Thursday, June 13, 2013

Meditation XXVII -- Our Weapon

For I do not rely on my bow,
   and my sword does not give me the victory.

Considering the turmoil in our country over guns and gun violence, perhaps this phrase seems apropos. We need to remember that weapons do not keep us safe or help us in our struggles, but only the Lord. But to look at this verse in this narrow light is to cheapen the richness of God's Word.

We use many weapons to overcome difficulties. Often we don't call them weapons, but think of them as tools. Some try to use their money to buy themselves into a sense of security. Some use their positions in business, church, or other groups to attempt to turn events and circumstances in their favor. Some use their physical prowess and skills to push solutions on all they come in contact with. Some -- like this writer-- will try to use their intellects and forget that even the smartest people have limitations. The Bible has too often been used to oppress rather than liberate.

A hammer can be used to kill as easily as it can be used to help build a house. It seems however, harder and harder for spiritually minded people to know when to set their hammers down, and trust the Master Builder.

I am mindful that the writer of this Psalm was well aware of the warrior culture and mindset he lived in. He fought in many wars and conquered many in battle, many who were larger, more agile, and more skilled in fighting than him. But he acknowledged that it was the God and Father of the universe that went before him, stood beside him, and healed his wounds. No matter what his abilities, no victory could come through his own powers.

Dear Jesus, make us mindful that there is no foe that cannot be conquered, and there is no true conquest without You. Build all the nations of our hearts with upon your foundation. Amen.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

A Tribute to the Voice, but Not the Playing

Before Nat King Cole became famous for his beautiful crooning, singing songs like "Unforgettable," "Mona Lisa," and "Route 66," he was the leader of a hot trio. That silky voice made people forget his prowess at the piano. I have noticed that many who know the music of George Benson have the same problem: they remember him singing such tunes as "Turn Your Love Around" and "This Masquerade." They forget his hit "Breezin" or his early work shredding Miles Davis' "Oleo" and "All Blues," or even trying on Wes Montgomery's "Four on Six." Remember that great part of "On Broadway" that is equal parts guitar solo and scat?

Hence, while I find this project, where Benson pays tribute to the Nat King Cole, enjoyable, I am disappointed about what is not here. I'm sure I'll be in the minority, but I would love to have heard at least a couple pieces from Cole's pre-singing catalog. Failing that, I would like to have heard more of Benson's guitar.

Make no mistake. George Benson still has a wonderful voice, and he does a serviceable job with these songs. Not only do we have sweet versions of ballads like "Too Young," "When I Fall In Love," and "Smile" (probably my favorite), but the peppier songs like "Route 66" and "Straighten Up and Fly Right" are given solid treatment and delivered with Benson's usual punch. But the guitar is all but absent. The solo on "Unforgettable" is mediocre, and the one on "Nature Boy" is nice, but too short. While the playing on "Straighten Up and Fly Right" is much closer to what I am used to from Mr. Benson, it meanders perhaps a bit. Other than a handful of acoustic flourishes on "Mona Lisa," that is pretty much all the six-string work listeners get.

The album is going to be very enjoyable for those who like the lush strings or big band arrangements one used to hear on Nat King Cole's most memorable performances. It is romantic and pleasant. But if you are looking for the George Benson whose fingers fly on the fretboard, you are not going to find much.