dad. We went up in the Gateway Arch and then drove together to Evansville, Indiana, where we met my brother and sister and their families. It was the first time we had all been together since October 2006. We drove down to Central City, Kentucky, on Thanksgiving Day to be with my aunts, uncles and cousins. It's the first time I had been in Kentucky for Thanksgiving in more than a decade. We had a great time. It was SO fun to have all the cousins together in the hotel in Evansville... swimming, eating, playing, seeing a movie, having an "early Christmas" together. Awesome.

  • On December 20, I produced my first Christmas Cantata at Redeemer. This is an annual concert with orchestra and choir, and it was a big deal. I'm grateful for how well it went and how well it was received! It was the first time I've worked with an orchestra like this, so it was a little nervewracking, but more exciting than anything else.
  • We got snowed out of our Christmas Eve services. First time in a decade I've been home on Christmas Eve. Disappointing but wonderful at the same time.
  • Travis Kyles moved back to North Carolina, and we miss him terribly. We're praying for you, Travis!

As Dag Hammarskjöld wrote in Markings, a collection of his journal entries published in 1964, "For all that has been - Thanks. For all that shall be - Yes."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Causes I Believe In: One Day's Wages

Scripture teaches to be giving people. As followers of Jesus, we know that everything we have belongs to God, and we are called to be aware of how our resources can help further His purposes in the world. We are challenged to give sacrificially to make a difference in the world.

What charities, causes, non-profits, etc. do you support? Why?

I believe that as a member of Redeemer Covenant Church, I need to be committed to supporting my local church with my tithes and offerings. In addition, Luanne and I support some other causes. We can pray for them, we can raise awareness, we can encourage them... but sometimes we just need to put our money where our mouths are.

I've blogged about one cause that we support, The Marin Foundation. Today I want to talk about another exciting new way to make a difference.

Eugene Cho is a pastor I've admired for a long time. He is the founding & lead pastor of Quest Church (an Evangelical Covenant church) and the founder & executive director of Q Cafe. Born in Korea, he immigrated to the U.S. at age six and grew up in San Francisco.

Eugene blogs regularly at and is considered one of the most prominent bloggers on issues of Justice, Faith, Ministry, and utilizing social media for good. He also serves as one of the Contributing Editors of Sojourners Magazine.

Eugene is the co-founder (along with his wife, Minhee) and executive director of One Day’s Wages (ODW) – an international grassroots movement dedicated to ending extreme global poverty.

ODW promotes awareness, invites giving, and supports sustainable relief through partnerships, especially with smaller organizations in developing regions. Its vision is to change global issues of injustice affecting millions of people, regardless of race, culture, sex, age, or religion. Nearly half the world lives on less than us$2 per day; nearly 25,000 children die every day of poverty-related causes; 1 billion people do not have access to clean water.

Eugene and Minhee's story is compelling:

We're your average family. We live in Seattle. We fell in love and married in 1997 and have three young children. We're neither poor nor rich; simply a middle class family with privilege because we know that we have so many opportunities that many in the world do not have.

We've always known of the disparity in the world; Always knew the statistics. In fact, we've memorized them and know the numbers by heart. But it was traveling to a few places and seeing with our own eyes the faces, stories, children, and families behind the numbers that "wrecked" our lives. It was seeing organizations and women, men, and children do amazing work to uplift themselves out of poverty - if only given respect, dignity, and opportunities. It's by far more complex but it's also very simple:

It shouldn't be this way and doesn't have to be this way. We have the capacity to end extreme global poverty.

These are some of the reasons that compelled us take a step further, make some life decisions and start One Day's Wages. We made a decision to donate our 2009 income ($68,000) to the cause of fighting extreme global poverty. But we didn't want to stop there. We also wanted to invite our family, friends, and the rest of the world to consider donating just their "one day's wages" and be part of this international grassroots movement. And then to renew that pledge at least every year on their birthdays.

While we've received our share of questions and criticisms, we decided to make our donation public not because we wanted pats on our back but to let people know that

we are not asking others to do something we aren't willing to do ourselves.

Over the next five years, our pledge is to donate an additional one month's salary to organizations through ODW to honor our initial public pledge of $100,000.

Money isn't the solution - at least not by itself. The greatest resources are people. Our voices matters. Our donations do make an impact when invested properly through organizations that are transparent, efficient, and strategic in not creating dependency but rather, creating opportunities and empowerment. Your donation doesn't have to be through ODW...we don't care. We just want to remind you that you can make a difference.

Our goal is not to re-invent the wheel. There are some incredible organizations and individuals doing amazing work; Our goal is to partner and collaborate. We are certainly not the first and thankfully, we are not the last to care about these issues.

Thanks for inspiring us and joining the ODW movement.

With gratitude,

Eugene & Minhee Cho (+ our three children)

The statistics are difficult to comprehend, but imagine what we can accomplish together.

One Day’s Wages = 0.4% of one’s annual wages = Dramatic Impact for those living in extreme poverty.

Check out some recent coverage of One Day's Wages in the New York Times and the Seattle Times. Follow ODW on Twitter. Become a fan and promote the cause on Facebook.

See Eugene explain ODW here:

The Movement of One Day's Wages from One Day's Wages on Vimeo.

Most of all, please join Luanne and me in visiting the ODW website, creating a profile and donating one day's wages. A small amount could change a life forever.

Favorite Books of 2009

Gosh, I love books... I read constantly. I'm currently in the middle of several.

What were the best books you read in 2009? What are the books you're looking forward to in 2010?

For some reason, this was the year of the memoir for me. I love reading first-person accounts of life, especially ones in which people change and grow… in one direction or another. It’s the process that fascinates me.

I really appreciated these books as well:

In fiction, I really loved

Tell me about the books YOU loved... What should I read next?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"The Scope and Scale of Our Missional Momentum": Grateful for the ECC

From time to time I mention how grateful I am for my denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church. Having grown up a little wary of denominations, it's been a pleasant surprise to discover a group of likeminded people who are making a huge impact for God in this world... together. In fact, we do things together that we could never do on our own as individual churches.

A while back our new president, Gary Walter, sent out his annual report, and I was reminded again why I am excited and privileged to be a licensed minister in the ECC. Here are a few of the highlights:

Doing big things for a big God is ultimately, and merely, the accumulation of countless faithful acts carried out by faithful people. That is why I am so proud of the ECC - our congregations, clergy, lay people, and denominational and conference leaders. We have an abundance of people who understand what it means to serve with obedience, humility, and a servant heart. And that’s why we are seeing an abundant harvest in service to God.

The scope and scale of our missional momentum is real. Hundreds of thousands of real people in real places are impacted every single day all over the world through this partnership we call the Evangelical Covenant Church. But as I recount some of the markers of our collective momentum this past year, in your mind’s eye imagine all of the faithful personal efforts that have gone into each one:
• Attendance grew for the 17th consecutive year, up a strong six percent. We are touching more lives with the hope of Christ than at any other point in our history.
• Twenty people were commissioned for missionary service at the 2009 Annual Meeting, the largest number in many years. That group includes four long-term missionaries, the first we have sent out following a six-year gap.
• Twenty church plants were initiated - on average, one every two to three weeks. Sixty-nine church plants are under development. One-half of churches being planted are among populations of color or intentionally multiethnic. As a result, the percentage of diversity in the ECC has risen again. Twenty-four percent of all congregations are among populations of color or intentionally multiethnic.
• Seminars offered by Covenant Offices served 330 churches.
• Following four successive years of modest decline, the base of established churches in the aggregate showed full stability with no combined loss in attendance.
• Nearly 900 individual pastors have benefited from the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative aimed at investing in vocational development for those in ministry.
• More than 5,000 people attended this summer’s CHIC - our youth convention - which once again powerfully challenged students to live deeply rooted in Christ.
• Thirty-one projects were supported through Covenant World Relief, directed to the poorest of the poor around the world.
• More than $33 million in free care was provided by Covenant Ministries of Benevolence through our hospitals, retirement communities, and enabling residencies.
• Paul Carlson Partnership received a $658,000 grant to develop micro-enterprise projects in Congo.
• More than $300,000 has been donated to the Break the Chains initiative to combat human trafficking.
• North Park University weathered a campus flood and graduated one of the largest classes in history. North Park Theological Seminary saw the highest incoming class in five years this fall.
• Covenant Trust Company and National Covenant Properties had exceptional results in an exceptionally challenging economic environment.
Quite simply, we are countering most trends facing denominations today. We are growing - growing more diverse, growing more in conscience, and growing more aware of the world.

And looking ahead? Signs point to continued strong momentum. Early indications for our 125th Annual Meeting next June point to an unprecedented number of new churches, an unprecedented number of people to be commissioned for missionary service, and an unprecedented number of clergy ordinations. Indications also point to the annual attendance survey showing growth for the 18th consecutive year.

You can read the whole report here. Thank You, God, for my sisters and brothers in this remarkable church...

How about you? Are you a part of a denomination? What do you like or dislike about it?

I start a new venture in February: Seminary! Redeemer and SemConnect are making it possible for me to start taking classes through North Park Theological Seminary. I'll start with New Testament, specifically studying the gospels. I'm really excited about this.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Gravity of the Situation

Rest in peace, Vic Chesnutt.

I first heard his singular voice on Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation, a tribute album with covers of his songs by artists such as Garbage, Nanci Griffith, REM, Soul Asylum and Victoria Williams, who sang with him on "God Is Good." It was the second album benefiting Sweet Relief, the non-profit organization that exists to help musicians without health insurance.

A paraplegic since he was injured in a car accident at the age of 18, Vic battled deep depression and most recently wrote about his obsession with suicide in the song "Flirted With You All My Life."

I am a man. I am self-aware, and everywhere I go, you're always right there with me. I've flirted with you all my life, even kissed you once or twice, and to this day, I swear it was nice, but clearly I was not ready.

When you touched a friend of mine, I thought I would lose my mind, but I found out with time that really, I was not ready, no, no, cold death, cold death, oh death, really, I'm not ready.

I guess he finally was ready. After overdosing on pain meds, he passed away on Christmas Day.

His close friend and fellow musician Kristin Hersh has set up a website to take donations to help his family. Check it out here.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Beautiful Change of Plans

Well, all of our plans for a beautiful Christmas Eve at Redeemer (read about them here) got turned upside-down. By 1:30pm, it was apparent that this was going to be no ordinary snowfall. We canceled the 11:00pm service and planned on going ahead with the 5pm and the 7pm.

Then at 3:00, the governor declared a state of emergency and a blizzard warning was declared for Tulsa County. Churches all around the city began canceling services. The sky got darker and the wind started howling. By then there was a lot of sleet coming down, and it was starting to accumulate.

Around 4:00 we decided that it was just too risky to have anyone out in weather like that, so we canceled everything. All the church staff (by that time, it was only a few of us) headed home.

When I got home, the kids were having so much fun outside, sliding down the driveway on their skateboard decks and a boogie board. (We are from California, after all...)

And it snowed and blew and stormed all night long. There was even thunder and lightning! It was remarkable. I haven't had a white Christmas since we lived in Indiana, 13 years ago. And perhaps even more amazing, I was home with my family for Christmas Eve. For the first time since 1999.

We watched "A Christmas Story" and lit a fire in the fireplace. We had dinner together. We got to bed at a decent time. It was awesome. While I'm sorry for the people who put in a lot of work to make Christmas Eve at Redeemer happen, I think for us, Christmas Eve turned out to be even more beautiful than we had planned.

And man, a white Christmas in Oklahoma is a really cool thing. We're loving it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Joyous Christmas to You

It's December 24, and Tulsa is anticipating a white Christmas. I can't tell you how glad I am about this. Luanne and I decided it's been at least 13 years since we (Luanne, Josh and I) had snow on Christmas Day. Jacob and the twins have never experienced snow on Christmas.

Who could have guessed our first Christmas in Oklahoma would be a white one?

We had a great time last night at Rhema Bible Church (home of Kenneth Hagin's ministry). Their light display is the best I've ever seen. Really beautiful. (That's where we took the picture. Crazy kids didn't exactly dress for the cold and were freezing.)

Sunday was a magnificent celebration of the birth of Jesus as Redeemer had our annual Christmas Cantata. Our theme was "A Service of Lessons and Carols," based on an order of worship created on Christmas Eve 1880 by Edward White Benson (who was to go on to become Archbishop of Canterbury). The service was revived on Christmas Eve, 1918, at King's College, Cambridge. It has been an annual tradition since then, with people flocking to the live performance and thousands more tuning in to the live BBC radio broadcast. (Listen here.)

The Service of Lessons and Carols is simply this: Nine scripture "lessons," or readings, starting with the Fall in Genesis 3, going up through the prophets' predictions of the Messiah, and ending with the Christmas story and the first part of John 1. It's beautiful to walk through the whole Story in one worship gathering. And we added in some awesome music with orchestra, rhythm section, soloists (Luanne Nightingale, Ronda Bender, Lindsey Fullerton) and adult and children's choirs... I loved it. (I posted some pictures here.)

Tonight (Weather permitting... It's really starting to howl out there...) we will celebrate with three Christmas Eve gatherings. At 5:00, we will have a Children/Family service featuring music and drama... At 7:00 & 11:00, it will be a little bit more subdued... a traditional "Carols & Candlelight" service with the choir. At these services, our three "clergy couples" will be sharing Christmas memories, some good and some painful, based on lines in Christmas carols.

Joe & Margie Scruggs will be sharing based on "The Hopes and Fears of All the Years..." They will talk about the painful Christmas after they lost their son Wade in a car accident. I'm praying for this to be powerful and that God will hold them close as they share such a vulnerable thing.

Mike & Martha King will be sharing based on "O Come, All Ye Faithful" about how God brought them together from two different cultures and two very different observances of Christmas.

Luanne and I chose an appropriate title: "I Wonder As I Wander." Anyone who knows our journey over the past several years understands the significance of this song... But the point is not our wanderings, but the faithfulness of Jesus throughout all of it.

Man, do we miss our family and friends right now. It's not the same without you. But we are so full of gratitude for a new life in Tulsa, a new home, new ministry, new friends. God is good.

It's been a busy season for me. It's hard to quiet my heart and rest right now. But in the midst of it all, my prayer is that we experience the presence of God... Jesus came to us at Christmas, Emmanuel - GOD WITH US. And in the Holy Spirit, God is with us still.

Joyous Christmas to you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Favorite Music of the Aughties

Yesterday I listed my favorite music of 2009
. I can't believe I said I'd do this post today. It's a pretty daunting thing, to declare, once and for all, your favorite record from the entire decade. But I want to be a blogger of my word, so here goes:

I'm limiting my list to 30, all released between 2000-2009. I'm also limiting myself to one record per artist. This list is not based on any method or system. These are just the records that have stuck with me, long after the critics stopped crowing and the crowds stopped clapping... Sure, I may have been intrigued by a Joanna Newsom or an Arcade Fire. I bought Death Cab and
Adele, just like everybody else. But in the end, these records mattered to me. These are the melodies and the words and the hooks and the voices that captured my heart and my ears, no matter what the press and the sales had to say.

So here they are, my favorite 30 records of the Aughties, again in alphabetical order.
  1. 1,000 Kisses - Patty Griffin (2002)
  2. Add to the Beauty - Sara Groves (2005)
  3. Bachelor No. 2 or, The Last Remains of the Dodo - Aimee Mann (2000)
  4. Back to Black - Amy Winehouse (2007)
  5. Boot and a Shoe, A - Sam Phillips (2004)
  6. Buddy & Julie Miller - Buddy & Julie Miller (2001)
  7. Carnival Love - Amy Correia (2000)
  8. Cease to Begin - Band of Horses (2007)
  9. City on a Hill: Songs of Worship & Praise - Various Artists (2000)
  10. Divine Discontent - Sixpence None the Richer (2002)
  11. Eleventh Hour, The - Jars of Clay (2002)
  12. Fun With Sound - 7 & 7 Is (2004)
  13. Gold - Ryan Adams (2001)
  14. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb - U2 (2004)
  15. Illinois - Sufjan Stevens (2005)
  16. Illuminate - David Crowder*Band (2003)
  17. (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves - Hawksley Workman (2001)
  18. Long Line of Leavers - Caedmon's Call (2000)
  19. Mockingbird - Derek Webb (2005)
  20. Mute Math - Mute Math (2006)
  21. Ohio - Over the Rhine (2003)
  22. Our Shadows Will Remain - Joseph Arthur (2004)
  23. Real Life - Joan As Police Woman (2007)
  24. Room for Squares - John Mayer (2001)
  25. Simply Nothing - Shawn McDonald (2004)
  26. Speak for Yourself - Imogen Heap (2005)
  27. Surround Me - Riki Michele (2004)
  28. Travelogue - Joni Mitchell (2002)
  29. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends - Coldplay (2008)
  30. Want One - Rufus Wainright (2003)
Some interesting observations as I look over my list...

1) This list makes me feel old. I can't believe that it's been so long since I first heard some of this music.
2) Sometimes an album makes the list that is NOT the best album that artist put out in the last decade. For instance, John Mayer's "Room for Squares" is hardly his best music, but - for me anyway - the freshness of his early work trumps the technical growth in his latest work. And definitely the BORING new Battle Studies.
3) Some of my favorite artists don't make the list (Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Indigo Girls, the innocence mission), even though they made great records all throughout the decade. While each of them remains a vital artist... none of their individual albums rose above the ones on the list.

What do you think of my list? How about you? What are your favorite records of the last decade?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Favorite Music of 2009

After last week's series of heavy posts, I'm looking forward to a little lighter fare this week.

It's upon us... The end of each year brings with it the opportunity for critics and fans to name their Top 10s. (Why 10? No one knows. I always have many more that I love...) Here are my favorite records of the year, in alphabetical order:

1) Armistice - Mute Math I love Mute Math. The first two tracks alone make this record worth your time and money. Lots of great rhythms and keyboard and vocals.

2) Curse Your Branches - David Bazan Former Pedro the Lion frontman bares his soul, asks the questions most followers of Jesus are afraid to ask and ends up breaking up with Jesus. I think. And man, does he sound great doing it.

3) Ellipse - Imogen Heap I first heard Imogen singing "It's Good to Be in Love" with Frou Frou on some live recording. I didn't know if she was a boy or a girl at first. And then there was "Let Go," on the Garden State Soundtrack. And then "Hide and Seek," which, though overplayed, remains a monumental achievement. This record is her finest work yet, and I think "Wait It Out" may be her finest song.

4) I And Love and You - The Avett Brothers The Avett Brothers were on my radar, but I had never heard any of their music, really, until I moved to Tulsa earlier this year. While I didn't make it to their Cain's show, several of my friends here did, and they raved about it. Then Ryan Myers bought their new record shared it through our office network. I must have listened to it dozens of times since then, and it's landed on my Top Ten list. Not bad for a record I haven't even purchased. Old-timey but fresh, killer harmonies and lyrics. I love this band.

5) Live - Shawn Colvin The first of two live albums on my list this year. This record, culled from three evenings at Yoshi's in San Francisco, shows why Colvin is one of the most respected singer-songwriters around. Just a guitar, her crystalline voice and beautiful songs. I've been a fan since I was a senior in high school and I fell in love with Steady On. When Luanne and I saw her on the "Three Girls and Their Buddy" tour last summer, she was the highlight for me.

6) Live from Nowhere, Volume 4 - Over the Rhine OtR continues to be my favorite band, year after year. Karin's voice gets better and better, and the songs grow richer and richer. But there was something magical about the early years, and fans like me who remember the band in the early 90s were delighted with the concept of this concert: For their 20th Anniversary, the band would play back-to-back concerts on two evenings, each concert focusing on a different decade. The first night... Play the old songs, from 1991's Till We Have Faces, 1992's Patience, 1994's Eve and 1996's Good Dog Bad Dog. And bring back the band. Or, more specifically, bring back Ric Hordinski to rock the electric guitar. And they recorded it and released it for us. It's a treasure.

7) Middle Cyclone - Neko Case Her voice is a howling tornado. Killer songs and terrific production. Wild lyrics. It's the perfect storm.

8) Stockholm Syndrome - Derek Webb The ever-controversial Derek Webb stirs it up again with the song "What Matters More." I loved following his Tweets and trying to figure it all out. (Great article here.) My favorite album of 2009.

9) The Fray - The Fray I've been surprised by how much I like this record. Would I have ever even purchased it were it not for my Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon connection to them? (Drummer Ben Wysocki grew up in an Evangelical Covenant church. He is the brother of my friend Angie Wysocki and a good friend of my good friend David Greco.) I just don't know. But I can't deny that I listened to this record this year. A lot. And loved it.

10) The Long Play - Sam Phillips I love the music, and I love the idea. Over the years, Sam has been one of my favorite artists, so I jumped when the opportunity became available to "subscribe" for a year to her creative process. $52 bought me 5 digital EPs, released every two months; a full-length digital album scheduled for release in the fall of 2010; a "subscribers-only" bonus track with each EP and album, plus additional bonus tracks throughout the year; bonus audio and video content throughout the year and "may include" live concert footage, rehearsal tapes, demos, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, etc.

 PLUS there's message boards, etc. where Sam interacts with her fans. There have been two EPs released so far... one, a collection of songs performed with The Section Quartet and the other, a collection of Christmas songs. Haunting and intimate. This is cool.

11) Written in Chalk - Buddy & Julie Miller At long last, the sequel to the first brilliant "duo" record, 2001's "Buddy & Julie Miller." Authentic, raw, earthy, spiritual, fragile and tough all at the same time.

Yes, I know it's eleven. But, technically, Sam Phillips's album isn't really an "album" per se. That's my excuse anyway.

Honorable Mentions:

2020 - The Orange Peels
Balm in Gilead - Rickie Lee Jones
Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King - Dave Matthews Band
Church Music - David Crowder*Band
Glory in the Highest: Christmas Songs of Worship - Chris Tomlin
Hundreds of Lions - Erin McKeown
Life Light Up - Christy Nockels
No Line on the Horizon - U2
Poseidon and the Bitter Bug - Indigo Girls
Soul of My Soul - Michelle Shocked
Troubadour - K'Naan
Wilco (The Album) - Wilco

How about you? What's your favorite music from the past year?

Tomorrow: My top ten of the decade.
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