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Art Christian Music

First Review of Overdressed: 5 Stars.

Caedmon's Call - Overdressed

The first review of Overdressed is in from Christian Music Today, and it’s a glowing one.

Sounds like: earthy acoustic pop and folk reminiscent of Paul Simon, Andrew Peterson, Rich Mullins, and the earlier releases from Caedmon’s Call.
At a glance: with superb songwriting and an eclectic, catchy folk-pop sound, Overdressed is easily one of the best from Caedmon’s Call.

I’ve got to admit, after the 2006 release of In the Company of Angels II I was pretty much convinced that it was the end of Caedmon’s Call as we knew it.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the occasional artistic diversionthe Christmas album, the worship album, the live album, the strip-it-down-unplugged-acoustic album. But this band had already done the worship music thingwith much aplombon 2002’s In the Company of Angels, not to mention contributions to the acclaimed City on a Hill projects. Once the relatively lackluster and unimaginative sequel surfaced, it seemed to signal the end of a career that’s been hit-and-miss in recent years. A sad loss considering what a colorful run they’ve had with innovative musicianship and thoughtful lyricism.

Along comes their fifteenth album, and imagine my surprise. Not only does Overdressed mark a return to the signature folk and acoustic pop sound characterized by Caedmon’s Call’s 1997 national debut and 1999’s 40 Acres, but even former member Derek Webb is back along for the ride, reminding us just how much his presence was missed in this band. Couple all that with a new partnership through INO RecordsWebb’s label home for his solo workand it seems like Cliff Young and company have plenty of life in them to last a good long while yet. And if they continue writing songs as catchy and thoughtful as this album, then that’s a very good thing for all of us.

Like previous Caedmon’s outings, Overdressed is an eclectic, community effort, but now with four singers between Webb, Cliff & Danielle Young, and Andrew Osenga contributing to the lead vocals and harmonies. It only emphasizes the fluidity of the band’s lineup, and against all odds, it really does work in conjunction with their eclecticism. It also brings a fresh range of perspective in the songwriting. Considering Webb’s tell-it-like-it-is approach and the band’s involvement with social causes (Compassion International, the Dalit Freedom Network, the band’s Share the Well Foundation), it should come as no surprise that missional living, social consciousness, and authentic Christian living are reoccurring themes on Overdressed.

The messages come across loud and clear, starting with Webb, who lays out what could essentially be the album’s thesis with the soulful, somewhat twangy opener “Trouble.” A perfect match for his thoughtful lyrics and emotive vocals, Webb sings about how trouble is “the book running through my veins,” underscoring our all-too-blatant need for the grace of a Savior.

From there, Osenga adds further texture to the band’s sound by throwing in some rock ‘n’ roll with the decidedly unfussy “Need Your Love.” In musical contrast to that is “Two Weeks in Africa,” a playful fusion of folk and world music inspired from the band’s missions trips to Third World nations. Similar to 2004’s Share the Well in scope, not to mention Paul Simon’s Graceland, the song’s dramatic instrumentation is bound to make this a crowd-pleaser in concert.

He also delivers one of the album’s catchiest hooks with the pop flavored “Expectations.” But lest anyone dismiss it as lightweight, the lyrics give listeners more to chew on by exploring the contrast between marketing Christian culture and a true life of faith: “This is not what it looked like on the billboard.”

Of course, it just wouldn’t be Caedmon’s Call without the core contributions of Cliff and Danielle Young. Their vocals and harmonies are as pristine as everCliff shining on the beautiful testament of faith “There Is a Reason,” Danielle with the celebratory tone of “Sacred.” But the couple also sounds more personable than ever on the whimsical “Love Grows Love,” offering listeners some insight into their love story years ago: “You said to put on a happy face on a high school stage/But I read what you really meant in your handwriting on a Bible page/You waited like you told me, though we knew it right away.”

They’re not the only husband/wife collaboration that works well on Overdressed. Webb and his wife Sandra McCracken offer up “Share in the Blame” with hit-you-where-it-hurts-lyrics that calls us to accept responsibility rather than blame others for our problems. Danielle’s lovely harmonies wonderfully compliment Webb’s lead, making it beautiful, affecting, and one of the album’s best songs.

For most bands, too many cooks in the kitchen would cause them to sound unfocused or disjointed. Caedmon’s Call, however, is not like most bands. Their diversity in songwriting themes, their multi-faceted sound, and their variety in vocals all work in their favor. Overdressed is not only a superb and well-crafted return to form for this band; it may well be their best album to date.

Five Stars well deserved, I say. If you haven’t picked it up yet, do so here to get 2 copies for $12, as well as getting 2 bonus tracks on the disc.

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Art Music

Andrew Osenga – Letters to the Editor, Vol. 1

Andrew Osenga - Letters to the Editor, Vol. 1 It’s a perfect day for some great new music. One of my favorite musicians, Andrew Osenga, released a digital EP via his blog last night that is, in a word, amazing.

Clocking in at 6 tracks and just under 21 minutes, the album started off as an interesting idea: Andrew would write and record some songs, but the community that visits his blog / website would provide the inspiration for the record, sending in pictures, drawings, paintings, stories, cool words, or ideas they wished someone had written about. Andrew based each of the six songs off of an idea that was contributed from the community, which is pretty cool. I haven’t heard of or seen anything quite like it before; I’m sure that similar projects will become more commonplace as musicians grasp hold of the internet as a tool to promote community interaction between fans and artists.

But Andy went a step further. A really, really interesting step further.

For one of the songs, “Swing Wide the Glimmering Gates,” Andrew invited the community to contribute background vocals (webground vocals?) that he would add to the mix. He uploaded a guitar part and two different harmonies which people recorded singing on their own and sent back to him. He combined all of the voices together to make a chorus at the end of the song filled with the very people that inspired the album in the first place, the people who would probably be the ones buying it. 😉 How innovative is that?

I got my name in the credits, which is pretty cool, and I had a lot of fun recording my vocals. I can pick out my voice at the very end as the chorus of voices becomes more prominent. I PayPal’d him $9, but the entire album is available for free from his website. Donations are suggested, but it’s completely up to you. I highly recommend going over and downloading the album — you have nothing to lose, and it’s a very fun, solid project. Andrew added “Vol. 1” in the title, so here’s hoping that he continues to make more EPs like it.

The entire album was recorded between May 23 and June 6, 2007. He released it last night, on June 12th.

20 days from conception to release.

Welcome to the new face of music. It’s beautiful.

 

Andrew Osenga – Letters to the Editor, Vol. 1

Download Page with PayPal Donation Link

Direct Album Download (.zip)

 

Letters to the Editor, Vol. 1 – Tracklisting

1. Andrew Osenga – Wanted (2:49)
2. Andrew Osenga – The Ball Game (3:45)
3. Andrew Osenga – You Leave No Shadow (3:46)
4. Andrew Osenga – Anna and the Aliens (3:07)
5. Andrew Osenga – The Blessing Curse (2:40)
6. Andrew Osenga – Swing Wide the Glimmering Gates (4:45)

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Art Music

David Crowder Band – B Collision

David Crowder Band - B Collision, or (...the Eschatology of Bluegrass)I received the David Crowder Band’s latest release B Collision, or (…the Eschatology of Bluegrass) in the mail earlier this week, and man, has it been a treat to listen to. B Collision provides a stripped-down, acoustic treatment to some of the songs from DCB’s previous full length, A Collision, along with a few live cuts from their 2006 tour with Robbie Seay and Shane & Shane. David Crowder’s offerings have been strong in the past, often very creative while remaining catchy; he won’t be shoehorned into a hole. A Collision featured genres ranging from rock to folk to bluegrass, to, well, jsut plain weird (in a cool way). Following in the footsteps of this tradition, B Collision does not disappoint.

The track listing is as follows:

1.) Intro (I’ve Had Enough)
2.) A Beautiful Collision
3.) Wholly Yours
4.) Everybody Wants to go to Heaven (LP)
5.) I Can Hear the Angels Singing / (…andeverandeverand…)
6.) Be Lifted (live with Robbie Seay and Shane & Shane)
7 .) I Saw the Light (live with Robbie Seay and Shane & Shane)

The first song on the album, “Intro (I’ve Had Enough)”, starts off very lo-fi, with Crowder sitting down and getting ready before he begins playing. A quiet banjo enters midway through the intro, sounding as if it’s in the back of the room away from the microphone for a nice effect.

Track two is my favorite currently, with a glitchy-electronic feel behind Crowders voice that builds until beautiful banjo-picking takes the limelight at the chorus.  Magnetic tape whirrs and clicks encapsulate much of the track, but the feel remains organic throughout.

Track three, “Wholly Yours,” is a different treatment of a song off of A Collision, remixed with slight electronic flourishes and featuring subtle banjo on the latter half of the song.

The LP version of “Everybody Wants to go to Heaven” gracefully follows, clocking in at a generous 4:56, an expansion of the 1:04 version found on A Collision.

Track five, “I Can Hear the Angels Singing” fades into a interlude of crowd noise under the moniker “(…andeverandeverand…),” initiating the live portion of the album. “Be Lifted” and “I Saw the Light” were recorded on the road in Kansas, and they capture the live feel of Crowder’s shows rather well.

Anyway, I was very happy with this purchase; David Crowder continues to push the boundaries of his music in the pursuit of good art, and it’s a gamble that has continued to pay off with each new album. B Collision is highly recommended, in my book.

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Art Faith Music

Relevant Magazine: An Interview with Andrew Osenga

There’s a new interview over at Relevant Magazine that I really enjoyed reading this morning. It’s with one of my favorite artists, Andrew Osenga, sitting down and talking about his new record The Morning and life as a musician in Nashville, trying to pay the bills and support his family.

I’m including the full text here, but the credits go to Relevant Magazine for setting this up. By the way, Relevant’s Podcast is pretty funny; you should listen to it when you get the time. So, without further ado, the interview:

An Interview with Andrew Osenga, by Jason Boyett

Andrew Osenga has done more in the last decade than any working musician should expect. As a small-town teenager, he gained a cult following as the frontman for The Normals, only to see the band fall apart within a matter of years. He recorded a critically acclaimed solo album with hardly any budget to speak of. He took a job with another band with a devoted following Caedmon’s Call and ended up filling the empty slot left by Derek Webb’s departure from the band.

Now entrenched as the lead guitarist and songwriter for Caedmon’s, Osenga is stepping out once again with a solo album. The Morning, released under the Square Peg Alliance brand, comes out this week. RELEVANT author Jason Boyett caught up with Osenga during a stop on the Evening of Compassion tour, headlined by Caedmon’s Call.

Jason Boyett: Your new record has songs called “After the Garden” and “New Beginnings.” The title track, “Early in the Morning,” ends the record on a powerful, optimistic note. Maybe it’s just because I was an English major, but I’m sensing a dominant theme here. Newness? Starting over?

Andrew Osenga: Yeah, that was sort of the idea of the record: starting over and healing and restoration. I was with The Normals for a long time and that whole thing ended kind of bloody with the label. It was really tough, because some of the guys I worked with at the label were mentors. And when that fell apart, those relationships got thrown out, too.

JB: It wasn’t just a business thing, then.

AO: No, it was personal stuff, more than business relationships. I actually left my church because of that, because the guys at the label were elders at my church. And those relationships have never been fixed.

JB: Wow.

AO: I spent a couple of years just being really bitter and angry about it, and part of the reason I took the job with Caedmon’s was because I just got to stand on the side and play. These days, I’ve gotten to where I’ll talk and sing, but early on I just played guitar and didn’t have to invest in anything. I especially liked that I didn’t have to talk about Jesus in front of people because I wasn’t ready to do that yet.

JB: What changed?

AO: Caedmon’s took that trip to India a couple of years ago [during the recording of Share the Well in 2004], and we got to see so many things there, which was really good for me. Also, my wife and I had a baby, and that was the biggest thing. We got involved in a new church and became members. We’re going through the process of forgiveness and healing and those things really fit in all the songs. That’s where it came from thematically.

JB: It’s also a new direction musically.

AO: Musically, I’ve been such a big part of the folk circuit (a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar) and sometimes I just hate that. It can be really boring. Don’t get me wrong: there are guys like Andy Peterson and Randall Goodgame who can get up with an acoustic guitar and blow your mind. But Nashville’s got a lot of this three-chord acoustic stuff, and I really wanted not to do that. On Christian radio, especially, an acoustic guitar is usually the biggest thing in the mix and it takes up all the space. But I’d listen to old Peter Gabriel records, and old U2 and Pink Floyd records, and they’re so huge-sounding, because there’s not something in there that takes up the whole range of your hearing. So I intentionally started every song with a drum loop (which I suck at) and keyboards (which I suck at) and built around those. The guitars were the last thing to go on, even after the vocals.

JB: You’ve written songs for The Normals, Caedmon’s Call, and then for yourself as a solo artist. Do you write a song differently depending on who might record it?

AO: I write my solo stuff like I used to write for The Normals, because I was the lead singer. All the records I’ve done with Caedmon’s [Chronicles, In the Company of Angels Vols. 1 & 2, and Share the Well] I tried to fit who Caedmon’s is and what they’ve done into the songwriting, not knowing who was going to sing the songs. It’s a totally different thing writing for other people, to contribute stuff that’s not so uber-personal and sort of focus outward, like on Share the Well.

JB: I think Share the Well was a real restoration of Caedmon’s Call as a band, especially after Derek Webb left. It was their best record in a long time.

AO: The band feels that way, too. On every level, the songwriting, the sound, the rhythmic vibe, we rolled the dice and it worked. It was really a magical time, to be able to write those songs and play them live on that tour.

JB: You’re also taking deliberate steps now to begin writing for other artists.

AO: Yeah, I just got a publishing deal. It’s like a part-time job where I stay at home a couple days a week and just write songs general songs that anybody could put on their record — you know, artists who don’t write their own songs. Christian radio has a lot of terrible stuff on it. So when they came to me and said, Hey, we like some of the stuff you’ve been doing. We’d like you to come and write for some of our artists, I thought, well, who knows? Maybe we can get something that’s not so dumb on the radio. It’s a fun challenge, trying to write something that’s catchy and simple and personal — but not too personal, you know?

JB: Do you ever come up with a good hook or line and think, Man, I should have saved that one for myself?

AO: All the time. I let one go last week. I was writing with an artist who just got signed and she needed help on her first record. I played her this song that I had been working on and immediately I wanted to take it back.

JB: You’re one of the founding members of Nashville’s Square Peg Alliance, along with artists like Derek Webb and Andrew Peterson and Matthew Perryman Jones. Tell me about it.

AO: It’s a conglomeration of 13 artists. Most of us have had label deals at some point (and a few of us still do) but we’ve all been through that machine. You know what you used to love about a record label back in the Decca days or with Columbia? When Columbia had a new artist, you just knew it was quality. I wonder who this Jeff Buckley guy is? He’s with Columbia; he’s probably good. Labels have lost that appeal. The Square Peg Alliance is our attempt to create something of a label for us. We’ve all been friends for years and years. But because we live in Nashville and most of us are playing acoustic folk/rock, we don’t always get a lot of exposure. So we’ve banded together to get people to come alongside of us and create a community.

We’ve been doing some Square Peg events, and we hope to put together a Square Peg tour. None of us are at a point where we can really tour by ourselves (other than Andy Peterson or Derek Webb) but if we go out together, we can make the Square Peg an event, and people can be a part of that movement.

JB: You’re already playing on each other’s records anyway, right?

AO: Right. It’s pretty much giving a name to something that already exists.

JB: You’re known for being a multi-instrumentalist. On the new record you play guitar, piano, upright bass, mandolin, baritone, trombone…

AO: It’s fun. The truth of it is that, on the record (my best friend, Cason Cooley, who was in The Normals with me, co-produced it) it was pretty much just Cason and I and our bass player during most of the recording. We’d go, “What does this song need?” and figure out an idea, then we’d stick a microphone on it and record. The Normals records were that way (where everybody played every instrument) so the records were just hodgepodges. That’s what I love about the old Band records and Rolling Stone records, because they used to do that. There’s a lot more personality. Unlike a Coldplay record, where the guitar player plays the guitar on every song and they all sound the same. I prefer that mad scientist vibe.

JB: You mentioned fatherhood earlier. How did becoming a dad change you as a musician and songwriter?

AO: There’s so much responsibility. When I was a kid I always thought I’d get married and have kids and settle down. But actually I think I play music with more of a passion now. I know my daughter will someday listen to these records and I want her to know then how much I love her.

JB: As a father, I was really drawn to the last song on the record, “Early in the Morning.” It’s a storytelling kind of song with a big carpe diem message.

AO: Yeah, that’s the magnum opus of the record. Putting that at the end ties it all together. I love that the song and the whole record ends with that last phrase: “Let your love rage like a lion. Let your heart break like a lamb.” That’s another theme: Don’t waste these things. Our life is too short to spend that time being bitter or angry, but instead be loving and enjoy the people who are around you. That’s what the record is all about. The song’s modeled after Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven.

JB: Really?

AO: I’m a Steinbeck junkie. The book is a series of short stories set in this little valley, and you think what on earth is this about? until the last chapter is told from this other perspective, outside of that valley. It’s amazing. I wanted to do that with the song. It doesn’t really have a chorus or bridge, but just these little vignettes, and then the big ending: If I didn’t say it before, then this is what I’m trying to say.

JB: Well I’m not that much of a music critic, but it’s a killer song.

AO: I’ve had a career of only being liked by music critics, so I’m glad you liked it. You probably get a song like that only two or three times in your life.

You can buy Andrew’s new cd The Morning on his website right here.