Monday, October 27, 2008


There are those times when jogger's high overtakes you and you don't realize how tired you are until you stop running. Rewind to this past Friday at the V Cafe, at the CD PRE-Release show for Old Skin Horse. After I got through the obligatory stomach butterflies that always seem to happen when things are bound to get interesting, I think I (along with the cavalcade of monstrous talent behind me) put more energy into those songs than I ever have before. The line-up went thus:

Michael Dean - bass, accordion
Ethan Norman - acoustic, vocals
Andy Vandergriff - acoustic, vocals
Bill Van Vleet - drums
Jim Walker - lead electric
David Whipple - trumpet
+me on acoustic, electric, and vocals

David Van Buskirk plowed in from Nashville and opened the whole show for us. His fu manchu left us in awe (and made me think he looked like a younger incarnation of my uncle, Steve), and I was humbled to meet someone who had given so much for the Kingdom of God. I would retell those stories I heard, but justice would not be done if I did so. You shall have to sit down with him and ask him about Africa and bicycles.

The second block of the night was given to Ethan and Michael playing Ethan's tunes while the lovely Carla Huxtable (yep, you read that right) sang back-up with the imposing amount of gumption it takes to do that when you're not accustomed to it (as she is not). I was glad to have the opportunity to sit back and hear those songs through fresh ears and from afar. Not that Ethan and I have played together for eons, but it's easy to fall prey to the habits of old guitar parts when new ones might be the direction that the song wants to go. If it takes on a life of its own (and we hope it does), then playing stagnant riffs is like adding poison to the water. It was good to see those songs take on life.

As for my set, I've never heard Song for Dogs with so much energy. For that matter, I haven't heard any of those songs with so much energy. But you'll have to come to the next show to see that sort of thing happen, because I'm a little too lethargic to eloquently expound on anything right now, and I'm going to bed.

And, by the way, Old Skin Horse comes out on iTunes on November the 1st. So go download it and drink it in.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"You will be hated..."

Book Review: Churched

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to think, since I often judge a book by its cover, no matter the well-rooted maxims that seem to run in our mothers’ milk in the South. The press quote by A. J. Jacobs, editor of Esquire magazine, is what gave me a small and materialistic sense of faith in the book. Let the proviso of your readership, however, be that my own apprehension is no reason to avoid something as harmless and potentially life-altering as a book.

Matthew Paul Turner, the author of the famous book The Coffehouse Gospel, keeps his tongue crammed well into his cheek from the get-go in Churched. Throughout the book, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for him to give some sense of context to balance out the slight bitterness to the subsumed chuckle that runs the length of the pages. I’m not sure that it came in the way that I wanted it to – spelled out in legalistic fashion, that is. The context of his banteringly down-to-earth satire is instead found in the certain warmth you feel for the entire cast of characters in his memoir, despite their cornucopia of silly flaws. The best part about this whole read is that Turner taps into the strange and warring sensations and emotions that children (or adults, for that matter) who are brought up in church are faced with. This goes double for folks who have grown up Baptist. Triple for Southern Baptist. Triple for me. For the record, I don’t think that it was an accident for me to read this book at this particular chapter in my life.

Perhaps the wondrous effect of being able to laugh from a safe ink-and-pages distance at the absurd fears of the adults around the childhood vintage of Matthew Paul Turner is that we can walk out onto the street afterwards and laugh a little easier at our own religious nervous tics and those of our nearest neighbors. The polite and slightly neurotic chuckles that we often purport as being legitimate peel back a bit to reveal a true sense of being alright in our own skins, and we get to really laugh at the nonsensical bits, which are certainly manifold. Anyone who has been burned by the misguided fires of religiosity can take a second to share in this, and those same folks would probably do well, while reading, to imagine themselves in a circle of chairs in a taupe-colored room with a ficus plant, saying things like, “Hi, my name is Adam, and I can’t stand the feel of clip-on ties.”

Oh, and by the way, the other shoe does drop in the end, with the great weight that only a crazy sense of hope can have.

          -Matthew Paul Turner:  Official Website

-Churched on

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Whistler 'Neath the Tree

Ethan and I loaded up a fifteen-passenger van last Friday with enough sound equipment to satisfy a hungry Bruce Springsteen booking agent. Then, with a PCA logo emblazoned on the side, we trekked out to the John Knox Center past Kingston to play music for a middle school retreat. Heaven help us when we do these things, for we inevitably become the de facto coolest people around for the weekend.

All told, I rarely get the opportunity to look cool playing electric. It's probably a good thing. I think that it was really just a blessing to be a blessing to people. I definitely enjoyed the lack of responsibility beyond setting up, breaking down, and playing. Past that, we got to spend quality time with Kim and Donovan (that is, the speaker and her jovial husband), watch the Canadian geese take off like a fleet of winged trombones and belly-flop into the waters of Watts Bar Lake, watch the moon chase the sun down the Western skyline and blush with the hue of a deep flame, and drink gallons upon gallons of mint tea. For me, I think that the highlight was probably playing Vespers for the two nights that we were there. Friday night, after everyone else had gone to bed, I took the tin whistle and stood down on the dock beneath a merrily flung Milky Way full of shooting stars. I played a couple of hymns that tolled across the inlets of the lake while mysterious splashes from tiny Leviathans dotted the shallows.

Saturday night, a passel of folks went with me. We walked a trail along the edge of the lake to the aptly named Vesper Point and stood on the ramparts of a stone wall beneath a weeping willow while I played more hymns and a little improvisational prayer. Beyond the sound of the whistle, there was nothing but quiet. It was the first time in the whole weekend when nobody spoke. Our very silence was the holiest prayer we could have offered. Kudos to Ethan, Adam, and Josh for making the weekend one of brotherhood as well.

Next Friday, if you happen to be in Berea, Kentucky, you should stop by Ground Effects and give ear as Ethan and I play our show there. If you get there late, we might play another show just for you. Wouldn't be the first time, and we don't mind.