A holy, beautiful, and moving Christmas work of art

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna: O Nata Lux” by the Los Angeles Master Chorale on my holiday station of choice, WQXR (their specially set up, focused, and temporary holiday channel, to be precise. However, I do regularly tune in to their traditional channel). Having performed a Lauridsen piece as a member of a high school chorale, I immediately recognized the composer’s touch for the Latin liturgy delivered in an ethereal acapella without having to look up the composer name. This piece’s sereneness and holiness is worshipful, and the lyrics are in praise of Jesus’ birth on earth and its significance.

The song speaks directly to and honors the transcendent act of peace, mercy, and salvation of the deity who became flesh for our sake. The translation from Latin to English reveals the simple yet powerful narrative.

O nata lux de lumine,
Jesu redemptor saeculi,
dignare clemens supplicum
laudes precesque sumere.
Qui carne quondam contegi
dignatus es pro perditis,
nos membra confer effici
tui beati corporis.
O Light born of Light,
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
with kindness deign to receive
the praise and prayer of suppliants.
You who once deigned to be clothed in flesh
for the sake of the lost,
grant us to be made members
of your blessed body.







This rendition is as close to the WQXR rendition that I can find. It may be of the same recording.


What I am listening to


Townes Van Zandt – All Your Young Servants

In this song, TVZ presents us the dark side of the faded glory of the selfish and lonely wealthy elitist who seems to have spent a lifetime lording over others while looking down on them. His “has been: lost power leave an emptiness and sadness that can’t be undone. He discovers that the entourage he had is leaving him, exposing the fallacy that they were there for him, and not for the power and wealth that tends to produce hangers-on.  I am reminded of a sound clip I heard on a preview for the upcoming Showtime series, Billions, in which a prosecutor warns a powerful billionaire related to the sycophants that surround him that, “they may be cheering now, but believe me, they are dying to boo..” As ever, the eerie quality of Van Zandts music and his powerful lyrics draw me in.

Phox – Noble Heart 

I love this band. Their eponymous album, Phox, does not have a single song that I don’t enjoy immensely. This song tells the tale of a tragically flawed and insecure woman that seemingly follows too many passions and can’t get past her own insecurities to keep a relationship. Lead singer Monica Martin’s sultry doesn’t hurt.

Sturgill Simpson – Voices 

There has been much made of Sturgill Simpson’s powerful ability to “save country music” with his powerful sound, authentic lyrics, and his general awesomeness (he stopped one of his concerts to throw out a couple of drunken idiots fighting in the back). Simpson has drawn a tremendous amount of comparisons to the outlaw country of Waylon Jennings. I love Waylon Jennings, but I feel that the depth and richness of Simpson eclipses that of the outlaw country music. Simpson’s range of topics and ability to explore a higher range of human emotions is arguably a bit more than the artists of old. Voices is a prime example of this. The first stanza is a great example:

There’s a voice that I can hear sometimes out here on the mountain
When it’s dark and the sky is pouring acid like a fountain
And the Memories like coal dust stain the window of my eyes
So ask them no more questions they can’t sell you no more lies

The implicit question to the listener is why do we continue to put trust in or believe in people in which it is obvious that we have no reason to do so? Ask them no more questions, don’t put your trust in them, and we won’t be hurt anymore. The implications are that we can be gluttons for punishment in our relationships.

Elmer Bernstein – The Magnificent Seven, Film Score

Lately, I have become fascinated with great film scores. Old westerns possessed some of the most sweeping and epic music, befitting the narrative of the pioneering and dangerous culture of the old west and the ruggedness of the men and women that settled the American heartland and western states (even if the movies themselves were prone to a bit of hyperbole and stereotyping). Elmer Bernstein was easily one of the all-time greats with film scores. Plugging him into my Pandora station has provided a good pace-setting “theme” music to keep me churning through desk work.

The Best of 2015 in Music

Jason Isbell

A few years ago a work trip took me to Charlotte where I chanced upon a station at the left end of the dial, WNCW. Remarkably, this east coast station was playing a Texas Panhandle melancholic tune from James McMurtry that I had long considered my own personal ballad  – Levelland.  I have listened to WNCW online ever since and can especially vouch for their Sunday morning Bluegrass Gospel and Classic Country radio hours as well as their Friday night Cosmic American Music Show It is difficult to pull the eclectic music mix of this show into a defining genre, but people with musical tastes as diverse as Gram Parsons, The Byrds, Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell, the Drive By Truckers, and Patti Griffin, to name but a few, will find solace here. Those that are not particular fans of those acts should still give WNCW a shot as the music is quite diverse and often off the beaten path.

The plug for WNCW complete, the purpose of this post is to provide their staff’s Top 100 list. Having listened to a great number of singles from these albums, I find it to be a great list to pass along and I personally am excited to have an early 2016 Spotify “to listen to” backlog already served up.

WNCW Top 100 from 2015

1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
2. Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
3. Honeycutters – Me Oh My
4. Steep Canyon Rangers – Radio
5. Warren Haynes with Railroad Earth – Ashes and Dust
6. Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete
7. Bob Dylan – The Cutting Edge: Bootleg Series v.12:1965-1966
8. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind
9. Black Lillies – Hard to Please
10. Chris Stapleton – Traveler
11. Flatt Lonesome – Runaway Train
12. Aaron Burdett – Tinderbox
13. Jon Stickley Trio – Lost at Last
14. Unspoken Tradition – Miles Between
15. Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django and Jimmie
16. Wood Brothers – Paradise
17. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
18. Tellico – Relics and Roses
19. Nikki Talley – Out From the Harbor
20. Rhiannon Giddens – Tomorrow is My Turn
21. James McMurtry – Complicated Game
22. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver – In Session
23. Buddy Guy – Born to Play Guitar
24. Drive-By Truckers – It`s Great to Be Alive!
25. Darin & Brooke Aldridge – Snapshots
26. Dawes – All Your Favorite Bands
27. Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher`s Daughter
28. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell – So Familiar
29. Wilco – Star Wars
30. Calexico – Edge of the Sun
31. Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
32. Gregg Allman – Live: Back to Macon
33. Mipso – Old Time Reverie
34. Mandolin Orange – Such Jubilee
35. Gary Clark Jr. – The Story of Sunny Boy Slim
36. Songs From the Road Band – Traveling Show
37. Robert Earl Keen – Happy Prisoner:The Bluegrass Sessions
38. Darrell Scott – 10: The Songs of Ben Bullington
39. Lonesome River Band – Turn on a Dime
40. Steeldrivers – The Muscle Shoals Recordings
41. Mountain Faith – That Which Matters
42. Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart
43. IIIrd Tyme Out – It’s About Tyme
44. Chuck Brodsky – Tell Tale Heart
45. Jim Lauderdale – Soul Searching
46. Punch Brothers – The Phosphorescent Blues
47. Los Lobos – Gates of Gold
48. Alison Brown – The Song of the Banjo
49. Patty Griffin – Servant of Love
50. Tim O’Brien – Pompadour
51. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
52. Gov’t Mule – Sco-Mule
53. Marcus King Band – Soul Insight
54. Various Artists (featuring Asleep at the Wheel): Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills
55. Widespread Panic – Street Dogs
56. Gibson Brothers – Brotherhood
57. Della Mae – Della Mae
58. Mark Knopfler – Tracker
59. Neil Young – The Monsanto Years
60. Galactic – Into the Deep
61. Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Ruffian`s Misfortune
62. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
63. JD McPherson – Let the Good Times Roll
64. Iris DeMent – The Trackless Woods
65. Free Planet Radio – Global Symphony Project
66. Buena Vista Social Club – Lost and Found
67. Richard Thompson – Still
68. Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out – It`s About Time
69. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
70. American Aquarium – Wolves
71. Cracker – Berkeley to Bakersfield
72. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Easy Skanking in Boston `78
73. Steve Earle & The Dukes – Terraplane
74. Laura Marling – Short Movie
75. Pokey LaFarge – Something in the Water
76. River Whyless – River Whyless EP
77. Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers
78. JJ Grey & Mofro – `Ol Glory
79. Mavericks – Mono
80. Yonder Mountain String Band – Black Sheep
81. Randall Bramblett – Devil Music
82. Amy Helm – Didn`t it Rain
83. Malcolm Holcombe – The RCA Sessions
84. Chris Jones & The Night Drivers – Run Away Tonight
85. Josh Ritter – Sermon on the Rocks
86. Allison Moorer – Down to Believing
87. Eilen Jewell – Sundown Over Ghost Town
88. Cedric Burnside Project – Decendants of Hill Country
89. Milk Carton Kids – Monterey
90. New Basement Tapes – Lost On the River
91. Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin – Lost Time
92. Dangermuffin – Songs for the Universe
93. Leftover Salmon – High Country
94. Phil Cook – Southland Mission
95. Big Country Bluegrass – Country Livin’
96. Blitzen Trapper – All Across this Land
97. Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band – Onward!
98. Lettuce – Crush
99. Elephant Revival – Sands of Now
100. Indigo Girls – One Lost Day

What I am listening to this week – Christmas Carols and a celebrity singer/songwriter

Bing Crosby

With Advent season coming to its end with the culmination of Christmas this week, my music rotation is heavily influenced by my favorite Christmas Carols. My favorite song that lends itself to a full ethereal chamber choir is, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and one of my favorite renditions is Robert Shaw’s SATB (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) chorale.

The song fully encapsulates what to Christians the season is all about. The prophet Isaiah, foretelling the miracle of Christ’s birth discusses the significance of the immaculate conception when he states, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) Immanuel, one of the many names given to Jesus, means, “God with us” and this is a central tenet of the Christian faith. The fleshly body of Christ and his birth on earth is the beginning of the bridge between imperfect man and a perfect God. Indeed, the song’s lyrics point to this day of ransom payment for Israel with Christ’s birth.  The body of Christ that dwelt amongst us is the critical element of the community of Christ. As Bonhoeffer states in The Cost of Discipleship, “A prophet and a teacher would not need followers, but only students and listeners. But the incarnate Son of God who took on human flesh does need a community of followers who not only participate in his teaching but also in his body. It is thus in the body of Christ that the disciples have community. They live and suffer in bodily community with Jesus. By being in community with the body of Jesus they are placed under the burden of the cross. For in that body they are all borne and accepted.”

Also heavy in my Christmas rotation is Bing Crosby’s medley “What Child is This/The Holly and the Ivy“. Crosby is the indisputable king of the Christmas Carol, and I don’t believe it is a point even up for debate. If people can add the Magi to the nativity scene, even though most scholars indicate that they would have arrived years after Christ’s birth, then I am tempted to put a singing Bing Crosby with his heavenly baritone and his effortless lilt into my own nativity scene. I am typically not a big fan of medleys, but this is Bing Crosby combining two of my favorites together and I can’t resist hearing it over and over this time of year.

Lastly and in a departure from the Christmas music, I picked up “Thieves” from She & Him while listening to one of my favorite syndicated radio shows Undercurrents this week. This song satisfies my proclivity for melancholy and sad songs about heartbreak. She & Him is comprised of the celebrity Zooey Deschanel and the less famous but adored in the Indie Rock and hipster scenes M. Ward. The opening lines from Deschanel’s unique and powerful vocals that sounds like a voice that I imagine as perfect for a traveling troupe performing ballads across the Old West sets the pace for the heartache that echoes throughout the tune:

“There’s thieves among us
Painting the walls
With all kinds of lies, and lies
I never told it all
What’s in my pocket?
You never knew
You didn’t know me well
So well, as I knew you”

The common refrain throughout the song is a woeful,

“And I know, and you know too
That a love like ours is terrible news
But that wont stop me crying
No, that wont stop me crying over you”

M. Ward provides great harmony is this song as well. The video is artistic and worth the watch as well.