Album Review: Malcolm Gordon ‘The Cobblers Grandson’

The Cobblers Grandson

The Cobblers Grandson

Often at the start of formal gatherings in New Zealand a mihimihi is given… A mihimihi is a basic introduction to let people know a little bit about yourself. It tells people where you are from and who you are by sharing your whakapapa (genealogy, ancestral ties) and other relevant information. To know one’s whakapapa is to know one’s identity.
It’s the story behind the name, it’s the pain behind the smile, it’s the things in your life that have woven themselves to help make you exceptionally YOU.

So what does this have to do with an album review about ‘The Cobblers Grandson”? … well nothing… and everything.

‘The Cobblers Grandson’ is the latest offering from New Zealand worship leader and songwriter Malcolm Gordon. Well known for writing thoughtful, melodic music for use in worship and spiritual reflection, Malcolm has taken a turn down the singer/songwriter alleyway.

And this is his family history… His mihimihi if you like.

Approaching this album, I initially listened to it as if it were any other album. That in itself was beautiful, purely as an album of songs. However the magic of the album was that the more you listen to it,the more it became so much more… a family photo album… a book of family history… a gallery of moments in time that have shaped a family, a generation, a man.

The album starts off with the track ‘Oh My Heart’ that sets the tone for the album with a lyric that both draws you into the story and also seems to challenge you:

“‘You weren’t to know how far you’d gone… adventure called you ever farther on”

It’s clear right from the outset that this is not Malcolm’s typical album.

The album tells a story exploring themes of origins and heritage through Malcolm’s trade mark haunting style that is laced with the celtic tones that echo his previous offerings.

The songs that really work best are the songs like the title track ‘The Cobblers Grandson’ and ‘Ash to Ash’. These are the quieter,  more ‘folky’ songs that are so sparse that you find yourself listening to the track as if it was actually a story being told to you… which of course is exactly what is happening.

Many of the songs are far more sparse than Malcom has dared before. Often the tracks rest on just an acoustic guitar sitting hauntingly behind his vocal with nothing more than the drone of a cello or some piano used sparingly to add more depth or tension. Once again Kirstin Cant adds perfectly timed backing vocals and harmonies.

The pinnacle of the album is the first single ‘Hey Stranger’. This is  the most pop style song on the whole album and is all about being a great neighbour. The chorus has a kids’ choir accompanying Malcolm with the words:

“Hey Stranger, Hey Neighbour, you don’t need wings to be my angel”

Some people might question Malcolm’s new direction on this album.

Why would someone move from a place where they were writing songs for church, and writing them well?

Actually I wonder if the question should be, why aren’t more people doing this?
The obvious answer is simply that not everyone is as talented and theologically grounded as Malcolm.
This direction is a sign of someone who isn’t interested in just having a good idea… but listening to GOD ideas, and having faith that God who gave the vision will also give the provision for it.

I think there is certainly a place for ‘church songs’ or ‘spiritual songs’ but the best way to reach people is through story telling. Wasn’t the best example of a storyteller Jesus himself with his parables and testimonies?
So why won’t we combine it with an international and spiritual language like music?
Doesn’t this seem like the most logical step?

“Let me tell you a story of what has happened to me… the pain, the hardship and this is what gave me the strength to get through it”
This is the best kind of story isn’t it?

I left this album thinking I wish I could see this as a soundtrack to a movie or a stage show… this is already a beautiful back drop to a wonderful story.
I can’t wait to hear the next chapter.

Release date October 4th, and can be ordered at onevoice.org.nz in the meantime
Or after October 4th it can be purchase at iTunes, bandcamp and Manna Christian stores.

Album Review: Switchfoot ‘’The Edge of the Earth’

Switchfoot – ‘The Edge of the Earth’

Have you ever listened to an EP (or album) of B sides and thought, “Wow I know why they left that off the last album”?
Often the songs just aren’t up to the standard of the rest of the album.

This is NOT the case for ‘The Edge of the Earth’

Earlier this year (2014) Switch-foot essentially released a soundtrack to their Rockumentary ‘Fading West’, a film that followed the band on it’s quest for the perfect gig, balancing life and finding the perfect wave.
‘Fading West’ was a departure from some of their heavier rock sound for something more ‘pop’ fueled. While this left a few long term fans wondering if rock and roll had died, those with more of an holistic approached would have seen how well it worked as the back drop to a bigger story for the film.

‘The Edge of the Earth’ is the songs that never made it to the soundtrack album.
As I mentioned before I had gone in expecting an EP of average songs, thinking, “Yep well I can see why THAT song never made the album”. What I discovered were songs that just wouldn’t have fit the rest of the ‘Fading West’ album; they would have been a distraction.

The EP starts off with ‘Fading West’, the song that spawned the idea for the film of the same name. It’s almost a bit comical that it never made the actual album, however it was a good idea hearing the make up of the original soundtrack.

A lot of these newer tracks are a bit darker than what the rest of the full length album has to offer.

‘Against the Voices’ is pretty close to the bone, and it’s great to hear a band really reveal themselves (maybe U2 could learn from Switchfoot).
Jon laments in ‘Against the Voices’, “Cause everybody knows, the hardest war to fight is a fight to be yourself  when the voices try to turn you into someone else”. Then in ‘Skin and Bones’ he sings “Apocalyptic skies, Burning gold
I walk these empty miles, I can’t find a soul”.
These are some of the darkest themes that Switchfoot have confronted… and it’s pretty full on, especially once you have already relaxed to the fun loving Fading West song that starts the album.

The band try something new as Tim Foreman (Jon’s brother) takes the lead vocals for the first time on the song ‘What it Cost’.

This is a great stand alone EP that works as a companion to the Fading West album/Soundtrack. In fact this is what artist should strive to make EP’s sound like. EP’s shouldn’t be an artists throwaways just to get extra cash but a reward to fans to show that they are appreciated but also to show another side of a band that is separate to their larger bodies of work… another glimpse into the story of a band.

This is a great EP showing what a great songwriters the Foreman boys have grown into.
As Janis Joplin famously sung, “Take another little piece of my heart now baby”.
This seems to be what Switchfoot do best… they give it all!

 

Album Review: U2 ‘Songs of Innocence’

u2Have you ever wondered what one of the worlds best bands look like when they lose their creativity?
Or not even lose their creativity, but see a light fade?
When they find it hard to keep up with the new innovators?
It happens to them all right?
When you go to a Rolling Stones concert you want the old tracks don’t you?
You want to hear ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, ‘Satisfaction’ and the list goes on.
Are we seeing this with U2?
I mean, ‘Joshua Tree’ was one of the biggest albums in the 80’s and between ‘Achtung Baby’ and the whole ‘Zoo TV’ experience we were always in touch with what U2 were doing.
Joshua Tree came out of the fabric of life we were all living in… great songs and perfect timing, it almost took us by surprise…’ Achtung Baby’ was confronting and challenging and we couldn’t look away.
So where does this leave ‘Songs of Innocence’?

Lets be honest, shall we?
Now I love U2 and they have formed a large part of my musical library and music based memories, however I’m not going to give a band a great review just because that band just happens to be U2.
That’s fair right???
Credit where credit is due!
In saying this I think U2 still have some amazing things to offer…

We don’t REALLY care about an artists past and, although there are a few songs that mean something to us, it’s the whole dynamic of the song that draws us in.
When I hear that this is the most ‘honest’ album that U2 has put forward I think, “Well, that’s great… but Taylor Swift does the same!!!”
We live in a society that wants us to cry and to go deeper. It wants us to think, to activate, to rally, to shout, to sing like we mean it, to breathe, to smile and to let it get under our skin.
The reality is that all this has done to us is made us shut it all off!
We’re cautious. We’ve been burnt before by people who have promised it was real, and we now feel duped.

We want more than just a nice story. We want blood, and the soul that was poured out for it!

‘Songs of Innocence’ takes us back. It relives the awe that Adam, Larry, Edge and Bono felt at a Ramones concert – the crunch of the guitar, the rock and roll.
And at times you can almost hear the young soul of U2… the same young soul that gave us albums like Boy and War and October. The soul that dreamed of changing the world…  you can hear it still in there.
The first single ‘Miracle’ brings us in with the fuzzed out crunch guitar of The Edge, and the guitar sounds great in it’s natural habitat… crunching… roaring…
The album continues in this rock vein until it’s broken up by the ‘Song for Someone‘ where Bono reflects:

And I’m a long way from your hill on Calvary
And I’m a long way from where I was, where I need to be

It’s great to hear Bono being honest without all the bravado and mystery.
Sometimes the best way to sound sincere is just to be sincere. Sometimes you just want people to say what they REALLY mean!
A perfect example of this was ‘Sometimes you can’t make it on your own’ from the 2004 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’. Bono just tells it like it is. So Bono, why now all the mystery and rhyme?

It feels like half of this album is U2 struggling to be young and full of energy while somehow dealing with the fact that their bones are creaking and they have to pee more often during the night.
They’re almost there… but not quite!

Raised by Wolves’ is the turning point on this album – everything seems to sit down and U2 find their stride.

‘Songs of Innocence as an album fits somewhere between How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and No Line on the Horizon ,but with sounds that hark back to when ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ was crossing the radiowaves. In fact songs like ‘Raised by Wolves’ sound like more polished versions of some of the all guns blazing songs that came from albums like ‘War’ and ‘Joshua Tree’… almost 80’s in their feel.
And it made me wonder.

Is U2 now confined to the freedom it has made it’s name for?
Sunday Bloody Sunday‘… “This is a revolutionary song…” Bono screams on the live Under a Blood Red Sky album, and at the time, it was ACTUALLY a revolutionary song.
Zoo TV tour took the whole live gig thing and tipped it on it’s head. It was ironic. It was like holding a mirror up to society. It touched a nerve. ‘POP  laughed at our consumerism. U2 laughed with us as we continued to make them famous. Ironic.

However, now they’re known as a political band. They’re a yearly Band-aid concert with just one band.

I like that U2 with this album is choosing to be less.

There are songs on this album that are well crafted. In fact the whole second half of the album could stand alone as an EP.
Is this a good album?
Yes, I think so.
Is it a great album? I think only time will tell, although it’s certainly not U2’s best.
I really hope the band takes time to  “go away and… just dream it all up again”

U2 are best when they are taking on the world, and not a band that is reacting to the world.