Book Review: ‘Play the Man’ – Mark Batterson

PTMcoverWhere did we lose sight of what it means to be a man?
As we look around society it’s increasingly obvious that we have lost our way. Men seem to have neglected their responsibilities to teach the next generation of men, leaving boys trying to figure things out for themselves or follow their peers. Adding to the mayhem, more and more kids are growing without a dad (or in some cases even a father figure) to teach them what they need to know, or have someone to cheer them on or coach them. No wonder men in our society are confused and lost when it comes to their roles in society.

Mark Batterson arrives with a great book Play the Man to address the issue and start to look at really practice ways to attack this head on. Mark Batterson is the New York Times bestselling author who’s works include The Circle Maker and The Grave Robber, and Pastor of the multi site National Community Church in Washington DC.

A book, for men?
“Is it a picture book?” I hear you shout from the cheap seats.
Okay… men aren’t renowned for their reading skills, in fact it’s something that Mark himself even addresses in his book.

“According to the Pew Research Institute, half of adults read fewer than five books per year. Men read 13 percent fewer books than women”

I’ve been an admirer of Mark’s writing for years and the main reason is simple ‘readability’ – it’s easy to read.
It’s obvious that Mark is well read as he has a real knack of taking a tale and twisting it full of intrigue and natural logic. To this he adds a dash of science and pinch of history. 
Batterson is the the author for men who want substance,  don’t want to read the Encyclopedia Britannica and still want to learn.

In ‘Play the Man’ Mark uncovers what he calls the seven virtues of Manhood.
The six virtues of Manhood in the book are:

  • Tough love (sacrificing yourself for others)

  • Childlike  wonder (never losing your desire to learn about God’s world)

  • Will power (that sanctified stubborn streak)

  • Raw passion (an infectious enthusiasm)

  • True grit (the combination of passion and perseverance)

  • Clear vision (knowing what you’re fighting for)

In ‘Play the Man‘ Mark is able to use  his natural storytelling ability to share an anecdote about manhood, the good the bad and the ugly. However the thing that makes this book great is his ability to be able to couple that together with the scriptures, and give really practical ways to teach this to the next generation of men.

Let’s be honest, men are really great at avoidance and I wonder if we have lost our way a little because of it? Men are living in some weird void where it seem like we have become the joke of the party. I think it was Scottish comedian Billy Connolly who said “Middle aged white males are the only people you can make fun of without being told off” and he’s right to a point. Men are living in a no mans land where manhood is skewed.

The subtitle of ‘Play the Man’ is ‘Becoming the Man God created you to be’.
This is more than just a book, it’s a manual for manhood. Imagine if this is shared, developed locally, put into practice and focused on, it could be the start of a manhood revolution that could change the world.

The revolution starts at home, in our families and in our communities. Are you willing to ‘Play the Man’?

Viva La Revolution

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Album Review: Switchfoot ‘Where the Light Shines Through’

switchfoot-where-the-light-shines-through-compressed“Because Hope deserves an anthem” echoes through the U2esque intro that builds into the first track of the latest album ‘Where the Light Shines Through’ (WTLST) by Californian group Switchfoot.
Imagine creating an album with this at the heart! Would the task almost feel so overwhelming that it would cripple you with fear? Switchfoot have climbed into the challenge like a surfer floating into a crushing barrel wave for the first time.They have respected the power of the wave and the result is the most personal group of songs about hope and struggle that the band have brought us.

This is the first focused album since 2011’s ‘Vice Verses’ album. In between was the soundtrack to 2014’s surf rockumentary ‘Fading West’ and while this was released as an album it couldn’t really be taken in context without the accompanying movie.

WTLST builds on the Switchfoot sound that the band has developed since leaving their major label and going on their own, and honestly, this is great. The band has merged into one body that would sound odd without the other components, as we start to hear more of the influences of Jerome and his library of sound that he brings and Drew’s colour that is added to each song. This is a band that has found it’s voice, and in the process has found it’s soul.

The album is scattered with songs that are filled with lyrical hope. They easily connect to the heart and settle in your mind as a reminder of a renewed way of thinking about the situation you’re in. The title track ‘Where the Light Shines Through’ has a chorus that has a sentiment that echoes throughout the album – “Because your scars, Shine light night stars, Yeah your wounds are where the light shines through.”  It is raw in it’s emotion but honest in it’s approach.

Some of the most beautiful moments are raised up from confronting the realness and the pain that the open wound may feel like for some people. Lyrics like “Pain gives birth to the promised land” from ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ or “I hear the shame of my accuser, but it ain’t you” from ‘The Day that I found God’ confront realness and pain and there is beauty in that. Then album turns from the hurt and only seeing the light from a distance, to a journey of chasing it and healing from it. “I want to start healing healing“.

One of the highlights of the album is the track ‘Live it Well,’ a real anthem and a song that will be a stadium hit this summer. This track throws back a level of responsibility onto us. How are we going to live this life knowing that every breath that you take is a miracle?

While we’re on the subject of tours: This year Switchfoot will tour with international rap and hip-hop sensation and billboard chart topper Lecrae. Lecrae makes a guest appearance on the track ‘Looking for America’ as the discussion turns to a nation that has been crippled by fear and entitlement.

As a bonus track it’s wonderful to hear ‘Light and Heavy,’ a song that was written 7 years ago for the annual Heavy and Light event held by To Write Love on Her Arms .This organisation exists to bring to light the often forgotten or hidden topic of depression and self harm , and although the track is a different feel to the rest of the album (as it’s a bonus track) it’s certainly a worthy track considering the theme flowing through this album.

The world is in need of Hope. It seems to be getting darker and while there are many aspects of life that make the world seem a smaller place, there are places where the light doesn’t shine and they seem separated from the rest of the world; This is where the broken live and as these areas hear albums like this, a new hope is birthed and this is where the light shines through.
The world certainly needs more albums like this.

I’ll leave the final words to Jon Foreman, Switchfoot’s lead singer:

We sing because we’re alive. We sing because we’re broken. We sing because we refuse to believe that hatred is stronger than love. We sing because melodies begin where words fail. We sing because the wound is where the light shines through. We sing because hope deserves an anthem. – Jon

 

 

Album Review: Sacha Vee ‘Rising One E.P.’

Don’t you love it when you’re chilling out in a cafe or bar and the conversation lulls, and instead of sitting in that ‘awkward silence’ you find your head bouncing to the great tunes that are playing in the background? And better still, when you realise that it’s an artist that you have never heard before.
Now you have a problem – you have been bitten by the new tunes bug.

When I first heard Sacha Vee I really wanted to hear more.

The Rising One E.P. is a great snapshot of Sasha’s range and talent and almost a perfect sample of what she has to offer.
Sacha Vee isn’t just some flash in the pan type of Jazz inspired vocalist. She has the melodies, the right tone, and the soul funk sensitivity of greater and more well known artists. In fact Sacha could easily handle any tunes of artists such as N’dea Davenport (Brand New Heavies), Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. Sacha’s style sits somewhere between Erykah Badu’s breakthrough album ‘Baduizm‘ and Jill Scott’s ‘Who is Jill Scott‘. The fact that Sacha is able to be compared favorably to two of Soul/Funk/Jazz greatest albums and artists should be something that excites the listener. You’re not  listening to some second rate vocal here. This is quality.

‘Hey Sugar‘ is a perfect example of how Sacha is able to draw upon a musical knowledge filled with great artists and make it hers. This song is just one of those songs that just grabs your attention. It has it all – it’s laid back, it’s soulful, it’s funky and it’s well crafted. What makes this even better is that ‘GING’, the following track, gives you a more upbeat version of the same. It’s almost a bit of old acid jazz styled sounds reminiscent of the classics including The Brand New Heavies, Cloud 9 and Jessica Lauren.

‘Heavy Load’ brings Sacha into a heavy beat influenced R&B track that cruises and flows on a solid beat. It’s very mainstream in it’s approach and I can’t help but think of artist like Aaliyah, Moloko and TLC with it’s ‘a little bit retro’ sound over the top of a modern R&B infected beat.

Sacha Vee is your next cafe or chill album.

The equation is quite simple.
If you have a upmarket cafe…. buy this EP
If you have a chilled out bar or cool restaurant… buy this EP
If you want something to just have a few cocktails with… buy this EP
If you just like to chill out and relax… buy this EP.

When the pop world is getting more and more about antics than artistry, it’s good to hear we have the option of quality in what we choose to listen too in our down time.

This is certainly a ‘Rising One’ to watch

Album Review – Corban Samuels ‘Resonate’

Some song writers are poets that tell stories to a musicial back drop.
Some song writers are musicians who’s only aim is to get you to dance or to rock or to sway.
Sam Reed, the creator of the enigmatic ‘Corban Samuels’, isn’t really either. Sam should be considered a cinematic songwriter.
Sam’s off centre songwriting flair was highlighted with his Death to Birth (I & II) EP’s . Through music Corban Samuels made you feel uneasy, almost even scared at the darkness… Almost like when you had seen your first horror or thriller movie and you had to force yourself to say ‘Candyman’ three times into the mirror. In your head you knew you would be okay, but for some reason everything in your body told you not to!!!

Corban Samuels is going a different direction with this album. Those familiar with his work will still recognise his Indie style which brings in new sounds and textures that you weren’t expecting to hear in an electronic genre.
Resonate is certainly a ‘happier’ album than what Death to Birth gave us, but be warned this doesn’t mean that it’s going to be comfortable.
Corban Samuels becomes an old gypsy storyteller as he weaves you into the story that he begins to slowly unwind using only music. There are clashes in chords and odd piano tinges and motifs that run through the album that often make you wince and move uncomfortably in your seat. You don’t need to wait long for the uneasiness of the album to land. In the first track you are welcomed with a bright sunrise pad that is warm and beckoning, followed by some chords that float harmoniously underneath before the quirkiness of a busy piano that is a bit off the flow of the rest of the track. It was almost like a bumblebee frantically trying to collect pollen over the sound of the sun rising over a flower bed or someone viewing the awakening farm and the busy-ness start to happen as people get about the day… all the while the sun and nature do their job and slowly come to life.
It’s natural once you translate it into a cinematic world, but without such a picture you are left wondering.
Corban Samuels forces you to translate music into pictures, and in a way you kind of have to to make it all make sense.

So what do you call this style of music?
It’s been likened to Trip-hop but it doesn’t really fit neatly into that genre as it’s too clean to sit besides the likes of Portishead, Bjork, Tricky and DJ shadow… It’s either not enough ‘trip’ or not enough ‘hop’.
I would call it Cinematic trip-pop.
I think the market here would be to create Cinematic soundscapes with everyday things happening as the music tells the story of what is happening… the narrator is the music.
It’s a nice change of pace for Corban Samuels and it was great to be able to hear music I felt I could listen to in the dark or with people around without fear of being stabbed by my own dread.
I would like to see a bit more of a departure from the moody and cinematic and really just let the music be there to create an environment for people to relax to and just nod their heads to the beat of some chilled out tunes. I wonder if Corban Samuels knows how to relax and have fun, or does he need more of Sam Reed in his head?
There are glimpses of what could be a start of this with ‘Bells at Midnight’ (featuring soulUnite) – a nicely laid beat with a hip hop sensitive bell tone over top. There just needs to be a bit more of a chance for the listener to relax and let the music resonate rather than have the music prod them for attention.

It’s certainly going to be interesting to see where Corban Samuels will take us to next…
I guess that will be the next chapter of the Corban Samuels story, stay tuned!

Album Review: Joseph & Maia ‘Sorrento’

Sometimes magic just happens.

At the height of the folk-indie movement of the early 90s there were bands that became legends within the the genre. These bands, including The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo and Golden Smog, created the Americana or Alt-country movement. These were artists that paved the way for the likes of Counting Crows, The Gin Blossoms and Blues Traveller. It was an era of great music with great melody, great heart and singability without the cheesy sub-pop that often ruins a good tune.

I have been listening to ‘Sorrento’ by Joseph and Maia, and these songs could have been a part of this great music era in the indie scene. This duo have a freedom in their music that could turn into something big. They have split from their label and are now doing it as independents.

‘Sorrento’ starts off with the title track and you’re immediately confronted with the beat up front before a dirty guitar strums over top. It gives no clue to the wonderful harmonies that introduce the lyrics to us. It’s a perfect alt-folk pop tune that builds nicely into the chorus, and leads nicely to the next track ‘On my way.’ This picks up on the Alt-country vein and it’s done with near perfection.

Part of the new found freedom is a real sincere honesty. This is shown as ‘Will I Ever’ begins with a solitary single acoustic guitar before Joseph sings “I don’t know what I believe in, no not anymore”. This beautiful song starts off tenderly before the full band come in with a great organ pad underneath and a slide guitar adding colour over top. Often with songs like this the artist is tempted to keep it low and slow and I’m glad this duo didn’t with this song.

“Sleep while you can babe… it’s cold outside and I can hear the rain”  could be the perfect start to a night in with someone you love by a warm open fire. It’s when your mind wanders to places like this it makes you realise that this is no longer about just a song but how the song has connected with a time and place. The music has connected with you and ironically ‘Sleep’ is the perfect way to finish off a busy day. It’s a beautiful song with a lullaby quality that just works well.

I love it when independent albums punch above their weight. There is no marketing and fanfare… only good music and good performance to draw you in. It’s the word of mouth that draws the crowd.
‘Sorrento’ is a beautifully crafted album that is well thought out. It’s Alt-country that is perfectly packaged in a way that highlights the song as something that fits in with life. It fills the gaps in our lives like a warm coffee, you realise how much you need it when you smell the wonderful scent wafting through the house.

Music has a way of connecting and ‘Sorrento’ does this is a wonderfully refreshing way.

Music Review: Terrible Sons ‘Neptune’

Christchurch husband and wife duo Lauren (L.A. Mitchell) and Matt Barus come together as the wonderful blend called Terrible sons with their first single ‘Neptune.’ It’s a magical dreamlike single that gently plummets you into the ghostly depths of an underwater world soaked in metaphor.
Neptune showcases the tension that Lauren and Matt demand from each other as creative partners in the songwriting process. Matt is in search of new sounds that would enhance the music in a way that unsettles or brings attention to the song sonically, or as Lauren calls it ‘weird.’ Lauren herself pushes for the beauty in the music and the melody. In a relationship that isn’t as collaborative this tension just wouldn’t work, however for Terrible Sons this is where the magic begins as they each pull and push each other into a new and greater sound.
The simplicity of the song is deceptive as simple piano chords gently crash moments before the melodic lull of the constant loop of an acoustic guitar keep each wave of the song pushing forward… back and forth. The tension of the sea is broken when Matt and Lauren’s vocals float in like a gentle breeze in harmony. It’s the simple touches and the fact that something is only added when it is going to enhance the song that is where the real genius lies. There is a real ‘kiwiness’ to the approach which is both artistic and refreshing, as we are caught up in the wave of the beauty of what we hear and are constantly lured in deeper by the quirkiness of the surrounding sea of sound.

It’s in the listening to such songs that you realise how cinematic music can be and the accompanying music video that sits along side this single is just as magical as you would expect. The video adds an extra visual layer to what Terrible Sons have teased you with musically and lyrically… it’s dark and intriguing, it’s both dark and welcoming.

Welcome to the world Terrible Sons… we look forward with baited breath for the album that will support such a great introduction to the sublime world you have created.

Album Review: Ashlinn Gray ‘Self Titled E.P.’

Singer Songwriter Ashlinn Gray

Singer Songwriter Ashlinn Gray

By far the best part of my job as a reviewer isn’t hearing new music from big artists, although it’s fun to hear the progression of an artist. The best part of being a reviewer is hearing an artist that is new and has the potential to do amazing things. With this in mind I found myself excited to be listening to South African Born singer Ashlinn Gray for the first time with her first single ‘Battleships.’ Not only is it a catchy tune but it’s a slightly new take on the whole female singer songwriter patter that we hear and expect on the radio.

Battleships has a great little story attached to it as it’s not only the first single that Ashlinn has released (that will certainly help propeller her career) but it was the first song that she had ever written. How great is that?
Even at the tender age of 17 Ashlinn is showing a depth of sophistication that is well beyond her years. It would be easy for someone of her age and experience to bring out just a simple ballad laden E.P. with just a simple acoustic guitar and her well rounded vocals and be happy with it, but Ashlinn has proven she is beyond settling for mediocrity. She surrounds herself with a great band and has developed a sound that sits perfectly within an uptempo pop folk sound and power ballad.

Ashlinn has a voice that is both raw and powerful and yet shows such tenderness in emotion and a connection that again is beyond her years. We live on a planet where a majority of 17 year old kids are happy to sit at home in front of a screen of some sort and the only connection being made is via tweets and social media posts. Ashlinn is working hard balancing her school work and growing a career. Ashlinn, despite the life balance, is still able to connect on a deeper level. Songs like ‘Risking it All’ and ‘Closer Now’ show both the power and the tenderness possessed by someone so young and it’s intriguing.

I love how the E.P. ends with the track ‘Sugar Coated Lemons’ a great pop laced single that has a positive outlook to when life doesn’t go as expected. And while this fun little ditty could be seen as just another nice little pop song it shows the drive and the sense of motivation that Ashlinn has towards her fellow man. Ashlinn wants to connect, she wants to inspire, and she wants to motivate.

It seems that Ashlinn is already thinking bigger than herself already, and the wonderful thing is that if she’s creating this level of quality and depth of song writing now just imagine what she could accomplish. Imagine if Ashlinn inspired others like her to do the same. This world could be a much better place. Thank Goodness for that!