Archive for December, 2008

John David Webster is a gifted and energetic musician with a passion for worshiping Jesus Christ.

The Live at Lakeview album places these virtues on appreciable display.

As is the case with most contemporary worship leaders, the experience would be enhanced if we felt less obligated to speak. He’s much better when he sings.

When he talks (as he does quite a lot), he sounds banal and overly nailed to a rock-star persona. When he sings, the music is glorious.

Sing, John David, sing!


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This early publication of the Hebrew University Bible project is a formidable achievement that pays tribute to the inestimable labor of its editor and editorial team.

The work represents a critical edition of the Aleppo Codex of the Book of Isaiah, widely considered to be the work of Ben Asher and the biblical exemplar commended by Maimonides.

In a preface that appears in both Hebrew and English, editor M.H. Goshen-Gottstein painstakingly and with striking clarity details the philosophy and pragmatic decision-making that produced the published text with its no fewer than six critical apparatii in the light of the history of the biblical text as we know it. (more…)

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It is fitting that the book of Psalms should end with just this one hundred fiftieth and that the one hundred fiftieth should end with this totalitarian doxology:

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150:6 ESV)

All the other exemplars of that kind of summons to praise in the psalms which scholars since Hermann Gunkel have labeled the hymn provide a reason for the doxology to which they call the assembled worshippers or the ready individual. That motive, that basis for praise is usually an act or a quality of YHWH himself. The psalms do not smile upon the shell of praise when there is no kernel. Not for them the constant whipping up of a congregation to praise more, praise more loudly, praise better. To the contrary, the psalms provoke dense praise. It knows its reasons. (more…)

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Mood music has a bad rep. That’s a pity.

The environments we create for ourselves matter deeply. Some make life difficult. Some make it impossible. Others destroy it outright.

Alternatively, good environments are a space where things can grow. Sometimes in a most orderly way, sometimes with wild extravagance, often with unintended consequences of peace, blessing, sturdiness, and grace.

Rob Barrett’s Communion: Music for a Hectic World establishes this latter kind of environment. Gentle almost to a fault, flawless in staying with the story it has chosen. Traditional hymns and more contemporary worship melodies receive loving treatment from a small band of instrumentalists, in which the violins feature the most prominently.

Communion is worthy of the noble rather than laughable task of creating background music for the soul.

That’s saying something.

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Three great icons of American cinema were joined at the hip by the memory-saturated musical score that accompanied them. The Godfather films were expansive in many ways, but it ought not be forgotten that the music that framed them arguably lingers in our minds at least as long as the story’s most compelling visual images.

Notwithstanding criticism of the City of Prague Orchestra’s performance on this CD, I find this album a deeply satisfying revisitation of the Godfather phenomenon. The ‘Godfather Waltz’ and the ‘Love Theme’—with their variations on the two themes—define the musical horizon here.

It is music that would not stand without the film, as is true of film music in general with few exceptions. Yet after recently watching the three films over the space of a few weeks, I find this performance of its sounds well worth the patience it requires to hear them again.

Scenes linger. Sounds endure. A great cinematic moment does that sort of thing.

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You may never listen to another Christmas album like Over the Rhine’s Snow Angels. You may end up listening to no other.

OtR brings to Yuletide their bedazzling touch with the blues and their stupendous way with a lyric. Christmas is before all else a Christian celebration, which to this reviewer causes a bit of a squirm when devoutly secular artists toss off an album to the cause (are you out there, Sarah McLachlan?). OtC does not posture itself within that bandwidth we call `contemporary Christian’. So what do they do with, say, a manger?

The short answer: lots. (more…)

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HBO’s magnificent screen portrait of John Adams and his fellows at a time when they were ‘winging it’—as historian David McCullough has it in HBO’s online site for the show—is simply brilliant film-making. It should be viewed in every classroom of the nation from which this reviewer ponders the deeply moving experience of having done so in his living room.

Adams was the kind of politician—he would have hated the word and the notion to which it refers—for which the most secular among us should urgently pray. He had no stomach for the thing and only wanted to return to spread his best manure-soil mix on his beloved New England farm. Principled, articulate, and stubborn, he learned in the earnest fray of the revolutionary years the art of intelligent compromise. Paul Giamatti never lets us look away from the pain it caused him to lead, nor to easily evade the burden of historical gratitude that we owe to him, to his wife and family, and to those who labored beside them in the birth pangs of a nation. (more…)

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The book of Zechariah ends with a Jerusalemite flourish. YHWH sees off the agglomeration of nations that besiege the city, unending feasting is established as the soup du jour inside the walls, and the peoples of the world schedule their vacations—admittedly under some compulsion—so that they can join the noise.

In the process a long-standing priestly imperative is undermined. An important feature of the biblical plot line underscores the lethal danger that living in close quarters with a holy God entails for Israel. The priestly legislation is aimed in part at establishing and then carefully maintaining the equilibrium that is required if the people are to survive YHWH’s company. Careful distinctions, not least between what is holy and what is mundane, contribute to this blessed status quo and are maintained against the rage that might ensue if YHWH’s proximity were to be met with casual indifference. (more…)

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My own halting advance into the world of Latin Ballroom Dance has led me to dance-themed CDs of each of the dances my long-suffering instructor is trying to get into my movement-resistant body and soul. Though the Rhumba is my favorite dance so far, this Strictly Dancing album is the least preferred of the five or six CDs I’ve accumulated.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a perfectly serviceable project and you can dance to it. It won’t disappoint at the leve of functionality.

Neither will it light your fire. It’s just not great music. But you probably aren’t looking for that. If not, don’t hesitate to learn Rhumba to the melodious tunes of the Peres Blanca Band. If you want a bit more aesthetic pop to your music, you might look elsewhere.

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If Brasilia were the capital of the world, everybody would grow up knowing samba and how to dance to it.

Alas, the world has not capital and Brasilia on the short list. So most of us need to be *taught* to dance samba. That’s where this CD claims its usefulness. Each of eighteen tunes is worked out to ‘strict tempo’ samba in order to facilitate dancing by the novices, the newcomers, and the merely stiff.

If you’re new to this, I must warn you. Samba is contagious. But there are worse things to catch.

If this kind of infectious rhythm doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to you, start here.

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