Tag Archives: relient k

Amy’s Christmas Playlist

21 Dec

Every year I make an iTunes playlist of my favorite Christmas songs–some have been on the album every year since its inception, while others are happy new editions.  There are several versions of my playlist before choosing the 20 or so songs that will fit on a CD for the enjoyment of my friends and family.  (And I make like 6 copies of the epic mix album for people.  Don’t get the piracy police after me!)

So, here it is…my 2011 mix, which I call “Joy Is Born.”

Joy Is Born Christmas Mix 2011

1. “Star Of Wonder” – JJ Heller, Wake Up The World [My good friend, Shari, told me that about JJ’s Christmas album and we both love it!  JJ’s version of “Star of Wonder” is the perfect lead-in to any album.  She imagines to capture the wonder of seeking Christ–“Messiah was worth every mile.]

2. “Heaven’s Got A Baby”-The O.C. Supertones, Happy Christmas Vol. 3 [This song is a cheery proclamation and it’s on the mix every year.  Sometimes it’s first, but I’m going for awe and wonder this year, so I needed something a little more subdued.]             

3. “Born to Die” -Bebo Norman, Christmas: From the Realms of Glory [As if I would ever make a playlist without a Bebo song.  That would just be ridiculous! I assume you already own this album, so I’m not even going to tell you to buy it because you already know how awesome it is!]

4.  “Adorn” -Alli Rogers, The Silent Stars [If you don’t own The Silent Stars or anything by Alli Rogers, you need to rectify that RIGHT NOW!  Go, buy, download, and prosper!]

5. “Ring The Bells” -Travis Cottrell, Ring The Bells [Did you know that Travis Cottrell is the worship leader at Beth Moore’s church?  Or at least he was.]

6. “I Celebrate The Day”- Relient K, Let It Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer [Relient K’s Christmas album is one of my favorites, so this song is ALWAYS on my playlist.  Let It Snow Baby is available as a $5 download on Amazon right now!]

A bunch of fans made this music video for “His Favorite Christmas Story.” Love it so much I had to share it here!

7. “His Favorite Christmas Story”- Captial Lights, X Christmas- Various Artists [I haven’t heard anything from Capital Lights since their debut album.  This song tells a cute story that make me tear up.  Every. Single. Time.]

8. “You Gotta Get Up (Christmas Song)”- Rich Mullins, A Liturgy, A Legacy & A Ragamuffin Band [I play this song as soon as I get up every Christmas morning for as long as I can remember.]

9. “Feliz Navidad”- David Crowder Band, X Christmas- Various Artists [David Crowder Band + silly Spanish = mucho bueno.]

10. “A Christmas Song For All Year Round” Aaron Sprinkle, Happy Christmas Vol. 3 [I wanted to marry Aaron Sprinkle so I could be “Amy Sprinkle,” as it turns out Aaron is already married.  I suppose I could legally change my name to “Amy Sprinkle” anyway.  Santa, bring a name change for Christmas!]

11. “How Many Kings”-Downhere, How Many Kings: Songs For Christmas [I’ll be talking more about this song on Friday Faves.  I. Love. It.  So much that each word was its own sentence.  I played this at my small group’s Christmas party “reflection time” and they loved it, too.]

12.  “Welcome To Our World”-Chris Rice, Deep Enough to Dream  [What is Chris Rice doing these days?  Has anyone heard from the guy since he got married?  He needs to make more theologically relevant music for the masses.]    

13. “The First Noel (Instrumental Version)”-Josh Wilson, Sing: A Christmas – EP [Josh Wilson + instruments of any kind = magic.]

14. “Hallelujah (Light Has Come)”- BarlowGirl, Home For Christmas [The Barlow sisters are always wonderful, and this song is exceptional. Their vocal arrangements make my heart happy.]

15. “What Child Is This”- PLUMB, (Free Download) [Sometimes the best things in life really are free!  Plumb’s version of “What Child Is This” is an older version than the one we usually sing.  Personally, I prefer this version.  It was prettied up to celebrate the birth only, and completely revised of the implication of the cross Jesus was to bear.]

16. “Bring A Tourch, Jeanette, Isabella”-Downhere, How Many Kings: Songs For Christmas [It’s Downhere again!  Their version of this classic makes me want to grab a torch and look for the Christ child myself.  I mean, there is a plastic Baby Jesus in the nativity down the street.  But I just don’t that elicits the joy of the actual event.]         

This is the version from his self-titled album, not the Christmas EP.  I put the Christmas version on the mix. Josh makes the best facial expressions when he sings.  Love, love, love his guy and his beat-up gee-tar!

17. “Sing”- Josh Wilson  Sing: A Christmas – EP [What a shock!  Another song by my friend, Josh Wilson.  I played this at small group two weeks ago when we talked about the LONG-AWAITED joy and expectation of God’s timing.  “We could never get back home with broken hearts, so Home has come to us.” Lyrical genius!]

18. “Snow Globe”- Matt Wertz, Snow Globe [We had a whole Friday Faves dedicated to the hilarity that is this song.  See “Friday Faves: Snow Globe Living Edition.“]

19. “Mary Did You Know” – Spoken, Happy Christmas Vol. 4  [All punked up like it should be.]      

20. “Drummer Boy”-Jars Of Clay, Christmas Songs [I never truly appreciated this song until Jars of Clay recorded their version.  Then I researched how the drummer boy is the lowliest of all shepherds, and still he came, and offered what he had–the gift of his playing.  I mean, I’m not sure how drumming helps a newborn baby.  I would think that would elicit much screaming and sobbing. But I still like the song.  It’s not like Baby Jesus didn’t cry either, so “Silent Night” is a farce, too.  And  yet I enjoy both songs.]

21. “Jesus, King Of Angels”- Fernando Ortega, Christmas Songs [Oh, Fernando, I love your music.]

This is the video that launched Straight No Chaser into a music career years after graduating from college.

22. “The Christmas Can-Can”-Straight No Chaser, Christmas Cheers [Because I like to end things on a hilarious note, I included this song from acapella group, Straight No Chaser, who became “famous” after their “12 Days of Christmas” video from college re-emerged on YouTube years later.  So they recorded a second album, Christmas Cheers.]

I was going to tell you why I chose each and every song, what the song means to me,but that’s entirely too much work, so I added a few notes, a bunch of links, and a handful YouTube videos for your viewing enjoyment. 

Have a question about why I chose a song, leave a comment!  Tell me what songs are on your “list.”

Friday Faves: Snow Globe Living Edition

2 Dec

I’ve been going back and forth on bringing back Friday Faves.  Am I ready?  What if I do it this Friday and not next Friday?  I mean, do I even have any readers left besides my mother? 

Then I thought, if you write it, they will come.

So I fooled around on Facebook for a while (yes, those games I used to think were stupid are highly addictive and somewhat entertaining), scoped out Thursday’s online deals, goofed around on Twitter, played some more Facebook games (The wheat needed to be harvested).  And here I am, staring at my computer screen thinking of all the great things I read, saw, and experienced this week.

How could I keep all this awesomeness to myself?  Why, that would be selfish!  I don’t know what’s going to happen next week or the week after or the week after, but I’m sure God does.  I’ll keep the future rightly in His hands and focus on the matter at hand—this week’s Friday Faves.

I seem to listen to a lot of music or read a lot of books—not usually at the same time, though occasionally my loves do intermingle.  Currently, I’m in a music phase and with so many exciting things happening in the industry (like the GRAMMY Award Nominations…congrats, everyone!), there is much to share.

*I can’t stop singing “Snow Globe” by Matt Wertz, even though I don’t know all (or most) of the lyrics.  Mostly, I just prance around singing, “Sometimes I wish I lived in snow globe,” mumble, and then pick it up again on the “la-la’s.”  Therefore, I need to share this song with y’all.  And, as luck would have it, Matt Wertz was kind enough to make an enchanting music video for us to enjoy together. (Amy’s note: Matt Wertz must be very secure in his masculinity to wear long-johns in that video!) 

I always wished I lived in a snow globe, and I’m glad I’m not alone.  I’m sure someone’s going to form a Facebook group about this very topic, and I’ll probably join in. But under no circumstances will I be appearing in any music videos in my PJ’s.  Some things are just private, know what I’m saying? You’ve got to be a good friend or family member to see me in my scrubby night duds. 

For a limited time, you can download “Snow Globe” along with his album 23 Places FOR FREE on NoiseTrade: GO DOWNLOAD IT!!!  And while you’re out there LEGALLY downloading music, hop over to your fave music buying site, and check out Matt’s brand spankin’ new-this-year Christmas album called…wait for it…SNOW GLOBE!!!  I only wish the album came with a FREE Matt Wertz snow globe.

But, wait, you can head over to Matt Wertz’s website and get your very own snow globe necklace for $40, complete with an 18” sterling silver chain.  Cute idea, but kind of pricey, especially since I have to assemble the mini-snow globe myself AAAND I prefer 22” chains.  Now you know what to get for the person who has everything—a snow globe necklace!

Only 5 BUCKS, baby!  Like dollars, not male deer!

*While we’re on the topic of legally purchasing music…have you checked out some of the $5 digital music downloads on Amazon lately?  The “regular” album choices for December are pretty paltry, but the special Christmas music section is great!  For ONLY five dollars, you can treat yourself to some of my favorite albums including Christmas Spirits by Straight No Chaser, Wintersong by Sarah MacLachlan, A Very Merry Christmas by Dave Barnes, Christmas by Rebecca St. James (which I got as a Christmas present in 1997.  I love this album!), and one of my most loved Christmas albums, Let It Snow Baby… Let It Reindeer by Relient K.  Since I already own this great music, I’m thinking of purchasing Mindy Smith’s My Holiday–what do you think?

Jillian Edwards = one of the many reasons I love Noise Trade!

*NoiseTrade co-founder Derek Webb (he sings, too!) wrote a tantalizing post this week about why he’d rather give his music away for free than allowing it to be streamed on Spotify.  Check out, “Giving It Away:  How Free Music Makes More Than Sense.”   I’m a habitual NoiseTrade download junkie.  I mean, what won’t I do for free music?  Plus, I can discover amazing musicians without feeling pressured by a publicist. (Darn my people-pleasing tendencies!)  In fact, I recently discovered Jillian Edwards on NoiseTrade, and I think you’ll love her!

I might wear Long-johns in a music video for a Kindle Fire…

*Because we’re all about the free, I mean, all about the music, I want to you how to get FREE MUSIC from Plumb!  Ever since Plumb released her first album when I was in high school, I’ve adored her and her music.  Well, you can download TWO Christmas songs when you like Plumb on Facebook, and then if you tell your friends about Plumb’s awesomeness, I mean, her music (and how could you not?), then you will be entered to win some cool prizes like a Kindle Fire (drool!), an iPod shuffle, Plumb-y gear, or a personalized profile pic of Tiffany holding a sign thanking you!!! (I want one of her thanking me while wearing the wings she wore while singing “Send Angels” at Creation ’97!)  Now I’ll refrain from entering this contest (probably) because I’ll blow you all out of the water with my gazillion Facebook friends.  I mean, it wouldn’t even a fair contest.  But I really, really, really want a pretty Kindle Fire, uh, I mean, the other prizes that aren’t a Kindle Fire.  Love, I mean, like Plumb on Facebook, download the songs (Plumb’s version of “What Child Is This” gave me chills.  Beautiful), and WIN [me a Kindle Fire]!

Wowser!  If I didn’t already own one of these…

*You know what makes a great Christmas present? Jason Gray’s latest album, A Way to See in the Dark!!!  Know what makes it better?  If Jason Gray personally autographed it!  Know what makes ME the best ever?!  I’m giving away a copy of that very autographed album for FREE!!!  All you have to do is enter!  Deets hereYou know you want to enter!

Welcome back, Friday Favers!  Hmm….we need to work on a better name for you guys. 

Who wouldn’t want to go sledding with an eReader?

Amy’s Update:  I just learned about another great deal…a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble for only $15 at SaveMore.com (This is my unique referral linkage, BTW.  I get $5 for every new person who signs up!)  Because I’m a first-time user, I got a $10 sign-up bonus, meaning that I can get my gift card for $5 (I think).  If not, I’m totally getting those Fandango tix (two tickets for $12, or rather $2 with my $10 bonus.  Woot!  I can see Breaking Dawn in theaters.  I mean, a mature adult movie that doesn’t involve werewolves and vampires.  Actually, your credit can only be applied to certain purchases and Fandango is not one of them.  Boo-hoo).  And in case you didn’t know, Barnes & Noble dot com has WAY cheaper books and like Amazon, they offer free shipping when on spends $25 or more. (I like to check out the after-Christmas sales at B&N to get pretty journals so I can write down my most private thoughts) Do the deal! (Take note that your gift card won’t be available until 12/12 or 12/13.)

Be honest–do you ever wish you lived in a snow globe?  Do you ever think you *do* live in a snow globe? (If so, I have a counseling degree; I  can help you.  Or at least run the peer support group!)  Would you wear an adult onesie in public, even if you were a TOTALLY famous musician like Matt Wertz?  Do you want to win a Kindle Fire?  Do you want to win ME a Kindle Fire?  Isn’t Plumb a fantastic dresser?  (If I dressed like her, I’d just look silly.)  Do you use Spotify?  NoiseTrade?  Buy a $5 Amazon album?  Breathe?  How is your Christmas shopping going thus far?  Are you thinking about getting a snow globe necklace for anyone on your list?

Music Review:: Tis The Season To Be Gotee by Gotee Records

16 Dec

‘Tis the Season To Be Gotee is an excellent mix of Christmas songs from beloved Gotee artists like Relient K, House of Heroes, Stephanie Smith, and the rest of the Gotee gang.  Having been a long time favorite of mine, I could probably enjoy listening to Relient K sing the alphabet, but their renditions of “Silver Bells” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” are simply stunning in its delivery while“O Holy Night” is a bit underwhelming.  Also, notably is Stephanie Smith’s delivery of Relient K’s “I Celebrate the Day,” which the artist has made distinctively her own.  Her version of “Jingle Bell Rock” is another happy addition to this compilation.

House of Heroes performs “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” which I like much better than Mariah Carey’s version as well as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  The band does a satisfactory job on the difficult carol carefully vocals without getting too loud or too soft.  While I don’t care for Ayiesha Woods, I’m sure that others will love her soulful interpretations of “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Jingle Bells.”

‘Tis The Season To Be Gotee is a good offering of what Gotee has to offer, but it’s really Relient K, House of Heroes, and Stephanie Smith that make this record shine brightly.

*Amazon.com is offering Tis The Season To Be Gotee as a $5 download for the month of December.*

Amy’s Favorite Things, Vol. 2

9 Dec

Since Oprah dropped the ball on her favorite things this year, it looks like I’m going to have to take up the slack (incidentally, I’ll also be taking over for Oprah when the daytime talk show queen turns in her microphone).  I’m sorry I won’t be able to send Backseat Writers a crap load of cool stuff to celebrate “Amy’s Favorite Things” (AFT) but you do have a chance to win an AFT Prize Pack, which includes an Oh Deer Super Dooper Pocket Pooper Keychain, a stuffed cow I got for free at Chick-Fil-A, an unopened package of Ice Breakers Ice Cube Gum I found on my desk, a beautiful star ornament created with my very own hands, and a personalized Christmas card with a holiday picture of my dogs inside (actually, anyone can get one of those, just e-mail me your mailing address).  Who needs fancy schmancy items like digital cameras and expensive make-up when you get can win stuff like this?

Without further ado, I present you with my favorite things of 2009.


Every month the world’s largest online retailer picks 50 albums that cost only $5 to download (but they picked 100 for December).  And every-so-often they slash prices even more—to a mere $2.99.  Over the year, I’ve been able to snag the latest from Sherwood, Owl City, Mat Kearny, and others.  Right now (12/09), you can get Green River Ordinance’s Out of My Hands (read interview), Switchfoot’s Hello Hurricane,  Relient K’s Let it Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer, The Almost’s Monster Monster, Beach Boys’ Pet SoundsThe Turtles’ Greatest Hits and The Elf Soundtrack –all for only $5.


Yes, people, I’ve joined the Twitter revolution!  It’s oh-so-fun to exchange silly banter—all in 140 characters or less. (Incidentally, that gushing statement about Twitter is only 119 characters!)


OK, while Kristin Chenoweth isn’t a thing; she’s a person and I’ve written about her before (“Snooked on Pushing Daisies“), but there’s more Cheno love to share.  Last spring, Kristin released her authobiography, A Little Bit Wicked, this fall she starred on one of my favorite shows, “Glee” (also performing a rousing duet of “Alone” with Matthew Morrison aka “Mr. Shue”) and she just made a Lifetime movie, The Twelve Men of Christmas.  Plus,  she’s the voice of Rosetta the fairy in the Tinkerbell movies.  There there’s Maddie’s Corner, an organization started by Kristin to help people and animals.  Yes, Kristin has a dog named Maddie and I have a dog named Maddy (Madalyne)!  Who knew? Suffice to say, Kristin Chenoweth is still smokin’ hot and undoubtedly one of my favorite things, er, people.


I’ve known about these things for a while, but they never fail to crack me up.  Maybe I’m just immature, but a reindeer with a cranky face pooping brown candies out of his butt is really funny to me.  Plus, the candy-filled key chains and toys have all sorts of hilarious names like Poo-lar Bear (The Sub-Zero Poopin’ Hero), Baa Humbug Sheep (The Grumpy Party Pooper), and Oh Deer! (The Super Duper Reindeer Pooper). Because I love these things so much, I’m offering one of these little guys in my Prize Pack.  It’s a keychain version of Oh Deer for Pooper lovers on the go.


Is this show great or what?  Singing, dancing, high school drama, a hot Spanish teacher—it’s all the stuff that I wish I had in high school (minus the drama—no one wants that!)  Plus, the cast on “Glee” can really sing.  I’m especially impressed with Lea Michele who plays young starlet Rachel Berry (my fave character) and Matthew Morrison’s vocals have really grown on me (especially during his “Alone” duet with Kristin Chenoweth as well as his mash-up of “Young Girl” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”).  Jane Lynch is also notable as the gym teacher everyone loves to hate—Sue Slyvester.  And that’s how Amy sees it.  Hmm, sounds better when Sue says it.


What a storage site!  Not only can TinyPic be integrated into your social networks like Twitter and Facebook, but it also offers dandy photo editing tools to touch up digital photographs in a hurry.  No need to use Photoshop for minor edits and TinyPic offers a ton of storage, as well as printing options (which I have yet to use).


Hooded scarves with pockets (HSwP) are a fashion must (guys, feel free to tune out).  It’s a hat!  It’s a scarf!  And it’s got pockets for storage!  I’ve only seen two of these out in the great wide yonder—there was a beautiful cream-colored HSwP at Target for around $17, but the knitting was shabby and coming undone—pass!  I found another HSwP online at Bath & Body Works of all places—a pink, gray, and white patterned beauty that cost $20 on clearance; it has since disappeared.  Sadly, the HSwP pictured on the left is $200, and even though it has faux fur and button—that is still way too pricey.  Even this amazing brown Fair Isle knit is $50, but I can’t figure out how it looks when worn.  If any of you know of any hot deals on HSwP (buttons preferred), let me know!

Well, that wraps up another year of Amy’s Favorite Things !  Now I suppose you want to know how to win AFT Prize Pack.  It is *so* easy.  All you have to do is leave a comment below telling me (and the world) about one of your favorite things!  If you Tweet or write a Facebook status note about the contest, you get an extra entry (one for Twitter, and one for Facebook for a grand total of three entries!)  Hint: if you follow @amysondova or @backseatwriter on Twitter, you can RT (reTweet) what I say.  I only wish I was eligible to win this contest.  The contest ends on 12/16 at 12 PM EST. Oh, and don’t forget to re-visit all my favorite things from last year!

Amy’s Favorite Things (Take that, Oprah!)

13 Dec

By Amy Sondova Every year, Oprah Winfrey features a few of her favorite things on her daytime talk show (“Oprah’s Favorite Things“) and then adorns the audience with each and every one of her favorite things.  Well, I’m not Oprah, and therefore, cannot give all Backseat Writer’s readers samples of everything that I adore.  But I can tell you where to get ‘em.   Without further adieu, I bring you “Amy’s Favorite Things,” which I hope will help you as you finish shopping foryour favorite people this holiday season (and beyond.   These are timeless suggestions).

Altered Art Charm from TickleMePinkBoutique on Etsy.com

Altered Art Charm from TickleMePinkBoutique on Etsy.com

*Etsy.com—Have you visited this site?  It’s a entire craft show right on your computer screen with everything from Scrabble tile pendants to handcrafted shoes!  There are a plethora of cool things for guys and gals alike.  Don’t believe me, guys?  Check out some of the screen printed messenger bags and t-shirts.  There’s something for everyone, and unique is the bottom line.

*Music—Every year almost everyone on my Christmas list can expect to get a CD or two.  This year there are a few artists who are hot on my list—debut artist Josh Wilson and music veteran Bebo Norman.  Besides being two of the nicest and most open guys I’ve ever interviewed, they’re also great singer/songwriters who released albums this year.  Bebo Norman’s self-titled release, Josh Wilson’s Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup, and Jon Foreman’s Limbs and Branches are must-haves!  But perhaps you’re looking for something a little rockier, then look no further than Seabird’s ‘Til We See the Shore or This Beautiful Republic’s sophomore album, Perceptions.   If you want to support indie artists, then get lost in the vocals of Tara Leigh Cobble’s Playing Favorites or Justin McRoberts’ latest project, Deconstruction.  And here are a few more recommendations: Narrow Stairs – Death Cab For Cutie; What If We – Brandon Heath; The Nashville EP and the Bee Sides – Relient K;  Opposite Way – Leeland;  With Arrows, With Poise – The Myriad;  anything by Caedmon’s Call, Fernando Ortega, Phil Keaggy.

Limbs and Branches - Jon Foreman

Limbs and Branches - Jon Foreman

*Sock Monkeys & socks—Is it just me or are you always running out of socks, too?  Whether getting lost in the wash, stolen by a shih tzu who shall remain nameless (Maddy!), or developing ginormous holes, pairs of socks seem to lose their mate after a month or two.  Therefore, I wear a lot of mismatched socks–argyle, plaid, and all patterns funky are worn together and I become a candidate for “What Not to Wear”.  Besides becoming a fashion mishap, there are are only things to do with those single socks.  You could make sock

monkeys, of course! You don’t even have to limit yourself to monkeys, there are patterns for all kinds of creatures online (sock monster, sock owl).  Then you can sell your creations at etsy.com.  Or you could just buy a conventional sock monkey at sockmonkey.com.

*Digital Cameras—The first time I got my hands on a digital camera, I took pictures of everything in sight, and I haven’t stopped.  My first pictures weren’t that great; then again, my camera wasn’t that great.  Yet I treasure the images of my grandmother’s last Christmas with our family.  Buy yourself a camera to capture the moments that truly matter, and then buy one for someone else.  Check around for the best prices and give yourself a gift that goes far beyond an electronic device.  I highly recommend Canon cameras, but if you want to go a little cheaper, Olympus makes great cameras as well.

*Anything handcrafted by you—Maybe you’re not into making sock monkeys, but there are tons of other projects in which to immerse yourself.  Try your hand at crocheting or knitting (you can even use a knitting loom like the Knifty Knitter) and make everyone scarves, hats, and SOCKS!  (See what a valuable gift socks can be?)  You could paint a thoughtful picture or make a collage.  If you’re not crafty, melt chocolate wafers and dip some pretzels; chocolate-covered pretzels make great gifts!  If all else fails, just make your dad an ashtray like you did in kindergarten—he’ll still think it’s cute (hopefully!)

Psych - Season 2

Psych - Season 2

*Amazon.com—Free shipping on orders over $25 and books, music, and DVD’s galore.  Every year Amazon is adding to its inventory.  I check back every day to see what’s on sale so I can nab Psych Seasons 1 & 2, Bones Seasons 1-3, books like The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen, The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey, the chick-lit novels of my fave fictionista, Christa Banister and those aforementioned CD’s at discounted prices.

*Ebay.com—Whatever you can’t find on Amazon.com, you can find on Ebay.  There are literally millions of treasures on this site from low, low prices on video games to truly bizarre items like vintage hand towels.  But whatever you’re looking for, you can probably find it on Ebay.  You can also find a bunch of stuff you weren’t looking for, too.

*Michael’s, A.C. Moore, Joann’s—Craft stores are slashing their prices, and signing up for their e-mail newsletters allows customers to get even more coupons (especially if you don’t get them in your local newspaper).  Remember that camera I told you to buy?  You can get beautiful frames for those pics on sale at any of these stores for 40-50% off during the holiday season.  Plus, custom framing is 60% off (I say buy a frame and do-it-yourself!)  Not only that, but you can find deals on Christmas décor, craft kits for the kids, and nice gifts like candle holders and scented candles for your co-workers.  Even if you aren’t crafty, craft stores are a great place to shop for gifts.

Even though Black Friday has come and gone, you can still save money and give great presents to your loved ones…and those people you don’t really like that you still have to buy for.  We know Christmas isn’t all about the presents, but if you’re like me, you sure do like to get them (hey, I’m being honest here).  Plus, great presents show cleverness and creativity that has little to do with price and everything to do with thoughtfulness.  Our mere trinkets can never compare to the gift of God’s Son wrapped in humanity, so as we give to one another let us remember the greatest gift that mankind was ever given.

Click here to see all my my favorite things!

Review:: Let It Snow Baby…Let it Reindeer – Relient K

1 Dec

By Amy Sondova Last year Relient K released their first full-length Christmas album; this year they’re releasing it again with three new songs available for digital download (“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Silver Bells,” and “O Holy Night”).  Let It Snow Baby…Let it Reindeer features the reworking some classics like “12 Days of Christmas”, “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas”, and many more. Pulling songs from their Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand EP and other holiday compilations, the result is a pleasing, solid album, which makes a perfect present for everyone on your list, except maybe your grandmother.

Creativity:: 10 Relient K’s Christmas material from various compilations, their EP, and the full-length album is exceptionally creative.

Original Songs:: 10
“I Celebrate the Day” is one of the best songs ever written.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a Relient K album without a couple of moody ballads like “I Hate Christmas Parties” and “In Like a Lion (Always Winter)”.  Lead singer Matt Thiessen works his lyrical wonders once again.

Classic Covers:: 10 The band’s rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” will sound oddly familiar to fans of the Beach Boys Christmas Album. Right down to the last detail, Relient K does an impressive cover of the Beach Boys’ version of “Auld Lang Syne”.  I can’t think of one song that wasn’t well-done

Musical Score:: 10
Pop punk + jingle bells+ great vocals= awesome!

Overall Holly Jolliness:: 10
This was my favorite Christmas album in 2007 and also in 2008.

Total = 50 Let it Snow Baby…Let it Reindeer is a grand mixture of rock, pop punk, excellent vocals, merriment, and melancholy—like a nice holiday meal at a Christmas party; that is, unless you hate Christmas parties.

To read our review guide lines, go here.

Print copy of review.

You can find Let it Snow Baby…Let it Reindeer and the rest of our great “12 Days of Christmas Music” reviewed albums in Backseat Writer’s online store, Drive-By Shopping, under the “12 Days of Christmas Music” category!

Take 5 with Ruth

2 Nov

By Amy Sondova When it comes to answering questions, Ruth’s frontman, Dustin Ruth, is a thorough guy.  Instead of offering pithy answers, Dustin instead chose to respond to this “Take 5” with thoughtful responses.  Having just released their sophomore album, Anorak, on Oct. 28, Ruth (which is not only Dustin’s last name but an acronym for “Return Us To Him”), the band is eager to share their songs on their current tour with DecembeRadio.

However, Ruth is no stranger to the road having toured with Switchfoot and Relient K on the “Appetite for Construction” tour last fall (read BSW’s interview with Relient K’s Matt Thiessen) as well as the ever-popular Emery.  Read on to learn more about the term “Anorak,” documentaries on Trekkies, and so much more from the fingertips of Dustin Ruth, who was ever-so-prompt in answering his “Take 5” questions.

When coming up with a title for the album, how did you come upon a British slang term like “anorak”?  (Where did you learn British slang?  What are some other British slang terms you think our readers need to know?  Sorry, for the 3-in1 question, but it had to be asked).

Well I was hanging out with a good friend of mine Chris Martin, he’s in a pretty good band you may have heard of “Coldplay”. Check them out. Anyway he and I were talking and I asked….just kidding. 

We were hanging out with Emery on their bus one night in Portland before they played a show and Josh Head put on Trekkies 1 and 2. This is a documentary movie about people labeled as “trekkies” who are extremely into the sci-fi series “Star Trek”. They go to these conventions and dress up like their favorite character and speak the language of that character, ect.  In Trekkies 2, the documentary expands from the U.S. to Trekkies around the world. While in the U.K. they ask an old man on the street outside a Trekkie convention what he thinks of the costumed people entering the building. He responded, “Anoraks, all of them”.

When I heard him refer to them as Anoraks, it stuck in my head and I looked the term up online. I found on Wikipedia that it was a British slang word for someone who’s a nerd and really excited and into a topic most people don’t care about (Amy’s note: click here to read Wikipedia’s entry about Ruth). That’s where it all began. We confirmed this while touring in the U.K. a few months ago and got a real education on where the term got its slang use. People there were very excited that we knew what it meant.

Why for our record? Well we’ve found that it can be challenging to be accepted by a lot of people out there. We travel a lot and no matter where you are, on a plane, train, or at a restaurant, when people ask if you are a band and you say “Why, yes” they want to talk. When they find out what your primary topic of music is about they become extremely uninterested. On the flip side, there have been songs that we didn’t record on the first album because we were told they were too honest and that people in the “Christian industry” would not accept them. So with this record we didn’t care what anyone thought and recorded what we felt was right.

As for other British slang, well I’m not cool enough to know any. I just was watching Trekkies 2.

Not only is the title for the album unique, so was its crafting, which was primarily took place at rest stops and hotels—not your usual realm of inspiration.  How did the album come together in these unlikely places?

I think it had to happened in these places because we were on the road solid that year. When the year was over we ended up playing over 180 shows. So there wasn’t much time to write at home. I also only write alone and so this was very challenging. I often times would be in the van while the guys slept in the hotel or were watching Spinal Tap or Wayne’s World multiple times without me. It was tough.

But I will say when we got home finally, we were able to get the gear out and jam on all the new stuff together and the guys did a brilliant job of writing parts and developing the record. I think it really paid off to be able to get back to what we love doing the most as fast as possible.

Why is the song, “Nothing to Hide,” one of your favorites?  (I think it’s because guys are suckers for love songs).

Wow. Well, I am a sucker for love, but this song is very complex. I highly debated ever explaining it to anyone and may not. In the end it makes perfect sense, I promise. Honestly, I believe its one of the best songs I’ve ever been blessed to have written. We spent a lot of time as a band molding it to what it is. I spent a lot of time just thinking about vocal parts, harmonies, counter melodies and really felt excellent when it was finished. The lyrics go deep for me and I know in my heart they go deep for everyone.

While I should probably be asking about “Back to the Five” (feel free to throw some thoughts in about that song), I want to ask you about the story behind one of my fave songs on the album, “Miracle Photo.”  Would you mind sharing about it?

“Back to the Five”: A song about being homesick and realizing time is still turning at home and your not there to enjoy it. That’s tough for me. I really love Washington and the West Coast. In the midst of everything we miss on the road we know we are doing what were supposed to right now. That’s what this song is about.

“Miracle Photo”: A song about the miracles God has done for this band. He has parted the Red Sea for this band. I think the biggest inspiration for this song was the Switchfoot and Relient K tour. There was no logistical reason for us to be on that tour and there were hundreds of more qualified bands on the list before us. Somehow a burned copy of Secondhand Dreaming made it full circle with those two bands and they picked us. There are a lot of miracles outside that but it was pretty cool to watch happen.

Usually this is the place where I ask an absurd question, but we sort of tackled that in Question #1, so I’ll ask this instead:  This album’s about watching dreams come true and watching other dreams fall apart.  A lot of times when dreams don’t’ come true, people become angry with God.  How have you handled the pain of dreams that don’t come to pass and how has it impacted your relationship with God?

Great question. I deal with that everyday. It’s hard to be working hard for what sometimes seems like nothing. At home friends ask what I’ve been up to. My favorite response is “still working hard to get down that dead end road”. They always laugh because they know at some point I’m going to have to get a real job and pay some bills. But they know I’ll never put down music.

As for me and God, I am so blessed to know Him. I can’t believe He even cares about me. There are times I get mad at Him. Those are the times my true ugliness shows. He’s my best friend and He takes care of me and I just really want to know Him better. I can’t wait for the next song to teach me something about Him. All I can say is that He is the one that copes with me, and He is the one that holds me close. If I had to do that myself, I would be long gone.

Print copy of Take 5.

Review :: The Nashville EP & The Bird and the Bee Sides by Relient K

27 Aug

By Amy Sondova After perusing the internet for information on Relient K’s latest project, I discovered that Relient K diehards are disappointed. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why! The Nashville EP & The Birds and the Bee Sides is a collection of original tunes, B-sides, remastered songs, and other randomness that “hasn’t been found on the internet yet” according to front man Matt Thiessen. The album is an expanded version of the delightful silly songs hidden at the end of many Relient K albums (think “Skittles & Combos”).

The 26 tracks on the album are described in two parts—the first 13 tracks called the Nashville EP are an assembly of songs written and performed by various members of the band and the second is a remixed/remastered sampling from various EPs including Apathetic, Employee of the Month, and The Creepy. Not only that, there’s a killer acoustic version of “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been”. Thiessen even nods to his favorite band, The Beach Boys, in “A Penny Loafer Saved is a Penny Loafer Earned” with a bridge of “good vibrations.”

This is a great compilation of all that’s made Relient K a fan favorite over the past eight years. However, it’s probably not a great choice for a first-time listener simply because they wouldn’t “get it.” For example, the band’s ode to the now-defunct dearly loved Five Iron Frenzy might go over the heads of newer fans. While the album is lacking mention of Skittles and Combos, The Nashville EP & The Birds and the Bee Sides is more than enough to satisfy the ears of longtime followers of the band.

Print copy of review.

Read Backseat Writer’s interview with Relient K frontman Matt Thiessen here.

Music Review: Ringing in Christmas

20 Feb

Written in December 2007

By Amy Sondova The sounds of the season are all around us—screaming kids who can’t wait for Santa, blaring horns from traffic jams in mall parking lots, the sound of the Christmas tree being knocked over by the pet. Ah, Christmas! But fortunately you can cover all that pesky background noise with albums by Relient K, Bebo Norman, Michael W. Smith, and Jars of Clay that were just released this holiday season.

Relient K, Let It Snow Baby…Let it Reindeer (Capitol)
This year Relient K released their first full-length Christmas album reworking some classics like “12 Days of Christmas”, “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas”, and many more. Pulling songs from their EP Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand and other holiday compilations, the result is a pleasing, solid album, which makes a perfect present for everyone on your list, except maybe your grandmother. The band’s rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” will sound oddly familiar to fans of the Beach Boys Christmas Album. Right down to the last detail, Relient K does an impressive cover of the Beach Boys’ version of “Auld Lang Syne”. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Relient K album without a couple of moody ballads like “I Hate Christmas Parties” and “In Like a Lion (Always Winter)”. It’s a grand mixture of rock, pop punk, excellent vocals, merriment, and melancholy—like a nice holiday meal at a Christmas party; that is, unless you hate Christmas parties. (You can read more about Relient K in the interview, “Building on the Best Things ”).

Bebo Norman, Christmas: From the Realms of Glory (BEC)
Bebo Norman’s acoustic guitar skills, smooth vocals, and gentle spirit come together to capture an element of wonder at Jesus’ birth more than 2000 years later. Using the song “Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne as the foundation for this album, Norman takes us through the scandal of Jesus’ birth to the wonder at the event to the reaction of the heavenly host. “Rebel Jesus” is a haunting reminder of the purpose behind Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection reminding listeners to take care of the poor and oppressed. Looking at Jesus’ birth from a heavenly perspective, “Born to Die” is a song about how the angels may have been perplexed by the God coming to earth as an infant. The chorus resounds, “And the angels filled the sky/All of Heaven wondered why/Why their King would choose to be/Be a baby born to die.” Drawing heavily on acoustic guitar and folk/grass roots, the album is simplistic and uncomplicated, yet deeply thoughtful and profound.

Michael W. Smith, It’s a Wonderful Christmas (Reunion)
Four different choirs and an orchestra of 67 different instruments have come together with the vocals of Michael W. Smith to make a Christmas album that is sure to please almost everyone. Masterfully orchestrated, It’s A Wonderful Christmas, takes listeners on a journey of delight with old time melodies such as “What Child Is This” and “A Highland Carol”. The album is composed of mostly original MWS material including “Audrey’s Gift”, a pretty little instrumental track. Citing John Williams as one of his inspirations when composing this epic album, the result is an album that is truly bright and beautiful, like a well-decorated Christmas tree. It’s MWS’ twentieth album, yet he remains ever the gentleman presenting listeners with a tasteful, yet elegant, Christmas recording. It also comes highly recommended by Smith’s son-in-law Jack Mooring of the band, Leeland.

Jars of Clay, Christmas Songs (Nettwerk)
Christmas Songs is one strange album. After a few spins on the DVD player, the album begins to rub off on listeners. Jars of Clay once again challenges the norm, by making an ethereal Christmas recording that builds on the experimental elements of Good Monsters. The band even remixed their previously released version of “Little Drummer Boy”. Christmas Songs includes classics as well as a few original songs including “Winter Skin”, “Hibernation Day”, and “Peace Is Here”. Jars of Clay’s version of “Wonderful Christmastime” is even better than the original. It’s far from a typical Christmas album, yet its artistry is as undeniable as its charm.

Print copy of review.

Relient K: Building on the Best Things

18 Feb

Article written in Fall 2007

By Amy Sondova Hours before their tour bus caught fire along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Matt Thiessen and the other members of Relient K were discussing with Switchfoot ways the bands could support the non-profit Habitat For Humanity in their upcoming fall tour. “A week after the bus fire, it occurred to me that we were just talking about people that have lost homes and then I was focused on all my shirts being gone,” shares Thiessen.With only the clothes on their backs and a few personal items they managed to grab on the way out, Relient K watched helplessly as their bus turned to ash in the early morning hours.

Fortunately, much of the band’s equipment was salvaged from the wreck. The experience left the band shaken, but gave Thiessen a new outlook on what matters in life, “It was nice to give myself a reality check and realize that my concerns and my short-term problems are not a big deal. We tend to say we’re all about the big picture in life. Then when something like that happens to us, we tend to focus on ourselves.”

Relient K is focusing on other as they co-headline “The Appetite for Construction” tour with Switchfoot (which also includes special guest, Ruth). One dollar from each ticket sold will be donated to Habitat for Humanity. but the support for the organization won’t end there, “We just recorded a song that Jon [Foreman, lead singer of Switchfoot] and I wrote together. It’s called ‘Rebuild’ and it’s for Habitat. Jon’s going to release the song for free on the [Habitat] website. You can donate money to the organization when you download it.”

Thiessen has a couple of projects in mind to benefit the non-profit, including an EP he may put together after the tour. Besides raising funds for Habitat for Humanity, the bands on the “Appetite” tour also hope to raise awareness for the organization, which includes encouraging individuals to become involved in local builds.

“Every night we’re able to have some reps from Habitat come out to the shows. The whole local chapter thing really works out for a national tour,” remarks Thiessen. By highlighting the efforts of local Habitat for Humanity chapter, Thiessen hopes that community support and involvement with the organization will increase.

At the time of the interview, Thiessen and his tour mates were sitting in Springfield, IL anticipating an evening concert. Yet their thoughts are with the people of California and the fires that are raging. Hailing from San Diego, the members of Switchfoot have been directly affected by the wild fires, “I was talking to the bass player and he’s got 20 people staying at his house,” shares Thiessen. “Jon was talking about it from stage yesterday and he mentioned the San Diego fires and how Habitat can help.”

“Appetite for Construction” marks the first time that Switchfoot and Relient K have toured together since 2001, the same year Relient K released their popular second album, The Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek (Gotee). However, Thiessen says the band still nods to early songs, still performs “Sadie Hawkins Dance”, but has also matured personally and musically. “You can’t write the same songs that you wrote when you were 19 when you are 27,” he explains.

Relient K released its debut album in 1999, when Thiessen was only 19. Now a few years from the landmark age of 30, Thiessen reflects on the past seven years, “When we started, we were on the road in a van stopping at Wendy’s to eat every day. One by one, the guys got married. Everyone in the band is now married. We’ve gone through a couple of member changes.” The band’s current line-up includes Thiessen (lead vocals, guitar, piano), Matt Hoopes (guitar, vocals), Dave Douglas (drums, vocals), John Warne (bass, vocals), and Jon Schneck (guitar, banjo, bells, vocals). Sadly, December 29 marks long-time drummer Dave Douglas’ departure from the band to pursue other interests.

Even as band changes, Relient K remains a perennial favorite of teenagers and young adults, both Christian and non-Christian despite receiving criticism for their departure from Gotee Records (who the band still uses for distribution in Christian markets) to the mega-label, Capitol Records. Undeterred by public opinion, Thiessen asserts that while the band expanded beyond the Christian market, their faith should not be in question. “We try to be who we are and a lot of people are drawn to the way our band does things and how we seem happy in doing them—the fact that we are all about our faith and writing about it, standing for it, and not backing away from it. We’re definitely not throwing Bible from the stage like Stryper did back in the day; but we also don’t shy away from writing songs about what we believe.”

Serving as a great equalizer among fans of varying beliefs, the band hopes to counter the myth that all music produced by Christians is substandard. “It’s a stereotype that goes along with Christian music,” sighs Thiessen. “Once they hear that label, they think minor leagues. I’ve seen it on message boards like, ‘You know that band’s a Christian band?’ And the next post is like, ‘Oh, crap! I don’t like ‘em now.’”

“Everybody’s got their own opinion of the Christian faith and sometimes people haven’t been introduced to it in a very good ways,” continues the impassioned Thiessen. “It’s tough for them to embrace a band that expresses the faith they may have been pushed away from.” Even though they play bars and clubs as well as Christian music festivals, the band sees what they do as ministry, “But if we tell people that our ministry is to be less abrasive than other Christian band, it’s kind of a weird thing. We’re just trying to be a part of these kids’ lives with our lyrics and who we are as people.”

In fact, to make their current tour more youth group-friendly, the bands have asked all venues to refrain from serving alcohol. “Band like Switchfoot, Ruth, and Relient K—we do club shows and the Warped Tour, but we also love being involved in Christian youth culture, too.” Growing up in the church and going to youth group, Thiessen has encountered many different Christians and their public statements on faith. He says, “Personally, I wouldn’t find myself drawn to someone who just comes out of nowhere, who doesn’t know me and starts grilling me about my faith. I’m not going to embrace something I haven’t known because some stranger’s yelling at me about it.”

Instead of being a “preaching band”, Relient K tries to show that Christians in a band can do more than just sing worship songs. “I feel like we’re ambassadors molding the whole thing together and making things [between the secular and sacred] less separated. I feel like that’s kind of the point of the Christian faith—to be less separated from everything and not have this isolated us against them mentality.” Branching out of the Christian bubble has been good for the band, who released their fifth album, Five Score and Seven Years Ago (Capitol) in March. Then October saw the release of the band’s first full length Christmas album, Let It Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer (Capitol).

The reviews for the albums have been positive, often comparing Relient K’s harmonic vocals to that of the Beach Boys, a comparison that seems to have been unnoticed by Thiessen. “That’s my favorite band in the whole world!” exclaims an excited Thiessen. “To get a comparison like that, wow!” Citing the band’s landmark album, Pet Sounds, as his favorite, Thiessen says, “I can listen to that record and I don’t think we’re ripping off the Beach Boys. If people can see the influence, I feel like I did my job. You always want the things you love to come across in your music.” Thanks to Capitol Records, Thiessen has about every song the Beach Boys has ever released, including a framed vinyl of Pet Sounds in his living room—a living room that Thiessen gets to see far too little because so much of his life is spent on the road.

When discussing the band’s latest release, Let It Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer, Thiessen offers listeners a touching mental picture on what it means to come home after being on tour. Describing the song, “Merry Christmas, Here’s To Many More”, Thiessen shares, “It’s got the imagery of me coming home and all the friends I’ve ever known are at my house and having a Christmas party. It’s about being loved and accepted from your friends and family. I spend most of my life not seeing a lot of my friends. At Christmas time, I get to come home and be with the ones I love.” Not only does Thiessen find comfort at home with friends and family, but his efforts for Habitat for Humanity are helping many across the country to do the same.

For more information on Relient K, please visit them online at relientk.com. To get involved or make a donation, to Habitat for Humanity, check out habitat.org.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

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