Archive for December, 2007

For most of us, Enya didn’t so much introduce us to a new kind of music. It felt more like she invented a genre and then invited us to listen in.

This anthology of sixteen of her hits is appropriately headed by the beguiling ‘Orinoco Flow’, the piece that first caught the public’s attention and remains a compelling, joyous ode in a Celtic-tradition-in-variant-form sort of way. (more…)


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The books of Micah and Isaiah co-host a vision of nations thronging Jerusalem in anticipation of finding there divine instruction. In consequence, YHWH shall ‘reprove between nation and nation’, a judicial intervention that induces previously bellicose peoples to ‘beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks’.

So does Jerusalem/Zion stand in as the inspiring destination of a polyglot mass who can scarcely in the moment the vision was spoken have been imagined to participate in such pilgrimage. The highways to Jerusalem will be clogged with both Jews and Gentiles in this act of prophetic imagination. (more…)

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It is difficult for this amateur music appreciator to imagine a more intimate art music experience than to see and hear (or, if necessary, simply to hear) chamber music played by a quartet as passionate and expert as the Takacs. I first encountered this ensemble in Indianapolis in a concert hall that by its very physical parameters requires an intimate experience. (more…)

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It’s hard to establish where exactly we are these days with regard to learning the biblical languages. On the hand poisonous trends like the cult of relevancy afflict our university and seminary curricula, reducing them to what someone considers ‘practical’ with no attention to historical depth, the damning pace of change, and epistemological humility. More benign trends, such as the proliferation of non-ordination-track M.A. degrees in dozens of ministry fields sometimes push in the same direction. (more…)

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If politics were not what they are, Cuban artist Nora Mirsy would be well-known to North American audiences, her sound refined by some powerhouse recording empire or another, her pockets quite full of royalties in the manner of a medium-sized talent.

Instead, you need to meet and hear Mirsy at a Cuban hotel like the one whose lobby hosted her on a warm night in Santiago de Cuba in 2006 or the Valentine’s Day celebration in public square of that same city two years hence. She reminded me then of a Latin Tracy Chapman and she does still. The resemblance is not close in formal terms. For me, it exists more at the level of the longing and simplicity that find themselves melded in her voice, a quality I take to be practically a Chapman signature.

Mirsy’s music is scored for a simple conjunto of traditional Cuban instruments.

The final of thirteen tracks of Como Lluvia Fiel is an artistically stirring rendition of the revolutionary paean, Hasta siempre comandante, a staple tribute to Che Guevara.

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It is a commonplace that the exilic prophets who moved captive Judah to imagine a future beyond the certain full stop that was exile in Babylonia saved the life and future of a nation. In the mix, they produced some of humankind’s most stirring poetry.

Redemptive art does not justify tragedy and does not ameliorate its dark realia. Yet it is a measure of the created world and of the human spirit that unspeakable pain somehow creates some of history’s finest words and most gripping sounds.

Enter the twentieth-century Polish composers Henryk Gorecki and his Symphony No. 3 (‘Sorrowful Songs’), performed here in a stunning 1991 recording by the London Sinfonietta under the direction of David Zinman. (more…)

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Sufjan Stevens and his toss-off-an-album-for-each-of-the-fifty-American-states gambit is like collecting stamps, baseball cards, fountain pens, or—say—old beer bottles. From a distance, you say ‘Oh, yuck!’ if in fact you get close enough to the enterprise to say anything at all.

Then, in an unexpected moment, the sheer methodical, meticulous glory of it dawns on you like an epiphany. After that you pity the people who don’t. (more…)

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Calling all CD file clerks, including the one this reviewer doubles as when he puts away his cds on their shiny little stands (bought cheap at Target and hastily assembled by the reviewer and file clerk): where the heck do you file music by the oddball, fast-paced, old-new, traditional-iconoclast, Yiddish-English makers of this hilariously titled albums like this one (Rhythm + Jews) and Jews with Horns? (more…)

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From this considerable distance, ‘masterpiece’ begins to seem an unexaggerated assessment of Dylan’s 1966 double-album, now conveniently remastered and available on CD.

More than a whiff of the child genius is to be discerned in the brilliantly erratic lyrics of these tracks. One wonders how much winking was going on in the shadows as listeners sought profound mysteries in lines that are simply gorgeous for their semi-random articulateness. At this early stage, Dylan played as much, perhaps, with words as with ideas. (more…)

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My 19-year-old son doesn’t go for trends and obsessions. So, when home from college on this Christmas break, he agrees to spend two hours with us around the second of his preferred triad of films, we seize the moment by its skinny little cinematic throat.

Two hours later … Wow! (more…)

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