GREAT MUSIC: Personal Favorites
Robin Olav Vogsland, New Mexico
(With 5 Sound Files &
a fantasy compilation album cover)
Finding Great Music: It is difficult to find really exceptional music amid the dross and mediocrity. The purpose of this page is to help others find some good music. This is a tricky thing since "there is no accounting for taste."
Where I am coming from: I started out as a mostly normal farm kid whose mom liked Hank Williams and Perry Como and dad liked Johnny Horton, the Sons of the Pioneers, and the Kingston Trio. In HS & college I became an atheist (then agnostic) and sought the kicks to fill my life in Science Fiction and 70's rock (soft & hard) and later in folk music, pre-50s pop music, pop classical & a generally eclectic mix. After returning to Christ in graduate school, I spurned secular music for many years (& focused on Christian pop & hymns). I remember and readily acknowledge the genius of many secular pop artists--Joni Mitchel, Neil Young, Ian Anderson, Todd Rundgren, Bob Dylan, & Hank Williams too--but they have so little to say, awesome talent but their art is empty--it is so sad. Lately I have re-explored classical & instrumental & a little vocal pop music. My central taste is for the Lyrical, the Beautiful, whatever the style. I find that modern composition largely spurns this as a goal, yet whenever someone acheives it, even slightly, he/she is loved by many. Pop/rock/hip-hop are still hooked on Beat (the cheap neurostimulant), but it too tries for lyrical beauty at times.
I think that anyone raised on pop music--myself included--will gravitate to more immediately accessible music, and only rarely match in subtlety of experience those raised with a more refined taste. This is not necesarily bad (music has to be accessible by some means to be appreciated), but I think it is a factor in my selections.
Caveats: A certain amount of entertainment is good, but entertainment is not life. And as someone said, "Just one life, 'twill soon be past, and only what's done for Christ will last."
Some of these albums are available at Christiandiscs.com
Rating System: Besides overall relative rating, I attempt to note two dimensions of music:
. . . . . . MUSICAL EXCELLENCE (Awful->Neutral->Sublime) and
. . . . . . MESSAGE SIGNIFICANCE (Abhorent->Trite->Wonderful).
NOTE ON DOWNLOADABLE SOUND CLIPS: They are in AIFF format (mono, 8 bits, 11.1 KHz--fair quality, but not like the CD), playable on Mac & PC with the right player. (Built into PC Netscape 3.0) Mac Users: You can play these with many sound utilitites including SoundMachine.
To download Sound machine CLICK HERE:
||Group or Composer / Album Title / Publisher :: Style. |
|Sublime + Significant
|100:Still looking for this one|
99: Glad / The Acapella Project / Benson :: DooWop-Pop hymns.
[The point of Christianity is the Gospel (the love of God for us in Christ) and if you listen to the words, you will find the full comfort & glory of the gospel--with great, contemporary vocal arrangements. Its sequel, The Acapella Project II, is similar but does not have as many great pieces.] Sample (526 Kbytes)--Note: original sounds much better
98: Bob Bennett / Lord of the Past, a Compilation / Urgent ::
[A kind of 1989 "Greatest Hits" collection from a very talented songwriter, musician, and poet/artist. It takes a true poet to uncover for others the reality of human experience. My favorites are Man of the Tombs (you must attend to the lyrics carefully), 1951, and A Song about Baseball. The songs vary from sacred to human to ones with just a touch of Christian imagery. In the last few years I have grown to love this album as I listened more closely. I like Bob's voice and his ability to lay bare his own experiences and insights. Two of his more recent albums: Songs from Bright Avenue (dealing with his divorce) and Small Graces (dealing with his life after divorce) are artistically good, but are more ambivalent spiritually--they show a Christian struggling with the aftermath of divorce with faith informing his life but not having sorted it all out yet--they require some strength to deal with as a listener. I have not yet procurred his newest album.] Bob Bennett's Semi-Official website
97: Lamb / The Lamb Trilogy / Messianic :: Jewish Folk-Pop.
[This is a re-release of Lamb's first 3 albums on 2 CDs and it is a magic album. It draws on Euro-Jewish and Mid-Eastern Jewish sounds in a mostly acoustic pop style. Some of the pieces are wonderful tastes of Old Testament Bible history, others are compelling calls to the Messiah. The musicianship and recording are of the highest caliber.]
96: Keith Green / The Ministry Years (Two 2-CD sets) / Sparrow :: 70's Pop.
[Keith died in a 1982 plane crash. He was a genius of composition and performance with his own piano style. He usually presents the gospel beautifully, but sometimes gets legalistic. Several sublimely beautiful content songs, many good songs, a couple of duds. Virtually all of his released music seems to be in this awesome series.] Sample: Medley 3 Songs (3 POVs) MP3 at 60KHz No One Believes in me anymore (Devil) + When I Hear the Praises Start (God) + The Road to Jericho (Man helped by Good Samaritan)
Try these Real Audio links for better quality excerpts:
The Grace by Which I Stand
I Pledge My Head to Heaven
When I Hear the Praises Start
Your Love Broke Through
Song to My Parents
Your Love Broke Through
Easter Song (this well loved song was written by Keith)
95: Arvö Part / Te Deum / ECM :: Modern Classical.
[Religious text, sung in Latin, sublimely beautiful choral sections--very accessible. His earlier releases: Miserere and Passio are also good, but not quite at same level.] Sample (210 Kbytes)
90: Various / Opera Goes to the Movies / RCA Victor :: Opera
|94: Various / Celtic Legacy / Narada :: Contemporary Folk.|
[A diverse 64 minute mixture of Celtic-influenced modern/semi-traditional groups. Many have great lyrical beauty in voice and instrument. This one gets better every time I listen to it.] Sample 3 songs (413 Kbytes)
93:Bruce Cockburn / Dancing in the Dragons Jaws/Columbia::Tight late 70s folk-pop
[This got some airplay in 1979 & the early 80's when it came out. I bought it in 1999 from BMG, and it is a GREAT album! Like Bob Bennett, Bruce Cockburn has a poet's soul and a talent for turning a thought-provoking phase. Like a lot of late 70s stuff the lyrics are somewhat cryptic and one ends up reading into the scattered "religious" references one's own thoughts. The music always makes me happy. His later albums (that I have heard) are less spiritually oriented and less satisfying.CREATION DREAM Centred on silence / counting on nothing / I saw you standing on the sea / and everthing was / dark except for / sparks the wind struck from your hair / sparks that turned to wings around you / angel voices mixed with seabird cries... / fields of motion / surging outward / questions that contained their own replies... / you were dancing / I saw you dancing / throwing your arms toward the sky / fingers opening / like flares / stars were shooting every where / lines of power / bursting outward / along the channels of your song / mercury waves flashed / under your feet / shots of sliver in the shell-pink dawn...
92: Beniamino Gigli / The Art of Beniamino Gigli / Angel-Seraphim :: Opera
[Gigli is pronounced GEE' LEE. A collection recorded in the 1930s & 1940s, I first heard this album in college on the CBC station from Winnepeg (a program called Gilmore's Albums). I bought the LP and it is still one of my favorites. I think Gigli's first song, Amarilli (by Caccini) is the most perfect, beautifully sung song I have ever heard. All of the songs are very good. I should not tease you so, since I do not know whether this album is available--you do not see much by this Italian singer anymore. He has a great voice, but he follows an older style which is more emotional (even melodramatic)--contrary to the current taste. (Point of reference: I think Pavaroti is boring compared to Gigli.)] Sample the end of Amarilli (382 Kbytes aiff)
91: Bach / Bach Organ Book / Quintessence :: Classical.
[This is an excellent discount label disc, but there are similar discs available if you cannot find this one. Very accessible--it has a sublime rendering of Toccata & Fuque in D Minor, a nearly perfect composition (to my amateur ear).]
[A collection of the most famous operatic standards (bits and peices used in movie scores). Includes old and newer recordings by some greats of opera: Jussi Bjoerling, Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo, ...; conductors Fritz Reiner and James Levine, ... . If you wonder if you could ever like opera, start here, these are very accessible--just great, powerful music. In fact for anyone who wants to get a sense of the God-given capabilities of the human voice, this is a great study.]
89: Enya / Shepherd Moons / Reprise :: "New Age".
[Several hauntingly beautiful pieces in Irish/English (more so than her Watermark album). Neutral Lyrics.]
|Very Good + Significant
87: Studio musicians / Scripture Memory Songs series / Integrity :: Light Pop. |
[Diverse pop musical styles, the Lyrics are straight Scripture. Contains many short songs ranging from OK to Exquisite. You will learn to love many of the verses used. Main drawback is albums are short 30-40 minutes. The dozen(s?) of CDs in the series each with a loose theme--e.g. Healing, Grace, Overcoming Guilt.]
86: Amy Grant / Age to Age / Reunion :: Light Pop.
[Amy's whole body of work is good, but I think this is one of her best.]
85: 2nd Chapter of Acts / The Roar of Love / Live Oak :: Pop rock.
[Not impressive on first hearing but, it really grows on you--into a beautiful musical embodiment of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.]
82: Kronos Quartet / Pieces of Africa / Elektra Nonesuch :: Modern Classical-Pop.
[A unique collection. Mixes various African cultural sounds with string quartet arrangements. Several songs are often used in commercials. Very listenable when you want something different.] Sample 4 songs (472 Kbytes) 8 bit, 11KHz
NOTE: I have tried several of their other albums but did not care for them at all--sorry Kronos.
|Commendable + Significant
| ... |
Accessible - you don't have to work too hard, or learn anything to understand it or like it--1 or 2 listenings should be enough to appreciate it.
Content songs - Pieces whose message dominates the appreciation of their merit. The music augments or in some cases is neutral (but is not bad).
Lyrical - For Music: beautiful and melodic. In text: beautiful and poetic.
Modern Classical - Classified as classical and also shows the influence of one of the "Modern" schools of composition. E.g. minimalism, use of dissonance, ...
New Age - The 90's successor to easy listening. Some of it does have an pagan or otherwise anti-Christian spiritual content and is to be avoided. Other artists are simply secular with no specific spiritual content.
My Dream Mix on the Subject of GRACE
For me spiritual music has the ability to briefly lift us out of the fog of fallen reason and fleshly desire (to a more rarefied air)
where we can get a better glimpse of God's glory and we see ourselves and God's word more clearly in this light.
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