Monday, June 30, 2008

The Songs of Zion - LDS music

"Father to Son"

by Sam Payne

One of my biggest frustrations with all of the studio CD’s I get from Sam Payne is that if you don’t hear it live, you’re missing half the fun. Sam’s performances are lively, and very improvisational it’s true, but the real fun of a Sam Payne show is the stories. Sam is arguably the best storyteller in LDS music, and he sets up each song so, so well. In fact, sometimes the songs rely so much on the story that without hearing it the live setting, you end up kinda scratching your head and saying, “Huh?”

Some of my favorite Sam songs are like this. Once I see the show, and hear the stories, then the song falls beautifully into place, and its meaning is crystal clear.

So, Sam has now put out a “live” CD. I put that in quotes because it’s not really like a recorded concert, but it is. Rather than take a remote to a concert, they set up the musicians in the studio and invited in an audience. Then they recorded Sam, telling it and singing it like it is. Then they took those raw tracks and mixed them like a studio CD, along with all the audience.

I always have a tough time reviewing a Sam Payne CD, because as a reviewer I’m supposed to find flaws, right? I’m supposed to say, “Yeah, this was great, but he coulda dun this instead…” But I do have a difficult time finding things wrong with this one.

The recording and performance are excellent, the energy is there. The best tracks on it are “These Are My People”, Where to Find a Hero”, and his concert standard, “Autumn Leaves”. His religious references are not as blatant in the songs as they are in the stories, but they are powerful. “Brothers Road” and “You May Still Remember Me” are based on Old Testament stories. “All Comes Down in a Line” is all about the generations of the Priesthood. I know I'm listening to LDS music, but it's not beating me over the head, either.

After listening to it over and over, I have come to this conclusion: The only thing I have to complain about is that it doesn’t include many of my favorite Sam songs. “Big Time”, “Shazaam”, and “Space Man” are all missed. “Freight Train”, and “Holy”, two songs that actually make me cry, also didn’t make the cut.

Well, you can’t please everyone, you know…

Mark Hansen

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What Do You Do?

Whatdya do when your life is whipping you around like a roller coaster and you can’t get off? What if you’re going to work every week afraid that the next week you’ll be on the street? What if your kid just got out of the hospital with major surgery? What if that makes your other kid more clingy and demanding? What if every time you get a chance to do your normal methods of stress relief some other responsibility steals it away? What if you want to explode inside and no one cares to listen?

You blog about it, I guess…

Mark Hansen

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Songs of Zion

Ryan Shupe and The Rubberband
“Last Man Standing”

I was lucky enough to get a prerelease copy of this CD to review from Ryan’s Publicist. Unfortunately, I lagged so far behind in doing the review that it’s no longer “pre-“.

Oh, well

Previous to this, my only experiences with Shupe and Co was owning “Simplify” and seeing him live a couple of times. “Simplify” is still one of my favorites of all the Utah/LDS artists I know. Even though the band’s music is not LDS-specific, it does address life, and often from a clearly religious perspective.

In the meantime, they spent some time as a major label artist, touring and recording, and even had a video in rotation at the CMT channel.

I enjoyed listening to this one over and over as I drove to and from work. It’s a fun CD, that really holds up to repeated listenings. It’s really hard to categorize Ryan’s music. Years ago, at his website, he attempted to do it and I still remember the phrase: “Post Hee-Haw hip hop funkadelic newgrass” Honestly, that’s the best label that could possibly describe the music. It’s got bluegrass and country roots, but the branches include rock and rap, with folk in the leaves. It’s a crazy lookin’ tree. But the sound is great.

Even though I loved this CD, I have to admit I didn’t love it as much as “Simplify”. It’s fun, and quirky, and the production was impeccable. Perfect really. Actually, a little too polished. I think the desire to make it really accessible made some of the writing a little less original. Songs like “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” are fun and bouncy and memorable (I can hear the hook in my head as I type), but just not as lyrically cool as, say, “1000x”.

Still, there’s some really good stuff on “Standing”, like the title track. This one not only shows off the bands flawless musicianship, but the the dynamic blending of styles. Who knew you could rap over a banjo? “If You Could Live a Different” is a really cool exploration of what people go through in life, hidden from the rest of the world’s view.

Overall, a great job!

Mark Hansen

Sunday, June 01, 2008

First Man Standing...

So, a couple of weeks ago, my son bounced up to me and, out of the blue, announced that he had discovered his life’s calling.

“I’m gonna be a stand-up comedian.”

I mean, how am I supposed to react to that? Other dads have sons that want to be astronauts, firemen, or even doctors, lawyers, or presidents. Where did this come from?

My second thought, however, was more practical. “There’s a primary talent show coming up in two weeks…” Hmmmm…

In his hand, he had a joke book. It was one of those beat-up elementary school library joke books named something like, “1001 jokes that are so corny that not even your parents will laugh out of kindness if you tell them.”

Or something like that.

But we dug into it and looked it over. We found a string of good jokes that kind of tied together in a thread. I told him that if you change the jokes from riddles or simple “Doctor, doctor..” jokes, then the audience engages them more. You can still use the same punchline, but with a different setup, it feels more “natural”, and more funny. We worked a few over and he got the idea. Then we talked about adding extra punchlines after he gets the laugh that take a joke further.

Together, we worked it all up into a short minute-long set. We typed it and printed it out. From there, about every other day, he ran through all the jokes. The whole routine. It got pretty routine, too. By the day before the performance, he was running through it pretty fast, and slurring a lot of the words together, I think because he’s a ten-year-old with the attention span of a newborn gnat. He just wanted to get to the end.

“Slow down and say each word!” I’d remind him, “Give the audience a chance to laugh!”

Finally, the moment of truth. He was called out onto the “stage” (just one end of the cultural hall), and dove right in. I was amazed. He was clear, the audience laughed, and he looked like he was having the time of his life.

The best bits?

“So, I went to the doctor, and told him that I was having a lot of trouble seeing. The doctor said, “You’re absolutely right. This is a post office!” (laughter) “So, that explains my picture on the wall!” (more laughter)

“I went out to dinner. I told the waiter that there was no chicken in my chicken pot pie. He said, “Well there’s no dog in a dog biscuit!” That made me feel a lot safer about their kids menu!”

And when it was all done, he did the part he’d been most excited about: “Good night Tokyo! You’ve been great! I’ll be here all week!”

Afterward, I got a lot of comments from the other parents about how funny and articulate he is. I was proud of him for trying, and for doing his best. He’d also helped his little brother go out and tell a few jokes.

So, who knows? Tomorrow he’ll announce that he’s going to be computer programmer, or a game store owner, or a chef. I really don’t care what he ends up being, as long as it’s legal. We’ll explore them all. I sure had fun with him this time!

Mark Hansen


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