As we await the next album from Downhere in early 2011, the band has opted to release Two at a Time to help whet appetites. But unlike the EPs and live projects released as placeholders by other artists, this unusual project is well worth seeking out, and not just for fans. Available at concerts and digitally through sites like iTunes and Amazon, Two at a Time plays more like its own album rather than a thrown together hodgepodge of musical afterthoughts.
The two-disc set is unusually split between one with two new tracks (from the forthcoming project, hence the title) and another with nine b-sides culled together from a variety of sources over the years. Two at a Time is first and foremost a vehicle for Downhere’s new hit single “You’re Not Alone,” an encouraging ballad about God’s enduring presence. We’ve all certainly heard inspirational pop/rock like this before from the likes of MercyMe and Tenth Avenue North, except there’s something about Downhere that plays more interesting—perhaps it’s that they sound more like a self-developed band than a Nashville groomed production for radio.
Ryan Seacrest started last night’s season finale of American Idol with the announcement that coming into the final vote, there was less than two percent separating the total votes of Crystal and Lee. Which is of course a meaningless statistic since the voting habits change every week with one less contestant.
That’s typical of a show that tries to infuse drama in any way that it can. Because if the final vote between Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox was indeed close, you know American Idol would’ve exploited it. Sadly, my sources tell me it was not.
You Oughta Know
Who would have guessed that Crystal Bowesox and Lee DeWyze had so much in common? Thanks to Ryan Seacrest, we learned that both auditioned in Chicago, both are 24 years old, and both are in it to win it on American Idol!
Brilliant, Ryan. (Not.) But aside from inane judges’ comments about “This is what the show is all about!” after virtually every performance last night, the far-stretching comparisons end. As far as I’m concerned, the title fight ended with a knockout before a crowd of 7,000 at the Nokia Theater.
Though I was hooked on the show from the start, I’ve been purposefully refraining from writing about Lost for the duration of its six-year run. In my mind, the world didn’t need yet another voice to publicly join the vast chorus of crazy theories attempting to explain its mysteries. Of course, that was part of the fun with Lost, and I certainly shared my ideas with friends and family. But much like reading a great book, I simply wanted to sit back and enjoy the ride, trusting the quality of the storytelling and waiting to see how it would all play out.
Now it’s over and you’d think the theorizing would be done as well. Wrong! Think everything was answered? Not by a long shot. But that’s Lost for you, a show that answered questions with more questions. Just as it should be for a show that inspired so many deep conversations.
I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
This Idol season’s weakest of weeks continued last night. No surprises. No drama. No great performances. And what a dull opening interview with the finalists with questions about how hard their week is between Tuesdays, how badly they each want to win, and how much they each wish they were home with friends and families. At least we learned from Crystal that they get good health care, but man, this hour was padded with tedium.
But at least we had the homecoming video footage, which I for one absolutely love every year. It’s the time in the season when we finally see how much these Finalists’ lives have truly changed (for the short term, if not the long term). Just 4 or 5 months ago, hardly anyone knew who these three were. Now they’re budding superstars with motorcades, TV interviews, and screaming fans filling fairgrounds, football fields, and racetracks.
Jonny Lang may not be the buzz-worthy artist that he was 10-15 years ago when he first hit the scene, but the guy’s still not even in his thirties yet. He remains a force to be reckoned with.
Fans did become divided over the blues-guitarist’s music when he became a born again Christian in 2002. The resulting change in sound sparked a bit of a backlash, first with his more soulful approach on 2003’s Long Time Coming and then 2006’s gospel-flavored Turn Around. But Lang has surely picked up some new fans too by branching out, especially appearing on gospel and CCM albums from the likes of Israel Houghton, Steven Curtis Chapman, and most recently, Dave Barnes.
Since it’s been a long four years since Lang’s last studio project, Live at the Ryman might not be the album fans waiting for new music are hoping for. But considering that it’s also Lang’s first concert album in his roughly 15-year career, it could also be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Blonde Ambition … or Lack Thereof
The ironic thing about American Idol is that the closer we get to the finale and the more excitement that builds in selecting a new winner, the more predictably things play out as they reach their inevitable conclusion. Granted, we’ve had a couple of photo-finishes in recent years with Kris vs. Adam and the Battle of the Daves. But in the course of a season, it’s so much more fun when we have a wide field of candidates with varying styles and personalities, as “Survival of the Fittest” weeds out the pretenders from the true talent.
And so it goes this year with season 9. I’ve no complaints about which contestants have made it this far, save for my incessant whining about the final week of semi-finals, when Lily, Katelyn, and Alex were unceremoniously dropped. But is there really any doubt which two contestants this year are going to duke it out at the Nokia next week … and which one is soon to be a forgettable also-ran?
Don’t You Forget About [Him]
I had forgotten the significance of this stage in the American Idol competition. Those who make the Top Three get to return home after months away, making appearances and performing a concert in their hometown before handling multiple songs on stage next week. The homecoming week is always an enjoyable highpoint for me, seeing the enthusiastic fan response to the local heroes that made good.
In addition to the drama of the results, what a pleasure to see some honest to goodness performances this week! Nothing over the top. Nothing emphasizing spectacle over singing. And admittedly, it’s nice to see former contestants return to the show. As the Idol alumni association grows, there are increasingly more singers worth checking in on to see how they’re developing as artists. So without further ado … the recap!
Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do???)
Most every season, the American Idol producers throw a “Songs of the Cinema” week our way, which seems like a very open opportunity for contestants to pick a song that suits their style or interpret a well-known favorite through their artistic lens. Except, of course, not all songs are cleared for copyright purposes, limiting the singers to 50 or so pre-selected choices that may come across as predictable, dull, and cheesy. And that’s kind of what we got with this year’s list.
Let’s not focus too much on song selection, though. A good performer can still make the most out of a halfway decent song, even if it’s treacle or cliché. That seems to be what guest mentor Jamie Foxx was going for with his return visit. The guy’s so self-assured with his own artistry that he comes off a little cocky and arrogant with his advice—especially since most of that advice stemmed from him staring at the contestants up close while they performed.
Though she was one of Christian music’s most popular artists for close to a five-year span, Jennifer Knapp walked away from her successful career in 2002. Despite the Dove awards, Grammy nominations, and over a million albums sold, she says she needed a personal hiatus from the rigors of recording and touring. Now fans can rejoice after a long 6-8 years of hopes and doubts: Jennifer Knapp has finally decided to return to music.
Of course, that news comes tempered with the recent announcement about Knapp’s sexuality, which has undoubtedly alienated many in her predominantly Christian fan base or at least left them wondering what to make of the acclaimed singer-songwriter. This controversy quickly excluded her from Christian radio and retail, but then Knapp had already expressed the intention to write music for a broader audience than the church. Nevertheless, by all accounts, her faith remains intact and remains an important part of her life and music.