Category Archives: music

My Favorite Christmas Albums – 2016

Back in 2010, I wrote about my favorite Christmas songs and albums. (You can check it out here.)

Six years is long enough! So, today, I’m updating you on some of my favorite Christmas albums. I’d love to hear what your favorites are, so leave some comments! And even better, I put together a Spotify playlist so you can enjoy them too.

  1. Christmas… From the Realms of Glory by Bebo Norman – Bebo Norman may be retired, but he remains one of the absolute best songwriters in CCM (just give a listen to the cut “Deeper Still” from his album Ten Thousand Days). If you listened to Bebo back in his indie days, you may understand this: Christmas… From the Realms of Glory sounds like it came from his heart more than anything else I’ve heard from him.  With simple instrumentation – acoustic guitar, piano, melodica, hammer dulcimer – the record is a masterpiece of warm, introspective, Americana pop. Highlights: “Born to Die,” “Come and Worship,” “The Rebel Jesus”
  2. Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson – Being in ministry can get tough sometimes. The stress can be overwhelming, especially at Christmas time. A few years ago, I hit one of those walls, and this album got me through it. Peterson and his collaborators – among them Jill Phillips, Andrew Osenga, and Ben Shive – weave a folk-pop tapestry that brings the story of Scripture to life – from creation to Christmas. From the beautiful “Labor of Love” to the silly “Matthew’s Begats,” this is a special album. Highlights: “Labor of Love,” “Deliver Us,” “Matthew’s Begats”
  3. Advent Christmas EP, Vol. 2 by Future of Forestry – So you’re probably noticing a theme among my favorite Christmas albums – serenity. I love the mellow, organic, ambient sounds and Eric Owyoung’s honest voice. Those are the things that make this EP one of the best. Highlight: “The Earth Stood Still”
  4. Silver City by Falling Up – If you remember Falling Up from their early days, you might think, “That doesn’t really sound like Jud’s kind of band.” And you’d be right. But over the years their sound evolved into something more experimental and ambient. That led to their 2013 album Silver City, a collection of inventively arranged Christmas songs and a few originals. There’s energy, contemplation, cool melodies, Jesus, and little bit of sci-fi. Highlights: “Emanuel,” “Sugar Plum Fairy,” “The Little Robot”
  5. Christmas by Michael W. Smith – High-church, classical Christmas album with classic Smitty touches, and it’s pretty flippin’ amazing. Still one of my favorites. Highlights: “First Snowfall,” “All Is Well,” “Gloria”

Christmas album honorable mention: Christmastime by Michael W. Smith, Music of Christmas by Steven Curtis Chapman, Home for Christmas by Amy Grant

The absolute worst Christmas song ever: still “Grown Up Christmas List.”

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Feeling Inspired

I got really burned out on music toward the end of Jud Kossum Band in late 2007.  I should have been really excited about our last show (we were opening for Starfield at Murray Hill Theater in Jacksonville, Florida), but I was already so dead tired it almost didn’t matter.  We finished our set.  I had to get up early the next morning, and the guys were gracious enough to load up our stuff and haul it back home without me.  I didn’t even stay for Starfield’s whole set, which is very unlike me.  I always tried to support the other bands we played with.

I haven’t spent much of my limited free time playing guitar in the ensuing four years.  I have written maybe two or three songs since then – nothing in the last couple of years.  I haven’t been playing in a band.

I have been leading worship on Sundays at Magnolia Creek.  I love it, but it’s a different animal.  I do it because I love leading worship, not because I love playing music.  Because, quite honestly, since the band broke up and we moved back to Houston, I haven’t loved playing music.  Haven’t even really liked it.  Too much work and pressure and expectation and disappointment and frustration and exhaustion were tied up in it.

But a weird thing happened a couple of weeks ago.  The Smashing Pumpkins came out with a new album.  That in itself, of course, is not really weird.  The weird thing is that it got me interested.  I’d never really been what you’d call a fan of SP.  I liked what I heard on the radio, but for some reason, I never felt the urge to buy a CD.  But I previewed the new album on iTunes, and it piqued my curiosity.  Through a course of events, I downloaded first Siamese Dream, then Oceania (the latest).  That got me thinking about all the music I used to listen to – the stuff that really inspired me.  Especially Pearl Jam.

For quite some time, Pearl Jam Twenty languished in my Netflix queue.  Last Friday night, I decided to watch it.

Mind.  Blown.

This is no “Behind the Music” exposé, airing all the band’s dirty laundry.  It’s simply a very well done history of the band and a love letter to the music of Seattle in the early 90s.  From the early days – the death of Andrew Wood and, consequently, Mother Love Bone – to the whole Ticketmaster debacle, to the horror of the Roskilde Festival (nine fans were crushed to death, which nearly led the band to break up), to today as the band continues to make its own way across the musical landscape.

And the music.  Oh, man, the MUSIC!

I saw in this movie what I’d always wanted as a musician.  Not rock stardom.  Not unbridled creativity.  The Seattle music scene of the late 80s and early 90s was a scene where everybody knew each other, and they were friends.  They had fun together.  I always wanted to play in a band with my friends and have fun doing it.  And I wanted to be part of a scene where everybody supported and liked each other.

So, I talked to Kacy about how I was feeling.  I picked up my Strat for the first time in ages.  I rewired my pedal board and cranked up my amp.  I laid down a few riffs in Garageband.  I texted some friends and asked them to come jam.

I probably won’t be recording a new album or playing any shows, but I will be making music again.

Man, I love music.

Worship Music Industry | Right or Wrong?

Being a worship leader is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I love every moment of it. It’s a blast, it’s a challenge, and it’s meaningful. It’s right up there with being a husband and father.

Like any position of leadership, it’s also fraught with pitfalls, the most obvious of which is the lure of fame. Even in a small church like the one of which my family and I are members, it’s easy to feel like you’re on a pedestal – even if no one else thinks you are. (That being said, it’s also easy for others to put you on a pedestal.) You step onto the stage every Sunday morning with the spotlight shining on you. People complement you, tell you how talented you are, want your attention. It’s the great temptation of pride.

It concerns me to see the direction of worship ministry in the church these days. There seems to be such a push to record and distribute nationally or globally the music you’re doing at the local church level. It’s as though your ministry is not relevant or fruitful unless people on the other side of the country are playing your music on Sunday.

I tried to be a musician for a living. I had a band, which many of you know. We made a go of it for a while and did pretty well for an indie outfit just starting out. Things stalled out after a couple of years, and I believe there were two reasons for this. First, it wasn’t what God wanted for me (or the rest of the band – at least not at that point in time). Second, I was completely burned out.

After a very short time, it stopped being about Jesus or about the music. It was about booking the next gig. This is the difficulty of music as business – at some point the art is probably going to give way to the need to put food on the table. I was spending all my time trying to book gigs when I wanted to be writing music and touring. And even the little bit of touring we did wore on me because – even then – I felt that my primary goal was selling my product. I don’t have the personality of a salesman.

I believe it’s even more dangerous to mix business and worship. At that juncture, you’re mixing business with something much more pure and noble than art. How can we possibly combine a pursuit of money with our pursuit of the Living God? How can we respond to Him properly when it’s all wrapped up in money?

Think about the state of the music industry now? The economy, digital downloads, piracy have all contributed to the atrophying of CD sale, and the labels are trying every bad idea they can think of to get people to start buying again. Apple finally convinced them to let go of DRM protection. They still want to limit the number of devices you can play your songs on. And those things pale in comparison to what they’re actually doing to the music!

Pop music has always been formulaic, but periodically, you would see it changed by the random renegade who gets a record deal. The last time that really happened, though, was in the 90s. Suddenly, the face of pop music changed. Much like the music of the 60s, the grunge bands brought us incomprehensible lyrics (a big no-no in the pop formula) and musical experimentation. Then the post-grunge bands rode that momentum and created pop-rock songs with intelligent lyrics that people could relate to.

These days, bands are slavishly shackled to the formula – lowest common denominator lyrics, overly simplified music. The labels are afraid that’s the only way they can sell music!

That industry is the industry that is now shaping our worship music. That formula – a formula invented by people whose goal is to make money – is being applied to the way we worship God.

Worship leaders started gaining a national stage via the music industry years ago. Now, we’re seeking it. We’ve created a worship music industry. I have a hard time making that fit with what I know of God and Scripture, primarily because of the way the music industry in general works. Being successful in the music industry requires selling yourself – telling everyone how great you are – and that is entirely antithetical to the teachings of Christ. (Yes, I believe there is a difference between you telling everyone how great you are and your agent or manager telling everyone how great you are. However, I also believe that’s a gray area that requires further thought.)

Since when is it right for a worship leader to tell everyone how great his music is? How does a church justify marketing its worship ministry?

And honestly, this isn’t limited to music. We see it with pastors. We see it in the focus of the mainstream church on so called “evangelism” that exists only to make our institutions larger. We are attempting to define the success of ourselves, our ministries, our churches by worldly measures.

I’m not saying that it cannot ever be right for a worship leader or a church’s worship band to record an album or sign a record deal. But I’m not entirely uncomfortable with saying it’s wrong. I believe it’s tricky terrain to navigate, and we must be much more careful than we have been up to now.

Vote for me on FQWorship.com!

I’ve got exciting news: My song “I Am Yours” has been selected to play on www.FQWorship.com‘s FQ Radio as part of their worship songwriting event! And you can vote for it to win! (There are no prizes – just opportunities for the song to be played on FQ Radio, which will allow the song to be heard by many other worship leaders, bands and songwriters.)

You must be a member or e-mail subscriber of the site to vote. The basic membership and e-mail subscription are free, and the e-mail subscription box is at the top of their homepage. (www.FQWorship.com is a worship planning site that was started by Chris Tomlin and a team worship leaders with great features and song selection and a very reasonable price. If you’re a worship leader, I’d encourage you to check out one of the paid memberships.)

“I Am Yours” will be played during one of the following 3 weeks (they are not informing me ahead of time which week it will be played):

Week 1: Oct 26 – Nov 1
Week 2: Nov 2-8
Week 3: Nov 9-15

A new playlist will be posted each Monday starting October 26. You can vote for one song each week. The top song of each week will be included in the Finals (Nov 16-22). Other songs may be included in the Finals also. The top song will be announced on FQWORSHIP.com on Nov 24.

Your vote could really help open some doors for me as a songwriter. Thank you so much!