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Archive for August, 2008

* Dedicated to my friend Rev. Robert Eyman, Spokane, Washington, USA

One of the finest of the so-called ‘Hallelujah Psalms’, the one hundred forty-seventh speaks an encouraging word to the broken-hearted among us. The poet angles in on the appropriateness of praise, recognizing that a universe governed in the way this one is ruled has become a venue where gratitude is the fitting response.

How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. (Psalm 147:1 NRSV)

One does not arrive at such a response unreflectively. From every corner evidence presents itself that might well seem to render praise anything but the proper sound in a broken world where blood flows too freely and sorrow gathers in silent, menacing clumps. Yet the psalmist has fought his way to a hermeneutical angle from which his gaze takes in reasons for gratitude rather than resentment. He is convinced his angle is the proper one, not a cheap analgesic, no psychological trick crafted merely to dull the pain. (more…)

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Freedom and self-restraint are not often seen walking hand-in-hand. Yet they make the most compelling couple.

When the apostle Paul turns to instructing the Corinthian Christians regarding the best path though the thorn-filled gardens into which they been summoned, he is clear on the matter of freedom. Seldom has a writer who cannot be described as libertine written so lucidly about liberty. One of the astonishing outrages of Christian history is that Paul has so often been fronted as the poster child and enforcer of complex moral hang-ups. In truth, he proves an outlandish failure at those roles. (more…)

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Michael Bolton is in his element in tossing off this 2003 collection—a very short one, it must be said—of fine old bluesy-romantic pieces. Gone for the moment is the flamboyant wall of musicians that backs up his more anthemic rock and roll pieces. The music here is supplied by a diminutive assortment of soft-spoken instrumentalists. All that’s missing is a smoky stage and a cover charge. (more…)

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The late David Halberstam’s insightful baseball writing has been a boon for fans with long memories. There are more of them attached to this odd American sport than any other. A penchant for statistics and scars that never heal are practically the calling card of those of us who are drawn, inexorably, to the diamond with every new Spring.

This 2003 tribute to four skinny kids on the 1946 Boston Red Sox is not so much about the game as about the uncommon friendship that linked four of its iconic players. Halberstam has helped us to understand the grace that made Bobby Doer a lifetime interpreter of the gifted, irascible, and troubled Ted Williams; about the fealty to the sports unwritten rules that moved Johnny Pesky to accept the blame for a ball he never held (at least according to Halberstam’s reconstruction) until ten years after the true culprit had gone to his grave; and about the tragedy of a season that came so close to glory but ended up heralding a generation (these are short in baseball time) of mediocrity in the precursor of what we have come to know as Red Sox Nation. (more…)

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In the mid-1990s in Great Britain I purchased a Linguaphone French language learning package and, as a result, received this marvelous booklet and Karajan/Berliner Philharmoniker/Deutsche Grammophon/Michel Schwalbé recording of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Concerto ‘L’Amoroso’, Symphony ‘Al Santo Sepolcro’, and Concerto ‘Alla Rustica’.

Apart from a lone seller with a copy listed on Amazon, I have not been able to locate any sign that this recording—which plays on my sound system as I write this—actually exists. (more…)

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Returning to the shed from a first sea kayaking experience on Alaska’s Inner Passage, I was greeted by the voice of Greg Brown, soon interpreted by the enthusiastic commentary of my kayaking guide. I resolved that I would come to know this singer as a living souvenir of the kayaking thing. `Soon as I could, I ordered The Poet Game rather at random from Brown’s prodigious menu of recordings.

Shades of the Man in Black come through in Brown’s the astonishing low range of Brown’s understated vocals. Better still, his song-writing is top-drawer stuff. It oozes authenticity, manouvers on the kind of observations a man can stand by, rings true. (more…)

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It must be hard to be Michael Bolton. Blessed with an unfathomably powerful voice, he nonetheless harvests love and grimaces only in about equal measure. He pays tribute to some sturdy old songs and gets labeled as a cover-only singer. It’s enough to drive a man to play baseball or something. Which he does. Softball, actually, but you get the picture.

This 1995 collection of a decade’s worth of hits shows off Bolton’s prowess and production in a way that sheds some light on the ambivalent reception he’s earned. In truth, fifty-three million albums may not be a definition of ambivalence you’re familiar with. Yet the sheer quantity of anti-Bolton reviews that surface on websites everywhere suggests that the a-word is not a bad place to begin this assessment of Michael Bolton, Greatest Hits 1985-1995. (more…)

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The dance of an instrumental soloist and the disproportionately sized partner with which the classical concerti pair him or her is one of classical music’s most capable forms. Done well, the assymetry soars. The soloist’s work is framed as no other configuration could. The orchestra’s restraint against the danger of overpowering its smaller partner show a deftness that is compensated by the occasional liberties afforded it to revel in its own potency while its partner pauses to gather strength. (more…)

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If Paul Simon could find only fifty ways to leave his lover, the writer of Psalm 119 clearly trumps him. Verse after verse of this acrostic poem—meaning that the first letter of each line follows the alphabet in a clearly identifiable pattern—lauds YHWH’s word, law, and promise with language usually reserved for romance.

I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. (Psalm 119:162 NRSV)

Although specific lines from this resolutely focused psalm have found their way into Jewish and Christian spirituality, the psalm itself strikes many modern readers as tedious and—dare one say it—a bit obsessive. A poem like this places a premium on form and then works its content to fit. Even a sympathetic reader is likely to conclude when watching the writer reach for say, a fifth line that begins with the letter ‘ayin’, that the dude should give himself a break. (more…)

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The apostle Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian Christians was complex, even prickly. There is more pathos in his letters to this church than in all the others combined, a product of the wrestling for clarity on matters of authority, doctrinal clarity, and appropriate behavior. (more…)

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