A Letter to Andrew Peterson

A bit of background might be in order. For years, since i first heard his music on a CD titled “Carried Along,” Andrew Peterson has been one of my favorite songwriters. If you don’t know his work, you’ll thank me for this introduction. He is, simply said, a master at his craft. He composes, sings, performs, writes books and is a gifted visual artist. Best of all, he is a big hearted soul with a winsome and expressive affection for his family and his friends. Last weekend, on the 14th, he and i played a gathering in Louisville, Kentucky and then, on Sunday, drove to Port Royal, Kentucky with friend, Ben May. There we spent two delightful hours with Wendell Berry, an author who is a favorite to the three of us, and his wife Tanya. More about that perhaps in a future blog. For now, i’m sharing a letter that i wrote to Andrew about his newest (and i think finest) CD, “Counting Stars.” Get a copy and thank me when you see me. …

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dear Andrew,

For the past year or so, i have attempted, in some shape or fashion, to “practice the Sabbath.” Prodded by scripture, and my own growing sense that 7 days of work violates something essential in the way God designed us, i’m using Sundays (when i’m home) to do something that might vaguely be described as rest. It’s not been easy, given that my mind and body, through years of poor usage, have adapted to a velocity that resists all efforts to slow down. But i’m getting better and better at it and i more and more look forward to that unencumbered afternoon each week. … Which brings me to my reason for writing.
Yesterday, i downloaded “Counting Stars”, fought the temptation to listen to it immediately, and woke up this morning very much looking forward to a time of undivided attention to your new project . i’ve just finished my first hearing of it and am taking this break, before listening to it again, to write a note of congratulations and thanks for what, to me, is the best thing you’ve ever done musically. To use Ben’s metaphor, the color of the room is as close to perfect as i think you’ll ever get. On every level – lyric, melody, arrangements – they are strong, strong, strong songs, honest, hopeful, nuanced but plain-spoken, the kind of songs that make one want to listen closely, and i hope many will. i’ll have to hear them a number of times –easy work – before i land on my very favorite, but Magic Hour, Isle of Skye (a place i visited often when i lived in Scotland), World Traveler, Planting Trees, Fool with a Fancy Guitar, and Many Roads are the ones that caught me most first time through. Thank you for the hard work that must have gone into the project, for your commitment to do things with excellence, for “putting every word on trial for its life,” and for keeping Jesus – by reference or in spirit – so obviously in the middle of them all.
i can only wish that the masses would hear your songs. Perhaps someday they will. In the meantime, won’t you take some consolation from the knowledge that those of us who listen do so intently and come away changed by the vision that God has given you?
i do confess that my envy, the one i confessed to you before about the rich community that y’all have there in Nashville, rose its head as i listened to the contributions that Ben and Andy made to the tunes. i’d gladly be y’all’s roadie sometime.
Well, what a feast you have given us. i just had to say thanks and thanks and thanks.
Counting the days till our visit with Mr. Wendell and wonder if i’m more excited about that or about playing in Louisville with you the night before. Both are riches to look forward to.
i’ll see you soon.

With thanks for a magic hour,

allen

(footnote re: picture at top: L to R, acl, Wendell Berry, Ben May, Andrew Peterson)

Song for the Day, Bulletproof

Bulletproof

I wrote this in the fall of last year (09) when the economy, as it had for over a year already, dominated the headlines. I’m still wondering what lessons we’re supposed to have learned from the recent change of fortunes. Some of those lessons seem pretty clear.
While you’re here, let me say thanks for taking time this week to listen to the new songs. i’m in Louisville today, having played here last night with good friend and musical mentor, Andrew Peterson. Autumn is going to be pleasantly full with music travels. i hope i’ll see you sometime soon.

Everybody missed it, the handwriting on the wall
Nobody saw it coming, nobody had a clue at all
We were feeling so fine, with not one thing to dread
Till we heard the voice say “put your hands up above your head”

We used to think we were bulletproof
We were just too big to fall
We used to think we were bulletproof
Till the man said “line up against the wall”
The simple truth … no one is bulletproof

I’m been looking for the criminal, looking for the one to blame
But it think I know his number and I think I know his middle name
The victim and the thief bear a strong similarity
It is the man in the mirror, looking right back at me

We used to think we were bulletproof
We were just too big to fall
We used to think we were bulletproof
Till the man said “line up against the wall”
The simple truth … no one is bulletproof

BRIDGE: Nobody, nobody,
We’re somehow all the same
Nobody, nobody
Nobody gets to dodge the pain

Let the markets take a tumble, let the numbers make a sudden dive
It might work to keep us humble and help us all to realize
That if we’re trusting in bubbles, in wood, hay and stubble gods
It’s a recipe for trouble and the end is going to hit us hard

We used to think we were bulletproof
Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run
But nobody’s bulletproof
Except the guy who holds the gun
Simple truth … nobody bulletproof.

Song for the Day, United States of Washington, Wall Street and Hollywood

To hear the song, click on song title just below (in green).

US of Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood

“If you want to know what a person’s character is really like, give them power.”

I can’t quite remember what provoked this song , but it could have been any number of things i might have read in the recent past about Rome, about WWII, about slavery, about Enron or any number of things in current events.The older I get, the more I am struck by what seems to me the corrupting, and seemingly irresistible, influence that power has on the human heart. The pride which either leads to the desire for power or flows from possession of it; the blindness or indifference to consequences that it seems to breed; the sense of superiority that so often feeds off of positions of influence – it al makes me think that power is a dangerous ‘gift’ to be given. I don’t have television and don’t get lots of news, but the bit that gets through often makes me scratch my head about those who fill leadership positions.
I am reluctant to write songs that generalize inappropriately or criticize certain subsets of the population. After all, none of us is without sin. I am certain that, in positions of power, whether those positions be political, corporate, or artistic, there are virtuous and not-so-virtuous people. Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood, I hope, must be home to some very well-intentioned souls, even if their voices are drowned out and ignored by the majority.
But all that said, I do wonder sometimes if people in places of authority – those in politics, those who run the financial institutions and courts, those who rule the realm of fashion and pop culture — have much connection to the day-to-dayness that is life for the masses.
This song is a non-partisan, equal opportunity jeremiad. I had no particular person, party or group in mind.

I hear the politican trying to push some his perfect plan
But he’s really part magician and part advertising man
Like the guys who move the markets by some rules we can’t explain
They only have one target, the profits and the gains

And they swear they’re here to help us
They will give us all things good
These United states of Washington,
Wall street and Hollywood

There is an art that has no compass, in the culture and on the screen
It boasts some brand of freedom that says nothing is obscene

And they make their bold decision as if there is no price to pay
Disregarding admonition as if there is no judgment day

But somewhere in the heartland, we all choose to get on board
To serve the kingdom of the world, or the kingdom of the Lord

And they swear they’re here to help us
They will give us all things good
These United states of Washington,
Wall street and Hollywood

Song for the Day, World Needs Christmas Now


To hear the song, click on song title below (in green).

World Needs Christmas Now

This was a song, a prayer, written for Christmas 2009.

Once again and everywhere,
Every city, every town,
Show Your face and hear our prayer
The world needs Christmas now.

No less now than way back then,
Things are still the same somehow
All the earth is Bethlehem
This world needs Christmas now.

Every hour, everyday, every month, every year,
We long for Christmas, we long for Christ to be near

Come Lord Jesus, walk our streets,
Bring the love of heaven down,
We’ve grown weary, we are weak
The world needs Christmas now.

Every heart is Bethlehem,
This world needs Christmas now

I, dear Lord, am Bethlehem
I need Christmas now

Song for the Day, Red Boots On

To hear the song, click on the title below (in green).

Red Boots On

We had a rainy spring this year. There were spells when it rained for a solid week, which is fine if you’re working in a studio or doing office work. If you’re a Jack Russell Terrier (a dog the size of a piglet with the energy of a car bomb), the confinement is torturous.
My neighbor and friend, Donna, is the owner of Anson, a Jack Russell who inspired this song. This song celebrates a sudden burst of exuberant energy and recalls a happy moment in May when the rain finally stopped falling and Anson got some freedom.

Red Boots On

He is a small four legged creature, in a great big state of bliss
A red dirt road, just watch him go, very clearly he was born for this
But it’s a real bad combination, white feet in Georgia clay
He runs in pure elation, and then he stops as if to say

I got my red boots on, I got my red boots on
I’ve been stuck inside for much too long
I’m gonna celebrate with my red boots on

For days the rain’s been falling, he’s been a prisoner in the house
but now the sun is calling, he’s scratching at the door saying “let me out”
first he runs in a great big circle, he just can’t believe his luck
he runs through every puddle, like a great big monster truck

I got my red boots on, I got my red boots on
I’ve been stuck inside for much too long
I’m gonna celebrate with my red boots on

you got your big recession, and the news gets worse each day
He offers this suggestion, you need to get outside and play

Put your red boots on, put your red boots on
Had those blues for much too long
Just might be time to put your red boots on

(handclaps – Gary, Dad, Mom, Donna, Joyce)

Song for the day, Bless the Hands

To listen to the song, click on the title (in green) below.

Bless the Hands

My own, very limited foray into gardening in the past couple of years has made me appreciate the work that farmers do, work that is often unnoticed, underappreciated, misunderstood, and undervalued. Friendship with some locals who have farmed and are farming has been eye-opening and, I hope, has made me more grateful to the whole chain of workers – beginning with God the Maker of Life – who provide us with daily bread.
This song was written with several particular folk in mind: my dear Mom, whose artistry in the kitchen (and the sheer volume of meals she has prepared over 81 years) has become more and more obvious to me every time I have tried to cook a meal for friends; Jenny and Chris Jackson, a young couple who farm here in Harris county; and Mrs. Polly and Mr. John Willis, good souls just up the road who, on every weekday but Wednesday (when they cook for the Methodist church), makes lunch for any of her friends and neighbors who want to stop by (last Thursday there were 26 of us). And, then of course, I had in mind the One from Whom all blessings flow, the One Who made reference to wheat, corn, seed, fields, flowers, harvest, and bread in stories He told (and tells) of the everlasting Kingdom.
It takes lots of hands to make a meal.

Bless the Hands

For the land, for the field and for the farmer,
For the sun and rain, the seasons and the seed,
For the ones who break the soil, to make a harvest
For those You use, dear Lord, to meet our need.

Bless the hands, bless the hands that tilled the garden
Bless the hands, bless the hands that worked the field
Bless the hands, bless the hands that set the table
Bless the hands, all the hands that made the meal

Forgive us Lord for all we take for granted,
For simple gifts that make our spirits glad,
For the wonder that is all around us planted
And the eyes to see the bounty that we have

Bless the hands, bless the hands that tilled the garden
Bless the hands, bless the hands that worked the field
Bless the hands, bless the hands that set the table
Bless the hands, all the hands that made the meal

And every time we gather here together,
Make us mindful, make us mindful You are here.

For the Hands that made the flowers and the mountains,
For the Hands that made the songbirds and the stars,
For the feast each day that Love has spread around us,
For the Hands that took the nails and bore the scars.

Bless You Lord, You Who knelt down in the garden
Bless You Lord, You Who climbed the angry hill
For the wine and for the bread that fill the table
Bless the Hands, Bless the Hands that made that meal
Bless the hands, the hands that made the meal
Bless the hands, all the hands that made this meal

Song for the day, Words Fall In

To listen to the song, click on the title just below (in green).

Words Fall In

Like yesterday’s song, this one comes from a quote, one that i heard in January while at Laity Lodge in Texas. The passage came from Parker Palmer, a writer i’d never heard of before: ‘As we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts and there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.’
What a poignant and hopeful thought …
In May, in anticipation of some graduation events where i’d be doing music, i wrote this song. … While i address the lyrics to parents, I like to think that it might fit for anyone in a teaching or mentoring role, or on an even broader scale, for anyone whose attempt to care for, love, encourage, or counsel another seems to be falling on deaf ears or a hard heart.
Special thanks to Heidi Player and Leigh McLeroy.

The Words Fall In

Tell your children that you love them
Give them words of hope and truth
Give them reason to be kind and to believe
If they seem now not to listen
Simply charge it to their youth
And pray someday they’ll finally receive

Tell them once, tell them twice
Show them time and time again
Someday their hearts just might break open
And the words will all fall in

Teach them honor, teach them duty
Teach them work and teach them play
Teach them kindness that finds daily ways to give
Teach them wonder, teach them beauty
by the things you do and say
Teach them Jesus, and the love He came to live

Tell them once, tell them twice
Show them time and time again
Someday their hearts just might break open
And the words will all fall in

Like a flower, through the winter, hidden deep, so deep beneath the snow
Till the day that the warmth will enter, and the blossom starts to grow

Tell them once, tell them twice
Show them time and time again
Someday their hearts just might break open
And the words will all fall in
The words fall in
The Word falls in

Song for the Day, i Only Pray When i’m in Trouble


To hear the song, click on the title just below (in green).

i only pray when i’m in trouble

While i’ve been home this summer, i have tried to spend a bit of time everyday in the studio. For the next week, i’ll be posting some of the songs i’ve worked on. These are songs that won’t end up on cd’s but i hope they have some value in provoking thought and encouraging gratitude. Thanks for listening.
This first song is one i wrote in April or May. It was inspired by a quote, attributed to an anonymous rabbi, that i came across while studying a few months ago.
The thought gives clarity to the words of Apostle Paul who taught that we should “pray without ceasing.”

I Only Pray when I’m in Trouble

Even on my good days, even when I’m doing fine
When everything looks perfect up ahead
I know very well that it could change by suppertime
Cause life is always hanging by a thread

I only pray when I’m in trouble
I only pray when I’m in trouble
I only pray when I’m in trouble
But I’m trouble all the time

It only takes a heartbreak, or a couple of busted bones
Or the little hurts that come with growing old
Add an earthquake and a hurricane and the truth gets clearly known
There’s a lots of things in life we can’t control

I only pray when I’m in trouble
I only pray when I’m in trouble
I only pray when I’m in trouble
But I’m trouble all the time

At any single moment I could stumble I could fall
Lose my way and end up running wild
And so I pray for wisdom to remember I am small
And ask “dear Lord, have mercy on Your child”

I only pray when I’m in trouble
I only pray when I’m in trouble
I only pray when I’m in trouble
But I’m trouble all the time