December 23, 2015
I did this last year, for the first time.
I enjoy it, so that is good enough reason to do it again. Here are my favorite music videos of the year. There is a mix of mainstream artists (Eric Church, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw) and alternative artists (Turnpike Troubadours, Lindi Ortega, Whitey Morgan, Sam Outlaw).
There are ten videos below. I did not include Chris Stapleton’s CMA performance because I already blogged about it and provided the videos there. This was the year of Chris Stapleton and nobody saw it coming. For that matter, nobody would have predicted that a traditional country album would be the #1 album in the land — with zero radio support.
Enjoy the goodness that awaits…
“Ghost Town,” Sam Outlaw
With his debut album, Angeleno, Sam Outlaw has single-handedly marked the revival of the Southern California country scene, where Merle Haggard and Buck Owens originate and the Academy of Country Music was born. At least, we can only hope that this is something of a revival. Sam Outlaw (“Outlaw” is his mother’s maiden name) has a deep intuition about what makes country music special. I highly encourage you to watch the CBS This Morning feature on Sam Outlaw: Saturday Sessions.
Also, be sure to read the brilliant review of the album at Saving Country Music — “It’s the haze that creates a sepia hue over everything in the city; it’s the way the streets are so full of electricity and desperation all at the same time.”
“Down Here,” Turnpike Troubadours
“A gritty, country-leaning roots rock band out of Oklahoma, the Turnpike Troubadours at their best synthesize the populist, political folk of Woody Guthrie and the outlaw-styled honky tonk of Waylon Jennings with doses of bluegrass, Cajun, and straight-out rock dynamics…the group celebrates and explores modern rural life with a full awareness of history, delicately avoiding being ornate revivalists,” Steve Leggett writes. That’s well said. Their fourth studio album debuted at #3 on the US Country Albums chart. Also, if you haven’t seen “Gin, Smoke, Lies,” do yourself a favor and click on the link.
“Talladega,” Eric Church
Eric Church is a native of Granite Falls, North Carolina, in the heart of NASCAR country, so it is only inevitable that he would release a song like this. “Talladega” reached #1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay this year, and it is well-deserved. It was also nominated for CMA Single of the Year, though losing to Little Big Town.
“Ashes,” Lindi Ortega
This Canadian native — and now Nashville resident — has some of the most captivating vocals in country music. Faded Gloryville is her fourth album with Last Gang Records, and I recommend all four albums. Once again, her voice is her calling card. Sultry. Yearning. The video was filmed in Savannah, Georgia, a perfect setting.
“Waitin’ Round to Die,” Whitey Morgan
This is what happens when a Townes Van Zandt song is covered by one of the great honky tonk heroes of our generation: Whitey Morgan. I was privileged to see Whitey Morgan in concert this year, and I was stunned. His talent and the talent of his band (“the 78’s”) is not worthy of my words. Trust me. This is as good as it gets.
“Smooth Sailin’,” Leon Bridges
This has been Leon Bridges’ breakout year, beginning with his first single, “Coming Home.” There are obvious comparisons to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, which is like comparing a breakout country artist to George Jones and Waylon Jennings. As such, the shoes he hopes to fill are intimidating to say the least. In my opinion, there is still a lot of room for growth. He needs to make his own distinct stamp upon the noble r&b tradition. But, he has all of the fundamentals right, and he’s only 26 years old! We will hear much more of Leon Bridges for a long time to come.
“Smoke Break,” Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood is the reigning vocal virtuoso of country music. She obviously tends toward the pop side of country, but she has consistently (as of late) released singles with substance. “Smoke Break” is her latest offering, and it is a welcome relief on the radio. The song recalls the long-standing tradition of working class songs in country music.
“Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” Tim McGraw
Tim McGraw is already classified as a “legend.” With two decades under his belt, he is still releasing chart-topping singles. “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” did not quite reach the top of the charts (at #3 on Country Airplay), but I consider it as one of his best singles in the entirety of his career. This is everything a straightforward country song should be, and Tim’s delivery is pitch perfect. This is a live performance, and it sounds almost identical to the studio version.
“Overdue,” Jillian Jacqueline
Jillian Jacqueline is a fairly new songwriter in Nashville, and “Overdue” is her first single. Her debut album, an EP, is “coming soon” according to her website. This is a lovely, simple song — beautifully sung. I hope to hear and see more of Jillian in the future. Since she did not make an official video for “Overdue,” somebody else made this unofficial video with clips of her recording. It’s so well done that it might as well be designated as the official video.
“Send It On Down,” Lee Ann Womack
Few things are more embarrassing than when an established artist chases the trends in order to reclaim past radio glory. Lee Ann Womack is not one of those artists. Instead, her music is a reflection of her age and maturity, as it should be. And as a result, I am confident that her place is secure in the history of country music, alongside Kitty Wells and Tammy Wynette.
Honorable Mentions (the ladies):
Miranda Lambert, “Storms Never Last” (Grand Ole Opry)
Honorable Mentions (the gents):
September 6, 2015
Tonight marks the return of the Southern 500 to Labor Day weekend at Darlington Speedway, South Carolina! Little known fact: I was born 10 miles from Darlington Speedway.
The 1974 Southern 500 is one of the classic races in this golden age of NASCAR. In 1974, my parents have not even met — I was born under Reagan — even though they are both from the Florence-Darlington area of eastern South Carolina, not far from Myrtle Beach.
In 1974, Dolly Parton is dominating the country charts and Bob Dylan is hitting the road for the first time in eight years. It’s a good year. At the first “super speedway” on the NASCAR circuit, the small town of Darlington is receiving some racing legends: Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, and a young Darrell Waltrip.
This was back when “stock car racing” actually involved stock cars, with working headlights and everything. My dad went to a Darlington race in the late 60’s, and when one of the teams needed a new car soon before the race, they simply went to a local dealership and bought a new car, making some modifications back at the track in their garage. That’s true stock car racing.
Richard Petty is on the pole. Cale Yarborugh is a favorite to win. Cale won the Southern 500 the previous year and in 1968, an epic year for him when he also started and finished the Daytona 500 in first place.
Here is the summary report after the 1974 Southern 500:
I love these retro NASCAR videos. It continues with part two and part three. Throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies, NASCAR races were not broadcast live. Instead, they were given an official summary report, normally about a half-hour long. The 1979 Daytona 500 was the first NASCAR race broadcast live from beginning to end. Richard Petty won.
You can watch a documentary on the ’79 Daytona 500:
You will not regret watching this documentary!
You can also watch the official race summary of the 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona, where President Reagan lands and congratulates Richard Petty on his 200th win! This is one of the greatest moments in NASCAR history. It also involves an “infamous fistfight” between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison.
September 4, 2015
Previously, we looked at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres.
Now, I present two more masterpieces of thirteenth century Gothic architecture: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims. The cathedrals of Chartres, Paris, and Reims — along with Amiens Cathedral and the Royal Basilica of Saint Denis — are all located in northern France, the birthplace of Gothic architecture.
At the end, I briefly recount my experience at a Sunday morning mass at Notre-Dame de Paris.
All photographs are mine.
What I loved about the aisle windows at Reims is the amount of light they allow. By contrast, Notre-Dame de Paris is incredibly dark, which has its own aesthetic value of course. As you walk into Reims, the warmth of the space is palpable, unique among the cathedrals we visited. The more common iconographic and multi-color windows are along the ambulatory (i.e., behind the altar), as well as the rose windows in the West, North, and South.
The above photograph allows you to see the brilliance of light that illumines each aisle, in contrast to the chancel and ambulatory.
In the nave, you can see here a commemoration of Clovis’ baptism. ICI SAINT REMI BAPTISA CLOVIS ROI DES FRANCS, which translates as, “Here Saint Remi baptized Clovis, King of the Franks.” Clovis was baptized by Saint Remigius at Reims, which effectively converted all of the Frankish tribes to Christianity. The French (etymologically derived from “Franks” by way of the Latin, Francia, for the Frankish people) owe their Christian heritage to this moment, historically speaking.
Oh yes, the most famous cathedral in the world: Notre-Dame de Paris! The western facade is breathtaking, and its location on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the river is perfect. There are so many fabulous angles from which you can view this cathedral.
Since the interior of Notre-Dame de Paris is so dark, I drastically increased the ISO and aperture value on my camera in this photograph, allowing you to see with greater clarity. Trust me, it is far darker, even on a bright and sunny day.
This is more representative of the darkness of the interior. This darkness does, however, draw attention to the brilliance of the stained glass, as you can see in this photograph of a Marian chapel along the ambulatory.
My brother and I attended the 10am “Gregorian mass” on Sunday morning, which was very well-attended. I loved it! During the Gregorian mass, several parts of the service are done in Latin, including the Creed and Our Father. I am terrible at pronouncing French quickly, but Latin is a breeze! And it was great to hear everyone speak this “universal” language. There was a young French woman, probably 16 or 17 years old, next to me, and she was a pro! I was super-impressed. She even kneeled on the concrete floor during the consecration, which is not something that many were willing to do, given the lack of kneelers.
Also, the organ is something to experience! The organist was playing Bach or perhaps theme music from Castlevania — either way, it was great!
Images: All of the photographs are mine. You are free to download for private use. If you want to republish, my permission is required.
September 1, 2015
I am back from Paris and Barcelona! There is so much that I could write about, including pedestrian observations — such as how every Parisian smokes cigarettes, like it’s the 1960’s.
Instead, I will write a few posts about specific places that I especially enjoyed. First is Chartres Cathedral, or The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, southwest of Paris. Chartres is easy to access by train, about 60 miles from the center of Paris.
All pictures are mine.
Chartres is a much-beloved and storied cathedral, with its present construction dating to the early 13th century, including most of the stained glass. It was a very popular pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages, and its popularity as a pilgrimage site is returning, at least according to one book that I read. The cathedral emerges over the rolling hills of golden wheat fields, with the beneficence of the Virgin Mother awaiting the faithful.
Every church we visited has a side chapel dedicated to the Madonna and Child. The one at Chartres is especially lovely, and you can see (click the image to enlarge) some people praying. All of these cathedrals and basilicas are active churches. There is a wedding occurring in the central nave, as I am taking this picture.
And here is a woman carrying a candle as a votive offering. As you turn around, this is the view of the South rose window:
As you can see from this picture, the cathedral is undergoing an extensive interior renovation (or “restoration,” depending upon your point of view). The purported aim of the restoration, which began in 2009, is to restore the interior to its original appearance. The only possible way to do this is through plaster and paint. The white is the new; the brown is the old. Here is another picture that vividly displays the difference:
That’s a significant difference. The deterioration of the interior has been rather severe, much more so than the other cathedrals we visited, such as Reims or Notre-Dame de Paris. But the renovation is rather severe too. It entirely erases the marks of time. As you could have guessed, this renovation has received some harsh criticism, such as from Martin Filler writing for NYR Daily. Filler makes some good and important points, but I will reserve judgment until the renovation/restoration is complete. It will certainly give an entirely new atmosphere to the cathedral, and perhaps it will serve to even better showcase the marvelous windows.
This is one of the most renowned windows, La Belle Verriere, along the South aisle. The Virgin and Child are surrounded by angels in the adjacent panels. In the lower panels (bottom-up) are the temptations of Christ and then the wedding at Cana.
Here is another spectacular view, which also allows you to see the contrast between the renovated nave and unrenovated portions of the southern aisle.
Charles Péguy is an important literary figure who immortalized Chartres in his writings at the beginning of the 20th century. The plaque above says that Péguy walked here to entrust his children to the Virgin Mary and, following his example, students from France and abroad make pilgrimage here by the thousands.
That’s the end of my tour of Chartres Cathedral! As with any of these sites, the pictures only capture a small glimpse of its wonder and majesty.
Images: All of the photographs are mine. You are free to download for private use. If you want to republish, my permission is required.
August 12, 2015
I am getting ready for a two-week excursion to Paris and Barcelona with my brother. We fly to Paris on Saturday. I will be sure to post pictures.
Not your average tourist, I have been preparing for the trip by reading some academic works on Medieval art and Gothic architecture. Otto von Simson’s The Gothic Cathedral is fantastic, though I am not even half-way through it. It definitely deserves a blog post in the near future. I would also like to read Erwin Panofsky’s classic study, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism. And, finally, I will need to read Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St. Denis. I am very excited about seeing St. Denis, on the northern outskirts of Paris. It is reckoned as the birthplace of Gothic architecture.
Of course, I will be seeing Chartres, and I will finish reading Henry Adam’s Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres on the plane.
The reason I wanted to go to Barcelona is not merely because Samantha Brown calls it her favorite city in Europe, as do many others. My primary reason is, of course, Antoni Gaudí. I’ve been fascinated with La Sagrada Familia for years, albeit from a distance. There are a few houses and other sites related to Gaudí as well. A couple years ago, CBS did a short documentary on Gaudí and the Sagrada Familia:
Gaudí’s works are the biggest tourist attractions in Barcelona, though perhaps rivaled by the beloved Gothic Quarter. El Barri Gòtic is home to five Basilicas, all within a few blocks of each other. That’s a bit excessive perhaps. And there are four more Basilicas in Barcelona: Saint Joseph Oriol, The Immaculate Conception (near our hotel), the Sacred Heart on Mt. Tibidabo (overlooking the city), and the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia) as the most recent and most famous.
It will be an exhilarating and exhausting two weeks!
Image: Barcelona (source)
June 11, 2015
Affliction is an uprooting of life, a more or less attenuated equivalent of death, made irresistibly present to the soul by the attack or immediate apprehension of pain. If there is complete absence of physical pain there is no affliction for the soul, because our thoughts can turn to any object. Thought flies from affliction as promptly and irresistibly as an animal flies from death.
[“The Love of God and Affliction,” in Waiting for God, p. 68.]
As some of you know, I did my undergraduate thesis in Religious Studies on the French mystic-philosopher, Simone Weil. At the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, I was introduced to Simone Weil by one of the philosophy professors, who described herself as a Platonist Anglican. For those of us fortunate to take her classes, she also assigned the Platonist novelist, Iris Murdoch, not surprisingly.
I was enraptured by Weil. I hated her and loved her with equal passion. She demands nothing less.
Simone Weil was a Gnostic. I resisted the “Gnostic” identification for Weil for a long time, even though it is common in Weil studies. I resisted it because Weil is far more interesting, far more important than the libel associated with Gnosticism. “Anti-matter”? “Anti-creation?” Superficially, yes, because our profound suffering requires a love that supersedes all principalities and powers. But alongside suffering, she believed that beauty was the surest path to God, and she believed this with the utmost seriousness and an integrity that should put us all to shame.
Simone Weil is an anomaly. She makes other anomalies appear tame by comparison. Pascal and Kierkegaard are her immediate forebears, at least in general qualifications and applications. This is why she is homeless. Feminists do not know what to do with her. Christians are equally perplexed.
Weil is a heretic, but she is a noble heretic. She is a heretic that the church needs in order to survive and thrive.
In the marriage feast of the new creation, I will drink wine with Simone Weil. I will wipe her tears, and she will kiss mine.
December 29, 2014
At the end of last year, I did a retrospective listing of the blog’s content for 2013. Now it is time for 2014. This is helpful, I hope, for newer visitors to the blog or as a refresher for longtime visitors. As I expected, the top “category” for this past year is Karl Barth, and that is probably true for every year since I started the blog. That’s not counting the music category, of course!
Without further ado, here is a look at 2014 here at After Existentialism, Light:
Hans Urs von Balthasar
On German Theology
“Worldview” Gone Wild
(Sarcasm alert) Al Mohler is more humble than evolutionists
For the troubled and tried (Spurgeon)
Against “illuminating the human condition” (Hauerwas)
Image: Jorge Alvariño & Ali Larr
November 16, 2014
In my considered opinion, these are some of the finest country songs from the 90’s, when I was a kid. Some of these artists are still going strong, as with Lee Ann Womack’s acclaimed recent album, The Way I’m Livin’. Even Garth Brooks has released his long-anticipated comeback album, featuring the song that has brought every woman to tears: “Mom.”
“I Let Her Lie,” Daryle Singletary (1995)
I am a sucker for sad country songs, and this is one of the best. Just shy of reaching the top of the Hot Country charts (at #2), this proved to be the most successful of Daryle’s songs, alongside “Amen Kind of Love,” which also reached #2. You can find it on his debut album. His fame was short-lived, but he represents some of the best of 90’s country.
“Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up),” Garth Brooks (1993)
This was the lead single for Garth’s fifth studio album, In Pieces, which was released at the height of his fame and further solidified his legacy as a country legend. This album includes other favorites, such as “Callin’ Baton Rouge” and “Standing Outside the Fire.” Many of us will remember it as the lead track on his 1994 collection, The Hits, which eventually sold over 10 million copies. This song perfectly captures the high energy style of country music for which Garth Brooks is best known (and reviled among some purists). The instrumental breakdown for a whole minute, at the end, is icing on the cake. Since he forbids his music videos on YouTube, we will have to settle for a beautiful woman teaching line dancing steps:
“That Ain’t My Truck,” Rhett Akins (1995)
Rhett Atkins is the father Thomas Rhett Akins, Jr. (or, stage name, “Thomas Rhett”). I am not a fan of the latter. But the elder Rhett could hit the mark, and this is one of them. It captures the simple storyline of a jaded lover, arguably borrowed from Toby Keith’s hit single from the previous year, “Who’s That Man.” You can find “That Ain’t My Truck” on Rhett’s debut album, A Thousand Memories.
“I Watched It All (On My Radio),” Lionel Cartwright (1990)
Released in February of 1990, this is the earliest single on this list. Cartwright’s career as a country star was brief, but he left us with this gem of a song. He is currently the worship pastor at HopePark Church in Nashville.
“Too Cold at Home,” Mark Chesnutt (1990)
Mark Chesnutt was a staple of 90’s country radio, with hits like “Bubba Shot the Juke Box” and “Goin’ Through the Big D,” all of which you can find on his greatest hits collection. “Too Cold at Home” is the title track from his sophomore album, released in September of 1990. With the steel guitar and soft twang, this is an excellent example of 90’s country’s ability to keep the heritage of country music alive.
“Maybe It Was Memphis,” Pam Tillis (1991)
Pam Tillis was the greatest female country artist of the 90’s. I can say that without qualification, and I dare anyone to disagree! The daughter of country superstar, Mel Tillis, Pam was destined for greatness which she achieved through a string of hit songs in the 90’s. She never compromised her principles of great songwriting and classic country sound, although “Maybe It Was Memphis” is perhaps her most “pop” single. I love it, especially the lyrics. It was among several singles from her second album, Put Yourself in My Place.
I could easily have added Vince Gill and Alan Jackson to this list, but it would have been too hard to pick one song.
Other notable mentions include:
“She’s in Love with the Boy,” Trisha Yearwood (1991)
“Where the Green Grass Grows,” Tim McGraw (1998)
“I Can Still Make Cheyenne,” George Strait (1996)
“A Little Past Little Rock,” Lee Ann Womack (1998)
“Dust on the Bottle,” David Lee Murphy (1995)
And many more could be included.
July 16, 2014
Here is another photo from my recent vacation to California:
Click to enlarge. We stumbled upon this incredible view of the bridge, away from the tourists.
July 9, 2014
So, I have been away for the past week on a family vacation to Northern California — my brother, myself, and the parents. It was the first time I have ever been to the west coast. We started with Yosemite National Park, then the wine country (Sonoma Valley), and then San Francisco. The temperature change was ridiculous! The weather was in the 100’s in Yosemite, then the 80’s in Sonoma, and then 50’s/low-60’s in San Francisco! The wind chill was in the forties! It’s July! My brother quoted Mark Twain, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” As beautiful as San Francisco is, I am far too acclimated to weather in Dixie to ever live in SF, unless I could acquire one of the endless number of gorgeous houses that line every street. There is a reason why SF is the most expensive city in America.
In San Francisco, we went through Haight-Ashbury. I was a bit disappointed. I wore my General Lee t-shirt (Dukes of Hazzard), and I didn’t receive even a mild rebuke! Seriously, I expect more gusto from the liberals on Haight Street. Oh well. They did have a huge rainbow flag waving.
Here are some of my pictures (click to enlarge):