January 18, 2021

First Quarter Listening Report

By Chaplain Mike

Today, I will update you on some of the music that I’ve been listening to during the first quarter of 2011. My collection was enhanced more than usual because of a generous gift of an Amazon gift card from a dear friend (thanks, DS!). It gave me the opportunity to try out some new sounds and to get caught up on some music I had heard about but had not had a chance to purchase previously.

From past “lists” that we have done, you probably know that I am an aficionado of the “singer-songwriter” genre in particular. I came of age in the late 60’s and early 70’s, so a lot of the popular music that I like reflects the pop and folk-rock sounds of that era. My first quarter report is heavy on that style.

NEW MUSIC (2011)

The Decemberists, “The King Is Dead”
This group’s most straightforward album. Known for their British folk sound marked by storytelling and refined lyrics, this record pares things down and focuses the group’s energy into a simpler, more direct approach without losing style. Two “hymns” to the seasons, January and June, are highlights for me, as well as rocking tunes “Down By the Water” and “This Is Why We Fight.”

Abigail Washburn, “City of Refuge”
This remarkable album is a blend of many influences, from Appalachian folk music to indie pop to gospel, with a dash of the Asian influences banjoist Washburn loves from her time in China and Tibet. Personal favorites include the title track, the straight ahead pop anthem, “Chains,” and the brilliant “Burn Thru.” Nice a capella arrangement of “Bright Morning Stars,” too.

Amos Lee, “Mission Bell”
Philadelphia singer-songwriter Amos Lee is another artist who can cover several genres and do it well. Whether it is the folk-rock of “Windows Are Rolled Down,” the R&B pop groove of “Flowers,” or the bluesy gospel of “Learned a Lot,” his remarkable voice and the tight arrangements backing him up do the job. I love the cut, “Violin,” with its cries for justice and spiritual peace.

Bruce Cockburn, “Small Source of Comfort”
The Canadian master is back and better than ever, using his virtuoso guitar and gruff voice to express personal reflections in strong, memorable fashion. The instrumental pieces on this album are extraordinary—rich, textured, evocative. Of the rest, “Passing through the Iris of the World” shines brightest. Ever wonder how Richard Nixon would be reincarnated? Check out, “Call Me Rose.”

The Civil Wars, “Barton Hollow”
Wow. Duo Joy Williams and John Paul White may have put together the most intimate album since Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” With spare, simple arrangements, up-front vocals and exquisite harmonies, this record packs an emotional punch as it surveys the treacherous path of love. I adore all the cuts on this album, but especially the playful “I’ve Got This Friend,” ardent “C’est La Mort,” wrenching “Poison and Wine,” meditative instrumental “The Violet Hour,” shimmering “Girl with the Red Balloon,” and achingly beautiful “To Whom It May Concern.” This is the early favorite for my record of the year.

Here’s the music video for “Poison and Wine,” a meditation on love’s contradictions:

CATCHING UP (Previous releases, just now appreciated)

Roseanne Cash, “The List”
When Johnny Cash’s daughter, Roseanne, was 18 years old, he gave her a list of 100 essential songs to help her broaden her knowledge of traditional and country music. On this album, she records twelve of those classic songs, with guests Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy, and Rufus Wainwright. If you want to know what a perfect “cover” album sounds like, this is it. Amazing.

Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel, “Willie and the Wheel”
More fun than anyone ought to be allowed to have, this collaboration between two veteran acts is a happy jamboree of Western Swing. Outstanding musicianship combined with a playful attitude and a deep appreciation of the genre’s heroes such as Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys make this a concert that will have you smiling and tapping your feet from beginning to end.

Ricky Skaggs, Mosaic
Ricky Skaggs makes two kinds of records—bluegrass, and plain spoken Christian country-pop. This is a good example of the latter. My favorite cuts are the title track, “You Can’t Shake Jesus,” (which we featured in a music video last year), and “Shepherd’s Voice.”


  1. Bravo for including “Small Source of Comfort”.

  2. Wow!. Thanks for this post. This world is so devoid of GOOD music this is a breath of fresh air. Thanks so much. btw, I am trying my best to learn guitar. I am really enjoying it.
    God Bless

  3. The Civil Wars are amazing. If you like them, you should check out William Elliott Whitmore.

  4. the decemberists album is great

  5. Steve Bell’s “Kindness” album just came out in March. It is very good.

  6. Two thumbs up for Bruce Cockburn and Steve Bell. Saw Steve Bell in concert for my Valentines date with my wife on his album release tour. He is an artist very much in tune with the sort of things Internet Monk is all about.

  7. Everyone should put the new Jars of Clay album “The Shelter” on their listening list. It’s a wonderful collection of worshipful music while avoiding the typical CCM mold.


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