Blaze: David Wilcox Opens the Heart, Part 1

David Wilcox describes himself as a “father, a husband, a citizen and a songwriter…a traveler—an adventurer at his core, always on his way somewhere.” The celebrated songwriter and creator of more than eighteen albums began his career with a bike ride through North Carolina when he was a teenager and has called Asheville home ever since.

Wilcox’s latest album blaze debuted Tuesday. I talked to him about narrative and responsibility, creative process, and how songwriting opens his heart and teaches him to engage with the world.

Shannon Huffman Polson: Your lyrics have a very real narrative element to them, sometimes even writing songs from the perspectives of different characters. Where did that idea come from and what does it do for you?

David Wilcox: I love the experience of being carried along by a story and having it open to another layer like a good parable does. This can surprise me with an emotional experience that’s a surprising compassion or reframing of a circumstance. A good story can do this—I love stories that walk beside you and gradually walk you to a place you might not have gone otherwise.

Those are the songs I love to have in my life. That’s what I aspire to. The songs I write I write because I want to learn from them, I want to see the world the way they see it.

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Look at the Light: Thirteen Songs for 2013

Arcade FireGuest Post by Joel Heng Hartse

I’m writing my dissertation right now and for once I am trying to be bold, to not worry about whether what I am arguing has been substantiated by someone with more knowledge or status than myself. This is probably what is called for.

Sometimes, though, it is nice to shut up and let the wise ones have their say. This is my sixth annual end-of-the-year playlist for Good Letters, and unlike previous years, I am not going to offer any commentary on the songs I’ve chosen; instead, I offer these songs paired with excerpts of books, articles, or other things I have read recently (or not-so-recently) which resonate with me and, I hope, the songs. [Read more...]

Daniel Amos’s “Dig Here Said the Angel”

Dedicated to Billy Corgan, who challenged Christians to “make better music” and branch out beyond U2’s musical blueprints in an interview with CNN in September. I challenge you to buy and bury yourself in this album, Billy; it sounds nothing like U2—in fact, Daniel Amos influenced U2!

Just as the films Sunset Boulevard and American Beauty are narrated by dead men, so too is the Daniel Amos song “Now That I’ve Died.” Unlike these undead narrators, however, the protagonist of the song is literally better off dead.

“I lost my stiff, stiff neck and my hard, hard heart / my self-respect is off the charts,” he sings. “Just hanging out here on the Other Side / dead to my pride, now that I’ve died.”

The song simmers for most of its duration and ultimately reaches a boil. In five minutes, the band reimagines the resurrection life, and succeeds in clearing the clouds of harpists who spend all of eternity bored out of their God-fearing gourds.

“Now That I’ve Died” is one of many highlights on Dig Here Said the Angel, Daniel Amos’s fourteenth proper studio recording in a career that spans almost forty years. To fund the record, the band launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, hoping to raise $14,000; fans donated over $32,000.

The result is my favorite album of 2013 thus far.

[Read more...]

Leaving the Edges Wild: An Interview with Over the Rhine, Part 1

Guest Post

By Meredith Holladay

September 3 marked the release of Over the Rhine’s newest album Meet Me at the Edge of the World, a double album of nineteen songs. Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler have been making music together since 1989, the same year Image Journal was founded. Both have a rich identity of exploring the outskirts of art, faith, and mystery.

Linford and Karin crowd-sourced funding for their previous album, The Long Surrender, the new record, and with Meet Me, they even opened Nowhere Farm—their farm in southern Ohio—to contributing fans for two nights of concerts, food, and stories. Welcoming fans to their farm was important, as the place has a unique presence on the new album.

After moving to their farm, Linford’s father gave them the advice to “leave the edges wild,” an idea that has captivated them in their cultivation of both their land and their music. I spoke to Linford about place, songwriting, the sacred, and what’s next for Over the Rhine.

Meredith Holladay: Describe the experience of having your fans at Nowhere Farm?

Linford Detweiler: It was meaningful—a little nerve-wracking for Karin to contemplate having 500 folks in her back yard, but a lovely weekend. We put up a circus tent and played the songs that had grown out of the soil of Nowhere Farm for the folks that pitched in generously to help us record Meet Me at The Edge Of The World. When the tent came down, we couldn’t tell anything had happened—no trash lying around. Those that attended were very respectful. It felt like a celebration.

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Sarah Masen: The Trying Mark, Part 1

Guest Post

By Angela Doll Carlson

The first time I heard Sarah Masen sing was at the Bluebird Café in Nashville. Sarah took the stage after being introduced as a “songwriter’s songwriter” and a “musician’s muse.” She carried a rich burgundy mandolin and wore denim high-water overalls and heavy boots, her long hair twisted in two small knots near the top of her head. Her wide, welcoming smile was striking and her strong, wiry build made it seem as though, like a bird, she was made to take flight. And when she began to sing, she did take flight, right there at the Bluebird Café.

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Sarah wrapped her fingers around the neck of the guitar beginning in the mid nineties. Her self titled solo album, released in 1996, garnered considerable attention from the music community and was a solid launch base for her subsequent works which included Carry Us Through in 1998, The Holding in 1999 (a re-release of a previous project), and The Dreamlife of Angels in 2001, as well as a trio of EP projects in 2007: Women’s Work Is Alchemy, A History of Lights and Shadows and Magic That Works.

[Read more...]


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