Over the past few months, I’ve been introduced to some fresh music that has substantially enriched my life. Some of this was recorded decades ago and some of it only just released this year on Noisetrade. As a symbol of appreciation for those who have compiled and composed all of this beauty and for those who have presented it to me, I have created a little list in order to present these songs to you in turn, and hope you will find something here that stays with you a long, long time.
Through The Deep, Dark Valley (The Oh Hellos) – [This album is still available as a FREE download over at Noisetrade] The Deep Dark Valley, which I discovered courtesy of the Inkslinger, is one of my favorite finds of this year. Tyler and Maggie Heath’s exquisite concept album explores themes of creation, sin and renewal in language that avoids clichés admirably and employs melodies both fascinating and surprising. With a folksy style that features festive rhythms and powerful backup vocals, The Deep Dark Valley is sharply reminiscent of The Lumineers and some of the tracks (especially The Truth Is a Cave) sound almost like a redeemed version of Ho Hey.
It seems impossible to pick a favorite piece from this album, (especially since the tracks are intended to flow into one another) but I found the songs on prodigality to be particularly well-realized. Second Child, Restless Child captures the wildness of the universal runaway with its intense tones. Wishing Well and In Memoriam are two winsome and heartfelt laments and the Lament of Eustace Scrubb is eerie and hopeful. All told, if this album weren’t being offered for free right now, I’d consider it worth paying for, and will be eager to hear more from The Oh Hellos in future.
Where Eyes Don’t Go (The Gray Havens) – [This album is still available as a FREE download over at Noisetrade] How can you go wrong with a band called The Gray Havens? A relatively short collection with its six tracks, Where Eyes Don’t Go is newlywed Dave and Licia Radford’s very first album. These artists certainly have room to grow, but the album includes at least a couple of especially enjoyable pieces. I was quite taken with the swinging poetry of Silver and the delicious hopefulness of Let’s Get Married.
The Hymns Collection (2nd Chapter of Acts) – Even before we were old enough to read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, my sister and I already knew by heart some of the songs from the 2nd Chapter of Acts’ concept album, Roar of Love, which explores themes from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. One of my earliest memories is of putting that cassette into the tape-player in our family living-room and dancing in circles around the carpet to Are You Goin’ to Narnia? (Oh, take me along with you!)
This was the only experience I had with the 2nd Chapter of Acts until I discovered their lovely (and rather old, seeing that it was released in the year I was born) Hymns Collection a couple of months ago. I suppose that, given the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that I fell in love with this album immediately. It sounds to me like Edmund and Lucy singing our triumphant melodies of declaration, and there is really something irresistible about hearing the same voice that celebrated redemption with Something Is Happening In Me rejoicing in turn with, “my sin – of the bliss of this glorious, thought – my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more…”
Matthew Ward and his sisters deliver a grandiose rendition of A Mighty Fortress of Our God, and chorus the Ode To Joy delightfully. Some other highlights for me are their passionate renderings of Fairest Lord Jesus and Be Still My Soul.
The Lord of the Rings: Complete Songs and Poems (The Tolkien Ensemble) – This massive project is one of my family’s favorite finds of this year. The collection of four albums and over 60 tracks includes musical renditions of every song and piece of poetry included in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien’s ideals and moods have been remarkably well-realized by over 150 professional musicians. The CD lyric booklet includes illustrations by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. These albums have been a wonderful supplement as my sister and I are taking turns reading the trilogy to our little brother, who has finally come of a suitable age to be introduced into this great and exciting story, which is a thing he has been anticipating expectantly for over half of his life.
Some pieces which I felt were captured especially well include Bilbo’s “Old Walking Song,” (the road goes ever on and on) “Tom Bombadil’s Song” (which we sang in our house for weeks after first finding this music), “The Merry Old Inn” song, (which continues to be sung all too often around here) “The Song of Beren and Luthien,” “The Song of Earendil,” “Galadriel’s Song of Eldamar,” and “Sam’s Song in the Orc-Tower.”
Burlap to Cashmere (Burlap to Cashmere) – Burlap To Cashmere’s 2011 self-titled album was my first introduction to this fascinating group of artists. A collection of upbeat music with strong Greek and Mediterranean influences and rhythms and gritty, thoughtful lyrics, this album packs a huge punch. One of my favorite tracks is The Orchestrated Lovesong, with its stirring refrain, calling, “I want to live on a boat and sail away with my children…” The Other Country, which exudes contagious confidence and urges us, “do not be afraid of this earthly city,” is strongly reminiscent of some similar words from another author, and is a fitting finale for this remarkable compilation of songs.
The Harvest (K.S. Rhoads) – [This album is still available as a FREE download over at Noisetrade] K.S. Rhoads is a talented artist, but I don’t feel that this album (From Outside The Wilderness) is his best work. However, it does include my favorite of his songs, The Harvest, and I feel it’s worth downloading the entire album for the sake of that one exquisite and haunting piece of music.
The Weight of Glory (Heath McNease) – [This album is still available as a FREE download over at Noisetrade] The Weight of Glory is a collection of songs inspired by the works of C.S. Lewis. I haven’t had an opportunity to listen to this in its entirety yet, but have enjoyed some of what I’ve heard, and look forward to an opportunity to listen to the rest of the album.
The Luggage of an Optimist (Miriam Marston) – I discovered Miriam Marston some time ago, but can’t pass up an opportunity to share a link to this album. Although it’s by no means a perfect compilation, The Luggage of an Optimist is riddled with poetry and cosmic ideas and the influence of Chesterton. I discovered this album at Christmastime and was particularly struck by two pieces dealing with witnesses of the Incarnation. Rumors of a Good Thing is presumably narrated from the perspective of one of the famed “kings of orient.” In tones that are wistful and awaken a wild longing, Marston sings, “I hear there’s a king on the other end of this star lit road,” and every single sense in us wants to take the road as far as it goes.
Simeon tells of the aged prophet in the “graceful moment” when he “finally sees what faith becomes.” When she tells how, “with his last breath he thought how we were in the best of hands, and at that he smiled,” we smile too.
In Morning At Ostia, Marston succeeds in imparting a sweet, strong flavor of the peace that passes understanding when she says,
“By the way there’s a chance I may seem relatively
Unattached to this place.
And he said to me ‘one day you’ll see, all of this will feel like one of your dreams,
You will wake up in my arms.’
And he said to me “all days can be steps on a road leading to me, til you wake up in my arms.”
And, oh! Maybe this is all that it takes to be satisfied.
So, what have you been listening to lately?