Monthly Archives: June 2011

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Jam of the Moment: My Piano

 

George Duke

Face the Music

“My Piano.”

 

As I sit outside on my friend Vanessa’s summer patio, I’m imagining being one of those people who do the big mega-home tours, not for fantasy wish-fulfillment, but because they’re actually looking for a home.

Obviously, I have no idea what that’s like. If I did, I would be way more famous, because I would have since bought my way further into the spotlight than what is probably healthy, so once again, it looks like God knows what He’s doing.

Nevertheless, when I go to these things with my wife, I periodically imagine what kind of parties I would throw if I had one of these places, because that’s what you do when you own a 5,000 square foot home. I imagine what it might be like to meet my neighbors, and after disabusing them of the notion that I’m in the entourage of a professional athlete, to invite them over to our place, to show them, as Montell Jordan used to say, how we do it.

Which means that, loathe as I am to admit this, I couldn’t bring myself to play any hip-hop. Not that hip-hop isn’t mainstream (thank you, Dre and Jay-Z) but when you’re Black, upper middle class, and looking to make a first impression, you make sure to cross anything off of the list that might give your suburban White neighbors cause to mentally associate with you with plummeting real estate values. Sad, but true.

So having vowed to temporarily leave all the bass-rattling rap anthems off the playlist, I would probably have some light jazz going on in the background, mostly classics… Coltrane, Ellington, Montgomery, etc.

And then at some point, I would gather the guests around to sit down at my piano, where I would play.

And since this whole thing is an exercise in fantasy anyway, I would play this song, by George Duke, “My Piano.”

I would sit, looking handsome and stately, and play the song’s intro with as much style and je ne sais quoi as possible, and then right at the 40-sec mark, the guitar would come in with an island lilt, and then a big kabuki curtain would drop, revealing the rest of the rhythm section behind me (it’s a large house, people wouldn’t even notice).

And as the band and I play, people would slowly rise, and the dance instructors that I planted ahead of time as guests would start dancing and encouraging others to do the same, and the place would slowly morph from being a classy affair to being a real live party, with people, y’know, enjoying themselves and the people around them.

Somewhere, in the recesses of my mind, that exact scenario (or a variation thereof) plays out, every time I listen to “My Piano,” by George Duke. And that’s why it’s today’s Jam of the Moment.

 


Jam of the Moment

Jam of the Moment: #putyourloveglasseson

Beckah Shae

#putyourloveglasseson (Single)

Shae Shoc Records

____________________________

 

There are so many things that I love about this song.

And let me be clear. This song is probably not going to be considered by anyone as “great art.” It is not rife with moral ambiguity, or a profound sense of personal identity, and it doesn’t make any statements about any of the defining issues of our day, unless a general lack of love qualifies.

(Actually, now that I’m thinking about it… yes. Yes, it does.)

Because this is a song about love, wrapped up in a modern R&B/hip-hop shell and adorned with the most original and gimmicky song title in years, complete with Twitter hashtag for maximum trendability.

And maybe on a subconscious level, part of what I respect about this song is that it knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t try to do more. The style of the song, especially the hypnotic rhythm of the chorus, suggests a lyrical paradigm that doesn’t ask much of you, other than to nod to the music, and agree with the general premise, that we all need to put our love glasses on — whatever that means.

See, I’m already getting ahead of myself.

First, I really dig Beckah Shae’s voice. She has the voice of a modern R&B diva — playful but assured, smooth but still powerful. It carries enough punch that you want to hear what she has to say, but not so much that you can’t enjoy the delivery.

The playful vibe is augmented by her husband Jack “Shoc” Shocklee, who has a good feel for production. His synth chords and 808 beats are evocative of classic hip-hop, but unlike the more famous Shocklee duo (The Bomb Squad of Public Enemy fame), he eschews the overcrowded sampling or overly aggressive beat subdivision. Rather, he establishes a groove and lets it variate throughout the song. His instrumentals might not be that interesting by themselves, but he wisely gives room for Beckah’s expansive voice to fill the aural space.

And also, let’s just be honest, I love the chorus itself. It is, very, very catchy and fun to say — almost the evangelical equivalent of the classic woodchuck tongue twister, with all the “love”s and “putcha”s moshing around in your mouth. This is the positive version of the ridiculous pimpin-pimpin-pimpin-murder-murder-sell-drugs song from that Don’t Waste Your Life promo video. Catchy enough to spread.

The last, and most important thing, of course, is the meaning of the song. In case the above hyperlink to Beckah’s blog failed to interest you, I will just tell you. The meaning of the phrase “put your love glasses on,” is to abide in Christ to such a degree that you begin to see the world around you more like how he sees it, through a lens of love.

And I’m not ashamed to say that I need more reminders to do this, to walk and live in this way. Someone inconveniences me, someone gets on my nerves, and I need to be like, “RIGHT… love glasses… got it.”

Really, this song is one of the best examples I’ve seen recently of “Christian music,” that is, music by believers in Christ intended to virally spread His worldview. It’s not soul-wrenching emo, it’s not going to bring anyone to their knees or be the rock-you-to-the-core catalyst for a dramatic life conversion (at least, not that I can tell).

But it’s sticky, and according to Seth Godin, idea diffusion means that the sticky ideas rule. Well, in this case, sticky songs rule.

Which is why, “#putyourloveglasseson” is today’s Jam of the Moment.

 

 

Jam of the Moment

Jam of the Moment: So Free

Artist: DJ Maj
Album:
Speckled Goats II
Track:
So Free

DJ Maj, one of my favorite producers and personalities in music today, penned a great song in 2007 about relaxing, enjoying the ride and being free. And it’s still one of my favorites.

It’s great during the summer, of course, but also helpful in the dead of winter when you need to fantasize about being in warmer climates. Like most great hip-hop music, there are general hints of deeper thematic material, but it’s buried under a catchy hook, interesting production values, and a fun, carefree aural framework.

And, like many of my favorite jams of the interval, there’s a story that goes along with it.

Awhile back, I was doing some shopping at the grocery store with the hook from this song stuck in my head:

If you want it, you can get it, come get it, come get it
We gonna show you how to riiiide toniiiiiiiiiight
We chop it up from city to city to city
So free, like laaa-di-daaaaahhhhhhhh

So I’m doing my thing, being free, handling the produce, bagging up my canned goods, the whole nine. I finally make it back to the car, unload my stuff, and now I’m taking the cart back to the front of the parking lot where all the carts are stowed.

This particular grocery chain has a system whereby you stick a quarter in to release your cart and then when you put it back, you get your quarter back. Their way of cutting down on cart shrinkage, I guess.

Well, as I’m walking back to the front of the parking lot getting ready to redeem my quarter, I’m yellin’ out the first line of the song, (“if you want it, you can get it…”), loudly and to no one in particular, and this lady walks up to me and says, “oh, okay,” grabs my cart, hands me her quarter, and leaves me standing there dumbfounded.

That wasn’t what I meant, but… uh… okay, sure.

Maybe you’re not really into hip-hop, or maybe you’re like me and you love hip-hop but aren’t that enchanted with what gets played on the radio and on TV. If so, this song could be to you what it was to me in that moment — a pleasant surprise. “So Free” — today’s jam of the moment.

Jam of the Moment

Jam of the Moment: Only Help

Tye Tribbett, Fresh, “Only Help”

So I’m going through some things.

Like, the kind of “going through” that you might hear from one of the saints who’s been around the block a few times and is waiting on the Lord to get their breakthrough… that kind of “going through.”

One of the things I’ve noticed is that when I’m going through something big, or maybe not even anything that’s a super-big deal, but if I’m just in a bad mood or whatever, the music I’m playing tends to fall into one of two camps.

Either it’s…

1.) I’m really not doing okay and I want to listen to something languid and full of melancholy and ennui that expresses a measure of the blah feeling that is plaguing me… or,

2.) I’m going to be a grown-up, practice what I preach as a professional Christian and worship-leader-type, and listen to something that will encourage me and/or help me to worship, despite whatever I happen to be feeling.

Many times I’m quite aware that the right thing to do, the thing that will promote the most edification and be the best for me long-term is option number 2, but sometimes I just can’t stand doing option number 2, because sometimes it just feels so doggone FAKE. It’s like, no… I don’t feel like being a happy, shiny, good Christian. My life sucks right now, and *I* suck right now, and I feel like garbage, so I’m not trynna hear all that bless-the-Lord crap.

Into the void comes, “Only Help,” this tune by Tye Tribbett, from his 2010 release, “Fresh.”

I love it because when it starts out, it’s a great confessional tune. Like David the psalmist laying his soul bare before the Lord, Tye holds nothing back:

I can almost tell you each time I’m gonna fall
Devil always paint the same picture, sweet frame and all
I wanna change
And you would think by now I’d catch the scenario
Sorta like a old sitcom playing the same show
I wanna change

I’m listening to this and I’m like yep… that’s me. THAT’S ME. *I* feel that way, yes, thank you. Thank you for voicing these feelings!

But he doesn’t stop there. As a response to his own futility and brokenness, a desperate plea of praise and adoration wafts out…

I lift my hands to You

You’re my only help.

And just like that, Tye Tribbett has done what few songs can do for me… help me to get from where I am, to where I need to be.

 

What a tremendous gift.

 

And apart from the emotional and spiritual dimensions to the song, I like how the accompaniment really sets the mood. The verses are sparse, with a few bass notes and a few chords and sound effects scattered about, like hardwritten scribbles in a journal.

But when the chorus comes, the vocals usher in a soft, floating ascent into a different musical space, and even though it’s auto-tuned, it’s anything but cold or antiseptic. And at the end of the tune, the Hammond organ swells and takes over, providing the only accompaniment, and after the vocals fade, it keeps going, like a testament to the rock-solid faith of saints who have gone before and made the same plaintive cry… yes, Jesus, you are our only help.

I had to put that one on repeat for awhile.

And that is why it’s today’s jam of the moment. You can listen here, buy it here.

(And by the way, if you’re really blessed by this song, don’t just use the first link. Use the second link, too.)

You can listen  to Tye Tribbett talk about the song here: