Category Archive: Music

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September 9, 2006

The Latest from U2?

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Here is … well, it’s the latest, um, U2 video … with some surprising guests.  This is U2 as you’ve never seen them before.  Enjoy! [HT: Jeffrey Overstreet]

Posted by John Barach @ 4:00 am | Discuss (2)
June 14, 2006

Best Songwriters

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Paste Magazine presents its list of the 100 best living songwriters, with some discussion of #81-90 and #91-100. (Comments on the rest of the list will be posted in the next few weeks, I suppose. Or you could just buy the magazine, which strikes me as the best non-jazz and non-classical music magazine out there.)

So, those of you who love good pop and alternative and country and whatnot, what do you think of the list?

Myself, I can think of several great songwriters who got missed, Mark Knopfler being high on that list. I’d want to add Roy Orbison (“In Dreams” is unsurpassed), Joe Henry (“Stop” is brilliant), and perhaps Tonio K. I also don’t think I would have put Bob Dylan at the very top of the list. I like him, but….

Posted by John Barach @ 4:46 pm | Discuss (0)
April 13, 2006

James Hunter

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This afternoon, while switching channels on the radio, I came across an interview with James Hunter. I’d never heard anything by him before, but I liked what I heard. If you go to his webpage, you can hear bits of the songs on his latest CD, People Gonna Talk.

The influences of Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson are obvious, to say nothing of Van Morrison, with whom Hunter has toured, but there are traces of ska and some other influences as well.


Posted by John Barach @ 1:57 am | Discuss (0)
April 6, 2006

Old Music

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I took along several of my old cassettes to listen to on the drive from Grande Prairie to Medford. Many of them, I hadn’t heard in over ten years, so I wanted to see if I still liked them.

I found that Terry Scott Taylor’s A Briefing for the Ascent was still great, even after all this time. (I notice that this page has annotations for all the songs!)

Daniel Lanois’ first album, Acadie is an eclectic blend of styles, all with the Lanois atmosphere I first heard on U2’s The Unforgettable Fire, and I enjoyed it on this listen as much as I did when I first heard it.

Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine is still gripping nighttime listening.

Los Lobos’ Will the Wolf Survive? is still fun.

The 77s’ self-titled album was still good, though not quite as good as I’d remembered.

Love and War by Robert Vaughn and the Shadows was still interesting, but … a bit too much the same throughout and altogether too bombastic.

There was a time when (I must confess) I used to love Resurrection Band, enough that I went to JPUSA in Chicago when I was around 18. On this trip, I fastforwarded through Colors and Mommy Don’t Love Daddy Anymore, listening to at least a bit of each song. The only ones I could really stand on this listen were “The Struggle” from Colors and “The Chair,” “The Crossing,” and “Mommy Don’t Love Daddy Anymore” from the album of that name.

I also have to admit that R. E. M.’s Document, which I loved when I first heard it, grates on me now.

But the real soundtrack for our move, the music we listened to over and over and over again, starting with my trip to the border to get my work permit and continuing throughout our packing, was the glorious singing of Lizz Wright on Salt, her first album, and Dreaming Wide Awake, her second.

Favourites? “Salt,” “Fire,” and “Stop,” but as soon as I list them I realize there are more that I like. She has an amazing voice, and I’d listen to her sing almost anything. Thanks, Jeff Overstreet, for recommending her!

Posted by John Barach @ 3:40 pm | Discuss (0)
September 22, 2005


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I’ve enjoyed U2’s music since about 1986, when I first heard it playing on Bruce Agla’s stereo in the gym at Peace River Bible Institute. I recall that I borrowed a friend’s copy of October and listened to it repeatedly, and I remember the thrill of buying The Joshua Tree when it first came out and taking it home to listen to with some friends.

I didn’t listen to U2 much after Achtung Baby. At the time, their music didn’t appeal to me anymore. Probably I wanted them to keep playing The Joshua Tree over and over again. It’s likely that I found their antics subsequent to Achtung over the top and more than a little strange. But finally, after hearing a few songs from All That You Can’t Leave Behind I succumbed, bought that CD, as well as the two previous ones, and found I enjoyed them.

On a whim a few weeks back, I picked up a copy of Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas from the library and read it. Rock star interviews aren’t part of my usual reading, but I thoroughly enjoyed these ones. Reading them is like getting to know Bono as a friend, and now that I’ve finished the book I have to say that my respect for Bono has grown immensely. It would be great to sit in a pub, drink stout, and chat with him.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:23 pm | Discuss (0)
December 16, 2004

Poet & Finder

Category: Literature,Music :: Link :: Print

Most medieval poetry is a reworking of older poems and stories and themes, and to many modern readers that sort of poetry might seem less than fully authentic or creative. Hearing that this poem by Chaucer is a rewrite of that story by Boccaccio sounds to our ears like someone saying that this movie is a remake of that one.

“Why don’t they come up with something new?” we might ask. “Why do a rehash of something that’s already been done — especially if it’s already been done well?” Would you want to watch a remake of Casablanca?

C. S. Lewis, commenting on the poetry of John Gower, responds:

Here, as everywhere in medieval literature, we must try to repress our modern conception of the poet as the sole source of his poetry: we must think more of the intrinsic and impersonal beauty or ugliness of matters, plots, and sentiments which retain their own living continuity as they pass from writer to writer. Trouvere as well as maker is the name for a poet (The Allegory of Love 209).

To put Lewis’s point another way (and without using the word “impersonal” which I don’t think gets it quite right): the medieval approach to the older poems and stories and themes was much like the approach jazz musicians take to the standards. There are probably hundreds of versions of “It Had To Be You” or “You Don’t Know What Love Is” or “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

But musicians keep doing those songs. Some versions are better than others, of course. Some sound very close to the original (which is not the same as saying that they are better); others are pretty far out (which is not the same as saying that they are worse). But all of them share the basic melody in common. All are recognizable as variations on the old original tune.

Does that make them mere rehashes of old stuff? If there’s already a good version of “When I Fall In Love,” do we need another one? Of course we do. It may even be better than the original.

There are jazz musicians who think it’s beneath them — a lack of authenticity or creativity — to play the standards. But they’re wrong.

And what is true of jazz is true also, Lewis claims, of poetry. Good stories are worth retelling. Good poets aren’t just poets who invent something new; a good poet may also be a trouvere, a troubadour, a finder who sings the old songs and who does so in a way that is beautiful, creative, and new.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:07 pm | Discuss (0)
March 10, 2004

Le Voix Baroques

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It’s not every week that Grande Prairie gets two great concerts. But this week is an exception. Last night, I heard the Vancouver Chamber Choir. Tonight, I got to hear Le Voix Baroques, a three-piece chamber ensemble featuring Grande Prairie’s own Chloe Meyers on baroque violin, Amanda Keesmaat on baroque cello, and Marie Bouchard on harpsichord. They’re touring with a soprano, Shannon Mercer.

Le Voix Baroques, as their blurb announces, is “dedicated to historically informed performances and recordings of unexplored 17th and 18th century repertoire for voice and instruments.” Their recent CD Elegiae won th Cannes International Classical Music Award.

They began tonight’s performance in Italy with Dario Castello’s Sonata Ottava, followed by three pieces by Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce e il tormento, Maledetto sia l’aspetto, and a piece apparently inspired by Psalm 150 and possibly titled Laudate domino in sanctis. The Italian set closed with Antonio Bertali’s Ciaccona.

From Italy, we moved to England for Handel’s War, He Sung, Is Toil and Trouble from the oratorio Alexander’s Feast (as is typical for Le Voix Baroques, this isn’t one of the Handel songs most people know). Then, after Henry Purcell’s Plaint from The Fairy Queen, they performed three traditional English songs, A Trip to the Boar (I think), Allie Crocker (I think), and The Prickeli Bush (I’m sure; and no, that’s not a typo).

After a short intermission, Marie Bouchard, the harpsichordist, returned for a brief lesson on the harpsichord and a performance of Rameau’s Le Vezinet. She was joined by the rest of the ensemble for Marin Marais’s Sonnerie de Ste. Genevieve du Mont du Paris and, with Shannon Mercer joining in on vocals, some excerpts from Louis Nicholas Clerambault’s opera Orphee. As you’ve guessed, that set was from France.

The final set, of course, was from German composers, starting with Chloe Meyer’s favourite, Johann H. Schmelzer, represented here by his Sonata Quarta. It was followed by a piece from a cantata by Bach. During the introduction, I thought I heard that this piece was from Cantata 30, but the opening words sounded a lot like “Hort, irh Volker,” which would be Cantata 76, No. 3. (I know that only from the program). The final piece was Reinhard Keiser’s Cara luci from his opera Masaniello Furioso.

The concert was delightful and quite instructive. The performers took the time to explain why they play strictly the original baroque instruments instead of more modern steel-stringed instruments. They also explained some of their technique. In Bertali’s Ciaccona, for instance, the continuo plays the same ground bass 185 (or so) times, while the violin soars above and the harpsichord, still part of that continuo, varies the chords from time to time.

It was an evening well spent. And when I emerged from St. Paul’s United Church one of the first things I saw was a magnificent display of northern lights rippling across the sky from northwest to northeast. Glorious!

Posted by John Barach @ 12:19 pm | Discuss (0)
March 9, 2004

Vancouver Chamber Choir

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Tonight, after supper with James (whose blog I don’t know the link for yet), Alex, and Calvin, I went (with James) to hear the Vancouver Chamber Choir, which is reputed to be the best professional vocal ensemble in Canada.

The concert opened with Buxtehude’s Missa Brevis, a Lutheran mass which was beautifully performed though perhaps somewhat heavy as an opener. It was followed by Brahms’s Shaffe in mir, Gott, a rendition of the first part of Psalm 51, which ended with a delightful and unexpected fugue, signifying (I suspect) the answer to the prayer “und der freudige Geist erhalte mich” (“Let Thy spirit of joy come over me”).

Next, the choir sang Healey Willan’s Behold the Tabernacle of God. Willan was Canada’s first great composer, and much of his work was written for liturgical use. This piece was written in 1934. I had never heard any of Willan’s music before, but I quite enjoyed this piece and so I picked up the Choir’s recording of many of Willan’s works: An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts.

From Canada in the 20th century, the Choir moved to Russia in the 19th and sang Tchaikovsky’s Otche Nash, a beautiful rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. They then returned to Canada for Stephen Chatman’s Two Rossetti Songs, a setting of “Song and Music” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and “Remember” by Christina Rossetti, before closing their first set with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s rather complex Three Shakespeare Songs (“Full Fathom Five,” “The Cloud-Capp’d Towers,” and “Over Hill, Over Dale”).

After the intermission, the Choir started its second set with four Nordic songs: Hugo Alfven’s Aftonen, Matti Hyekki’s On suri sun rantas’ autius (what an odd and interesting and very un-Germanic language Finnish is!), HafliÄ‘i Hallgrimsson’s Nú vil ég enn í nafni ţínu, and Niels Gade’s Morgensang. I enjoyed all four. But the next two songs I didn’t care for. R. Murray Schafer’s Felix’s Girls was a loose collection of short songs based on poems by Henry Felix, a Polish-Jewish poet. It was stylistically challenging, but both the content and the music left me cold. Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine was better, but shared what seems to be the shapelessness of much modern “classical” music.

With Jon Washburn’s Balm in Gilead, the Choir returned to more accessible material. Washburn is the Choir’s director. This piece was based on a traditional spiritual, and it was fairly enjoyable, though (to my ear) a bit meandering. I would have preferred it to have more punch (as the second stanza’s baritone solo did). The concert ended with Bob Chilcott’s The Runner, a fairly engaging piece based on a Walt Whitman poem. For the encore, the Choir sang a Cuban song, whose title and composer weren’t mentioned.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening, though I much preferred the first half of the program to the second.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:50 am | Discuss (0)
September 17, 2003


Category: Music,Updates :: Link :: Print

On Monday evening, the music group I sing with began its new season. I joined Jubilate earlier this year (in March, I think) and scrambled to learn a couple Arcadelt madrigals and a piece by John Rutter. After taking the summer off, we’re now back to practicing. There are six of us, two sopranos, two altos, a tenor, and a baritone (me).

We have several performances lined up already, some more tentatively than others. The first is at the Gala Concert on October 18, which is only a month away. And, since it’s the Year of the Baroque here in Grande Prairie and since we haven’t learned any baroque pieces yet (the madrigals were renaissance), we have to find a good baroque piece and learn it fast! Any recommendations, preferably with a fairly straightforward bass line?

Posted by John Barach @ 12:07 pm | Discuss (0)
April 22, 2003

The Minor Themes

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Here’s a snippet from James Jordan’s “Biblical Perspectives on the Arts” (Biblical Educator 4.1). It was written in 1982 and I don’t know if Jim would put it the same way today, but I thought it was worth passing on:

Francis Schaeffer, in his fine booklet Art and the Bible (Intervarsity), mentions what he calls the major and the minor themes in Christian art. The minor themes are sin, depravity, ugliness, and the like. The major themes are salvation, righteousness, beauty, and the like. Because Christian fine arts are realistic, they deal with the minor themes, but they show the triumph of the major themes. This need not be true in each and every piece of art, but will be the message of the corpus of an artist’s work as a whole….Because fine arts often deal with the minor themes as well as the major ones, fine arts are not always “beautiful.” To bring across the horror of sin, the fine arts sometimes present what we might call “anti-beauty,” but the overall tendency is to create a fuller beauty as the ultimate goal.

Tolkein has put it very well in the opening passages of the Silmarillion. Satan abstracts one small set of notes from the great hymn of the angels, and harps only on them; but God is able to turn this dissonance into a new tragic melody, which eventually works its way back into the hymn, and the last beauty is greater than the first.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:55 pm | Discuss (0)
April 18, 2003

Lenten Music

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During this past week, I have been listening to appropriate music: Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion and Arvo Part’s Passio (short, of course, for Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Johannes: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John).

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be listening to John Taverner’s Lamentations and Praises, fitting music for Good Friday and Holy Saturday. I realize I quoted these lines last year at this time, but I’ll quote them again:

In a grave they laid You,
O my Life and my Christ;
and the armies of the angels were sore amazed
as they sang the praise of Your submissive love.Right it is indeed, life-bestowing Lord,
to magnify You;
for upon the Cross
were Your most-pure hands outspread,
and the strength of our dread foe
have You destroyed.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:51 pm | Discuss (0)
August 27, 2002

T Bone on Music

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T Bone Burnett was slated to be the keynote speaker for the International Bluegrass Musicians Association recently. He wasn’t able to make it, so he had someone else read his speech for him. The speech is partly about O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but along the way, he talks about the music industry (quoting Larry Poons: “We live in an age of music for people who don’t like music”), “rock and roll” (a phrase that goes back to the late nineteenth century, he says, and used to include what we’d call swing and bluegrass and country and some other styles of music, too), what makes for good banjo playing, and what went wrong with country music. He says,

To me, however, the interesting thing about the sound of O Brother is not, as many have accurately remarked, that it is true to the sound of that period. The interesting thing is that it sounds so completely modern. It has high fidelity. Fidelity to what was happening in the room when the singers and players were singing and playing all at once. All of this is to say that by the grace of God and the Coen Brothers, people are once again listening to other people play and sing music.

I note that T Bone has teamed up with the Coen Brothers to form DMZ Records (with Bono from U2, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and others on the board). In this press release, T Bone describes DMZ as a “musician-centered label,” and says, “We’re not going to concentrate solely on traditional American music. We’re going to do music that is good, music that will become traditional American music.”

They’ve just released a CD by the 75 year old mountain musician Ralph Stanley, who sang the haunting “O Death” in O Brother. “We’re going to have a 75-year-old rock star,” T Bone says here. Almost makes me want to listen to some bluegrass. Almost? Well, actually, it does.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:03 pm | Discuss (0)

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