Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The "Soul" in Music Pt.2 -Connection

As I mentioned before "Soul" in music is not so much about the style of the music. In this blogging I'd like to discuss another element of soul which is the ability of an artist to connect with the listeners. The connection factor of music is always easier to discern in live music. I've heard pleanty of "Soulful" artist live that were not able to capture that connection with the listener on their recordings either because they produced the thing to death or because of the very unatural proccess of recording a song as a fixed copy. For instance I saw Keb' Mo' live one time at the House of Blues in New Orleans. It was one of the best shows I'd seen. It was simply Keb Mo and a guy playing a little rhythm guitar for him and he freakin rocked the house. The connection with the crowd of 1,000 + people in the club was amazing. It's hard for any solo artist with an acoustic guitar to connect with a large group of people but he had the place jumpin, clappin, and singing along. I promptly went out and bought several Keb Mo albums. Though the guy is a killer songwriter and performer I was a bit dissapointed that the connection that was in the House of Blues was diminished on the CDs. They were still good but live he was amazing.

A friend of mine Ryan Delmore came out with a CD a year or so ago called Devotion. I remember when I first met him he told me about his CD. He just said it was a simple CD of some songs and that he hadn't got to add much in the way of drums and so the songs were pretty sparse on production. Well I got the CD and it had the goods. It had soul in the connection sense. Sure it wasn't polished perfect but it had connection. When you listen to it you're drawn in to what he's saying. Your not wowed by production tricks and cool guitar effects, but you're very connected. That's where his CD really succeeds.

I'm reminded of a recent interview with Brian Eno in Mix magazine. Eno was talking about the temptation of musicians these days to use technology as a bit of a crutch. He talked of a band that added some thirty tracks of belles and wistles to the instrumental section of a song when in reality they just had a week chorus. The song didn't need more tracks of music it needed work in the writing.

The reality is that good songs connect with people even when they are done simply (particularly when they are done simply).
My band has covered a lot of U2 songs and I often pull out U2 songs on solo gigs. We never try to play the songs like U2 because well we're not U2. The thing is that a U2 song doesn't need Edge's chiming delayed guitars, Bono's rockstar antics, and Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton's groove to work (though they do work very well that way). They work as acoustic songs because they are written well. The songs are full of soul. They connect whether U2 is playing them in front of 200,000 people or I'm covering them at a coffee shop with 10 patrons. U2 writes songs with connecting with people in mind and that element of soul comes through everything they do.

More to Come

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Not So Spiritual, Spiritual Thing

I was talking to my grandmother on the phone today. She mentioned to me a conversation she had with a friend of hers about me. She told her friend that since the hurricane I had been doing alot of cooking for the relief work that our church has been involved in. Her friend told her that they need to find somebody else to do the cooking so I could focus on more spiritual things. I told my grandmother that in south Louisiana cooking is a spiritual thing. She laughed and said she would pass the message on to her friend.

Though what I said to my grandmother was lighthearted I was in fact serious about cooking being a spiritual thing. It's not that the barbeque pits get me closer to God or that the smoke from the mesquite and hickory is some kind of incense. It's just that the experience of God is still available and perhaps more so to me because there are less distractions than when I am in an office.

Over the last few years I have really changed my line of thinking on spirituality. So much of modern western Christianity has been subtly and not so subtly colored and influenced by a kind of gnosticism which advances the idea that anything physical is evil while the spiritual is good and pure. Following this line of thought if you're a serious Christian then you will fill your life with more and more spiritual things and make less room for the physical realm. But the truth is that God created us with physical bodies capable of enjoying the very creation around us - everything from music and poetry to sunsets and sex. Sure our world is marred by the scars and curse of sin, but God is not looking to destroy humanity's humaness. On the contrary he is looking to restore it.

Jesus came as God in human flesh. He wasn't just some ghost or positive force. He was flesh and blood, comepletly God and completly man. And as our risen lord on Easter morning he was the firstborn of reconciled creation. When the disciples encountered him after the ressurection they didn't encounter a ghost but a human. Thomas touched the holes in his hands. He cooked fish and bread and ate with his disciples. I've often heard the saying "You're so heavenly minded that your no earthly good." Well I think this saying is true of much of the church in recent history. I include myself in that number but say that I am recovering as any other addicted person recovers. Recovering because the spiritual escape seems so right so often. I feel at times like Peter must have felt on the mountain of Jesus' transfiguration. Peter wanted nothing more than to stay in that wonderful place of God's presence. He was ready to live up there and Jesus said "no it's time to go back down." Jesus wasn't trying to be cruel to Peter because Peter was made to engage the world not to hide away in some spiritual ecstacy. And so we see Jesus down from the mountain top doing a whole lot of supernatural and natural things - eating, healing, drinking, resting, bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. Jesus showed us a way to live that wasn't afraid of the world of men and all of their messes. He engaged the drunk, the margenalized, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the religious elite and the down and out lepers. Why should it be any different for us his followers.

As we are overcome by the love and redemption of God we in turn love and bring the redemtion of God to the fallen world around us. We can see with eyes that enjoy the wonderful beauty of God's creation about us. We become engaged because we realize that humanity's original purpose is now restored and that we are to steward the creation around us. We are not waiting to escape to the sweet by and by. On the contrary we are here to be as Jesus - redeemers of the broken and reconcilers of the estranged.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The "Soul" in Music Pt.1

I want to address the often misunderstood element in music of soul. The term "soul" has often been used to refer to a style of singing that arose from Blues, R&B, and Gospel. I would say that "Soulful" quality of music is much larger than that though. I have heard much in the way of gospel, blues, and r&b that I would say is the style of soulful singing but lacks the soul of soul if that makes sense. For instance, take someone like Mariah Carey. She can certainly sing in a soulful way but her music lacks a real depth and conection with other's souls which to me is more fundamental than the style of "soul". On the other hand take a listen to Bob Dylan. Bob has never been credited with having a great voice but the dude's definately got soul. His songs say something, something that he believes, something that arises from the inside. There is an authenticity to Bob Dylan's music. Even when he plays the harmonica it's got soul. Sure there are harp players that run circles around him but he plays it from deep within. "Soul" is that quality of authenticity, depth, conviction, and conection with others through music. I think "Soul" became associated with more African American styles of music because the older blues, gospel, r&b, and soul music was definately connected with life experience, full of depth and passion. Those singers are just good at their turns and vocal chops aren't soulful if their singing is disconected from their inner being, their exeperience and conecting with others.

More to Come

Friday, April 14, 2006

School of Barbeque and Grilling

Since Katrina I have been getting an experiential schooling in the art or barbeque and grilling. The months of relief work, outreach, and hosting teams have given me a test audience to experiment with a variety of techniques and recipes. I've spent a the majority of time on trying to attain the illusive perfect brisket. While I haven't attained it yet, I 've gradually come to a point of consistently good briskets. There is always room for improvement but now it's time to turn my attention to one of the other greats for barbeque - ribs. This afternoon i will attempt my first batch of baby back ribs with my comrade of the culinary arts Phil Schisler. I will let you know of my progress or lack of progress.

Speaking of grilling, I made a bit of a hybrid dish today that was quite good. As the saying goes neccessity is the mother of invention. I wanted to cook up some lunch for me and my boy today. I was going to grill some burgers but I realized that I had no burger buns however I had no shortage of flour tortillas and ground meat. So the result was the burgerito.

I started by making some patties out of some lean ground meat and coating them in a generous ammount of granulated garlic and fresh ground black pepper with a dash of salt. Then I put the patties out on the grill, turning them after about 5 minutes. After I turned them I took 2 large flour tortillas and in one put some slices of pepper jack cheese (for mine) and American cheese in the other for my son. I placed the tortillas on the second level grill for about a minute each to melt the cheese and give a slightly crispy edge to the tortillas. By about that time the burgers were done. I took the burgers and placed them on the tortillas with melted cheese. On mine I added a little bit of barbeque sauce and then rolled it up and ate it. I found that the flavor of the meat really came through better than with a bun. There was also quite a bit more room for extra stuff which would make a typical burger hard to get your mouth around. There was pleanty of room for extra stuff like lettuce, tomatoes, pickles etc. Though i didn't have any green chiles on hand I suspect that a burgerito with pepperjack cheese, a spoon or two of black beans and some green chiles (or pico de gallo) would be quite nice. I suspect I'll pursue this recipe further.

Well it's about time to go cook some ribs.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Organic Cotton

The other day I was making groceries at Sams when I came across organic cotton socks. Now my wife is on a pretty strcit vegetarian diet so I'm very familiar with organic food and the reasons for buying organic food. I would like somebody to let me know the benefits of buying socks made from organic cotton. If you ain't going to eat the stuff then why would pesticides matter? But hey why not, they have organic shampoo and everything else. If it's not organic it has some kind of chipoltle sauce in it these days. i guess it's just the fad marketing gimmic of the day.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Roots of Music

Some time last year I watched the Martin Scorsesie documentary on the Blues. What was interesting to me was the attention they brought to the chasm that existed between gospel and blues music. To many Christians in the south the Blues was the devil's music. It came to be associated with voodoo, sex, and low morality. I thought it was interesting to me because the jump from blues to black gospel was never very far in my mind. In fact I think that much of what has been said in blues music has been more honest and more earthy than in many other forms of music. As I've grown older I've come to have a much deeper appreciation for roots music. I also have come to see that blues, gospel, and country music have much more in common than we normally think. I guess this is one reason why the music I write is so all over the place because the bounds that have traditionally been placed there around genres aren't as obvious to me. For example yesterday Micah, and Ben and I were practicing for some upcoming gigs and i pulled out a song called At The Crossroads that I wrote about 3 and a half years ago. Originally i recorded the song as a bit of an appalachian bluegrass type of a song in the vein of say the Oh Brother Where Art Though soundtrack. As we practiced the song and everything took shape, I would say that it had some very noticable elements of blues, gospel, and bluegrass in it but with a little more sauce on it being that it is approached in almost a rockabilly manner. All that to say that the song just seemed right that way. It's not a matter of trying to mix all of these things together but just that I love all of these rootsy styles of music and they seem to mix naturally to me.

It's kind of like alot of the food that I like. There's a local chain of restaurants in New Orleans called Zeas. My favorite dinner there would be Thai Ribs with a side of Roasted Corn Grits, and Red Beans. Who would have thought that you could make Thai Ribs, much less serve them with grits and red beans, but it works some kind of well. Sure I love alot of modern music but the more I make my journey through music the more I develope a love for the roots of music and the more I see the connections in it. Roots music reminds me of the place where music should come from. The old blues, and gospel, and spirituals, and blue grass and so on was music written not to sell albums, but to deal with life in all of its pain and joy. Right now I'm listening to an album by Mississippi Fred McDowell called Amazing Grace. This album is a beautiful mixture of gospel spirituals and delta blues. Sure the recording is pretty rough but the music is authentic and honest. It would do musicians a lot of good to frequently visit redcordings like this.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


This afternoon I'm watching some real quality Sunday afternoon movie on WGN when I notice that my remote control has gone missing. In the middle of this movie I start into a mild panic of trying to find it again. I didn't need it at the time because it wasn't a commercial break but I was commpelled to track it down. Well some ten minutes later I found that spot underneath my couch where it had slipped. It occured to me how rediculous missing the movie to find the remote control was. I think it has something to do with keeping my options open. I suffer from the very American compulsion to have a choice. What's sad is that I see this same tendency in my little boy. After he woke up from his nap I asked him if he wanted to eat. Then I asked him what he wanted and spent the next five minutes going over culinary options from hot dogs with cheese and ketchup, to pb&j with my two year old. He seems to enjoy having choices as well, even if he's not altogether good at making them. It struck me that a two-year old in more than half the countries on earth right now would not likely ever be faced with this oportunity to choose. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing but it's definately a very American problem.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Back in the Big Easy - My Return to The Neutral Ground

Here's some pics from my gig at The Neutral Ground Coffee House, New Orleans. Though Neutral Ground was a steady gig for me pre-katrina this is my first time back there since August of 05. Micah joined me on the gig and Doug Anderson also joined me on a blues song that we co-wrote about 2 months ago.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Check out this link to a story of a church using U2 songs in place of hymns to atract new people:


While I love U2 and the church and have even done some U2 songs in the church this whole strategy is a bit precarious to me. It's as if they are trying to legitimize Jesus with Bono. I can see using a U2 song now and then in worship, or to iluustrate something in a church service but making a weekely service that does U2 songs exclusively is a bit creepy even to me. And what of the person that comes to church for the first time in years just because they are going to play a U2 CD at the begining of the service. It seems to me that a church is getting pretty desparate and insecure to serious adopt this type of strategy but hey that's just me.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Rediscovering Some Older Albums

I recently became a bit sentimental for some of the music I listened to back in high school or shortly there after. It's kind of funny when you listen to something for the first time in say 15 years how it hits you. For instance I bought the self-titled CD by the Arc Angels on Itunes the other day and it still rocks after all these years. For those of you who have never heard of the Arc Angels they were a band that consisted of the rhythm section from Stevie Ray Vaughan's band Double Trouble fronted by Doyle Bramhall and Charlie Sexton. The album is smokin good. It's abit southern rock and Texas blues which, in my opinion, makes for a tasty mixture. Back when I first bought the Arc Angel album (on casette) I really liked it but I have much more of an appreciation for it now. Part of this would be due to the fact that back then I didn't play guitar and now I'm at least trying.

Another album I picked up from Itunes was Naked by the Talking Heads. David Byrne, the lead singer and visionary of the Talking Heads was one of my earliest musical influences. This was due in part to his strangness because I was very into being different at the time ( that was the thing to do in the mid to late 80's). David Byrne turned me on to Brazillian music and along with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel exposed me to the wonderful sounds of afro-pop. Naked is one of those albums that is filled with afro carribean rhythms and melodies. Sure it's not lacking of Byrnes peculiar lyrics. Thought this was the Talking Heads' last album it finds them going out on top. I really love the song Nothing But Flowers. I am really trying to work out a cover of that one for my next gig. It's kind of the oposite of most environmental protest songs where Byrne sings about a world that "used to be real estates now it's only fields and trees, where where have they gone now, it's nothing but flowers...the highways and cars were sacrificed for agriculture, I thought we'd start all over but i guess I was wrong..."

So these are two classics that I recommend you check out.