Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Pearls Are In!

Last Tuesday night, the FCMA hosted their annual Pearl Awards. These awards could essentially be called the “Mormon Grammies”, because they’re set up and awarded pretty much the same way. Recordings and CD’s are submitted according to their qualifying rules, and then certain members of the FCMA (Faith Centered Music Association) who have achieved a certain measurable status in the industry vote to determine the best of the best of LDS music.

Then they throw a big gala formal party to preset the awards. In the past, they’ve video’ed the event and it’s been broadcast on either KJZZ or KSL. I usually make a big effort to get there, because it’s great fun, and a wonderful place to network. I mean, anyone who’s anyone in LDS music is usually there. It really is a great time.

Here’s a list of this year’s winners. My commentary is below:


Be Still My Soul
Album: Standing Room Only
Artist: Vocal Point
Arranger: Michael R. Hicks
Producer: Bob Ahlander


I Was Made
Album: Stand in the Light—EFY 2004
Artist: Michael Webb
Songwriter: Michael Webb
Producer: Tyler Castleton & Staci Peters


The Light
Album: Stand in the Light—EFY 2004
Artist: April Meservy
Songwriter: Michelle Tumes
Producer: Tyler Castleton & Staci Peters


If You Could Hie to Kolob
Album: The Light Divine
Artist: Jenny Oaks Baker
Arranger: Kurt Bestor
Producer: Kenny Hodges


The Handcart Song
Album: Bring Them In; Celebrating the Spirit of Trek
Artist: Michael Dowdle
Arranger: Michael Dowdle
Producer: Michael Dowdle


His Endless Gift of Love
Album: Night of All Nights
Artist: Jessie Clark-Funk
Songwriter: Jeannine Lasky & Masa Fukuda
Producer: Greg Hansen


In Thy Hands
Artist: Tammy Simister Robinson
Producers: Greg Hansen & Tammy Simister Robinson


The Sum of All Grace
Artist: Mindy Gledhill
Producer: Kenneth Cope


Railroad Blessing
Artist: Sam Payne
Producers: Steve Lemmon and Sam Payne


Twenty-Five Beloved Hymns of Prayer & Faith
Artist: Michael Dowdle
Producers: Michael Dowdle


Janice Kapp Perry’s Celtic Variations
Creator: Janice Kapp Perry
Producer: John Perry and Greg Hansen


Emma’s Hymns
Artist: Mark Geslison & Geoff Groberg
Producers: Mark Geslison & Geoff Groberg


The Work & The Glory Soundtrack
Artist: Sam Cardon
Producer: Sam Cardon


O Come Little Children
Artist: Enoch Train & The International Children’s Choir
Producer: Clive Romney & Enoch Train


Echoes of the Sabbath
Record Label: Tantara Records


Greg Simpson


Tammy Simister Robinson


Michael Dowdle


Vocal Point


Mindy Gledhill


Greg Hansen


Tammy Simister Robinson


Vocal Point


Michael Dowdle


Rich Dixon


April Meservy


Steve LeRud


Return to Nauvoo (Cindy Ferguson)


Steven Kapp Perry (FM-100)


Sounds of Zion


Anette Dahl
(Jorgensen’s — Roy, Utah)

My comments:

I was really pleased to see a couple of things in the winners list. One was the diversity. Often in years past, an artist will come forward and sweep the awards. They’re kind of the popular “flavor of the year” and just rack them up. That didn’t happen this year.

Another thing is that there are a lot of new names in the winners list, too. Let’s face it, the LDS market is still relatively small, and so there aren’t that many names to choose from. So, often in years past, the perennial favorites win yet more awards. Didn’t happen so much this year. Sure, Greg Hansen won best producer, and he and Tyler Castleton pretty much trade that award back and forth year after year. They deserve it, though. They’re good, and there’s not that many other people putting out as much work as they do.

Kenneth Cope, while producing a number of winners, wasn’t the winner himself as much this year, it seems.

I was excited to see “Railroad Blessing” win for Contemporary Album. Anyone who reads my blog here knows how much I love Sam’s music, and what a nice guy he is, too. I hope “Coming Just to Go” does well next year, as it was too new to qualify for this years awards. Another one I was cheering for in this category was Cheri Magill’s “I’m Ready”. Not many rockers win at the Pearls…

But! Greg Simpson, LDS music’s best kept secret, FINALLY won an award! Woo HOOOO! Go Greg! He won for Male Recording Artist. He’s been a nominated finalist for more awards than I care to count, but it always got stolen from him. If it had been up to me, He’d have won them all. But then, I don’t even qualify to vote yet!

The funny thing about the Pearls is that, in some ways, it’s a tempest in a teapot. It’s really quite an honor to be nominated for one or to win one, but in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t make much difference. The typical LDS church member shopping in a Deseret Book catalog probably doesn’t know what it means when the ad says “Pearl Award Winner”. It doesn’t mean a lot of additional CD sales, or more or bigger concerts. Really, it’s just a big pat on the back from other people who are trying to do the same thing you are, sharing their testimonies in song.

Mark Hansen

PS--And another shameless plug: There's a new song over at my site, called "Where's My Soul?" It's got a very very unique sound, so check it out!
The Power of the Press

OK, this is one of those "If I'm lyin' I'm dyin'" stories again...

To promote my upcoming concert in American Fork (Saturday night, the 30th, 7:30 PM, at the amphitheatre at about 850 E 700 N in American Fork, UT, be there, or miss out!), I sent out a bunch of press releases.

I got a call last week from the Provo Daily Herald, not far from AF, and they wanted to do a phone interview to do an article on me and on the show. Cool! So, I did the interview, and had a great conversation with the reporter, Logan, and was very excited. He said the article would come out today.

So, I went to the Herald's website today, and looked in the entertainment section, and sure enough, there it was! And right next to my amazing article about LDS rock music, is a random ad for a hearing aid company! Is that fate er whut!?

Mark Hansen

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Christian Metal

I got this email today from a website called Girder Music. While I usually delete spam without another thought, this one caught my eye. It’s headline was a shout for me to pre-order Stryper’s newest CD, “Reborn”. Two things made me not order. One, the fact that I didn’t have my credit card handy, and two, the knowledge that I really shouldn’t spend the money anyway.

But there were a couple of things that made me want to spend it. One was that the CD was produced by Michael Sweet and Kenny Lewis, who, I believe, was one of those that Michael worked with on his solo album, “Truth”. That one is quite possibly my favorite Christian album OF ALL TIME. Rock or anything else. It’s the best.

The other was all the cool memories of me and my friends listening to “To Hell With The Devil”. We were amazed with Sweet’s voice, and amazed at their sheer audacity and chutzpah, singing so blatantly about Christianity in the mainstream music world. They toured with Motley Crue, in a tour billed as “The Heaven and Hell Tour”. They used to throw little new testaments from the stage.

As I grew up, though, I realized that their music, and especially their lyrics were pretty much devoid of any real depth.

But “Truth” was different. Years later, when I discovered that CD, I was blown away by the meaning in the writing. The music was also amazing.

So, I’m hoping that this new Stryper CD, to be released on an indie Christian label, will meet the standard set by “Truth”. The preview clip that I heard at bodes well.

Then, I started checking out other CD’s at Girder. I found a bunch of other Christian bands that I used to follow in my early days as a rocker. Petra, Rez Band, and even an old punk band named One Bad Pig. They even had the album that had been given to me on Cassette by a kid I was giving bass lessons to. It was called “I Scream Sunday”. And it had two particular songs that stood out. One was the title track, and I don’t remember that one, and the other was “Ice Cream Sundae”, and that one I remember well:

“The world is like an ice cream sundae
The world is like an ice cream sundae
The world is like an ice cream sundae
It’s all gonna melt someday!”

That one still makes me chuckle…

The fun thing about revisiting these old bands was realizing that back in that day, there was no such thing as LDS rock. It was just a silly dream in my head. Then, along came the Christian rockers, and I started to think that it could be done for us mormons. Then, years later, I discovered Greg Simpson, and soon came The Singles Ward, and the RM. A friend of mine, Kent Olmstead, made a CD of LDS grunge and alternative called “SumsayKyasmus” under the name of “Fast Sundae”, and I smiled because of my memories of the Pig.

And finally, I was able to put out “One United Generation” to add to the slowly growing pool.

I still listen to a lot of CCM. Petra’s “Revival” CD is incredible. DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” is a power house of deep writing, as well as the solo work of Toby Mac. Of course, “Truth” is constantly in my CD player, along with Superchick singing about the modest and chaste Barlow Girls.

And I listen to a lot of Mormon music, especially as we continually get more and more diverse. That’s one of the fringe benefits of reviewing CD’s. I get a lot of free ones to listen to! :-)

Mark Hansen

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Songs of Zion

Sam “Shazam” Payne (The Sam Payne Project)
“Coming Just to Go”

When I grow up, I want to be Sam Payne!

Well, not really. I’m happy being me. Really.

But, I WOULD like to put out a CD as good as “Coming Just to Go”. And that will be no easy task. One that I will work on for a very long time. In order to accomplish that goal, I’ll have to do three things:

One: I’ll have to learn to write songs better. This is difficult for me to admit in many ways, because I’m quite proud of my songwriting ability. But Sam is my hero. He’s capturing emotions and images and many multiple layers of meaning like nobody I’ve ever heard, and I’m including the big time.

In the past, I had a hard time understanding what his songs were about, but everything was clear on this collection. Maybe it was the short one or two sentences of commentary above the lyrics of each song, but probably it was just that the songs were clearer.

Some of my favorites are “Shazam”, which is about fantasies and realities, “Freight Train” about who’s really in charge of your life, or at least who should be, and “Holy” which actually brought this old man to tears.

He’s got some cool tricks up his sleeve, too, like rhyming “pajamas” and “ram us”, or “mystery” and “kissed her”. He’s a master.

Two: I’ll have to learn to sing a lot better. His voice is the centerpiece of this compilation. He can just do so many cool things with it. Without changing it too much, he’s got country and a bit of rock, and a bit of Sting-ish jazz in him.

Three: I’ll have to hire some killer musicians to back me up. Where “Railroad Blessing” was listed as a solo CD, this one is credited under “The Sam Payne Project”. The guys in the band really bring a lot of pizzazz to the recording. Precise, yet free, tightly arranged, yet improvised. It’s all there. The songs are all Sam, but the group turns him up to 11.

Now, in all the time I’ve been reviewing CD’s, I’ve never given any one 5 stars. I mean, that would make that CD out to be the best. The standard by which all others should be judged. I mean, what if a CD came along that was better? You gonna give it a "six"?

But giving a CD a 4.5 or a 4 would imply that there was something wrong with it. That somewhere in the bits was a flaw. What if a CD came along, and I couldn’t find anything wrong with it? Wouldn’t it deserve a 5 star rating?

So, with that in mind, I’m giving this one a full 5 stars. Your mileage may vary, but I think you’ll have as difficult a time finding the flaws as I did. Better still, don’t bother. Enjoy “Coming Just to Go” on its own merits and let other people worry about mistakes!

OH! One more thing I'll have to do—

Four: I’ll have to learn to scat! Sam, can you help me out, here?

Mark Hansen

Sunday, July 10, 2005

My Yoke is Easy

My friend and I went to the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival tonight. What a fun time. It’s interesting for me, a rocker, to see what real musicians are like!

And while everyone that was on the stage just completely blew me away, there were two performers that had a particular impact on me. They were the singers. One was this older lady named Barbara (though she said she went by the name “Queen”), and the other was this big guy named Kevin Mahogany… Or something like that...

They sang incredibly well. Kevin could scat like noone I’ve ever heard before, and he would gesture while he was shoo-be-dah-be-dabbing along like he was playing his voice with his hands. It was soooo cool to watch and even cooler to hear.

The point was that they made it look so effortless.

For a long time, I was taking voice lessons, from this incredible teacher here in West Jordan named Linda. She teaches a program called Speech-Level Singing, developed by Seth Riggs. Great program, and she’s an incredible teacher.

Even though I’m not the greatest singer in the world, probably not even the best singer in my neighborhood, I have learned a lot of things. One of them is that singing is 10% physical (breathing, technique, etc…), and 90% psychological. You have to learn that inside of you is a pure, clear voice, and you have to shake away all the fear, misconceptions, insecurities, expectations, and false programming that you’ve put on yourself over the years. Great singing, then, is the absence of bad singing. And bad singing comes from baggage.

So, when singing looks and sounds difficult, it’s because it is. When singing looks and sounds easy, it’s because it is.

What’s funny is to understand how much work and practice and patience and diligence goes into making singing effortless. And it’s further amazing to me (and humbling) to see these incredibly effortless singers and to know how far I have to go to get to that point. I need to step out of my way and let the pure voice come out.

OK, now there’s a point to all this, and I’m getting there.

The same thing is true of the Gospel.

Of all the bits of Mormon kitch that bugs me most is a plaque that I see a lot. It has a picture of Jesus, usually in his “coming out of the clouds” rendering (and I actually like that picture a lot), and next to it are placed the words, “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”

And the problem is that not only did He never say those words, He actually said the opposite. His exact words were: “…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11: 30)

And I believe Him. I think that living the Gospel SHOULD be easy. I think that if we were to just get out of our own way and let ourselves live the Gospel, without doubts, fears, insecurities, or hesitation… without baggage… we would find the ease and simplicity of the Lord’s Plan. HIS burden is light. OURS is heavy. When we stop fighting ourselves, we will soar.

Just like singing.

Mark Hansen

PS, I just put another song up on my site. It's a driving 80's rocker called "Turn it Up!" Check it out, it's got a surprising message...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Today and Yesterday

Hey, I'm very excited. I just put up a new song on my website, and thought I'd do a shameless self-plug about it here.

It's called "Today and Yesterday" and it's got a kind of up-tempo retro feel. It was very different for me to write it. Usually, the melody comes to me as I'm working out the words and the chords all at the same time. This time, the melody came first, with the words, and I had to fit the chords in later. I really struggled with it, because there's some key shifting going on in the verses. Finding the right chords that matched was very difficult.

But I'm pleased with the results.

I actually wrote it a long time ago, but only recently finished the recording. I don't even remember when I put it to paper.

It's all about how tough it can be to break out of old bad habits.

Check it out at the website!

Mark Hansen

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Songs of Zion

Steven Stewart – Balance

This CD is on par with some of the best Contemporary Christian pop I’ve heard out of Nashville. It’s got flawless arrangements, clear vocals, and the strongest writing I’ve heard in a long time. And even though it’s keyboard driven pop, it even appeals to this hardened rocker.

The writing and the arrangements (even in the more LDS-ish ballads) are so strong and unique that they’re breathing new life into old themes. The sounds and the vocals are captivating. “Searching For a Sign” is one of my favorites. “Only My Soul” and “Promise of Spring” are also amazing.

In the first half of the CD, the ballads are mixed in with some smokin’ hot dance tracks, too. “Surrounded” can match grooves with the most stellar of CCM, and “Balance” is great as well.

There’s some excellent mid-tempo pop, like “Leave Me in the Rain”. “The True Messiah” is smooth and easy, but not a slow ballad (I love how the chorus leaves you suspended in the air). Some electronic percussion gives the song more motion.

See, there’s a lot of stuff on this CD that people have been doing in mainstream pop and CCM for a long time. So why am I raging about how unique and fresh it is? Because I haven’t heard anyone doing these things in LDS music. We get too trapped into our own little niche and we forget that we’re in a bigger ball park. It’s exciting to hear someone step up to the plate and take a serious swing at a big-league sound.

My only real problem is this CD is a bit too long for my taste. With the “Bonus Tracks” it’s 22 full-length songs. And it’s not like there’s filler, here. It’s all THAT good. But it would’ve been much stronger to pick the 12 or 13 BEST, and go with those. The pacing starts out strong, with a great variety between up tempo and slower ballads, but then, along about song ten or so, we get a longer string of slower ballads that tends to bog the CD down for me. So, trim a few and mix it up more would be my two cents worth of unsolicited advice. Take it for what it cost ya, Steven! :-)

The songs (with the exception of the bonus tracks, available only on the pre-release version), are all in some way about the Savior, and I think Steven’s handled those themes very sensitively, even in the up-tempo tunes. That’s not always easy to do.

It’s kinda funny, in a sad sorta way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this CD doesn’t do well in the LDS market. I wish it would, but I’m a little nervous that our (mostly) conservative LDS ears won’t take so readily to sounds that are primarily found in the CCM market. Especially since there is almost nothing to distinguish it as a “mormon” CD. It shouldn’t be that way. This CD should be getting played at stake dances all over mormondom. But I wonder if the same people that proclaim just how bored they are with LDS music will be willing to risk the exploration of something like “Balance”. I hope they do! Because I think it’s incredible, and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed.

Mark Hansen

PS. Thomas Baggaley's instrumental compositions are featured at Latter-Day Songs, along with more from Rick Reeve and LDS rapper TJ Fredette.


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