It's been said – and experienced by most of us – that music can reach that inner rooms of our hearts. For me, it brings conviction, exhilaration, tears, resolve... and ultimately, a desire to worship, to marvel. This section of the website presents an interlude that explores musical influences: mine and those of friends whom I believe have impeccable taste... and you are welcomed to contribute! Feel free to send your influences: 3-12 (roughly) albums that were re-defining personally, with 2-3 sentence explanation of the whys and hows. I'll review and possibly place your musings on the site (if ok with you).... keep checking for the growing list of insights and appreciations....This is a listing of what have been to me defining albums... music that has taught me something of the human condition and the role of art to strike just the right chord. These albums span decades (the benefit of being older, hopefully wiser, and more appreciative of movements). Here is a Finch list, in no particular order. Click here to contact Bill and add to this section.
There is no music more beautiful... the plan of redemption, woven through the Word of God to it's perfect, exhilarating conclusion. The Psalmody, together with the reverential prayers from the Book of Common Prayer make this a treasure trove guaranteed to encourage the faint-hearted when we lose scope or drift from His perfect plan.
KEITH JARRET: THE KOHN CONCERT
Keith Jarret was a genius at improvisation. When he sat at the piano bench in Germany to begin this concert some 30 years ago, he had no idea what he was going to play... making the rises and falls, serenity and harshness even more impressive. This album taught me the power of the piano to move listeners, to create space, and to disrupt it with reckless abandon.
BOB DYLAN: SLOW TRAIN COMING
Beyond the whirl of controversy (IS Dylan a Christian?), making him new enemies and admirers alike, this album contains his brazen condemnation of the self-made man (Dylan himself) bowing to the plans of God's sovereignty. Beautifully played by a remarkable band, (i.e., Mark Knopfler's guitar) the album certainly made waves... but was a profound masterpiece. "He's got plans of His own, to set up His throne..." still rings as a reminder to every believer tired in battle, to become, as the Book of Judges 8 suggests: "Weary, yet pursuing."
T BONE BURNETT: PROOF THROUGH THE NIGHT
Known in more recent years as the director behind such hits as "O Brother, Where Art Thou" and "Down from the Mountain", T Bone Burnett was a member of Bob Dylan's traveling band. Yet, it was his solo albums: filled with talented musicians like Pete Townsend and Mick Ronson, where he crafted a unique way to declare what is true. His biting commentary exposed the shameful corruption of children, ("Hefner and Disney') immorality in American politics. This was an artist with Christian beliefs holding a mirror to us all, and it wasn't pleasant.
MARK HEARD: MOSAICS
Mark Heard's untimely death to heart failure after a concert stirred many, including myself, to a fuller appreciation to his writing genius. Unashamedly Christian in his writing and worldview. "When swine are the ones who steal the pearls From the human oysters of the western world, All is not lost, truth lives on." His 16 albums forged this constant theme, and his musical journeys could be traced through folk music, Americana with a spoonful of country. One of the most brilliant writers.
PAGE CXVI: HYMNS IV
Not the only band to contemporize traditional hymns, but their music and passion struck such a chord in me as one who loves the hymns, and opened a world to others who had not experienced their rich tradition. Their name comes for page 116 of C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew, where Aslan breathed creation into being with the sounds of life-giving music in the air. Their original Song of the Saints is among my all-time favorites.
PEDRO THE LION: WINNERS NEVER QUIT
I could have placed most PTL albums into this slot. This is alternative college music, stripped down, spun around, hard to listen to in it's starkest. David Bazan has always wrestled with how living faith meets on terra firma with his keenly observant eye. In recent years, he has wandered, we pray for his about-face. In the meantime, these albums (Achilles Heal, It's Hard to Find a Friend, Control) speak brilliantly into the human condition. They have influenced my my life, and shown me that sometimes what we need to hear is not that pretty.
BRUCE COCKBURN: CHARITY OF THE NIGHT
Bruce Cockburn has been an influence for over 30 years... from his early folk albums, through his policy-laden album "Stealing Fire", he has always been a world traveller writing about what he sees (thinking of "Tokyo" on Humans)...
Charity of the Night is beautiful, horrifying (The Mines of Mozambique) is the hands of a truly skilled guitar player, a Christian who avoids labels, letting his writing tell the stories, and bringing to our dull sensibilities a telescope into world events, suffering... and a hope. "Pacing the Cage" and "Strange Waters" are incredible
U2: THE JOSHUA TREE
The year was 1987, and I will never forget hearing I Still Haven't Found What I'm looking for... it is fashionable to 'glorify the search' in modern music... but this album was different, touching deep places for me. I remember my own deep emotion listening to Mothers of the Disappeared. Never had I heard a singer reach so deep into his own heartache, awakening a social conscience.
VIGILANTES OF LOVE: JUGULAR
If Bono and U2 could reach deep places with soaring anthems, Bill Mallonnee's music on the VOL's first release was like flying shrapnel, brazen in it's ability to declare what is true, and, frankly, not caring if others were taken back. Yet, there was longing on this album. Who knows when the Sunrise Will Be showed a pining for Christ's coming, and the making of all things new. Brilliantly stripped-down of over-production, it was Mallonnee, guitar, an occasion harmonica and a brilliant set of songs. Jugular was, indeed, an appropriate title.
STEVE SCOTT: LOST HORIZON
Known as a poet more than a musician, Steve Scott teamed up with of one 'Christian' (there's that term again) music's greatest rock n' roll band: the 77's from California, to create this 1989 masterpiece on Alternative Records (before 'Alternative' was vogue): a lament of western culture's narcissism. Comparing western culture with a washed up whale on the beach, gasping for breath, in the stages of a slow death. The music sounds dated now, (hey, it was the '80's), the vision grand.
RADIOHEAD: OK COMPUTER
There was a toss-up for me to include the monumental release, The Bends, but this classic album touched a deep place in me, resonating to the deep theme of alienation, which I certainly experience, and few can articulate so well. Aided by Thome Yorke's haunting vocals, it connects on every longing of the heart for meaning.
THE NATIONAL: THE BOXER
A favorite Brooklyn indie band, baratone Matt Berninger created a melancholy, muttering commentary on modern life and alienation ("we're half awake in a fake empire"). Transparent and so far removed from the silly tinsel music of pop radio, where the focus was more on complexity of relationships and the hard labor of life and relationships.
JOSH GARRELS: JACARANDA
A neo-folk sentiment, full of rich, Christian worldview layers, Josh Garrels is as comfortable in acoustic ballads (Ulysses), hip hop (his amazing spin on the traditional Farther Along) and other urban blends, he is a masterful writer and singer, whose voice connects with the ache all feel, and the hope and grace that some receive with gratitude. And what a soaring voice.
JON FOREMAN: SPRING/SUMMER, FALL/WINTER SERIES
The front man for Switchfoot has made a career of bridging catchy California surf with rocking anthems and thoughtful lyrics within his Christian worldview. This 4-CD set, however, introduces a vulnerability and transparency (Lord, Save Me From Myself) in a confessional set. Beautiful. Contemplative and altogether lovely. Somebody's Baby Girl challenges to see the downtrodden with new eyes.
GREGORY ALAN ISAKOV: THE WEATHERMAN
Poetically beautiful, with a sweeping and etherial voice, Isakov is once of neo-folk's great balladeers. The Weatherman predicts the future, but people pay no heed... somehow reminiscent of Scriptural prophetic parallel. The Universe is a haunting, beautiful song. One can imagine sitting in a small coffeeshop to hear him spin these beautiful, intimate songs.
Influences from Ram Stewart, Syracuse, NY
VAN MORRISSON: ASTRAL WEEKS
Van is one of the greatest vocalists I’ve ever heard, because of his spontaneity, playfulness, musicality, emotion, and because of the longing in his picturesque lyrics. And his voice is raw; there’s pain in it, an essential quality to good vocals. “Slim Slow Slider” breaks my heart every time. The spiritual under/over-tones on this album are unavoidable and gripping as Van yearns for a “home on high.” This album, start to finish, is suspended in an ethereal timelessness, and somehow the performances feel spontaneous after repeat listens (the improvisation and lack of polish result partially from the fact that the album was recorded in less than 2 days in NYC in 1968).
JOHANNES BRAHAMS: A GERMAN REQUIEM
Arguably my favorite piece of music of all time from any source. The lyrics are all Scripture, speaking of God’s promises conquering death, the deepest darkness of human sorrow, the frailty of flesh, the hope of resurrection and eternal rest. I cannot listen to this piece (I have a recording by the San Francisco Philharmonic) whilst reading the translation of the German, without welling up with hopeful, grateful tears. Sad to think that Brahms did not personally embrace the actual, historical, living Christ--in whom all the hope expressed in Requiem culminates.
RADIOHEAD: OK COMPUTER
There is a peculiar sort of despair that is drilled into every heart by the trappings/barrage of our postmodern, tech-saturated world. Radiohead taps into that despair and amplifies it into lyrical collage and ecstatically mournful sonic soarings. Thom Yorke’s emotions are raw, and from start to finish Radiohead –with it’s searing guitars, infectious rhythms, and otherworldly noises--rips the roof off the neat and tidy American dream – and exposes the spiritual numbness we’ve tried to drown out with all our flashy images and narcotics. “Let Down” is on my list of Favourite Songs of All Time. Since OK Computer offers no answers, I cannot meditate on its wailings for long--but I also cannot deny the masterpiece strokes with which it was composed.
DAVID BOWIE: THE RISE & FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS
Bowie taps into a rock n’ roll sound, persona, and atmosphere that I’ve never heard done better by anyone. The themes and content are often psychologically twisted, ugly, so frequent listens are ill-advised. But I love how Bowie creates a character in Ziggy—tells a story—and leads you along in a head-bobbing rock adventure. The messianic yearnings we all feel deep down, Bowie sings out (in his own bizzare way!) in “Starman.” And “Five Years” has some of my favorite fractured, impressionistic lyrics of all time.
U2: ACTUNG BABY
Timeless in sound, haunting in spirit, and infectious in hooks, Achtung Baby has left an imprint on my musical soul.
MICHAEL KNOTT: LIFE OF DAVID
Less a linear portrait of “Israel’s murderer king” than an impressionistic, lo-fi and yet somehow sonically luscious crooning of the emotions that must have haunted Kind David’s – and, likely, Knott’s – psyche, Life of David is simply fantastic. If nothing else, the first and last tracks are flooring in their raw, splayed out exhibit of human fallenness, depravity.
PHIL KEAGGY: CRIMSON AND BLUE
The weight of Keaggy’s grandness is only seen by a birds-eye view of his whole body of work – it’s chronological span, categorical variety, guitar virtuosity, and songwriting achievement – and a single album rarely captures all the musical goodness that he has wrought. Crimson and Blue comes the closest to nailing it, and I’ll (gladly) never get some of these amazing songs, faith-bolstering lyrics, and mind-searing jam sessions (near the end of the album) out of my head.
ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS: ARMED FORCES
Is there a better craftsman of song than Elvis Costello? Is there a more tightly-knit, iron-hot, and explosive quartet than he and the Attractions? Elvis creates a musical psychology textbook for broken relationships and empty romance, full of double (& triple) entendre, British cheekiness, and a self-loathing that—albeit indirectly and unspoken— yearns for a better Way. No other album with the Attractions is so solid from start to finish. Makes me want to write songs and sing them as good as he does!
THE INNOCENCE MISSION: GLOW
It is difficult to call this album “influential,” as if it somehow has shaped the way I make music because, truth be told, I can’t even imagine tapping into the peculiar beauty of life’s sounds and images that IM effortlessly captures on this album. Listening to Glow I feel a rush of memories flood into my mind—some of which may or may not be mine—and the taste and feel of childhood rings in my ears like a lullaby. Karen Peris’ bird-like vocals combined w/ Don Peris’ reverby, hollow-body guitar licks are almost too beautiful – and would be if the lyrics didn’t do so well at painting the lovely and the painful—and the redemption that ties life together. This album is a blessing to the world.
ELLIOT SMITH: XO
One of the greatest—and most tragic—songwriters to carry the baton passed on by the Beatles in their virtuosic song-craft, Smith wrote (and performed) a musically near-perfect album in XO. In light of Smith’s brutal suicide, this album is so hard for me to listen to these days—the theme of self-loathing persists throughout—and yet the music itself is testament that rich beauty can somehow be wrought from the raw material of despair. “Bottle Up and Explode” and “Baby Britain” are among the beautifully crafted gems that capture the longing for release from self and for interpersonal connection—so elusive at times—that Smith sang of again and again.
Influences from Barb Irvine, Syracuse, NY
Since many choral arrangements are for hymns, singing in a choir can be a place of rich spiritual teaching and growth, at least it has been for me. And being a small part of a larger entity, as one is in a choir, is a tangible living picture of living in community.
ST. OLAF CHOIR: GREATEST HYMNS FO THE FAITH
THE 2ND CHAPTER OF ACTS: HYMN COLLECTION
I don't know of too many male voices as distinctive as Matthew Ward's, no matter what he sings!
ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL
features 5 British choirs, among them King's College, Cambridge, and Winchester Cathedral Choir.
THE CHOIRS OF BIRMINGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY: THE ROAD HOME
It contains, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard, called "Homeward Bound". Since the concept of "home" is so meaningful and important to me, the songs on this album all call forth such emotion in me. I remember caring for my dad through his last few months on earth, sensing the nearness of the Lord, and finding comfort by listening to their version of "Abide With Me, Tis Eventide". And their arrangement of Christina Rossetti's "None Other Lamb" is simply so moving to me; I often use it as a prayer that those whom I love would know the truth of it's message: there is "no home but Thee".
Influences from Will Trautman, Huntsville, AL
NEIL YOUNG: AFTER THE GOLD RUSH
Neil’s rock/folk/country sound has been a huge influence on me as an artist. His talent in songwriting, exposing emotion, and creating harmonies is captivating to me. The simplicity of “Tell Me Why” still gets me after years of listening to it.
ELLIOTT SMITH: SELF TITLED
I’m glad that I didn’t discover Smith until after my teenage years - his songs deal in some dark matters, but his melodies, lyrics, and guitar playing are top-notch, and just as importantly, he cuts to the quick of the modern American cultural experience. The reality of the darkness in the human experience is beautifully captured in his music. I differ with Smith in where I believe this life is all headed at the end, but I take much meaning from his musical expressions.
THE BEATLES: REVOLVER
The strings and darkness of Eleanor Rigby, the pure guitar line of “And Your Bird Can Sing”, the harmonies of “Good Day Sunshine”… Every song of Revolver was a revolution in music for me.
THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND: SELF TITLED
My dad introduced me to Paul Butterfield when I was in college, about 40 years after Butterfield recorded his first album. This album thrust me into a search for the blues as a musical feeling and an appreciation for the history and the experience of blues music. However, Butterfield and Bloomfield definitely show their own skill and passion on the harp and the guitar. I bought a harmonica after hearing this album. This album gets me moving every time I hear it - the opening harp riff on “Blues with a Feeling”, the guitar on “Our Love is Drifting”, and the rhythm of “Mystery Train” - but it also pushes me to explore my own emotion and passion in musical expression.
JOHN MARK MCMILLIAN: ECONOMY
How can you sing popular music about Jesus without being cheesy? I had never been able to latch on to “Christian Music”, even though I had grown up in the church and was a straight-laced teen. I thought it lacked authenticity and was musically shallow. Give me Neil Young or Led Zeppelin over any Christian rock artist. In 2011, I first heard about John Mark McMillan. His rough edge, the wailing guitars, and the soaring anthems were a breath of fresh air for me. “We live on the edge of a darkness, but daylight is comin’ on.”
PEDRO THE LION: IT'S HARD TO FIND A FRIEND
David Bazan had me reeled in with his original Pedro the Lion recording, the Whole EP. However, he completely blew me away with his second release, It’s Hard to Find a Friend. I first heard it in high school and his lo-fi indie rock sound, the simple telecaster, bass, and drum sound (like on Of Up and Coming Monarchs and Big Trucks), created a musical feeling that I’d never experienced before. His skill at lyrical storytelling and expressing spiritual tension is one of the best I’ve ever encountered.
Influences from Rick Wellman, Syracuse, NY
YES: CLOSE TO THE EDGE
I always liked bands that could play their instruments well and intricately. Yes was my favorite band and I think they hit their height in Close to the Edge. I was transfixed by the musicality and diversity of the music. I didn't agree with the "New Age" lyrics but loved the intricacy of the album.
LARRY NORMAN: ONLY VISITING THIS PLANET
I've always been more of an "instrumental guy" than a "lyricist guy", but I was very impressed how Larry took a Christian worldview and was able to state it in ways that challenged non-Believers and Believers alike.
I also appreciated how he embraced the rock genre and as a young Christian I was looking for something just like this. My favorite artists were artists from his "stable": Randy Stonehill, Mark Heard, and
Daniel Amos, etc.