This week I've been working on a little project with some good buds: Joel Klampert, Conner Byrd and Alastair Vance. I can't divulge the details yet, but it's gonna be cool.

Part of the prep work for this project had me looking at some of my musical influences. I wanted to explore just a little bit of that.

One question I was asked was about Christian albums that have influenced me. Here are a couple of thoughts:

Greatest Hits: Steven Curtis Chapman.

When I first started going to church again about nine years ago, one of the things that I struggled with was a change in my music. Music had always been very important to me, obviously, and I had this impression that "church" music had to be boring and stuffy. (Probably because I grew up Catholic)

Someone gave me this record (or I stole it from my wife - but either way) and I started to listen. This was the first "Christian" CD I ever listened to, and it was pretty good. Beyond good, there were some songs on here that really spoke to me. "Not Home Yet", "That's Paradise", "The Walk." In fact, when my wife and I renewed our wedding vows, "I Will Be Here" was our song.

As for a strictly "worship" album (though that line is somewhat subjective):

Alive in South Africa: Israel and New Breed

This is just an amazing body of work. I've had some church listening to these CDs. I got this as a Christmas gift several years back, and it's been playing ever since. I love the way the entire recording flows, especially the whole "Your Latter Will be Greater/You Are Good/Again I Say Rejoice/Friend of God" medley. The addition of some African-penned tunes like "Alpha and Omega" and "Come and Let Us Sing" really show how universal worship is.

As for secular albums, I'm going to tackle two:

Hell Freezes Over : The Eagles

This record really taught me something as a musician, and here's what: the Power of the Arrangement.

Aside from the first four tracks, this is basically a collection of Eagles cover tunes, done by the Eagles. But... and this is a big but... most of the arrangements are completely different from the original album versions, and with incredible results. The noted top-dog here is "Hotel California," which is done all acoustic and hand-percussion. Don Felder's Flaminco-style intro is perfectly bookended by the Felder/Walsh/Frey instrumental at the end. To me, this demonstrates that it is very possible to put your own style and flavor on someone else's (or your own) composition - which is important for a guy who basically plays cover tunes every week.

Songs in the Attic : Billy Joel

Another "collection of cover tunes," right? Absolutely. But this collection from Mr. William Martin Joel demonstrates the Power of the Live Performance.

Get this plan: take a bunch of mediocre songs that didn't cut it as singles, and play them with the right band in the right venues and watch the magic happen. And along the way realize that the audience is part of the band.

One thing I tell young musicians who are trying to learn an instrument is this: practice, yes, all the time; take lessons when you can, but play with people, in front of people. Joel's mid-Eighties line up of Richie Canetta, Doug Stegmeyer, Dave Brown, Russell Javers and the incomparable Liberty DeVitto is perhaps the best bar-band in history.

They turned the quirky "Miami: 2017" into one of the most rocked out songs you ever want to hear (largely due to DeVitto) and the previously ignored "She's Got a Way" into a tender radio hit.

Stay tuned for more...


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