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Feature:: Paul Baloche: The Same Love

13 Mar

“There are a lot of songs about the Cross on this record. People are almost apologetic about it, and yet I feel challenged not to shrink from it. Our tendency is to make our language inclusive and seeker friendly. And I get that, but we also need songs that point to the truth of the new covenant.” – Paul Baloche

By Melissa Riddle Chalos  There’s a certain blanket of wisdom that, if you seek it, comes over time. It wraps around that place in your life where you’re settled in, a place where you’re surrounded by good friends and family and have nothing left to prove. A place where you know who you are, you know your purpose, and you’re content to leave the details up to God.

“If you do something long enough you uncover life lessons along the way,” Paul Baloche says.  “You aspire to be faithful to God’s calling in your life, pressing through even when you fall short. And when you hit a certain age, as you grow in your faith, you recognize the potential and the burden of being a leader, realizing ‘I’ve got to step up and be more intentional toward the people God has put in my life.’ And your prayer becomes, ‘Lord, give me grace to finish well.’”

After 25 years of marriage, 23 years leading worship at Community Christian Fellowship in Lindale, TX, 12 albums recorded with the same label, and hundreds of teaching resources provided free for church leaders (via his web site leadworship.com), one might think Paul Baloche had already qualified for a great finish.

But for this modern hymn writer, mentor and teacher who once aspired to be a priest, ministry is not a sprint, but a marathon, a long series of obedient steps in the same direction. A path where every aspect of life is forged in fires of passion for Jesus and His Church, and the result is almost always an honest prayer for the Church to sing.

All this is at the heart of The Same Love, an organic collection of worship songs from the worship leader best known for such modern classics as “Above All,” “Open the Eyes of My Heart” and “Your Name.” The Same Love mirrors Paul’s love for the Church and gives new expression to the complete faithfulness and overwhelming mercy of a gracious God.

The same love that set the captives free

The same love that opened eyes to see

Is calling us all by name

“One of the reasons I love the process to this day is that it’s a bit of a frontier, a mystery,” Paul says of the creative process behind The Same Love. “You can’t put your finger on it. Nobody can. It has a sense of adventure, a Lewis & Clark kind of thing. All explorers, over time, are trying to go places they’ve never been. Writing for worship is a lot like that. You’re trying to go places you’ve never been, deeper into ancient biblical truths, stirring up your modern soul, if you will. You’re testing the tension and the harmony of several things, combining that with what’s going on musically at the moment… And you end up with all these different elements — harmony, chords, lyrics, melody, vibe — and out comes something new.”

Co-produced with longtime collaborators Ben Gowell and Michael Rossback, The Same Love continues to walk a modern edge musically, while delivering unforgettably rich lyrics composed in the context of community.

“From project to project, I try to wipe the slate clean, to consider what’s happening right now, in my church, in my own soul, in the church at large and to ask ‘What do I sense in the hearts of the next generation, how do they perceive God, the church, fellowship and community?”

Grammy Award-winning engineer Chris Lord-Alge (U2/Switchfoot) mixes the title track and first single of the project, co-written by Paul and Michael Rossback. This is the touchstone for the entire collection.

“God is not this impersonal force,” Paul says. “The truth is that from creation to the crucifixion, God has been calling us – by name. He’s giving us a challenge, calling us to the cross, asking, ‘Are you ready to give up your way of doing things? Come as you are, pick up your cross daily and I will transform your life.’”

The four songs that follow—the anthemic, Coldplay-esque “We Are Saved” (co-written with Jason Ingram and Ben Fielding), bluegrass tinged “King of Heaven,” “All Because of the Cross” (a modern spin on “Nothing But the Blood”) and “Your Blood Ran Down”— follow a path often resisted, even in worship. “There are a lot of songs about the Cross on this record. People are almost apologetic about it, and yet I feel challenged not to shrink from it. Our tendency is to make our language inclusive and seeker friendly. And I get that, but we also need songs that point to the truth of the new covenant.”

We are children of your mercy, rescued for your glory,

we cry Jesus set our hearts towards you

that every eye would see you lifted high…

“Look Upon the Lord,” co-written with Kari Jobe and Jason Ingram, began as a time of worship, an effort to linger and focus on Jesus and His sacrifice. “We felt such a strong presence from God as we were writing it that we decided to record the song around our original demo, keeping Kari’s worshipful vocal and Jason’s keyboard part.”

I don’t know where You’ll take me

But I know You’re always good…

 “My Hope,” featuring Kathryn Scott and co-written with Ed Kerr, with whom Paul has written over 100 songs, gives voice to the spoken and unspoken prayers of people in times of need. “Life is hard, people are looking for hope, and there’s not much to be found outside of the hope we have in Christ,” Paul says. “My prayer is that this song will help others express to God what they really feel and point them to His promises.”

In each and every one of these church-tested songs, perhaps even more intentionally than ever before, Paul Baloche continues to draw from deep roots of devotion and ministry to feed the fire in his spirit. To create songs in community with like-minded worship artists who understand the hearts and prayers of those they serve, the people in the pew… and those who are still seeking.

“I can’t deny what I’ve seen and experienced in the presence of God,” Paul says. “I can’t deny that I’ve witnessed His goodness and faithfulness over and over again. God is alive. The same God who created the world calls us by name.”

The same God that spread the heavens wide

The same God that was crucified

Is calling us all by name

 “When I meet people who are full of the Spirit—despite their present circumstances, beyond their temperament or attitude—I’m inspired. I want to be that kind of person, to be in His presence, to read and digest his Word, to make it part of my DNA, to walk it out – to live it out. In the end, I want my life, my music to facilitate a conversation about God and who He is.”

For more information on Paul Baloche’s ministry, go to www.leadworship.com. AAAAAAAAAAAnd head over to Paul’s Facebook page to download a FREE song from The Same Love.

Kari Jobe: Where I Find You

24 Jan

Note from Amy:  While I’m working on my DaySpring review, editing a post that will appear later this week, and gathering material for Friday Faves, I hope you enjoy this article by my friend, Christa Banister, about Kari Jobe.  Kari is an incredibly talented artist whose dynamic voice really packs a punch.  And I should note that Christa, who has contributed to BSW before, did not write this article exclusively for BSW!

Kari Jobe: Where I Find You

By Christa Banister  After being established as one of the industry’s premier worship leaders with her Dove Award-winning, self-titled debut, Kari Jobe continues to serve as a worship pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, and will release her highly anticipated follow-up album, Where I Find You (Sparrow) on January 24, 2012.

Produced by Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin, Chris August) and Matt Bronleewe (Natalie Imbruglia, Josh Wilson), Where I Find You, which includes Kari’s new hit radio single “We Are,” is an engaging departure from her previous effort—both sonically and thematically speaking.

Rather than simply emphasizing the beauty found in God’s presence, Where I Find You is a clarion call for listeners to experience His presence to the fullest. And not surprisingly, the accompanying soundtrack is just as bold with a buoyant mix of fresh musical textures and timbres.

“After singing about the importance of making time for intimate worship on my first album, I wanted to take the next step on Where I Find You,” Kari shares. “These songs come from such a honest place of praising God for what He’s done—and what He’s continuing to do in our lives—because of His grace and goodness.

“Ultimately, it’s about declaring who He is and enjoying the simplicity of knowing the Lord is near,” she continues. “He’s for us, He loves us, and sometimes, we need to just stop, enjoy His presence and take that in.”

While recording the album, Kari says she was often reminded of that very truth—a theme that resonates through the lyrics of “Here,” a reminder to press pause, even when our culture insists we constantly keep moving.

“There were many instances when we had to stop whatever we were working on because I needed to go outside, take a walk and have my own time with God for a few minutes,” Kari remembers. “Again and again, I was so overtaken by how present He was while we were recording, and it’s my hope and desire that people really feel the strength and intercession that was taking place while I worked on the album.”

Another decidedly counter-cultural idea that resonates in these new songs is how God never lets believers, including worship leaders, get too comfortable in their faith or permanently reside on the proverbial spiritual mountaintop.

“This past year has been the season of being completely uncomfortable and going through things I didn’t understand that were really hard,” Kari shares. “I was literally having to hold on in my heart and trust He had everything in control. You can even hear that a little in my vocals, especially on songs like ‘Love Came Down,’ ‘Run To You,’ and ‘What Love Is This.’ It was a season that stretched me.”

Even through all the growing pains, however, Kari says she was continually reminded of God’s faithfulness.

“I think there are times as believers when we feel entitled and that life shouldn’t be hard. We live in this culture of convenience that says we can do everything ourselves and find all the answers on Google,” Kari says. “But if we can learn to fall more in love with the Lord and trust Him in the middle of every storm, we build our endurance to keep running the race.”

Naturally, these declarations of God’s faithfulness couldn’t help but make their way onto her album.

“‘We Are’ is a song of commission for us as believers,” says Kari, “to be reminded of what we’ve been called to, and that is to impact people’s lives in everything we do.”

In the track “One Desire,” which she co-wrote with Jason Ingram, Kari uses simple, heartfelt language that reminds her of one of her favorite worship anthems when she was young.

“During our writing session, Jason and I were talking about the simplicity of worship; how it doesn’t always have to be so ornate,” she explains.  “When I was a kid, I remember how much I loved singing the song ‘I Love You, Lord’ because it was this sweet, simple song straight from Scripture.”

In stark contrast to the straightforward worship of “One Desire,” another key track, the aforementioned “What Love is This,” features powerful imagery of the Centurion soldier’s reaction to discovering that Jesus was the Son of God after He’d been crucified.

“I often think about what it would’ve been like to experience that and to say ‘Truly, you are the son of God,’” Kari shares. “You realize you were part of His death, you were the one of the people who’d nailed Him to a cross. He must have felt so incredibly broken—to believe the lie and then experience the truth. I really think that’s like all of us. We’ve got to have the perspective that without the Lord’s presence, we’re all in darkness, and ‘What Love Is This’ is my love song to the Lord for His love song for my life.”

Also serving as a grounding force for Kari when life gets complicated is her tight-knit Texas family. Although she turned 30 this past year, she still considers being a daughter one of “life’s greatest blessings.”     

What’s also been a blessing is a new dimension to her ministry. In addition to ministering in churches, arenas, theaters, festivals and conferences across the globe, Kari has also found another outlet for sharing God’s love in partnering with the A21 Campaign, an organization dedicated to abolishing human trafficking in the 21st century.

“I’ve become really invested in that ministry and strongly believe that we all have to play a role and do our part to fight against the modern form of slavery that affects 27 million people and growing,” Kari says. “It’s so incredibly dark, and I feel a responsibility to do what I can. Most of these victims are girls like me, and I can’t imagine what life would be like to be stuck in that place.”

Along with her sister, Kris, Kari has created an exclusive line of jewelry and t-shirts where all the proceeds go to the cause of bringing an end to human trafficking and injustice.

“Whether I’m participating in an effort like this or leading worship, it’s all about making a difference,” Kari concludes. “That’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing at this specific moment—to see God’s name lifted high, to encourage the hurt and the broken and to remind everyone to draw close to Him because He really, truly does care about each and every one of His children.”

And that’s ultimately the message behind Where I Find You, enjoying the beauty of God’s presence, praising him with your whole heart and letting your light shine in a world that needs to experience the true grace and hope found only in Jesus.

For more information on Kari Jobe and her ministry, please visit www.karijobe.com.

Blog Tour & Review: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

3 Aug

Melanie Benjamin Banner

Join Melanie Benjamin, author of the historical novel, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (Delacorte Press, July 26, 2011), as she virtually tours the blogosphere in August on her second virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book.

About the Book…

In her national bestseller Alice I Have Been, Melanie Benjamin imagined the life of the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland. Now, in this jubilant new novel, Benjamin shines a dazzling spotlight on another fascinating female figure whose story has never fully been told: a woman who became a nineteenth century icon and inspiration—and whose most daunting limitation became her greatest strength.

“Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it.”

She was only two-foot eight-inches tall, but her legend reaches out to us more than a century later. As a child, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump was encouraged to live a life hidden away from the public. Instead, she reached out to the immortal impresario P. T. Barnum, married the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and transformed into the world’s most unexpected celebrity.

Here, in Vinnie’s singular and spirited voice, is her amazing adventure—from a showboat “freak” revue where she endured jeering mobs to her fateful meeting with the two men who would change her life: P. T. Barnum and Charles Stratton, AKA Tom Thumb. Their wedding would captivate the nation, preempt coverage of the Civil War, and usher them into the White House and the company of presidents and queens. But Vinnie’s fame would also endanger the person she prized most: her similarly-sized sister, Minnie, a gentle soul unable to escape the glare of Vinnie’s spotlight.

A barnstorming novel of the Gilded Age, and of a woman’s public triumphs and personal tragedies, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the irresistible epic of a heroine who conquered the country with a heart as big as her dreams—and whose story will surely win over yours.

About the Author…

Melanie Benjamin is a pseudonym for Melanie Hauser, the author of two contemporary novels. Her first work of historical fiction as Melanie Benjamin was Alice I Have Been. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is her second release. She lives in Chicago, where she is at work on her next historical novel.You can visit her online at www.melaniebenjamin.com.

Donna’s Review…

Melanie Benjamin’s new historical novel, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, features the inspiring story of a heroic nineteenth century woman, Mercy Lavinia (Vinnie) Warren Bump. Standing only two feet eight inches tall, Vinnie and show man P. T. Barnum, founder of the Ringling Bros.and Barnum & Bailey Circus fabricate an fashionable life.  Vinnie marries another little person, General Tom Thumb, and the couple travels with Barnum around the globe keeping the company of kings, queens and the powerful tycoons of that time.

Benjamin develops the story with careful attention to historic detail and the apparent difficulties of the life of a little, but determined, woman. I was so taken with Vinnie’s story that I conducted online research about Vinnie, Tom Thumb, and P.T. Barnum to verify historical details.  While this book is fictional, it is an accurate account of Vinnie’s inspirational life. Benjamin brought a little known woman to the world’s attention in The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. I heartily recommend this book.–Reviewed by Donna Landis, special to Backseat Writer.

Remember to visit Pump Up Your Book! to read the first chapter of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

*With thanks to Pump Up Your Book!, Melanie Benjamin, and Delacorte Press for the review copy of this book.*

Friday Faves: The Not Amy Edition

29 Jul

Greetings, Backseat Writers, Readers, Lurkers, etc.  I hijacked Backseat Writer this week. Amy is around… somewhere. No, I didn’t put a Petrificus Totalus curse on her and stuff her under an invisibility cloak… she just needed a break and kindly asked me to fill in for her this week. I hope I can do her lovely blog justice!

So, I guess you’re wondering who this Not-Amy impostor is, right? My name is Jen, and I blog about music and books and art and stuff at Divinest Sense. I’ve been a lurker/admirer of BSW for a while, but not so long ago, Amy and I connected over blog comments and Twitter and found out that 1) we both read each other’s blogs and 2) we have an insane number of things in common, mostly of the books, music, and Harry Potter geeky variety.

Other stuff you need to know:

1)  My day job is Audio Ninja for Z88.3 FM, a Christian music radio station in Orlando, FL. It almost seems unfair to call it a day job… usually, that’s how you describe something that you do for a pay check while deferring your “dream job.” I’m truly grateful for a fun, interesting, and rewarding 9-5.

2)  Audio ninja = I do all kinds of programming stuff to make the radio sound cool. And various other things. I am not on the air, except for the occasional snarky comment as “Producer Jen” on our sub-stations The Rock and YHot.

3)  I’m a contributing writer for JesusFreakHideout.com, as well as a blogger and a wannabe poet.

4)  Loves: Coffee, books, going to concerts, my cats, plaid Chucks, deserted beaches, wordplay, Mexican food, colorful eyeshadow, handmade jewelry, indie record stores and used book shops, superhero movies, a wide range of music, my Macbook and Apple stuff in general, office supplies, spiral notebooks, and Twitter.

And now that this is out of the way, I present my Friday Faves!

*  So… music. Music is pretty much my favorite. I work with it, write about it, never leave home without my iPod, and spend an inordinate number of hours listening to it week in and week out. I have a few pre-release albums that are getting a lot of play in my car lately, one of them being the new Downhere. Um, wow. I never listened to a full album by these guys before, but their forthcoming record On the Altar of Love has been winning me over for the past month. Here’s a little teaser review I wrote for JFH.

*  One of the the other great things about Downhere is that they’re signed with Centricity Music. And the folks at Centricity are awesome, committed to putting great art out in the world… and hilarious. A month or two ago, they started a series of web videos called Centricity U, in which Prof. Mays hDRP (aka: John Mays, VP of A&R) teaches their artists all about the magic of radio. (Okay, occasionally these videos drift into the weird world of radio humor, but somebody please tell me you don’t have to be a radio geek to appreciate it.)   Here’s Episode 2, featuring Downhere (while we’re on the subject) These videos crack me up every time. But again… probably radio geek humor. Be sure to watch all the way to the end. “Honorary means Very. Special.”

*  Speaking of music, here’s a little video from one of my favorite websites in the cyber-universe, The Rabbit Room. It’s one of the few blogs I visit daily (so much I got a little twitchy when they were down for a redesign a few months ago. at least it’s a fairly healthy addiction). Anyway, besides their excellent essays and strong, smart web community, they also have a fine roster of musicians including the likes of Andrew Peterson, Jason Gray, Ben Shive, and the delightful Melanie Penn. I bought her album a while back, and it’s a charming collection of sweet and summery pop tunes. Her new music video “Ordinary Day” just debuted and it’s… well… magical! Give it a watch below, and you’ll see what I mean.

*  Another long-standing favorite: quirky handmade jewelry! I am not so girly, but I do geek out over the stuff at ShanaLogic.com. And this week they launched a Necklace-of-the-Month Club!

Oh, if only I could justify the price… basically, for $140 they send you a beautiful handmade necklace a month. What? It’s actually a pretty great deal when you do the math, though I’m sure I can find more… um… practical things to do with that money. But aren’t these samples fantastic?

I do adore and recommend ShanaLogic heartily. Their pieces are artistic and high-quality, the customer service rocks, and you can feel good knowing you supported independent art by shopping there. Everybody wins.

*  Do you like comics? Who doesn’t? I am proud to admit I have more than a little geek in me, even though I don’t indulge it nearly enough. (I have been to a couple of comic conventions though. It’s a fun and fascinating world.) My sister Sherri is just about the coolest geek I know and an artist, and I’m really proud to say she’s about to be published for the first time. W00t!  She’s on board for an upcoming project called Womanthology, a massive collection of comic art and stories by an all female cast of creators, both professionals and newcomers alike. She’s drawing a four-page fantasy story for the anthology. The coolest part is that it’s completely funded by donations through Kickstarter, and all profits from the book will go to charity. I’m so stoked for her! Here’s a great interview with Renae De Liz, the artist behind it all, and the story of the Womanthology project.

*  I never really did get into the Royal Wedding and such, but I do have a thing for all things British! I especially love the accents… sometimes I wish I could pack my bags and move across the pond for whatever length of time it would take to acquire one. (I’m sure I’m not the only one.) If you’ve also ever dreamed of spending a fortnight or more in the UK, you might want to study this list of 50 Annoying Americanisms as polled by the BBC. Some I agree with… others are just hilarious. I especially love the wit in some of these e-mails, like #35 from Nerina in London:  “‘Reach out to’ when the correct word is ‘ask.’ For example: ‘I will reach out to Kevin and let you know if that timing is convenient.’ Reach out? Is Kevin stuck in quicksand? Is he teetering on the edge of a cliff? Can’t we just ask him?”  As Nerina might actually say… “Brilliant!”

*  Since Pottermania is still alive and well at Backseat Writer and I am indeed a proud Floridian, I thought this was worth sharing as a dual favorite. Found via my friend Lindsay’s Tumblr… this is why Florida wins. (According to this handy infographic, I am a Hufflepuff. And “Go BadgerKnights!” is my new battle cry.)

*  Finally and on a serious note, good, thought-provoking, hope-stirring writing is my favorite. In the midst of my online travels and sometimes Twitter overload, I found this little gem of a post. I’ve never read this blog before, but Rachel Held Evans (a blogger I read often) tweeted a link to a post The Kingdom of God is Like…” from Sarcastic Lutheran. Beautiful words. Startling reminder.

“We mistakenly may think that the kingdom of God should follow our value system and also be powerful or impressive and shiny. But that’s not what Jesus brings.  He brings a kingdom ruled by the crucified one – populated by the unclean, and suffused with mercy rather than power. And it’s always found in the unexpected.”

So, how did I do? Should Amy never invite me to do this again? Will you come visit my blog? Are you a casual or obsessed music fan? Did you like the humor in the Centricity U video, or just think music people are weird now? How about Melanie Penn? Would you join a Necklace of the Month Club? Are you a comic geek at heart? Don’t you love British accents too? What words or phrases annoy you? What house/Florida university would you end up in? And what is the Kingdom of God like to you? Did I ask enough questions yet?

Talking ‘Bout Gratitude with the BibleDude.net Gang!

23 May

I am taking part of my first group blogging project with the fine folks over at BibleDude.net.  We are studying L.L. Bakrat’s book, God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us, which teaches new ways of understanding, worshiping, and interacting with God. A group of us signed up to write responses to each of the book’s 12 chapters.  Today’s topic was “gratitude” with a focus on the sky. Check out my post by clicking below as well as all the other great responses to the book. 

Read Amy’s post: [god in the yard] sky: gratitude.

Even though we’re about halfway through God in the Yard, I suggest you pick up a copy and let it transform how you spend time with God.  Like me, you’ll probably discover you do a lot of the talking, and too little listening.  Then you can read all the BibleDude.net contributors responses and tell us about your own.  I’ll be posting again later this month on everyone’s favorite subject: submission.  (Those of you who know me are undoubtedly having a hearty laugh.  To that I say, at least I’m not blogging about silence.)

Updated Review Policy and My Love Note to the FTC

10 Mar

Hear ye, hear ye!  I have updated parts of Backseat Writer’s Review Policy and added a bit of plain speak to my FTC Disclosure.  Read on, you know you want to…

REVIEW POLICY

Request for reviews/interview/marriage proposals can be sent to amy@backseatwriter.com.

Why, yes, I would love to review your album, book, movie, or product!  Due to time restraints, that book I’m eventually going to write, and my personal preferences, I may not be able to honor all requests for reviews, interviews, or Nigerians who want to wire me money.

Before you hit me up with your latest and greatest, please note that I will only accept music for review (and artist interviews) that is downloadable or send to me via snail mail.  Additionally, I will only accept books that are readable on Kindle or sent to me in hard copy format (again, in the mail).  My reasoning?  I need my music and reading material to be portable—to go with me where I need to go.  That’s how I live life and that’s how I review materials.  I cannot be chained to my computer listening to music or reading books.

Additionally, I retain the right to accept or reject all materials based on quality of content and whether or not I believe the materials fit in with the vision of Backseat Writer.  Usually I can tell whether or not something is a good fit by the press release and I will tell you so before you send materials, so feel free to send your queries to amy@backseatwriter.com.

I also added this to that terribly interesting FTC Disclosure or what I like to call “My Love Note to the FTC”…

I do not get paid to do reviews or interviews (though if anyone wants to hire me for freelance work, I’m listening.)  I do not accept money in exchange for posting press releases or endorsements.  All content is generated for the pure love and joy of writing!

Links included in posts are for informational purposes only and are never composed for the purpose of including advertising.

No record company, publisher, publicist, band, artist, hobbit, or gnome will ever influence the content, topics, or posts made in this Backseat Writer, though they may inspire a few!

Any time you want to review parts of my publications policies, you can click on the “About Backseat Writer” tab and read your little heart out.  It is slightly more interesting than watching paint peel.

Book Review:: Wicked Company by Ciji Ware

29 Oct

By Donna Landis  Wicked Company by Ciji Ware is a historical romance which is 600 pages long. The young Scottish heroine, Sophie McGann, endures (and I do mean endures) every possible vengeful action against her. Death of loved ones, marriage to a drunkard and abuser, evil worshipers, lustful suitors, an insane asylum, theft, and deception, to name a few, are some of the wicked company of events that hound her.

Now Wicked Company is also a romance, as evidenced by Sophie’s rugged would-be actor friend/lover the ever so handsome Hunter Robertson. However, the 18th Century is a difficult place in the theatre world of London. So Sophie is forced to make her own way using her wits since the men folk she befriends (including the elusive hunk, Hunter) are traitors, evil or absent.

The novel is rich in fascinating historical detail. Historical characters are woven into the novel and mingle easily with Ware’s fictional characters. But, 600 pages of melodrama were difficult to endure when I knew (this being a historical romance) that Sophie and Hunter would find true happiness in each others’ arms. Wicked Company is a detailed historical endurance for the dedicated romance reader.

My rating: C

Donna Landis is a retired teacher (over 30 years of teaching kindergarteners was enough).  She has one daughter, Amy, who is the head honcho of Backseat Writer.  She lives in Pennsylvania and owns a cute dog named Katie.

*Thanks to SourceBooks for this review copy!*

Book Review:: Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman

20 Oct

By Donna Landis How do you survive the death of a beloved little daughter? How do you deal with your 17 year-old son’s feeling of guilt because he was driving the car that hit her? How do you cope with raising six children while dealing with depression.? Does it make any difference that your husband is beloved award-winning musician, Steven Curtis Chapman? Come along and enter the unexpected world of Mary Beth Chapman in her new book Choosing to SEE written with Ellen Vaughn.

Mary Beth Chapman writes from her heart, her broken heart, to tell the way God has led her, along with her husband and her family, on a journey of exceptional joy and tragedy.  Chapman takes about life in the spotlight as she and Steve Curtis raise their three biological children and then adopt three Chinese daughters. Along the way they found Show Hope, a nonprofit organization which cares for medically fragile orphans, assists adoptive families, and enables awareness of  the needs of orphans. This is not the journey that Mary Beth chose, but this is the path God led her and her family on.

I did not expect Mary Beth to be so vulnerable in expressing the fact of her depression, but she does not hide her illness. In the same way her grief in the face of the tragedy that befell her family in the death and home going of  five year-old special needs Maria is gripping and transparent. I wanted to tell her to stop–stop writing of your loss, sharing your heart break, expressing your emotions. I cannot keep reading this, Mary Beth! Please spare me this. But, in her grief, Mary Beth chose to see God work. In sharing her emotions and journal entries, I was able to see God working on His plan for them. And now, I can choose to see Him working His plan in my life.

Choosing to SEE is a must read. Maybe it will enable YOU to SEE GOD working in YOUR life, too.

Book Rating: A

Donna Landis is a retired teacher (over 30 years of teaching kindergarteners was enough).  She has one daughter, Amy, who is the head honcho of Backseat Writer.  She lives in Pennsylvania and owns a cute dog named Katie.

*Thanks to Vining Media Relations for this review copy!*

To Be or Not to Be: Finding Musical Identity—Part 2, Musical Content by Luke DeJayne of The Fundamental Elements

31 Jul

Luke DeJaynes of The Fundamental Elements concludes his two-part post on musical identity, especially as it pertains to his unique band.  In his second post, Luke discusses how content plays a role in how a band is perceived by the public.  Be sure to read To Be or Not to Be: Finding Musical Idenity— Part 1, Musical Style.

To Be or Not to Be: Finding Musical Identity—Part 2, Musical Content

By Luke DeJaynes of The Fundamental Elements

Making music is a form of art. Art is defined as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” This definition sounds pretty straight forward and leaves the door wide open for an extremely personal expression by the creator of the art. However, after six years of being in the music industry with the band Fundamental Elements (FE), I have come to learn it’s not so simple, at least not when trying to turn art into a career. I’d like to break up this post into a couple sections and discuss finding musical identity from the perspective of an independent musician.

Once you have determined what you sound like, and how you are going to fit in, yet be

unique (whew!), what in the world do you have to say? Again, we find ourselves running into the same problems. Do you write content you know specific groups of people will identify with? Or do you write content you identify with and hope similar people will find your music and hope there’s enough of them to take your career somewhere? I don’t pretend to have the answers to any of the questions I’m posing.

FE has chosen to write content that reflects us as people, but that is still hopefully accessible to most. We don’t take things so far into our personal perspective that no one else besides us can relate to the messages. As a group of Christian guys this becomes increasingly difficult because FE is not necessarily a CCM band. Our lyrics have a definite undertone of spirituality and what we stand for as individuals, but certainly not in the traditional Christian music sense.

We have never felt like it was being true to ourselves to just do specifically music for only Christians. We write music dealing with real life issues, but written from a perspective of an underlying faith. We also let our life reflect our message as much or more than the lyrics. One great avenue we have found is partnering with an organization called Mocha Club. We work with them very specifically on helping orphans in Africa get the care they need, and FE has our own team project with Mocha Club so we are very personally involved.

So does blurring those lines help or hurt? Once again I don’t know. We have certainly heard arguments from both sides. People in the Christian music industry have certainly told us, “If you’d only be more obvious about our Christian message (translation: say “God” and “Jesus” more) you’d certainly be able to have a successful music career.”

And we’ve have had mainstream people tell us, “If you’d only lose the ties to Christianity in your music you would stop alienating the mainstream people and you’d certainly have a more successful music career.””

So, do we listen to one side or the other in hopes of advancing our career? Or do we stay true to being exactly who we are and saying what we want to say? For some artists it’s worth being flexible with style and content in order to fulfill their dreams of a music career. For some it’s more about expressing themselves exactly as they want to, and that is satisfaction enough whether the success comes or not. I think that it really depends upon the artist and their specific goals.

I also believe it’s not one way or the other. It’s not strictly “art versus success” but there are many levels in between that artists who aspire to be successful must face. Hopefully I have been able to shed some light on the struggles to find musical identity as an artist. We’d love to hear your responses on this blog, or send them to us as fe@fundamentalelements.net.

Thank you so much to Luke and The Fundamental Elements for taking the time to write this blog post and offering BSW readers a free song download!  Be sure to visit the band online at http://www.fundamentalelements.net.

DOWNLOAD A SONG FROM THE FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENTS’ LATEST ALBUM “THIS MOMENT” FOR FREE!  TO DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY OF “SOMETIMES,” CLICK HERE.

To Be or Not to Be: Finding Musical Identity—Part 1, Musical Style by Luke DeJayne of The Fundamental Elements

20 Jul

Luke DeJaynes of The Fundamental Elements guest posts about how the band finds its musical identity in an industry that can sometimes look for cookie cutter musicians.  In the first of two blog posts, Luke explores how bands develop musical style.

To Be or Not to Be: Finding Musical Identity—Part 1, Musical Style

By Luke DeJaynes of The Fundamental Elements

Making music is a form of art. Art is defined as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” This definition sounds pretty straight forward and leaves the door wide open for an extremely personal expression by the creator of the art. However, after six years of being in the music industry with the band Fundamental Elements (FE), I have come to learn it’s not so simple, at least not when trying to turn art into a career. I’d like to break up this post into a couple sections and discuss finding musical identity from the perspective of an independent musician.

Part 1, Musical Style

The first creative factor I’d like to touch on is musical style. Typically as a band or an artist when you determine your musical style, you create from the styles that have influenced you most and express your personal taste. However, if this was the only thing to consider, life would be much simpler for the working musician. I’m afraid a lot of times “style” is pushed to a much lower level of importance when determining musical identity.

The reality is that artists have to tackle a plentitude of questions like, What is popular now? What is selling? What contacts do we have at record labels, concert venues, producers and what style are they looking for? What style can we legitimately pull off given the make up of our musicians?

There are many things that help shape or blur our personal musical style. For example, I grew up listening to a lot of jazz. Let’s be honest, people, no one buys jazz. I have determined that I cannot simply play jazz and make a living at it. There are people who do it, but they’re the exception. However, I have found a group of guys to play with who all appreciate jazz, and that carries over into the creative process. Even though the music of FE is more pop/ soul based you can hear the influence jazz has played in my life. Style is a melting pot of your influences.

FE has been heavily influenced by a lot of soul artists like Stevie Wonder, John Legend, and Earth Wind and Fire. So does it mean we don’t have our “own” style because we have been influenced by such artists? I don’t think so. The truth is no one is completely original. Everyone is influenced by previous generations of music, but the beauty comes when you find where you can put your own twist on the music that has influenced you. I Doing so isn’t that difficult because we are all unique people and see things slightly different from each other. There have been times in the past when we have heard “you sound too much like so-and-so.” But I think that’s always been the nature of music. If you like an artist, chances are you can find similarities in the sound. Of course there are also times when you get compared to someone who you don’t even sound like, but that is just difference in people’s perception of your music.

Here’s the point: How do you have a unique, personal sound, and yet still fit in to what

the public wants to hear and purchase? I think it comes down to quality. I know, I know, that sounds old-fashioned. There is a lot of music out there that I would consider lacking in the quality control dept. But I think the key is finding your unique spin on what has influenced you, and doing it with excellence.

Keith Urban is one of country music’s top-selling artists and has been for years. He does not fit the typical Nashville mold regarding sound and style. I once heard him say this about his struggle to be true to his own style, and yet be successful, “Being unique will be your biggest hurdle until it becomes your biggest blessing”. I think that’s so true. Not fitting into a mold will initially land you with some struggle of where to fit in. However, once it catches on, you will be remembered a lot longer than those who fit into the cookie cutters more easily.

I’d love to hear your responses here on Backseat Writer or e-mail me at fe@fundamentalelements.net.

Check back next week for the second part of Luke’s guest post on musical identity in which he discusses musical content.  Also, check out The Fundament Elements online at http://www.fundamentalelements.net.

DOWNLOAD A SONG FROM THE FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENTS’ LATEST ALBUM “THIS MOMENT” FOR FREE!  TO DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY OF “SOMETIMES,” CLICK HERE.

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