One Sonic Society - One EP

Just downloaded this album tonight. What a surprising offering. One Sonic Society is the new project of Stu G and John Thatcher, formerly of Delirious? The EP contains five tracks, as listed below:

1. Our God Will Come
2. Forever Reign
3. The Greatness of Our God
4. Burn
5. Meet With Me

I highly recommend this EP. This is the kind of stuff that translates SO well into a community environment. This is not an album of three minute pop songs. These are clearly and unapologetically worship songs. The production is a little safe, the songwriting perhaps a bit formulaic. But just a little; just a bit. In fact, this balance might be what makes the EP so great.

Let me say this: I spend hours listening through album after album of "christian music" and "live worship" looking for good songs, and I'm lucky to find one or two per album (if ANY!) that work for me. Call me picky, but lyrics and melody are important.

On this EP, I immediately hear four of the five songs working in public worship. Maybe even five out of five. Thematically, the lyrics are all the way there for me. Easy to sing, as if they were my own words. And from there, I can hear what I would do to make the music heavier and more powerful, what I would do to stretch the songs out and fill them in. There is a framework here that I can jump off from. Add a little here; take away a little there. This is what I do as a worshiper, and as a facilitator. Start with a foundation, seek my own voice of worship through it, and help others to find theirs.

One Sonic Society has succeeded in creating a collection of songs that are unobtrusive and unassuming. The songs are not overly written. The songs are not focused on themselves. They are purely worship focused, and are thereby a platform for worshipers. I found this refreshing and unexpected. Here are some lyrics from "Meet With Me" that bear this sentiment:

I'm not here to pretend, I'm not here just to sing
But I'm asking You please, meet with me.
I have felt You before, and I'm certain there's more
So I'm asking You please, meet with me...

Strip it away, strip it all away, 'til I am left with You
Break it away, break it all away, all I want is You

Here's a video from the band, about the band:

1962 Blonde Fender Bassman

OK, here's a few pics for those of you who are interested. Again, cosmetically she's not the prettiest, but the tone is all I could ask for.

Here's a close up of the head. Obviously a "brownface". Notice the Presence knob to the far right and the Pre-CBS company name "Fender Elect. Inst. Co."

And here's the tube chart. The "LA" stamp in the upper right corner means the amp was manufactured in January of 1962.

Jesus Manifesto

Just came in the mail this week. Finished two chapters so far...

If you are not already familiar with the book, it is by Len Sweet and Frank Viola. It just came out this month, but was actually preceded by a wordpress blog post entitled "A Jesus Manifesto." In its original form it was much shorter, and the old post has now been replaced by a short page of information about the new and now larger "Jesus Manifesto" book.

I wrote a response to the original manifesto almost a year ago, which you can read "here." In it, I criticized the authors for failing to give practical examples of how we as Christians are to give Christ the ultimate supremacy in our lives (although I very much appreciate them both and their work on a variety of topics). I am looking forward to finishing the new book and seeing if it improves on the original version.

And again, I am very much on board with the idea here. In my opinion, Len and Frank are absolutely right about our need to bring Jesus back to the forefront of our faith. I just hope that this time they will not shy away from telling us how we can do it.

Singability and Guitar Solos

What is this idea of "singability" in worship music? I've heard so many different points of view on this that I thought I would share my thoughts on the issue.

As far as music style, it is marginally true that some songs are easier to sing than others. The most significant variable that affects singability is familiarity. Hymns are some of the most difficult songs to sing when one is unfamiliar with them, due to the lyrical syncopation and accents that often run counter to normative diction (for example, the word "fortress" in "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" is sung in three syllables, requiring a sort of double tonguing of the first "r", not easily done unless you are familiar with the song, and one of hundreds of like examples).

And the debate on singability runs to and fro. Many who prefer hymns argue that choruses are "too simple and repetitive". And while modern/postmodern worship music is increasingly embracing hymnody and returning to values of complexity, intricacy, and depth in worship music, those who prefer simpler choruses argue for singability. And while there are good points to be made on all sides, in the end it truly boils down to taste and familiarity and circular logic. "I like what I know and can sing and worship to easily", "I can sing and worship easily to what I like and know", etc.

The idea that some songs are more worshipful or more conducive to worship than others is a truly flawed proposition. Worshipfulness is in the heart of the worshiper. Everything on the exterior is taste and familiarity. Hymns are not better or worse than Hillsongs in any spiritual way, nor are Hillsongs better or worse than Vineyard or SixSteps in any spiritual way. The only way they are better or worse than each other is in the way that they meet people's expectations and tastes, or put another way, in the particular language that they speak to particular people. You can read my post called "Music as Language" to learn more of my opinions on this idea.

However, I do feel that some songs, and especially certain lyrical styles, are better suited for leading worship. I believe that ALL music is worship. But not all music is best suited to lead others in worship. For example, I could write a song with lyrics about being addicted to drugs, and how I trust in God for deliverance... and when I sing that song, I would definitely be worshiping God with it. But it might not be the best song for me to use to lead others in worship. Certainly it could lead others to worship, and it would perhaps be awesome and powerful for those who could connect with it somehow and worship through it. But it would take a special connection that not everyone would have. So I see a slight difference between music that is designed and written for personal worship versus music that is designed and written to lead others in worship.

At the same time, during a church gathering there is definitely room for all kinds of music and worship styles. I have experienced great connections with God in personal worship through experiencing the talents and personal worship of others, even if I am not participating in it, but only watching it. When I hear an awesome guitar solo in church, it moves me to worship God all the more because of the amazing talents and gifts of creativity that He gives to us, and for the way that others use those gifts to worship Him. I don't have to participate in a guitar solo to be led in worship by one! But it is my personal choice to worship God for what He does. Some people might get distracted by a guitar solo, or be tempted to give praise to the soloist instead of the Creator who gave the soloist the talent. Some might make judgments about the soloist, assuming that he or she is looking for praise. Instead, I worship God for the talent He has given the soloist, and in my own way I join with the soloist in worshiping God. My assumption is that he or she wants to give God glory by soloing. That is AWESOME to me.

(Originally posted in 2005)

1962 Blonde Fender Bassman

OK, time for some more guitar gear stuff.

I just picked up an old Fender piggyback Bassman for $200. It was broken when I bought it, so I had it looked at by Bryan Sours at Soursound here in Portland. It ended up needing to be recapped and the speakers replaced, which weren't original anyway. Funny thing about it... someone had spray painted the head and cabinet black, which it turns out was not an uncommon practice after Fender changed their amps to black in 1964. People wanted newer looking amps! But the original blonde tolex was there underneath the paint and came out fairly clean after using hefty amounts of graffiti remover. It still looks old, but the discoloration and cigarette burns give it a distressed vintage vibe that you usually have to pay extra for. I'll post some pics when I get around to taking some.

I had Bryan order a pair of Weber Vintage Series Ceramics (12F150-A) to install in the 2x12 cabinet, and they sound perfect. The great thing about the amp is that other than the caps, power tubes, bias adjustment, grounded AC, and speakers, the head and cabinet are 100% original from 1962, choke, transformers, everything. It's a 1962 Blonde Fender Bassman, brownface (pre-blackface), with the original 6G6-A circuit. And boy does it sound good. All told I am in to the amp for less than $700, which is what the heads alone can sell for on eBay. Mine's not in the greatest cosmetic shape. But the tone is there!

This is my first true Fender tube amp. I got my first tube amp back in 1998, a used Laney 50w 1x12 combo. Since then I have owned a Marshall JTM310, Marshall TSL602, Mesa/Boogie Road King, Budda Superdrive 18, and a TopHat King Royale. I have been playing through the TopHat for a few years now, which is basically a Vox AC30 circuit in channel one and AC30TB circuit in channel two, modified but very similar. And I have really liked it. It cleans up pretty well when I roll back my guitars volume, but gets nice and crunchy when I open it up. And it definitely has a Vox vibe that is different from Marshall and Mesa. People like to call it "chimey", which isn't exactly how I would describe it, but it's close. It's hand built, point to point wired, and the craftsmanship is off the scale. It's a great amp. But perhaps my ears are tiring of the Vox thing, because this Bassman is really a much better sounding amp to me.

Until now I never really liked the sound I heard from Fender amps. I had a band mate once who played a HotRod Deluxe. I didn't care much for it, but it was a nice contrast to my Marshall tone at the time. And I've heard plenty of Twins and always thought they were shrill. But this Bassman is something different. It's warm, rich, and full. Yes, the clean top end can saw your head off if you're not careful. That's what Fender's do. But the 2x12 closed back cab has plenty of bass response. And I keep the treble knob right at about 12 o'clock, which is just right. Plus the old Bassman's have a presence knob, not a bright switch like later Fender circuits. So it's not an on/off thing, too bright versus not bright enough... I can dial in just the right amount of shimmer without getting too harsh.

I would say that the Bassman is not quite as dynamic as the King Royale. It doesn't crunch quite as hard, and certainly doesn't come close to the modern high-gain my Marshall's have. But it has a wonderful clean tone that beats them all! With the guitar volume rolled back just a bit it sounds like warm glass. And cranked up it does have a nice gritty bluesy classic rock tone. So there is quite a bit of range. Just not all the way there. It's a unique thing I guess. It does what it's supposed to do. None of my other amps sound as good clean or slightly pushed. Now I know why so many people swear by Fender's for clean and Marshall's for gain. Maybe a dual amp setup is in my future??

I am planning to eventually post some gear review videos, maybe do a shoot-out between a couple of my amps. Play a variety of guitars through them. Listen to the different tones they create. Maybe do a Fender vs. Marshall "clash of the titans" vid? I've been thinking for a long time that it might be fun... and educational at the same time! I figure I'll learn as much about my amps by doing it as anyone will by watching it. Maybe I'll have some time this summer...