“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”

Sep 07 2014

I have a vision for a hymns record, in which I record a bunch of hymns with some of the kick-ass musicians I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my capacity as music director (worship leader?  I never know what to call myself.  I prefer “music director” cause it sounds less Chris Tomlin-y) at Dwell Church.  My elevator pitch is:  “Fanny Crosby meets Bob Dylan and the Band in West Saugerties.”  Until that record happens (and in preparation), I’m going to record stuff on my iPhone and put it on Soundcloud.

The latest one I did is “Praise to the Lord the Almighty,” with vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica.

It’s of one of my favorite hymns, an English version of Joachim Neander’s German chorale “Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren,” published in 1680. The music was probably based on an old folk tune. The text paraphrases Psalm 103 and Psalm 150. (source: Wikipedia).

A Dictionary of Hymnology” lists at least 13 English translations of the text, but the only one I’ve ever heard is the translation by Catherine Winkworth, published in 1863. Apparently Ms. Winkworth inserted a slightly more Victorian ethos into her text (referencing “health” and “work,” where the original author apparently didn’t, and removing his exhortation to awaken the psaltery and harp). Still, she was faithful to the psalms and I think she did a pretty good job. (even though her line “Gladly for aye we adore him” is hard to sing without sounding like a pirate. somebody changed it to “Gladly fore’er we adore him” which isn’t better).

I’ll post her full translation below. She had a couple of dark stanzas (5 and 6) which I only discovered today (after making this recording), having never heard them in 37+ years of singing this hymn. Somehow these stanzas seem richer and more fitting than the others. Given today’s world of persistent unrest and unbridled violence, from Ferguson to Fallujah, I think they ought to be re-inserted. God have Mercy.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who hath fearfully, wondrously, made thee;
Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly falling, hath stayed thee.
What need or grief ever hath failed of relief?
Wings of His mercy did shade thee.

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease, turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.

Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
Sheddeth His light, chaseth the horrors of night,
Saints with His mercy surrounding.

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.

Recorded on my iPhone at home.

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Aug 21 2014

I’ve been wanting to post here for awhile, and yet corralling my thoughts has not been easy.  I’m trying to learn how to put those perfectionistic tendencies aside and pull the trigger and post.  It’s better than not posting.

Now I gotta restring the guitar and head (schlep, always with the schlepping) to Grand Central station to take a train to Greenwich, CT where a dear person is lending me his car to drive to gigs in Gloucester, MA and Burlington, VT (thank you Dave!).  A quick trip which I’m really looking forward to.

Here’s something I posted on Facebook after a flood of well-wishes on my 42nd birthday May 3rd.

Thanks for checking in here.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes, everybody. 42 felt like a big one for some reason (I guess I have Douglas Adams to blame for that), as it becomes apparent that each year I am considered “young” by fewer and fewer people (evidenced by the young man on the street yesterday who, asking for a light, addressed me as “Papi.”) 

Yesterday I grabbed a CitiBike and rode over the Brooklyn bridge. I parked the bike and walked to the drugstore. 15 minutes later I realized that I had left my jacket in the little basket/doohickey of the bike and raced back to find a young woman rifling through the pockets (looking for an i.d., she said). She handed me my jacket, and, with a sideways Ellen Barkin smile, said “I woulda made off with it, but it isn’t my size.” I chose to believe she was kidding.

In addition to the lovely facebook greetings, I was feted in the evening by real friends, in actual time (and on Fri too). I had buttery mussels and mac and cheese. I didn’t smoke or drink anything harder than a Coke. I went to bed early and alone (save with a good friend and a dog in the house). 

Indeed, each year I have fewer and fewer vices in which to indulge. Still, I have those old persistent standbys: speeding, being late, not paying my taxes, fear, indolence, hopelessness, imbibing from my strange vanity/self-loathing cocktail, losing harmonicas, jackets, glasses, and Faith, and cussin’. I hope to kick each and every one of those habits eventually. (Except for cussin’. I’ll probably always cuss, because I need *something* to remind me that I used to be a rebel). Until those habits are kicked, I will lean on and draw strength from you, my large, far-flung constellation of amazing friends, asking for and hopefully extending grace in return. And I will keep on writin’ and singin’!!! (Also I need to find a manager). 

Thanks for being my friend and family, hope to see you soon,

<3   J

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Veteran’s Day Roundup

Nov 11 2013

I’ve been on a real World War Two kick lately, precipitated by an old NPR interview I heard with author Rick Atkinson on the sadly now-defunct “Talk of the Nation” (I miss you, Neal Conan).  Atkinson was talking about his then-new book, “An Army At Dawn,” which discusses the entry of the US Armed forces into World War II, and their deadly sandy slog through North Africa.  I bought it and read it.  Then I read the follow-up volume, “The Day of Battle,” which is about the US Forces’ deadly mountainous trudge up the spine of Italy.  After reading this book, and while awaiting the third volume in the so-called “liberation trilogy,” I realized that, typical American that I am, I didn’t know much about WWII before the Americans got there.  I knew even less about any of the events or political machinations that led up to the war.  Thus I looked for something that could educate me about the very beginning of the whole mess and found a charming little book called “August ’39: The Last Four Weeks of Peace,” by Stephen Howarth, which you can buy from Amazon for 80 cents. Howarth paints portraits of British, German, Russian, Polish, Italian, and French diplomats scurrying to and fro trying to prevent all hell from breaking loose in Europe (with the exception of the Germans and Italians, who were, with a few exceptions, going along with whatever Hitler wanted, which was to loose Hell on Europe as soon as possible).  It’s a fascinating read, although I could do without so many of Howarth’s portraits of “common folk” — fishermen, farmer’s daughters, mail carriers, and schoolboys, who are not as interesting to read about, as, say, Admiral Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, who must have gotten exhausted introducing himself at parties, as this was before the days of those little white “Hello My Name is” stickers.

Here is an old 18-part radio documentary on WWII.  The music is ponderous and melodramatic but over all it’s really top-drawer stuff.  Good for a roadtrip or a walk by the river.

Lastly, I discovered an fascinating blog and a new obsession: WW2today.com, which reports the war “as it happened, 70 years after the event.”

Time magazine said of this site: “The news at Martin Cherrett’s blog is precisely seventy years out of date — because he’s covering World War II one day at a time, with posts rich in photos, documents and eyewitness accounts. It’s an addictive daily read, and a reminder that even most of us who know how the war turned out are sketchy on many of its details.”

That’s what I’m into lately, y’all.  Happy Veteran’s Day!

(I took some pictures today of some kids who were marching around wearing military uniforms, and of the red white and blue Empire State building, but I can’t find the little thingie that connects my camera to my laptop.  So I’ll add them later).



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Marblehead, MA 5:41 a.m.

Sep 29 2013

I woke up at 4:00 am today, which is a good thing, because I have to drive to Middlebury VT, about 4 hours away from where I played last night and am now (Marblehead, MA). I’m playing a couple of songs at the Memorial Baptist Church this morning.

I don’t like the adjective “perfect,” cause it’s lazy. “It was a perfect evening.” “The weather was perfect.” Those 2 statements don’t *tell* you anything. Rather you’re expected to read the mind of whoever says such things and assume you know what they think “perfect” means.

That said, the weather yesterday was perfect. The sun seemed like a late afternoon sun all day long, and I got to sit in it and watch the ocean with a friend. My hungry skin drank in all that sun and, staring at that ocean I used to write songs about but don’t anymore, I wondered why I ever left the North Shore. Why the hell would someone choose to live in NYC? (or Jersey City to put a finer point on it). Actually I can answer that, but it’s a good question nonetheless.

Last night I played my first solo show in a while. I missed all the folks I’ve been playing with lately. Toby, out in Ohio, Gerko, back in the Netherlands, and Paul, down in NYC, anticipating shoulder surgery. Paul played bass with me show before last, in NY, and it was fun and comfortable. Paul is a great musician and a super sweet guy. He’s one of those people who sees everything but doesn’t say a lot, so sometimes it’s hard to know what he’s thinking.  I wonder if there’s a great roiling sea of emotions underneath that amiable face.

Anyway, Paul messed up his shoulder falling off a motorcycle so, no Jason-Harrod-bass-playing, or any bass playing, for him for awhile (get better soon, Paul!) so i played last night solo.

And I wanna say more about that, but time is pressing and I must get in the car or drive, or else be late. “Time is a child-biting dog,” says the poet Charles Wright. ow. I can just feel my skin being nipped. nice job Charles, you earned your keep as a poet right there.

Interestingly, Wright describes time as a dog elsewhere. Here for instance:

“And time, black dog, will sniff you out,
and lick your lean cheeks,
And lie down beside you—warm, real close—and will not move.”

Hmm.  So which is it Charles? Is Time going to bite me or curl up beside me and keep me warm?  Make up your mind, man!

here’s another piece of loveliness from Charles Wright, from a 2009 collection called Sestets:

Sundown Blues

There are some things that can’t be conveyed—
description, for instance,
The sundown light on that dog hair lodge pole pine
and the dead branches of spruce trees.

They hold its brilliance close against them
For a tick or two
before it chameleons away. No one is able to describe this gold to bronze to charcoal, no one.
So move along, boy, just move along.

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Unca Unca burnin’ love

Sep 04 2013

When I was a kid I owned a small mountain of comic books. I was not a discriminating collector. My grandmother took me to yard sales where we’d buy tall stacks of yellowed, coverless magazines which I’d bring home and pore over while she sewed. Though my tastes were ecumenical, I found I preferred uncomplicated characters like Uncle Scrooge McDuck (who liked two things: money and adventure) to say, Spider-man (who didn’t really like anything, and was always in the middle of some existential crisis. Come on, Spidey, snap out of it!).

The best Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics were written and drawn by Carl Barks, widely regarded as one of the greatest cartoonists of all-time, who labored for Disney in relative obscurity until the mid-1960’s, when he was slowly discovered, and fêted by, legions of Uncle Scrooge fans. At this point Barks started producing kitschy duck oil paintings that were not nearly as satisfying as the simple pen and ink originals on which they were based. Animation/comic historian Michael Barrier wrote this lovely essay on Carl Barks and Uncle Scrooge for the Wall Street Journal, who declined to publish it.



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Aug 28 2013

I’m back. After 35 days, 22 shows, 14 states, and 7200 miles, we drove into New York City, exhausted and cheering. I dropped off my stuff, smoked 2 cigarettes even though I don’t smoke (and I mean that), said goodbye to my bandmates/friends, gave the ancient rented brown minivan a good washing, returned it to its owner, took the train back to Jersey City, hurried my sub-letter out the door, and slept. Oh goodness how I slept. I slept my face off as the rain poured on the black asphalt outside. Now the future is a glowing sun on the horizon, and I’m trying to figure out how to grab it and stuff it in my shirt pocket before it sinks.

Thanks to my amazing band/tourmates, Gerko, Rachelle, Paul, Toby, and Joan Marie! Thanks to everyone who hosted, housed, fed, put up with, and came out to hear us.

see you out there.



(Lion Song, recorded at the Carrboro ArtsCenter, Friday, August 9th, 2013)

(top photo by Emanuel Brunson)

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Aug 09 2013

only 2 more dates to go. lots of driving. Durham to Charlotte to Durham to Charlottesville, to Durham to GA. Big trip from GA to NY coming. putting 4,000 miles on a strangers minivan. listening to the right music to stay pumped up: Ke$ha, MIA, Girl Talk, Dixie Dregs, Tom Petty, Rolling Stones, Phil Collins. Phil Collins and Philip Bailey especially, air drums, air guitar. Glowing cell phones in the night, skittles, cigarettes, gummy worms, trying on cowboy hats at the truck stop, looking for zinc, settling for “mentholyptus.” Sleeping in my parent’s basement, my big body splayed out on various sofa cushions. going to bed at 3, waking up at 6 and then at 9, buckets of coffee, ignoring a snarky “review,” trip to Music Loft to replenish harmonicas, good sister and nephew hang time, SHOW TONIGHT!

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Grand Rapids

Aug 06 2013

Grand Rapids is a city that has always had a kind of glowing nimbus around it in my imagination. As a 20 year old college student it somehow seemed exotic to me, and I loved going there to play, first with Brian Funck, and then by myself. I’m thankful for the indelible friendships I have made there.

I was honored, recently, to be the subject of Natalie Hart’s first (and only?) concert review, of a show we did in Chris Smit’s basement in Grand Rapids.

Thanks Natalie!

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aaaaaand exhale.

Jul 30 2013

That’s what they say at the yoga studio where I go sometimes. They have free yoga on certain days. It’s the same studio where Alec Baldwin’s wife, Hilaria Thomas, teaches. Hilaria started saying “inhale….. aaaaaaand exhale,” and all her fellow yoga instructors thought it sounded pretty good so now they say it too. Except the one teacher I like pronounces it “axhale,” Which isn’t extremely relaxing (but she’s still a great teacher). I can never do the poses. Once I thought the teacher said “awkward facing dog,” and I thought “finally, a pose I can do.” Sometimes I fall asleep and once I even started snoring, until I was awoken by the tittering of my fellow yoga students. anyway…

After about 2000 miles of careening around the country going from concert to concert in a rented minivan full of tightly packed gear, vinyl records, and an assortment of bandmates and one bandmate’s lovely wife, I’ve hit a lull, wherein I’m hanging out all by my lonesome in a lovely green leafy backyard full of little yellow birds and flowers-whose-names-I-don’t-know-the-names-of exploding in color. My only companions for the next few days will be two big slobbery dogs and whoever accepts my invitation to get together for dinner. There are no miles to drive, no tolls to scrape change together for, no starbucks runs, no gear to set up or tear down, no charts to correct, and no gigs to play, (until this Saturday). So I’m breathing a bit.

(But only a bit. I’m also tryin’ to get some publications to review the record, and trying to get folks to come see us in Boston and Carrboro. That’s the thing about this line of work. There’s *always* too much to do.)

Ok, and since I haven’t officially said it, *THANK YOU!!!!* to all the lovely people who hosted my bandmates and me over the last 2.5 weeks, for feeding us, housing us, and being so generous. Thanks to everyone who came to see us play, hung out, donated generously in the tip bucket, and bought records. Thanks to Toby, Paul, Gerko and Rachelle, for playing and traveling with me, doing sound, lugging gear, making schedules, making profit-and-loss spreadsheets, handling merch like a boss (Rachelle), and putting up with me when I misplaced the car keys. Thanks to Blake Gingerich and Tonieh Ellis for filming me a bunch (curious to see how that turns out) and making me feel like L.L. Cool J. Thanks to the Hazletts for awesome digs and hang time in Amish OH. Thanks to Joans Sr and Jr for awesome digs on Lake MI, the Yawgers for lovely digs in PA, and the Dill/Marsters for lovely digs in MA. Thanks to the fans for wanting to take pics with me and, again, making me feel like L.L. Cool J. I don’t have time or space to thank everyone who made me feel like L.L. Cool J, cause it was a lot of people. Thanks to each of the 7 people in Camp Hill who told me, throughout the morning, not to forget my guitar. I remembered it. xoxoxo Jason

(there are more tour dates to come, in NH, Boston, Carrboro, NC, DC, VA, and Atlanta. please come see us! And, if you like, preorder the new record, officially being released in August).






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I praise.

Jul 29 2013

I’m raw. I went to church Sunday and bawled my eyes out. Tears of gratitude, release, relief, joy, and, probably, some fear. oh yeah that fear always creeps in, somehow. But let’s talk about the joy. I love singing. It’s my favorite thing, just to praise. Like that poem of Rilke’s where every line ends in “I praise.” (“Ich rühme,” — praise, celebrate, glory, or boast). Yes, I glory. Like a bird, who cannot contain his exuberance, praise and joy are tumbling upwards out of me. I’m doing what I was engineered to do, and getting better at it. There’s nothing better than making music with people you love and trust, and I had forgotten that. I played solo for so long (and I do love playing solo still). I lived solo too. In fact I still live, pretty much, solo. Alone. I feel my soul longing for connection, for love, for fun, for touch. I drank. I got so gone, I got so wrong. It’s fun. It’s fun to take one swallow after another of gorgeous amber bourbon and feel it flowing down and out into you, ok? and then to feel your body become a big, numb mass, through which a buzz can course. To feel and act, briefly, free and beautiful. But one day I got scared. Seriously scared, about the amount I was drinking. I looked in the mirror and looked old and worn to myself.

But wait this is becoming about fear again. Let’s go back to joy. God let me remember that I love making music with people I love (in this case, Toby Hazlett, Gerko Tempelman, and Paul Phillips). And in response, I praise. Last night I emailed a woman and told her I had a crush on her. I’ve hung out with her maybe 4 or 5 times, never had a real conversation. I saw her praying Sunday, in stillness and devotion, with her whole being. It was a beautiful thing and it moved me and I emailed her and told her so, spilling my heart like I used to when I was 16. Today I woke up and felt a wave of regret. Oh man what have I done. Did I go too far? It’s the same feeling I used to have after a night (or day) of drinking. But I wasn’t drunk when I wrote her. Only tired, happy, and raw. It was just the praise, tumbling out.

“Praise, my dear one.
Let us disappear into praising.
Nothing belongs to us.”

–Ranier Maria Rilke,
(From Elegy to Marina Tsvetayeva-Efron)

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