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Rod Dreher: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life
This is a beautiful memoir of Dreher's sister, her grace and courage in the face of an untimely death, as well as the cosmopolitan author's own revelation that spiritual greatness was hidden in the commonplace life of his sister and the small community in which she lived.
Neil Postman: Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education
The late author's prescient cultural observations are worth reading, no matter what the topic. Particularly useful (and timely) is his "Graduation Speech." I think of him plunking this out on his manual typewriter and smile, reading his percussive prose, hearing him think.
JJ Heller: Deeper
If you like acoustic, lyrically deep singer-songwriters like Audrey Assad, Sandra McCracken, or Brooke Fraser, you'll like this artist. Authentic, moving, and often worshipful, Heller really does go deeper. Try "Someday" or the closer, "Kingdom Come." There's not a mediocre song in the bunch.
Fountains of Wayne: Sky Full of Holes
I love this band for their infectious hooks, pop sensibility, and, most of all, for the stories they tell. This album, form last year, continues a great series of story-telling. Just listen to "Richie and Rueben" and tell me you didn't know someone like these guys in high school (or after).
John Fogerty: Wrote a Song For Everyone
Foo Fighters, Keith Urban, My Morning Jacket? CCR's Fogerty teams up with an eclectic bunch of somewhat youthful musicians, and it does not disappoint. . . much.
The Beach Boys: The Beach Boys Live - The 50th Anniversary Tour
Of course I had to have this testament to last year's tour, perhaps the last tour that Mike Love (the owner of The Beach Boys name) will allow Brian Wilson (the genius behind The Beach Boys) to accompany him on. (Sad to even say that.) I enjoyed the touring band but will appreciate just as much seeing Brian and The Wondermints in concert - next time they come within 300 miles of me.
Michael Kiwanuka: Home Again
Ugandan Kiwanuka, who actually grew up in North London, blows me away. Channeling Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield, and contemporary John Mayer, his rootsy, folk-infected modern soul is some of the most exciting music I have heard in a long time. Try "I Am Ready."
Al Lewis: Battles
Mellow-Pop in the style of John Mayer, Lewis has a nice voice and style, if a bit too mellow for my taste. What makes the record, though, it is beautiful voice of collaborator, accompanist, and sometimes soloist Sarah Howells. She should have received billing. Produced by Charlie Peacock, who seems to have finally learned how to produce an artist without making him or her sound like him.
C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity
I suppose I could list ALL of Lewis's books, but this one is a great place to start. His defense of basic or mere Christian belief is compelling.
Rebecca Manley Pippert: Out of the Saltshaker
Beautiful, practical advice on "lifestyle evangelism," Pippert's classic book is simply about how to listen, ask good questions, communicate well, and be a friend to nonChristians -- that is, to simply be who you are. Much better than the "four spiritual laws" or any other formulaistic approach to evangelism. (****)
James W. Sire: The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog
Navigating all the belief systems thrown at me in college, this comparism and critique of worldviews was extremely helpful. It's clear, concise, and practical. Sire covers the basics of such "isms" as theism, deism, xistentialism, "New Age" philosophy, and postmodernism in this fourth edition. (*****)
John White: The Fight: A Practical Handbook for Christian Living
As a new Christian in the late Seventies, I found this book's practical and tenderly pastoral chapters on the basics --- faith, prayer, temptation, evangelism, guidance, Bible study, fellowship, and work --- immensely helpful, worth reading over and over again. That it has stayed in print is a testimony to that. Classic. (*****)
Larry Woiwode: Beyond the Bedroom Wall
Long, but compelling, Woiwode's 1960s book looks at three generations of the Midwest Neimoller family. Though I have not read it in several years, parts of it are seared in my memory. (*****)
Beryl Markham: West With the Night
This book has some of the most delightful prose I have ever read. The first page alone draws you right in. Markham, a contemporary of Karen Blixen ("Out of Africa") writes of Africa, horses, and flying (she was the first to fly solo from east to west across the Atlantic.)
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings
Likely my favorite books of all time, this fantasy tale opens up an entire mythical world of good v. evil played out by a small hobbit named Frodo and his perilous quest to destroy the one Ring of great (and corrupting) power. Behind it all -- the unseen hand of Providence.
C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia
A classic allegory for the gospel, and well-known to most all by virtue of the film series. I read these to my son at age 4 and keep on reading them. Not nearly as long or dense as The Lord of the Rings. (*****)
Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
A true classic of Southern writing, and also a great movie, I love the characters in this story, particularly the young girl, Scout. Harper Lee never wrote another thing after this. (*****)
Mary Oliver: Thirst
A beautiful collection of new poems from this Pulitzer-prize winning writer, probably her most faith-based ever. I read and savor one each day. Very accessible, not depressing (much poetry is), and well-crafted. I think this one will hold up over time. (*****)
Wendell Berry: Fidelity : Five Stories
A wonderful collection of short stories about a set of overlapping characters in rural Kentucky, where Berry lives. A wonderful wirter, Berry brings to life the setting and its people in the way only a native could. This, along with Silent Passengers (by Larry Woiwode) is one of the two best collections of short stories I have ever read. (*****)
Leland Ryken: The Liberated Imagination : Thinking Christianly About the Arts (Wheaton Literary Series)
The best single source for developing a Christian view of the arts, Ryken's book is well-written and organized and useful for personal study as well as use in a small group or class. The Introduction itself is a wonderful outline of a Christian view, and the quotes he collects are worth the price alone. (*****)
Susan G. Wooldridge: Poemcrazy : Freeing Your Life with Words
The absolute best book to get you writing poetry or anything else for that matter, Woolridge helps us fall in love with words. The book consists of a series of 60 short, two to four page chapters, many of which end with a simple exercise to get you writing. It's a pleasure to read and will "free the poet within." (*****)
Frederick Buechner: Godric
A favorite novel by one of my favorite authors, Buechner writes a tale of an Irish monk gripped by grace and yet aware of his sin. Most said this was too religious for the mainstream and too earthy for the church. I think it's just right. (*****)
Alexander McCall Smith: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Today Show Book Club #8)
In the book that launched the popular series, Smith portrays in beautiful language the life of a middle-aged, overweight African woman who opened her own detective agency in Botswana. This unlikely premise makes the warmth and generous nature of this story a real surprise! A wonderful story, and wonderful characters. (*****)
Anne Rice: Christ the Lord : Out of Egypt
A fascinating fictional and yet not unbiblical account of the seven-year old Jesus coming to grips with his divinity. (****)
Leif Enger: Peace Like a River
One of my favorite books of all time, Enger's novel of a father rasing his three kids in 1960s Minnesota is endearing, warm, full of crisp prose and seductive characters (particularly the children). It's a world where miracles happen, and God is reality, and if you don't believe it, you may by the time you finish. It's one of the only books I have read that, upon finishing it, I wanted to immediately read again because I missed the characters so much. (*****)
Neil Postman: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
A social critic with near-cult status since his death, Postman's seminal book from 1986 traced our descent from the Age of Typography (written word) to the Age of Television (image), and all its deletrious and silly consequences. He reminds us what's so bad about TV, if we really need the reminder, but provides few clues as to how to stop the slide into ignorance. Call him Luddite, but he's right. A must read. (*****)
Since I purchased the deluxe reissue of this second album by U2, I had not given it a full listening until now. I'm not sure it's my favorite U2 album, but it's certainly the most overtly religious and most passionate. I loved it when I first heard it, and I still do.
Jackson Browne: The Pretender
A gem of folk-pop Seventies sound, this mellow and melancholy record served as a soundtrack to my college years. Every song is great, something that can rarely be said about an album.
Bob Dylan: Slow Train Coming
I'm praying for Dylan to be saved. Then, a few years later I'm driving down the highway and "You Gotta Serve Somebody" comes on the radio, and the announcer says Dylan is a born-again Christian. I nearly drove off the road. This is my favorite Dylan record. (*****)
The record that kicked Irish band U2 into the bigtime. I loved the record, and listened to it incessantly. Big rock.
The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds: 40th Anni- versary Edition
A watershed record in its time, Pet Sounds was the Sgt. Pepper of America, forever changing the Beach Boys and marking out Brian Wilson as a harmonic and production genius. This is about its thousandth reissue, but well worth it for the 5.1 Surround Sound mix. (*****)
Bruce Cockburn: Humans
Of all of Bruce's many records, I like this one the best. Very folk. Lyrically intelligent with a pulsing undercurrent of Christian belief. (*****)
Joni Mitchell: Blue
Guarantted to bring you right down, Mitchell's record is a classic in melancholy folk, with that unique voice and style. Inimitable. (*****)
David Wilcox: Big Horizon
Wilcox may be one of the best songwirters out there. I love this record best, with "That's What the Lonely Is For" and "Big Mistake." It really showcases what he can do. (****)
Yes: The Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniver- sary Collection
The greatest prog-rock band of all time! This collection includes a new and more melodic take on their signature song, "Roundabout," and three other new songs, as well as collects some great tunes from their huge body of work. (*****)
Jane Kelly Williams: Tapping the Wheel
Absolutely gorgeous singer-songwriter with an arresting voice, Jane sings wonderfully, plays piano and guitar in a unique style, and is a great friend. This enjoyed a national release onMercury back in 1995, when the business was still interested in singer-songwriters. Out of print, but you can still buy it in the Silent Planet store on this site. (*****)
Various: Making God Smile
A Silent Planet release in 2002, this record was a gift to Beach Boy Brian Wilson on his 60th birthday, a tribute by artists such as Phil Keaggy, Sixpence None the Richer, Kate Campbell, Kevin Max (D.C. Talk), Brooks Williams, and more. Beautiful. What a privilege to be involved. For sale in the Silent Planet store on this site. (*****)
Aaron Sprinkle: Bareface
Talented producer, writer, and performer, best known for his work with Poor Old Lu and more recently Fair, Sprinkle serves up great power-pop. (****)
Jan Krist: Love Big Us Small
While many may gravitate to Jan;s best known release, "Curious," I prefer the mix of songs on this one, particularly "Tarzan Tells All." I also like the alternate and more rockin' takes on earlier folk tunes recorded by here, a la Armand Petri. This one is out of print but for sale in the Silent Planet store on this site. (****)
Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs: Under the Covers (Vol. 1)
A delicious 45 minutes of pure pop delight. Sweet and Hoff ("The Bangles") cover classic Sixties pop tunes. (****)
The Beatles: LOVE
All I can say is WOW. This album hit my list of top records immediately! The Beatles have never sounded better. It's like listening to a 26-track medley, one continuous stream, with bits and pieces of other Beatles songs underlying the main track, and so on. Very cool. A must buy for any Beatles fan and essential for anyone who enjoys great music. (*****)
Bruce Hornsby: Intersections
Probably the best box set in existence, no kidding. This is not a collection of hits and outtakes and demos, but rather, a career-spanning retrospective, gathering song-gems from all over along with live performances and a full DVD of live renditions. Well worth the price. Hornsby is a gifted songwriter, player, and performer. There's nothing not to like here. (*****)
Rich Mullins: A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Raga- muffin Band
One of my all-time favorite CCM albums, this album is marked by beautiful songwriting that focuses on the transcendant (liturgy) and the immanent (a legacy), rooted in the stuff of this world and yet calling us beyond to worship God. Every song is a gem. (*****)
Brian Wilson: Smile
A sonic delight, in 2005 the former Beach Boys leader finally recorded the long-lost advant-garde project of the late 1960s, what some called the American Sgt. Pepper. The largely impressionistic lyrics evoke images of the American landscape, and the music is varied instrumentally but always with Wilson's trademark attention to vocal harmonies. It was worth the wait! (*****)
Rosanne Cash: Black Cadillac
This is one of the best singer-songwriter albums I have heard, both musically and lyrically. Rosanne, daughter of Johnny Cash, writes openly of her grief, anger, and wrestling with faith (with no final resolution) at the loss of her father Johnny, stepmother June, and mother Vivian (Johnny's first wife), all in the course of two years. It's emotionally difficult to hear, you might say it's "blood on the tracks." (*****)
Jimmy Webb: Ten Easy Pieces
Though I discovered it a decade late (it was released in 1996), this album proves that Webb, who penned such familiar songs as Galveston, MacArthur Park, If These Walls Could Speak, and more, is one of America's best songwriters. You've heard them all made hits -- by someone else. With the understated musical accompaniment and Webb's own voice this time around, it's the songs that shine here. Marvelous. (*****)
Adrienne Young and Little Sadie: The Art of Virtue
Adrienne Yound and her band, Little Sadie, can out-Allison Krauss the queen of bluegrass herself on this excellent blend of folk, bluegrass and country. Lyrically, it resonates with virtue enough to warm the soul and remind us of the Giver of all good music. Great playing (particularly the fiddle), great voice, and wisdom beyond her years. (*****)
Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise
Though truly indescribable, this folkster's most recent outing is a sonic and lyric delight, soothing and a bit strange, but ultimately uplifting. Lyrically, Sufjan cuts a path through Illinois place and time, writing about John Wayne Gacy, or Superman, and yet, he speaks to each of us ultimately. Beautiful. (*****)