Saturday, November 29, 2008

Got Leftovers?

Here's a suggestion for what to do with any leftover Thanksgiving grub....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Larry's Top 10 Favorite Christmas CD's Top 5

I gave my best take on numbers 6 through 10 yesterday, and now for the top 5 (thanks for the suggestions and or nods from several of you thorough email, facebook, etc. ) BTW, if you blog at all, you know that comments are like a can never get enough. So please feel free to leave your thoughts. And now for the Top 5 Christmas CD's in Larry's Collection as determined solely by him:

#5 - A Very Sentimental Warm & Cozy Family Christmas

OK, stop everything – go right now to your local Family Christian Store, or for some of you, find someone who knows what that is first, then go find one. Go to the bargain bin or the rack of one million Christmas CD’s and get this for cheap. You will be pleasantly surprised! It’s been out for a few years, but I still see it in the mix, exclusive only to Family Christian Stores. Most of the artists are Christian artists. But these versions of the songs (and lets face it, most Christmas CD’s are just cover tunes, right?) are very fresh, and the whole CD has sort of a jazz vibe. I like it a bunch. I made a playlist a couple of years back of background music for the onslaught of Christmas parties we tend to be involved in, and I kept grabbing songs off this disk. Very creative version of 'God Rest Ye' by Salvador. Good tunes, certainly not run-of-the-mill stuff. Trust me, this CD is a diamond in the rough you will be glad to have.
#4 - Amy Grant

She probably had one of the earliest Christmas recordings I owned. Since then she had a newer release entitled Home for Christmas (with 'Grown-Up Christmas List' AND 'Breath of Heaven,' two huge songs), and I think now has an even newer CD. Heck, she'll probably go Keith Green on us and keep releasing Christmas CD's long after she's dead (very obscure joke there....let me know if you get that.) Nevertheless, I couldn’t leave that Tennessee Christmas cassette tape and the 2nd offering she had off the list. (OK, so she surrounds herself with great writers….shouldn’t we all?) Both were good. So much Christmas music is just cover tunes with a tweak. Amy Grant, to her credit, always had a new, fresh song that crept off the disk and stood out. She has this smooth, comforting voice that is perfect for the Christmas genre. Her songs have played in the background for many Christmas gatherings in our house, and our celebrations wouldn't be the same w/out her music.
#3 - Mannheim Steamroller

I was first introduced to these folks back in the 80’s while in college. One summer, a couple of guys sort of “house sat” a home for one of our professors. He had an amazing stereo, and an even more amazing collection of Steamroller albums. Our only condition of living in his house for the summer was to keep our hands off the stereo. OK, so that didn’t work. And the chances are good that Louie might read this, so I’m busted! However, that was my first exposure to Mannheim Steamroller. Very interesting, unique, and experimental music. Steamroller has been around a while. Most people probably think they only do Christmas stuff, but they have a huge catalog of music (actually, get on their mailing list...their actual print catalog is quite unique, and you can even get like an $89 wooden steamroller for those of you w/money to burn....just don't burn the wooden steamroller). Their Christmas music is sonically in a league of its own. Those Trans-Siberian folks are popular right now, but outside of the Mad Russian Christmas song, I don’t care too much for them. Mannheim steamrolls the competition (sorry, a Dave Macanally moment for my Indy friends who watch the news…), and their first two CD’s are must-own discs for any music fan. But stick with the first two, maybe the third one too. Happened upon a new release from last year, I think….can you say “jumped the shark?” After begging with the Wal-Mart clerk, she actually let me return it! But their early Christmas stuff "is gold, Jerry. It's gold."
#2 - An Evening In December, Vol. I & II

OK, so I expect very few to actually own this, and even less to agree that it belongs as high as number 2. I'll preface this by saying that I am a marginal vocalist. You won't find me singing much in public, though I can blend in with a group, a choir, etc. Something about this collection of songs makes me wish I could sing! I remember in college, our school did what was in those days called Madrigals, now the Feast of Christmas. It was the first time I had heard such professional acapella music with such blends & harmonies, and I was a wannabe, never a part of it. (OK, so I did wear tights and a 16th century little skimpy outfit and play one of those 4-foot trumpets, but that was the closest I got to being a part of it!) Not sure when I came across these recordings, but it was somewhere in that time period in college. I have cassette tapes still, though you can get downloads from Amazon (I used my pepsi points to get the entire first release on mp3). The harmonies, the arrangements, and the guest vocals from the likes of Russ Taff, Wayne Watson and others make these songs special. Main artists on both releases are First Call, who started out as a studio background group, then started to do their own thing (think a slightly less jazzy Manhattan Transfer). I believe these both go back to the early 80's, but to me they're pretty timeless arrangements that real musicians and music lovers can't help but enjoy and appreciate.

And the #1 Selection in Larry's Top 10 Christmas CD's:

#1 - A Charlie Brown Christmas – Vince Guaraldi Trio

Is there any more comforting sound than this jazz instrumental CD? I don’t even really know what to say about it. It’s just the ultimate in cool and great musicianship. Such great expressiveness. I’m a marginal musician at best, but music like this makes me wish I could sit down and play something – anything – just to play along with these guys. Of course, they make it sound so easy. I now have 3 kids, all of whom enjoy good music and are perhaps aspring musicians themselves. On more than one occassion, I've had to retrieve my copy of this CD from their clutches. So this isn't just good stuff for kids of the 80's. Good music is good music, and I'm thrilled that my kids actually like something that I like! If you don’t have much in the way of Christmas music, and you only had $10 or so to spend in your holiday budget for something (I can’t believe I’m going to say it…here it comes…) as meanial as music, get this CD. And get ready to groove. It helps if you're somewhere that you can play it loud, too.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Larry's Top 10 Favorite Christmas CD's 'Bottom 5'

I happen to be a fairly avid collector of Christmas music. It’s actually quite sad and borderline wrong, sort of in an ugly, rich American kind of way. But its one of my many vices, and a guilty pleasure. Truth is, I’ve always had my ways to get CD’s at affordable prices, often free (and always legal!), and usually pick a couple up the week following Christmas at 75% off. So there.

My usual golden rule is to not allow any Christmas music to be played in my hearing until Thanksgiving is officially over. This year, in the spirit of John Kerry, I’ve flip-flopped a bit on that stance, and have busted out the Christmas tunes. Plus, driving from KY to IN every weekend gives me some time to do a lot of listening. I decided it was high time to put together my Top 10 list of favorite Christmas CD’s. I've always wanted to, just never had the time. Not that I have the time now, but after a few days of reviewing, refreshing my memory, and sorting through the cheese, I think I have arrived at concensus. Feel free to disagree, submit your own, etc. When possible, I’ll give a link so you can snag these great yuletide tunes for you own collection. Before I get started, a couple of disclaimers:

FIRST, A large number of these are Christian artists. Nothing wrong with that, but remember...I get them cheap and/or free, and I get what I can. If I could get my hands on a bargain-bin version of Hanson's "Snowed In", I would add it to the collection. OK, bad example. Would rather have my wisdom teeth re-installed and re-removed than own anything Hanson. So keep that in mind.

SECOND, Though some of these are classics, I didn't go the Bing Crosby route, or anyone from that particular era. It's not that I don't like any of that - I'm as big a fan of Holiday Inn and White Christmas et al as the next person (notice I didn't say "the next guy"), I just don't listen to it too much. Gene Autry singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was great when I was 6, but I've moved on. You're allowed to like it, and I'm allowed to listen to stuff that's good. So here goes……

THIRD, Some of these are actually more than one CD. Took some editorial liberties, but I will try to mention which of the 'set' is my actual fave. So buckle your we go.
#10 - Handel’s Messiah – A Soulful Celebration

It’s no secret that I’m white. Very white. OK, so I don’t clap on 1 and 3, but I’m pretty white. I think that’s why I’ve always liked this CD. It’s kind of the ‘anti-me.’ The title might give it away a bit. Of course, its a take on Handel's Messiah that's flat-out soulful. I believe its produced by Quincy Jones, and features artists like Stevie Wonder, Take 6, Al Jarreau, and others. And a couple of black choirs that just throw down. Assuming 'throwing down' is a good thing. Anyway, if you're familiar with Handel's Messiah, you should really enjoy these renditions. If you're not familiar with The Messiah, you should be! Every Valley is a favorite. I particularly enjoy the instrumental & experiemental opening track entitled "A Partial History of Black Music." But one of my all-time favorite tunes is the culmination of the disc, which I think would make Handel smile. When the rip into "The Hallelujah Chorus," I just have to crank it up. That song needs to be very loud when its played. the only thing possibly better than listening to this over & over would be to hear it live. It's terrific. You can get it on Amazon.

#9 - Blues For The Child

Not sure how many people actually own this - its fairly obscure. I discovered it several years after its release and had to grab it on eBay. Some of this is conjecture on my part, but I believe the guy behind this project was a blues musician named Lanny Cordola. It was released in the early 90’s and slid under my radar. Happened to hear Chris Lizotte do a song one year at an event and asked him if it was recorded, and he told me it was on this project (actually, not sure the song I asked him about was actually on this, but he has 2 other cuts). If you know Chris and his music, the phrase “and the mountains in reply echo back their glorious strain” in his "Angels We Have Heard On High" track are vintage Lizotte. Very cool bluesy/jazzy version of Silent Night with some unknown female vocalist, and an instrumental guitar/dobro/mandolin rendition of "What Child Is This" that stays on my current Christmas tune playlist. Also a technically beautiful guitar version of "The Christmas Song." If you can find this CD, its good and worth the hunt.

#8 - Happy Christmas Volumes 1-4

This is actually 4 cd's. Sue me. The folks at Tooth ‘n Nail records, home to a host of eclectic bands, released these over a number of successive years. There are lots of highlights throughout the collection (not sure if they put out more of 4 of these), but they’re quite fun. My favorite from the collection is Happy Christmas Vol. 2. Includes Sixpence None The Richer doing "The Grinch" (that song had to have been written with Leigh Nash in mind), and another band that I know nothing about named Viva Voce doing their ‘airy techno’ version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." When they kick in at the turn, it always makes me smile. (Sort of like that chick from Flyleaf in that first song they had that was popular called "I'm So Sick" where she screams. Makes me smile and hit replay). Several great cuts on each of these volumes from Relient K, Switchfoot, Supertones, and a host of bands that you may or may not know. Fairly fresh & fun. The Sarah Masen song, "Heaven's Got A Baby" on Vol. 3 is another personal favorite.

#7 - Merry Christmas from Doc Severinson and The Tonight Show Orchestra

Another absolute gem from the early 90’s. First, for many of you, Doc Severinson was (is?) a fabulous trumpet player, and a big band leader. Before Leno and his “copy the funny stuff from Letterman’s show” routine, Doc led the band for the show, and occasionally they toured and recorded (never got to see them in person, but would have loved that chance). I’m an old-school ‘band’ guy, and have enjoyed that a good bit with my kids and their musical pursuits. So I do love a good big band sound. This Christmas CD is full of wonderful big-band arrangements that just fill the room. Great orchestration and plenty of jazz influence. Plenty here to appreciate for both musician and listener both. Not a bad song on the disc, and its easy to find on ebay, Amazon, et al.

#6 - The Blind Boys of Alabama – ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’

I like this because its just different than the same-old. There’s just something cool about the music these guys produce (their release with Ben Harper is another fave of mine). Granted, this is the kind of thing you either really like or really don’t care for at all. Joining them are a host of guest vocalists like Harry Connick Jr., Tom Waits, Chrissie Hynde, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, George Clinton and others. Favorite tracks include the title cut, and ‘Last Month of the Year.’ Another one of those CD's that sounds better as loud as you can get it. A real Christmas gem, though one that's a little polarizing at my house (I think I'm the only one who likes & appreciates it)

So there it is for now....numbers 10 through 6. Will post my top 5 tomorrow. But I can't end this post without this next piece of Christmas cheer.....

The CD that I can’t believe I actually own:

Yo! Ho Ho – Various Christian Rap Artists

I wish I was kidding. But I’m not. Apparently in 1990, this was necessary. Wait, I was there….and this was never necessary! But it happened, and somehow I have it in my collection. Before I get into the absurdity of it all, here is some of the brilliant copy from the back of the jewel case:
“So here’s the deal. It’s Christmas and Rap is happenin’. YO! HO HO! is in your face. You have always wondered what Christmas would be with a hip M.C. Well, here it is…YO! HO HO! Features your favorite Christian rappers comin’ correct for Christmas. Chill out – rap it up!”

I can’t imagine that anyone connected to his product is actually proud to be forever embedded on this disk. From the title track by DC Talk, to "Drummer Boy" by E.T.W., to the unforgettable "Mary Had A Little Lamb" by M.C. Ge Gee (I wonder if that name fits on his Shoney’s nametag…EDIT....OK, apparently M.C. Ge Gee is actually a girl...), this is truly a collectors item. I almost put it on ebay, but then realized that it was too valuable to let out of my sight!

Here’s some lyrical content from "Drummer Boy" by E.T.W. (I believe that stood for End Time Warriors, if you’re taking notes at home:
“A little drummer boy back in the day,

came to the stable where Jesus lay

He saw a big star a shinin’, three wise men in line

Bearing fresh gifts, and busting fresh rhymes”

I wish I was making that up, because its amazingly funny now. I guess in 1990, it was a fresh as a Bel Air prince.

Really, I don’t know if you could ever find a copy of this….but its worth a laugh. Or better yet, take the $ you would spend on this glorified coaster and send it to World Vision or the charity of your choice. The artists on this project will be eternally grateful that you didn't listen to this embarrassing piece of anecdotal trivia that's part of an unending stream of garbage put out by Christians in the name of entertainment back in the day. It got better....but mostly because it couldn't get much worse! There is one of these currently on ebay...better bust a move and get over there. And while you're at it, throw your hands in the air like you just don't care.
UPDATE: I've been following a CD of YO! HO HO! on Ebay, and it just ended at $23.50. That's pretty good cash for a CD. Really good for a really lousy CD. May have to put my copy out there for the masses...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My Final Newsletter Article

Just submitted my final article for our church newsletter. I've officially been gone since Oct. 1st, but still there every Sunday till we move after Christmas. So here's my last go at saying farewell...

It seems like it all started just yesterday. Fresh off of a 3-year ministry in Ohio and just starting a family, you invited us to come and ‘grow up’ in your midst. I can honestly say that those first few months of getting settled in Anderson back in 1992 seemed like we were planting roots. So much seemed right about the spot where Vicki and I had landed, even though leaving such good friends in our previous ministry was hard. The heritage of youth ministry that we were inheriting was at times intimidating, but the high bar of expectation was also refreshing. It turned out to be exactly what was needed for us, and those years are full of memories that will never fade. To this day, nothing beats being a small part in the transformation of the life of a kid. Those who linked arms with us throughout those years and did so with such longevity and energy know exactly what I’m talking about. Nothing beats it.

I can’t say enough about the people at Bethany. Such a diverse group that really only God could orchestrate. Some of you have been there your entire lives, while some have just shown up along the way. But so many are attracted to something about this place. It’s no secret that we’re not perfect. In fact, that’s one of the things I appreciate so much about Bethany. Not that we’re flawed, but that we’re willing to admit it! Only when we own up to the fact that we’re not clicking on all cylinders will we ever find solutions. Yet in spite of our imperfection, there’s some sort of cosmic magnetism (I just made that up…not bad…) that pulls us together in a way that’s unique and at times awe-inspiring. I’ve often had a press-box view of how God has worked through so many of you to do tremendous kingdom-building things. I was privileged to sit back, take notes, and learn from you. For that I will be forever grateful.

Personally, the way you took such good care of our family is a reflection of your heart. You’ve fixed our cars, sharpened our mower blades, changed our diapers, baby sat, played with and taught our kids, left anonymous gifts, raked our leaves, and so many other things – both small and large – that have shown us what it means to live as a family of believers who take care of each other. Not to mention that some of you let us dress you up in the most ridiculous outfits and perform in ways that would be humiliating to the average person. Good thing you folks aren’t average!

Bethany will always have a spot in our hearts. Vicki and I have spent 16 of our almost 20 years of marriage with you. Our kids became followers of Jesus in your midst, and I had the thrill of baptizing each of them at Bethany. You gave us a long leash to do, try, experiment, and sometimes pull the plug on some programs or traditions that just weren’t working like they may have at one time. That’s never easy, but often its necessary. And so, so many of you have been such valiant servants through the myriad of changes that have happened in the past 16 years. I’ll never forget your example, and your willingness to do whatever is necessary – even when it’s not exactly your cup of tea – to see the Church move forward and continue to reach people and lift up Jesus.

In 16 years, I’ve submitted something like 194 Bugle articles, give or take. Truth is, not a one of them has been by the deadline. Apparently, that’s not one of my gifts. This one is no exception…it’s one minute past midnight, just after the day it was due. The Bugle folks would expect no less! But this one wasn’t as much about procrastination or forgetfulness. It’s the hardest one to do, because it’s the last one. But please know that this new season of ministry for our family is exciting and unique, and we’re only adequate for the task because of the last 16 years of both you and God molding and shaping us. We commit to staying on the potter’s wheel. And we trust that you will too.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rob Harris Is My Friend

Rob is one of my friends from college. For the past bunch of years, he's been the worship minister at a church just outside Nash-vegas, Franklin TN to be specific. Rob is a great talent, and leads a mean worship service. We've used a number of the worship tunes he's penned at our church in Anderson (and I think we even reported them to CCLI...). Lately, Rob has spent a good bit of time writing. I'll preface this by saying I'm not a country music fan. In fact, I make fun of it often....and can't we all agree that there's plenty there to make fun of?? (Sadly, as I travel around the area of my new residence....lets just say the seek button on the radio seems to only find country stations).

Anyway, I do enjoy Rob's songs. Many of them make me feel like I should be at Texas Roadhouse eating peanuts and waiting on my onion blossom. You can check out a bunch of his songs here at this site, or at his myspace music page here. A few that are my faves: "Three Months & A Winnebago," "Too Far Gone," and his rendition of (with Joey Martin on vocals....reminds me a bit of Julie Miller) Freebird. (these songs are Rob's originals that he wrote, but with studio least I think that's accurate). Check him out, and listen for one of his songs to eventually hit the radio...and if it does, tell me. I probably won't be listening - but the CD that contains a Rob Harris penned tune will be the first...and perhaps CD I purchase!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tough Economic Times / McCain on Leno

Times are tough all over, not just here in the US. Yesterday, the Chinese government laid off the entire second grade!

(OK, so I borrowed that from Leno last night...)

Speaking of Leno, did anyone else watch John McCain on there? He was great. Even if you didn't vote for him, he's hard not to like. Very engaging, funny, and no one...I mean no one... loves this country more than him. The story he told at the end about the cell mate and the homemade American flag was beautiful & touching. If you can find the interview on YouTube or at, its worth your time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lars And The Real Girl

I took a chance on this film, having overheard a conversation somewhere (not sure where exactly) and having a boring evening alone. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatment! What a great film. I can't really divulge the premise...many of you would write this off if I gave you a summary. But a very good film that is quirky to be sure, but full of great stuff. To see how this community of people loves & accepts this guy who obviously is working through an issue is not only touching, but very much refelective of the heart of Christ. Do yourself a it, watch it, and see what I mean!

UPDATE: Watched it again this weekend with my wife (kept telling her she would love it...and I was right!), and was able to purchase a cheap previously-viewed copy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Finding Middle Ground

OK, so I've discovered Facebook. Really quite fun - have connected with friends from HS, College, and kids from youth group days gone by. Sat with Facebook on the laptop while I watched the election returns, and was somewhat amazed by what I was seeing happen. Not the outcome of the election itself - I had a strong sense that it would go the way it did. But the reaction of my Facebook friends. It seems my friends fall into 2 categories:
  1. "The Sky is falling! Rip our garments, put ashes on our head, get on our knees and cry out to Jehovah God to not let this guy become president!!!"
  2. "This is perhaps the most unbelievable, history-making night of my life."

I sat watching the comments people were making...and all I could think was "really?" I had my share of problems with both perspectives. First, I just don't think .... at least in my lifetime .... that the Oval Office has made that much impact on our world and particularly on my life (well, the current guy had a little to do with us being in a war that is built upon some shaky rationale, and how can we not blame the gas price 'surge' on him?), and I just don't think Obama can be all that bad. Though there are some moral issues I disagree with on his position (and Johnny Mac's, too), there are some aspects of his platform that are interesting, and we'll see what happens.

However, some were reacting as if the Messiah himself had descended from on high. Not sure I get that, either. He has no experience and is unproven. But, he sounds & looks good. Is that a reason to vote for him? And the average age of those making the "this is the most amazing night of my entire life" comments? About 25. Not that a 25-year-old has nothing to say or no opinion...but there's going to be a lot of amazing moments in your life to come. An unproven entity with a lot to prove becoming president? History, yes. Improbable, certainly. But until the guy actually does something, let's hold off on Messiah (well, let's not go there...regardless)

Three observations I have about the whole deal....just my thoughts for what they're worth....

  1. God is still on the throne. Here in beautiful KY, the sun was really bright the next morning.
  2. Chuck Colson said some time ago that "Jesus isn't coming back on Air Force One." He of course was criticizing the billions of dollars the Religious Right was spending to get the 'right' people in office. We, the people of God, have substituted our mandate to be salt & light and to permeate the culture by living the Kingdom....with the notion that morality in our country should be legislated by elected officials. I believe we need Christians in politics...and dentistry...and law....and running libraries....etc. God's people, when they have risen up throughout history, have made mountains move. With or without elected or appointed officials.
  3. And lastly, I need to spend some time hanging with friends of different perspectives. Not to sway them or be swayed, but to understand better where folks who think like them are coming from. Most of my friends, on Facebook anyway, are on the far right. A few who weren't afraid to wave their Obama support. And in defense of those folks, they happen to be very intelligent, thoughtful Christians who are doing some great things for the kingdom (I know...for some on the Right, that's hard to understand).

All that to say that I think we can use a deep breath, thank God that He hasn't abandoned us, pray for those in charge, and get busy being His followers.