Pickin’ Sixes


Some day I, too, will be a certified guitar player.

I was going through a pile of old ideas when I stumbled across a draft for a Chet Atkins style jazz song. How could I resist finishing it?

Of course, I’m no Chet Atkins, but I did my best on the demo. Feel free to show me how it’s done by downloading the lead sheet and making your own recording. Or you can use the comment section to guess why I called the song “Pickin’s Sixes.”

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Psalm 149 at COS

149My sabbatical ended, fully and officially, as I returned to worship leading at Church of the Servant this Sunday. I wanted to make sure people noticed that I was back–and had warm feelings about continuing to pay my salary–so I wrote a new setting of Psalm 149 for the service. You can read more about the song in a previous post.

Below is a recording from the service. I had the idea for the repeated notes in the strings while I was running the day before and was quite pleased with how they sounded. With all those talented musicians and a congregation that sings better than most choirs, it’s hard to go wrong!

Psalm 149, MP3

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Psalm 149: Let God’s People Sing a New Song


Listen: MP3 (Yucky one-take demo).
Look: PDF lead, PDF piano

My church follows the lectionary, a three year cycle of scripture readings. Generally speaking that’s a really good thing. But every once in a while you hit on one of those “difficult” scriptures. (I guess that’s the point.) On September 7th the lectionary Psalm will be Psalm 149. Unlike its kinder, gentler siblings, Psalm 148 and 150, this Psalm starts off with a “sing to the Lord a new song” theme, but quickly descends into a savage war cry: “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples.” Yikes! It sounds like death metal lyrics or the “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” of antiquity!

I began searching for a suitable musical setting of the Psalm and didn’t find much. The front runner concluded with the line, “sing praises for aye.” I just can’t see myself singing “aye” in worship unless it’s on “bring a pirate to church” Sunday.

So I set about writing a new one. First, I consulted some commentaries. It turns out that Psalm 149 is in two parts (v1-4, v5-9), sandwiched by hallelujahs. The first half praises God for salvation. The second half praises God for victory. It’s the second half that is so uncomfortable for modern readers. It sounds triumphalistic, nationalistic, and downright bloody. I’m not one to jump right to allegorical interpretations, but I’m also not comfortable with promoting the idea that we (The USA? Israel?) execute judgment on the pagans. I didn’t want to soften God’s judgment–God is, after all, the King of kings–but I took the sword out of our hands, and emphasized the justice of God’s reign rather than vengeance on non-believers. I don’t know that I got it just right, but it’s certainly better than your Psalm 149 song!

NOTE: I updated the melody on 8/29/14 to give people a place to breathe. It is now three 8th notes closer to perfection!


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I’m Down

While I was working on a song for Colin a few days ago, I had an idea for a little ditty: “I’m Down” (MP3). It was more a way for me to work out some jazz harmonies rather than my personal issues. In fact, it was a lovely afternoon, and I was having a little fun playing at being miserable, like Berk Breathed years before me:

And the Beatles and Adrian Belew years before that:

I’m pretty sure I won’t be displacing Breathed, the Beatles, or Belew with my little paean to misery.

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Colin: Who Do You Dream Of?

Colin Gordon-Farleigh is working on a new album and needed a Norah Jones style ballad to round out the project. He sent me the words to “Who Do You Dream Of?” with some basic melodic ideas. I added some special sauce and voila: MP3, PDF

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Happy Anniversary


Look at this couple–they were destined to be together!

This year’s anniversary was one of the weirder ones in Amy and my 21 years of marriage. I’ve been on sabbatical in Richmond, VA, working with the Urban Doxology Songwriting Internship and writing a new book, while Amy has stayed home with the boys. Making my wife a single mom for nearly two months makes me about the biggest heel in the history of marriage.

But even though I was 800 miles away, I woke up the morning of my anniversary thinking about Amy and thankful for our marriage. This turned into a little anniversary song by the time I was out of the shower. An hour later I roped the interns into recording it with me. (I knew that KP Purdie’s buttery vocal tones would sell the smooth R&B feel I imagined for the song.) Unfortunately my computer was broken at the time, so I wasn’t able to surprise Amy with it on our actual anniversary. But better late than never.

Happy Anniversary, Amy. You’re a keeper!

Listen to the love: MP3

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An Offering of Praise

urban_dox_internsI’ve been in Richmond working with five talented young songwriters in the Urban Doxology Songwriting Internship. Their task: write great new songs for urban churches, using East End Fellowship as a test congregation. But what kind of songs should they be? Should they mimic hip hop? “Urbanify” songs from the CCLI charts? Continue the black gospel tradition? A little of all three?

I figured I had given them enough grief about their songs over the last few weeks that it would be unfair for me not to give it a try myself. What I came up with has a Bruno Mars “Locked Out of Heaven” feel in the beginning, some juicy gospel chords in the chorus, and a modern P&W style repeated bridge. (That doesn’t make it three times as good as a mono-style song, I just thought it was interesting enough to note.) Lyrically, I decided that an urban song could (should?) have simple, direct lyrics that would relate to a wide variety of educational backgrounds (this is true at EEF, at least). I was also eager to return to the basics of salvation and righteousness in Christ. We shouldn’t get tired of that, right?

Here’s the MP3 I recorded on my computer’s mic with just my voice and a guitar. (Granted, I had some help from Logic Pro X’s drummer and octave transpose pedal.) The recording makes me sound insanely white. I’m confident that if the interns sing it, it will quickly sound more urban.

1. Imprisoned in a pit of shame,
That I had dug with my own hands.
Locked within these prison walls
Of my own making.
Everywhere the smell of sin—
Regrets, remorse, a heart of pain.
And I had given up all hope
Of salvation.

Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay:
his life for mine, his blood divine made a way.
All that I can give is the ransomed life I live;
Spend all my days a debtor to God’s grace.
All that I can give is the ransomed life I live,
and I give it as an offering of praise.

2. Released from such a debt of sin,
Redeemed from certain death I live
Renewed to the holy radiance
of my Savior.
Live as a debtor to his love.
Live in his grace, it is enough.
Live every day in confidence
Of his favor.     CHORUS

In Jesus Christ I am made right.
In Jesus Christ I have life.

3. Nothing I have ever done
or will ever do will change his love.
He looks on me and sees his Son;
Sees me righteous.
Righteous in the work of Christ,
The Holy Lamb once sacrificed,
Once, for all, throughout all time.
It is finished.     CHORUS


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I Feel Sad for Canadians

On this July 4th, it wouldn’t be right to gloat about what a great nation the USA is without feeling a little twinge of sadness for our neighbors to the north. My son Theo put it best when he held up something we had purchased and said wistfully, “I feel sad for Canadians. They always have to pay more for things.” Very true, Theo. Very true.

My fellow Americans, click on this MP3 and take a moment to feel sad for Canadians.


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Three for Emily Brink: DODECAPHONIA

emily_brinkFinally, the weirdest song of the three written for Emily Brink’s retirement collection. It is quite possibly the first 12 tone hymn tune ever written. 12 tone technique, also known as serialism or dodecaphony, uses “tone rows” to give equal weight to all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. Or “one note, one vote” as we used to describe it in music school.

Since Emily began her career as a music theorist, I thought it would be appropriate to combine her love of hymnody and theory in a ground-breaking new hymn tune. I wish I had been at her retirement party when people sang through some of the songs written for her. I’m pretty sure she would be the only one who fully appreciated the musical riddle of a pungent hymn tune named DODECAPHONIA. I thought she’d also appreciate that the text was written by her long time friend and collaborator, Bert Polman, who died recently.


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Three for Emily Brink: Unified

emily_brink#2 in the Emily Brink hit parade is a collaboration with Ron Rienstra. Ron had written a short song in a bouncy, country style for an event years ago and wondered if I’d revisit it with him. I applied some gospel sauce and it turned into this: PDF, MP3.

And no, I don’t know how it is possible for a professional musician to sing so out of tune…

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