Monday, January 30, 2006

The Gift and the Giver

I continue to be amazed at how God works in my life. I mess around, keep it on the hush, get exposed, get forgiven, start afresh, get going well, trip up, mess around, keep it … (you’d have thought I’d have taken the hint after the first 4.8 million times, but like a lab-rat, I just keep going for that there cheese.)

Anyhow, the real amazing thing is that God showers grace in my life continually as a reminder that He is the Sustainer as well as the Creator and therefore if I am to make progress, I must allow Him to Sustain.

Today was a funny day. Started it with a plan. Prayed to God to help with the plan. Prayed the plan with the wife. Agreed the plan with the wife. Looked forward to another day where great things could happen with God. Only to have the plan kinda backfire after what can diplomatically be stated as a misunderstanding. Moped, got quiet, focussed on other stuff, got sufficiently distracted to get distance to the initial moped state and then got into conversation of a Godly variety, reminding me of the call of God on my life, the kind of man He’s looking for, etc. etc. Once more, despite my mess, God showed me Him and His deal – amazing.

As if that wasn’t enough, I just go on the web looking for nothing in particular. Get inspired to check Kirk Franklin’s blog, which then leads to checking Tonex’s blog, which gets me excited with listening to his music etc. ONLY to find out that the brother is going on hiatus. I refer you to a previous entry where I waxed lyrical about my innate sense of timing! I was intrigued as to the reasons why the brother was going on hiatus, then I looked on some other stuff that Kirk had written and then some loose jigsaw pieces began to make sense.

It must be something to be a prodigy. It must be something to be a gifted person with an ability to do things beyond the capabilities of most people to an extent that dazzles, amazes and blesses many people. As a result of the gift, a lot of times we can get hung up on the gift and completely miss out on the giver and the vessel through whom we receive the gift. We’re studying about Jesus, as I may have mentioned, and it just comes through time after time that the people who witnessed the miraculous signs often missed the point completely. And as a result of missing the point and because of the threat that he caused to the status quo and the settled minds among the ruling classes, the man who would be the Messiah aroused anger, bitterness and eventually enough of a dislike to get himself killed. All because people missed the Giver in the gift. Of course what makes it all the more galling is the fact that Jesus was not just the one sharing the gift – He was the Gift … and the Giver!!

So it comes as no surprise over 2000 years later, when people gifted by God endeavour to share their creativity and bless the world that others completely miss the point. Not only do they take the messenger for granted, but then they start getting all pharisaic on people and suggesting that certain standards are not upheld. Before you know it, words are said, people are offended, division is caused in the Body of Christ and who is the winner? Now of course, righteousness calls for standards. Of course people are not to take the liberty of the Spirit for license to do whatever. Yet it’s evident that as growing believers it still remains difficult to get what God means by love and grace. I can empathise with Paul to an extent, talking to the Corinthians in his first recorded letter and saying in essence – y’all on your hobby horse getting all up-in-here with me, you evidently don’t remember who I am or who the One is who sent me. Yet y’all (to extend this grotesque CD summary) appear to have forgotten that these same people that you give grief to – fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, etc. are going to the Kingdom – and you guys used to be in that list!

As I know I was in the list, it stops me from being holier-than-thou, condemning others – especially those in the Body of Christ. I don’t have to understand everything that goes on and it’s evident that not everything that takes place is of God, but I love the Gamaliel Principle – if it’s of God it will prosper, if it’s not – it won’t, and for whatever is the flavour of the day in the world, as far as God is concerned it’s His fruit that will last. So whether it’s a gospel artist I don’t get, a ministry that turns me off, or something else, I’m better off leaving it in the hands of God. In the meantime, as I realise all the more, I have a responsibility to walk right with God – follow Christ at all costs and do what’s pleasing in His sight. Make the most of the gifts He’s given me, grow in the grace He’s given me and seek to be more like the Saviour He’s give me. It sounds fair enough to me.

Now I know I said I’d do the friends list – and I will honest! Your patience will be rewarded by fruit in its due season. I also know that I’ve been a bit quiet of late – but these will be explained in future blogs. Just to say that Deborah is alright … now. The wife is also alright as is the son.

I’ll be back real soon – don’t go away now!

da man cd

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

What A State We’re In

Read these articles on the Golden Globes and prostitution and you’ll see where I’m coming from.

On Saturday, I was talking to the wife about this particular movie. Now, the wife comes from a Jamaican background that would not be deemed to be liberal in their approach to sexuality, and so to find the success of such a movie was surprising. It is a sign of the openness of Hollywood in particular that such a film can be made and garner such critical acclaim and the blessing of their peers. You may recall in an earlier post how I suggested that with the civil partnership deal between homosexuals and such like, it stirs up the old hostilities and negative feelings from the Christian community. Then we split off into the usual extremes of either saying it’s OK cos God is love and this is just love, or that these people are going to hell and should experience some of it now.

I don’t particularly want to engage in that argument, but what I do want to point out is an interesting feature I’ve found in British thinking. I remember talking to one person about their faith. The friend said he was a Christian, but he didn’t feel he needed to impose it on anyone. I understand what he means. The US model of fundamentalist Christianity comes across as too imposing for the more modest British consumer. If there’s one thing people here don’t like it’s having views IMPOSED on them. Fair enough. What’s interesting, however, is how we live in a society where views and beliefs are constantly being imposed on us. The issue is how it’s imposed. From the beginning things are imposed on us, whether it’s parents, teachers, friends, the media or whatever. We’re constantly susceptible to the views, opinions and beliefs of others and at any given occasion when we’re amenable and it appears appealing, we’re likely to accept that which has been imposed. What’s intriguing about Christianity in this sense is that my understanding of true followers of Christ necessitates the imposition of our beliefs – because we are the embodiment of that belief. The acceptance of a friendship with a Christian would involve being open to receiving (for that’s in essence what imposition requires) the views, beliefs and values that Christianity entails. The deal is, however, the imposing isn’t done in a negative, overbearing, obvious, manipulative and intimidating manner – which is where I believe my mate was coming from.

Having said all of that, such is the reservation of coming across as a lunatic as a Christian that it leads to hiding light under a bushel and seeing being a Christian as a suit that’s worn on Sundays and taken off at work or at the pub or wherever. This is the sad thing, because in the light of these social developments there is a compassionate Christian response. There is a relevant Christ-like alternative to these issues that doesn’t involve condemnation or a sneering holier-than-thou attitude. There is actually a response that deals effectively with the problem and builds people at the same time. A typical example is one which we studied last weekend. When you look at the treatment of the Woman at the Well in the Gospel of John (Chapter 4) and see how Jesus gave the woman a life-changing experience, that’s the kind of witness and character that we as Christians are called to shine for the world to see. Now that’s not to say that it will be readily accepted – we live in cynical society as well as a sin-ical society that partly doesn’t want to actually address the deep issues that causes its distress and problems. In fact let’s face it, some people actually love the very thing that causes the problem and there is no strong desire to hate that which is evil. This is symptomatic in the nature of the social developments that are taking place. But don’t take my word for it. Ask yourself the question, when was the last time you experienced a policy, idea, programme or major event that actually promoted something pure and constructive for a better life. Now compare that with everything else you’ve experience this week – I challenge you to actually see if there is more of this last stuff than there is of the first.

101 Ways To Publish A Decent Autobiography
No. 8 – Make It Interesting

Ryan Giggs is known in the football world for his speed and dribbling skills. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I have a great deal of admiration for the guy’s longevity. I also admire his loyalty to one club. I’m struggling to remember the last guy to stay with one top flight successful club for so long. Alan Hansen was at Liverpool for 13 years, which was impressive. I think Phil Neal was at the club for roughly that length of time as well. Tony Adams served Arsenal faithfully for well over a decade if my memory serves me correctly. Yet for accumulation of awards and loyalty Ryan Giggs has to be up there with the very best.

He is also still playing for that same club, so it came as little surprise that his autobiography was relatively guarded in terms of really expressing what was what. Indeed the book came across rather guarded as a whole. I think it’s partly to do with the fact that he’s young in social terms. In any case, like the man himself, the reading of the book was relatively quick. It was going over what’s happened in his career interspersed nicely with insights into his family life. Now there shouldn’t be too much complaint about that, after all that’s what you expect from an autobiography – what happened in your life. The issue is however, the way you relate what happened is important – not just to get a look at what happened but the deeper processes of thought and feeling behind it, the fascinating life and the interest in the person who lived it should come out in the book. Sadly, all that comes out of this book is a pretty ordinary story of a pretty ordinary bloke who got to do something he loves and reached the highest heights doing it, whilst still remaining pretty ordinary. Nothing wrong in that, except that it doesn’t make for a wildly interesting autobiography. Thankfully, because of exactly what he’s achieved in his career there’s enough to keep this book interesting.

It’s interesting comparing this book to Malcolm Macdonald’s one. On the one hand Giggs has won the lot and so has got a lot to say on that score. On the other hand Macdonald is outspoken (shouldn’t that be out-written?) as to the nothing that he achieved in his career. If these two styles were to come together then you’d have yourself a fascinating autobiography. Indeed when it comes to a fascinating autobiography the standard – especially in the world of sport – remains Tony Adams’ one which was brilliant. It wasn’t just how candid he was with some well documented personal issues; it was the whole structure of the book. It took me inside Tony Adams and Tony Adams was an interesting guy to know. My perception of him had been of a lumbering thug of a player from the British Bulldog Brigade, but this book allowed me to know that this guy had a heart, had feelings, had thoughts, was human and fascinating with it. Maybe it’s a reflection on the lives of others that allows them to produce the autobiographies that they do.

Now I know you’ve been waiting patiently for the Friends of the Year 2005 rundown and my list of things to do in 2006. Thanks for waiting … and you’ll have to wait just a bit longer. I can tell you that the Friends of the Year list should be out by the end of this week! There, you can start to breathe again after faithfully passing out by holding it. Until then however, that will do it for another entry.

da man cd

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Search

What follows are notes I made yesterday and today regarding my search for a young lady by the name of Charis Sharpe. She was a good friend of mine in the two years that I did A-level in Wellingborough (don't ask, just do a yahoo search for the town - it's where I was brought up), but when I went to university we lost touch. But then ... well I'll let these notes speak for themselves.

da man cd



I was minding my own business really. I thought about checking me e-mails in various accounts, and sometimes I read one email and it leads me to a certain link and before I know it, I’m off on a wild goose chase. But this is a wild goose chase to beat all wild goose chases.

For some unbeknownst reason I signed up with Friends Reunited (FR) a while back. I didn’t get in touch with anyone through it as such. As a result I left it alone. Then on a whim in me bulk box (yeah me spam mail really, which under normal circumstances I’d delete without looking) I found another FR email. Continuing the whim thing I clicked it to see what was on it and apparently some other punster from my era had signed up. Carrying on this whim jig I went to see who it was and lo and behold if it wasn’t one of my friends from the latter years of my Wrenn days. And when I say friend, I actually do mean someone I enjoyed relating to and talking with. Indeed, such was my enjoyment that I wrote copious pages of letters talking about this, that and nothing. Her name is Charis Sharpe. So that got me all excited and so I endeavoured to reply back to the message she left in December. Oh but the blighters at FR have the system set up so that you have to PAY to get in touch with the people! What a joke – pay just to talk to someone? Not me, mate. So I embarked on a mission to find Charis Sharpe.

Now if she worked in a normal place that has a contact number, this would end here. But no, she works at the Globe Pub Company which is actually a subsidiary of a larger company that’s buying up a few pubs in the area then going to leave them to it. So their contact details are vague to say the least. So to get in touch with anyone in Oxford (pictured) is easier said than done. But I search on, and for anything that I find, I will keep you updated! (Time: 13:39)


So I contacted this guy through another contact that I got from a phone number I received after calling a pub which is meant to be run by Globe somewhere in Hemel Hempstead. The guy’s name is Mike Henderson for whatever that’s worth. He said he called Miss Sharpe, left my number and if she wants to call, she’ll call. Dude, that’s a roundabout way to leave us vaguely advanced a little bit from where we were. In any case, I’m hopeful that she’ll get in touch again. It’ll just be good to get a link from them days and she was alright when it came to writing. Perhaps not as verbose as my good self, but still enough to whet the intellectual appetite.

So here’s the message she left in December.

Hi Chris,

Its Charis from Wrenn. How are you? It's been ten years since I last saw you, boy does that make me feel old!

So you work in training now do you? Do you enjoy it? How come you're all the way up in Stoke on Trent? Is that where you went to uni?

How are your brother & sister? I still remember them too. Do you stay in touch with anyone from school? I do with one or two, but i'm not in Wellingborough anymore either, I live in Oxford now. I work as a deputy manager in a pub (surprise!) but i'v come to the conclusion that it isn’t my life’s calling!

It would be lovely to hear back from you, I still recall all those long letters you used to write to me, I had those for years.

I hope you reply,

Charis x

The quest continues. More updates as they arrive. (14:05)



I’m starting to write this at 15:58 and I’m just beginning to recover from roughly an hour talking to Charis! Wow – she actually called this afternoon! Can’t remember the time … hold on, it was 14:40 that she called (thanks BT). Well thanks to Mr. Henderson for living up to his word. There is even an acknowledgement to Friends Reunited for playing a role in getting me in touch with someone from my past.

I was so excited to hear from her (she's the one on the right). It was like being sent back in time to a Christopher Dryden that I forgot existed. The reason for all the emotional reaction is just because I felt it was important for me to establish a link back to who I was and where I’m coming from. I remember Charis as a good friend. We’d talk on a range of issues and have a laugh. She was to me a person who could consider deep issues, but didn’t necessarily stay there. She wasn’t a part of the in-crowd and that was also appealing. She was intelligent without being a nerd, which was also intriguing. She could have fun and be silly without remaining immature. Ahhhh it’s just good making the link again.

Having done so, it is weird. Weird in the sense that it’s been 10 years since we really talked. Needless to say quite a bit has happened in 10 years. I’d like to think I’ve grown in that time. I think I’m a different person to who I was then, and mostly for the better. So what am I looking for in making this link again? At the moment, it’s just to savour a friendship that meant a lot to me. Really, Charis should have got an invite to my wedding. Really, Charis should have got an invite to the dedication of my daughter. Still, such is life, and as I’m learning, the past is only meant to assist you in the present, not to hinder. I am really excited to have got in touch with her again – and I will now embark on the mammoth challenge of writing a LONG piece of prose now looking to encapsulate what’s happened to me in 10 years. It’ll be a good thing to do in order to remind me of the journey God has taken me on and also highlight where He wants to take me in becoming His son.

So in essence although the search for Charis is over … kinda, the search still continues. I found it oh so intriguing finding out about Charis. Just as I find it fascinating really getting to know about people. Now I can continue that search and more accurately stay on the search for God – finding me out at the same – and finding myself fulfilling my purpose for life. (16:11)
I went to the local library on Wednesday and in a move to shock and horrify people worldwide, I actually found some interesting books to take out!!

The first really great thing about it was that I found two books that I was eager to read. One is the autobiography of Ryan Giggs. For those not interested in football, this dude has been playing for Manchester United for a long time. I really admire the guy just for his consistency. In my mind, he’s this generation’s George Best and in terms of longevity and success far outstrips the Irishman. So I was intrigued to find out what the guy thought about his life so far. That’s the wonderful thing about biographies on footballers, for the most part although in society’s eyes they’re still young, in their given profession at 30 and over they’re as good as finished. So at I think 31 going on 32, Ryan Giggs is at a good point to recall his football memories. What’s also hugely helpful is that his club’s glory days are over for the time being. A strong comment to make out a team that’s second in the Premiership and in the position where you ‘can never rule them out’. I remain confident, however that a new power is taking over English football and United will ease into a role Liverpool held from 1991 to roughly 1996 – where we couldn’t be ruled out of the race, but we were never good enough to win the Premiership. Anyhow, I was elated to find this book in the library, it meant I could read it FOR FREE and that’s the kind of prices I can really dig.

The second book is the autobiography of Robbie Fowler. Another footballer on the wrong side of 30, this brother interests me because in my time witnessing the game he came across as the most natural English goalscorer I’d ever seen. Where guys like Shearer evidently worked hard to create their reputation, Fowler just seemed to produce without effort. Goal after goal he’d score, whether it was in the six-yard box or from 30 yards out. Clinical, sensational and one of the best strikers I enjoyed watching. All the more pity then that his career, on paper anyway, never lived up to the billing. If you couldn’t guess, he was the main man at Liverpool for a while, then a young upstart called Michael Owen came in and messed things up a bit. I prefer Fowler to Owen every time, but the bottom line is that Owen produced more consistently and wasn’t saddled with injury problems or a manager who didn’t give him grief. Fowler, sadly, had those problems and so the potential promised, I felt, was never realised, for club or country. Even more the tragedy. I really felt he could have complimented Owen at both levels and the craze and praise they’re giving Rooney now could easily have been still about Fowler. Yet that is life as my dad told me all too often. So I’m really looking forward to reading this brother’s perspective on his football predicament. This was the other book I would have bought, but thanks to God I get to read it gratis!

Now, obviously, being the voracious reader that I am, I would not be satisfied with those mere selections. Indeed I took out three other books – one on the Oscars, which I’ll review when I’ve read it. Another that I’m reading at the moment which, because this is a family blog I’ll call Hollywood Female Dog and leave it to you to translate the euphemism. Before you reach for your gun to shoot me, though, it’s a book quoting the ‘stars’ about life in the dog eat dog (geddit?) world of being famous. There are some real chestnuts in there which I hope to share from time to time.

The final book that I got, I finished yesterday! I was really chuffed at finishing a book so quickly – almost 300 pages as well, not large print and not with heaps of photographs before any of you get clever! Funnily enough with the issue of autobiographies, this one was again about a footballer. Malcolm Macdonald is a lot older that Fowler and Giggs. I got the book based on his reputation for being rather outspoken. It was the first book I started reading, and it’s a relatively easy read.

The thing about is that Malcolm focuses more on his career in football and less on his life outside of it. As a result he spends a chapter on his childhood and the close links he has with his brothers and parents, but spends perhaps accumulatively three pages on the relationships with his wives and children! I found that interesting and illuminating. Apparently it had something to do with the way his first marriage ended and as a result he didn’t see the point in going over it again in the domain of an autobiography as it would be pretty one-sided. It’s fair enough from my perspective. After all, it’s your autobiography and you can put what you like in it. The thing for me though is that an autobiography necessarily has to be one-sided, even if you get people’s views put in their in quotes or whatever. I also believe an autobiography, whether you like it or not, reveals what you consider to be the most important parts of your life. A lot more could be alluded to his relationship with the families he’s kicked off, without necessarily satiating the ravenous wolves who seek to pounce on his private life. Anyway, an autobiography should be the revelation of that which is private to some extent, rather than the accumulation of that which is public to the whole extent. That’s just my perspective.

Back to Mr. Macdonald, the guy comes across as a man’s man who did what needed to be done whenever it needed to be done and was able to pipe up and say what needed to be said whenever it needed to be said. Maybe arrogant isn’t the word I’m looking for, and it’s not self-assured or confident either, but there’s something about the way he comes across in the book that’s unsettling and lacking in genuine humility. The record states that in his career he won caps for England and scored five times in one match – a notable feat. Yet the guy won no major honours, and for all finishing top scorer in the league on several occasions, is that really something to brag about? I’m being a bit too hard on the guy. The read was enjoyable; I was engrossed in finding out more about how his life developed. I real felt for him in terms of the hardships he faced growing up and can see that it determined his character a great deal. That was well written. I’d recommend the book to Newcastle United fans and people who like getting an insight into the life of a footballer both in his career and how he deals with life afterwards.

As well as these books, I’m STILL getting round to finished the essay on Bono, a book on Orson Welles and the book by Molly Ivins. As you can see, I like keeping a couple of pots on the fire at the same time!

That however, will do it for today’s blog. I am more than in remembrance of my promise to you on two key issues, but I’m a guy who believes in the fullness of time – and that has not come as yet, but I’m confident it will … and soon! Also look out for Chris Dryden’s – The Search! Coming to this blog SOON.

da man cd

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

So I’m sitting down thinking about what I have to do research about today, and as I’m making notes, I turn on the computer and access the Word and this beauty comes up. It’s a real gem, so I’ll let it speak for itself.

da man cd


Hearing the Law

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? (Gal_4:21)

When people do not really hear what the law of God is saying, they may still desire to be under the law. Those who are lost and dying in the world often underestimate the message of the law. They may imagine that it is only calling them to attend religious services or to join a religious organization. Thus, in missing the message of the law, they choose to remain under it, trusting in their own best behaviour to somehow enable them to pass any final judgment concerning heaven or hell. This is a matter of "not hearing the law."

Many who are redeemed, having found new life through faith in Christ, also want to remain under the law concerning spiritual growth and service. This is another case of "not hearing the law." Any believer who expects to make progress in a life pleasing to the Lord on the basis of one's own best efforts does not really hear what the law reveals as God's will for lives.

The law of God is not suggesting that we "be better;" it is demanding that we "be holy," as holy as God. The law is not implying that we "be nicer;" it is requiring that we "be loving," as loving as Christ. The law is not proposing that we "try harder;" it is insisting that we "be perfect," as perfect as our Father in heaven.

The law of God is not asking us to improve ourselves or to be better than the next person. Many times this inaccurate statement is heard: "Just do the best that you can; what more could God require?" Well, God is demanding far beyond our human best. His law is demanding that lives "be holy," "be loving," and "be perfect." Moreover, He Himself is the standard of this holiness, love, and perfection.

Dear Lord God, You are holy and loving and perfect. In and of myself, I am none of these. I stand before You without any human assets that could measure up to these heavenly realities that You alone possess. I thank You for Your mercy. I praise You for Your grace. I humbly bow before You, asking that You work more and more of Your holiness in and through my life. With no other hope than You, I ask that more and more of Your love might fill my life. Admitting my complete inadequacy, I look to You to be transforming me more and more into Your perfect image, through Christ I pray, Amen.

Day by Day by Grace – Bob Hoekstra

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

So what have I been up to since the last time. Well on Thursday, the wife and I watched Citizen Kane for the FIRST TIME EVER. Now my wife ain’t so much of a connoisseur of movies, so that’s not such a big deal, but I am – so it was. Anyhow, we watched it together, she was sufficiently involved in it to comment on it, which is always good. I was fascinated with the themes that were evident in the film and I can understand why it’s so highly rated. Orson Welles was good in it and the script was well done. Although not the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, it was a good one and I enjoyed watching it.

I teach the Sabbath School at the fellowship I attend. We teach in 13-week segments on a given theme from lessons sent over from America and we’ve recently started our new one which is looking at Jesus from John’s Gospel. I love that process at the moment, in terms of discovering more about the Saviour and His impact on my life. It’s also interesting that this lesson should come around at the same that I am convicted of the scripture that says that I am to deny myself, take up my cross

To confirm a resumption of normal family service, the wife went back to work last night. She works part-time in the evenings, so I have to be creative in utilising that time whilst looking after Deborah. I’m still finding it a challenge, as the little baby makes some demands on my attention, so I’ve wound up normally using the time to continue my pursuits on Football Manager 2005.

It’s a brilliant game – football management style from the creators of the Championship Manager series, click here for more information particularly on the new game cunningly titled Football Manager 2006. I would bore you with the details, but I won’t. In summary, however, the name of my manager is John Bury (one of my middle names and the surname of my best friend at university). The game monitors the time spent on it and I’ve apparently accumulated over 4 days playing on it. Thankfully that’s four days accumulated over the space of 5 or 6 months, so it ain’t that bad. In that time I’ve completed 8 seasons in charge of Newcastle United – which I believe if it were real would be the longest stint of a manager of that club for a LONG time – longer than even that of St. Kevin Keegan.

To show for it, I’ve won two trophies for the club and finished in the top five, roughly six times, thus qualifying for Europe that many times. However with the quality of the team that I had developed, fans and board expectations were high and in the eighth season I was expected to win or at least seriously challenge for the Premiership. I did not do so, and finished a disappointing 5th not even qualifying for the Champions League. So despite bringing European glory by winning the Euro Cup (don’t think FM2005 has clearance to say UEFA Cup, but it’s the same thing) within a few weeks after everyone was elated with that triumph I was given the sack. Which wasn’t that pleasant, but understandable. Ironically my successor is St. Kevin Keegan.

Still, after a few days on the dole, Ipswich Town of the Championship asked for my services with the promise of £4 million to spend on improving their team. Yeah it’s not a lot of money after the glory days of Newcastle, but it’s a job, so I took it. I’m now eagerly a awaiting the new season having made a fair few signings with the intention of getting the club promotion this season.

I know that was a long summary, but trust me when you compare it to the copious notes I use to write last year on the game, you’ll know full well that you’ve just read a SHORT summary. That just about does it for my life at this time. As I wrote, I’m all excited about getting to know Christ through John and generally grow more in the knowledge of Him this year. Fear not, I have not forgotten about the exciting feature to come and the title of Friend of the Year for 2005 will be coming soon, as well as what I hope to achieve in 2006 – that will follow soon. In the meantime, that be it from me for now. Oh and remember me looking after Deborah as you enjoy your weekday evenings.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hello there

I did warn you that I wouldn't necessarily update this thing every day! But I ain't slacking on you pardner, I know you've come to expect the goods and like any decent retailer I'm here to give it. For example, after ages of waiting, here is my review of the new Stevie Wonder album A Time To Love.

Review of A Time To Love
If Your Love Cannot Be Moved

Stevie starts his album with another powerful message in song about social and relational responsibility. The entirety of the message isn’t that obvious to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get bits a pieces from the song. Interesting start with the drum beat that sounds like a defiant march or some sort of drudgery through to victory feel in the song.

When I first heard it, I thought, well it’s alright isn’t it? And on this listening of it, I get the same impression. Kim Burrell’s contribution is very good, highlighting for any newcomer just the sort of great talent this girl possesses. She can more than keep up with Stevie and impress her own vocal dexterity. Having heard her before, the best bit is knowing that as well as she does here, she’s not flexing as much as I know she’s capable of, but that’s no bad thing at all.

Apparently Kirk Franklin organises a choir on this track – alright maybe just a few backing singers. In any case, they’re not that impressive. It’s just a vocal opinion, but their ‘move, mo-mo-move’ bit sounds a bit contrived. Ned says – 6/10

Sweetest Somebody I Know

I like this song a lot. Use of keys, strings, drums, etc. Neat song musically and lyrically. Particular props has to go to the use of the acoustic guitar. So far there’s nothing distinctly r’n’b about the album at all and that’s good. Stevie does this song justice vocally and the backing arrangement here does a lot more to give the song the support that a song deserves. His harmonica solo is quality.

Where I’m at is the way the music just travels down to make its point re-emphasising the message Stevie relates to the loved one. As a married man, meself, I can relate with the ways of relating how much the person means to you, and Stevie again relates it brilliantly. The added bit of adding his son’s interruption is a little thing that marks out Stevie in terms of the family feel he brings to his albums. Ned says – 7/10

Moon Blue

On first hearing this song stood out as a great slow chiller of a love song. On further listens it loses the immediacy of that first listen, but maintains a sense of appreciation and admiration at Stevie’s songwriting excellence.

It’s the vocal performance that’s particularly remarkable. There’s a discipline here that almost makes it sound like he’s a jazz singer with distinct control over that vocal. It’s a brilliant vocal performance. Even the bit at the end where he climbs to a top note and chuckles, that’s just excellent to listen to.

Musically this song is fine, it’s the sort of love song to be played in a candlelight dinner where you’re looking to get the mood required to woo your loved one. It also establishes a pattern that’s particularly noticeable on this album and that’s relaying a simple song. The simplicity of this song is in the music, there’s nothing flashy, complex or difficult to grasp and that in this case is a good thing. What Stevie shows a lot is his ability to create soundscapes and atmospheres that engages you in the mood of the song and this is that kind of effort. Ned Says: 7/10

From The Bottom Of My Heart

I loved this song the first time I heard it. From the opening harmonica solo through to the last note. It’s a return to the well of great love songs that Stevie can write. But it’s one thing to write a great song, and another thing completely to relay that song passionately and … lovingly. Stevie’s vocals are spot on here, it just sounds right. The barometer for a good song in my household is if it gets my wife and son singing it, and they were singing it on the second time round! Even my 1 year old daughter shows her appreciation by bobbing up and down when it comes on.

Musical structure of the song is great, use of keyboards and organs is on the button and the drum programming is done well, I don’t feel that it at all inhibits the song, which has been a criticism in the past. The backing vocals are wonderful in just how lush and smooth they sound. The whole of the cake of this song allows me to really appreciate Stevie’s love song. Brilliant. Ned Says: 8/10

Please Don’t Hurt My Baby

Few artists ever create albums where every track is on top form and brilliant. Stevie has come very, very close on two occasions. This song gives the indication that this won’t be one of them. It reminds me in feel of his duet with Paul McCartney ‘Girl I Like What’s You’re Doing’. In my own listening it comes from the school of songs that Stevie writes that are like Maybe Your Baby, relating some of the harsher issues of love. Now it’s not that I don’t like listening to these kind of songs, its just that the feel of these songs leave me at best nonplussed.

As I understood the lyrics more, I was fairly intrigued as to how he managed to get his point across, and so lyrically it’s not bad. The vocal performance is fine. The dialogue between the male and female backing vocals is kinda humorous, but to me rather contrived. Light hearted Stevie fare, really. Just not my cup of tea. Ned Says: 5/10

How Will I Know

Stevie redeems himself with this little jazz effort. I like feeling warm when I hear a song, and this song makes me feel warm all over. The acoustic piano is fantastic. The live bass feel is superb, the drums are softly done and the feel is just brilliantly established.

It’s a good song to put that kind of feel to as well as the dialogue looks at how do we know what true love is like. It’s also clever for Stevie to get a father and daughter to ask the question as it’s still a relevant question whatever the age. Stevie sings well and Aisha also performs admirably well, she has a good warm voice to grace the song and the duet is fine. Ned Says: 7/10

My Love Is On Fire

People have said that Jamiroquai are trying rip off Stevie. In terms of musical feel of a song, this is the nearest you’ll get to an argument to support that. This is one of those throwbacks to the feel of 70’s soul. It is smooth and brilliant. This feel is created by a live sound with the strings, keys particularly, the bass and excellent drums.

Stevie’s vocals again are spot on with this song and the message he gets across is as sultry as he gets. I’m just in awe of the whole song. It shows a maturity and development in Stevie’s songwriting that makes it unfair to try and compare it to early material, it’s great on its own basis. Again the feeling of lush backing vocals makes me love the song all the more.

This is also Stevie at his cleverest musically – I defy anyone to get a band together and get that song down in one or two takes particularly the passage between the repeating of the chorus. Never heard of Hubert Laws before this album, but dude, the man can certainly play some mean flute and it’s just the right instrument for this kind of song.

Tribute as well to the backing vocal arrangement – very smart in splitting the male and female and what that contributes to this very smart song. Very smart song overall, at just the right length, I don’t feel any sense of it going too long and it hits all the right buttons with me. Ned Says: 8/10

Passionate Raindrops

Lush beginning, intimate sounds, evocative lyrics, lightly rendered lead vocal, soft understated backing vocals, tender piano playing, sensuous strings and definite but not intruding beat. This is Stevie at his very best in terms of songwriting. The simplicity in this song is just in terms of structure. There’s so much more to remark about this song – get the strings mimicking raindrops in the chorus; pick out the backing vocals in the fourth verse.

What really sends this song soaring through the roof is the lyric. I think it’s a natural development from Summer Soft, to Send One Your Love to this song. Brilliant use of elemental imagery to convey the intimacy of love-making. I tell you, every time I hear this song I just listen and nod my head in awe at the master at work. No one can rubbish the man after hearing a song like this and it already makes a very impressive claim for a spot in the Top 20 Stevie songs of all time. Ned Says: 8/10

Tell Your Heart I Love You

So how do you follow brilliance? In Songs In The Key Of Life after the mastery of Summer Soft came the relatively mundane Ordinary Pain. In this case Stevie allows history repeat itself with this song. I mean what is he saying lyrically? It’s a bit contrived and rough. All in all this is the worst track on the album.

Having got all that out of the way, I am not placing this as the worst Stevie song of all time, neither is it in the running for that title. It’s not tragically awful or necessarily off-putting. The harmonica input is a notable bonus. Stevie doesn’t pull back vocally, he’s alright. It’s just the rest of the song is a bit mundane. Ned Says: 5/10

True Love

So again to redeem himself, Stevie whips out another jazzy classic. Another brilliant vocal performance here relaying again that personal journey of finding out what that mystical ‘true love’ is. It’s a very disciplined vocal performance and aids the song greatly. Apparently Stevie wants to produce a jazz album at some point down the line, and if it has anything like this track then I am there in heartbeat.

The drumbeat, to me, is rather innovative, not just a simple 2 and 4 beat, but a bit of a bass drum rumble as well. Saxophone part is great here as well. It is a self-contained masterpiece of a track and highlights just how much Stevie has grown musically. I’m not sure if he could have produced this around the mid-70’s, but he has now and I am grateful. Ned Says: 7/10

Shelter In The Rain

I hummed the main melody at a rapid pace and that revealed the simplicity of the song. Melody-wise it’s not that much of a toughie. Apparently Stevie wants to produce a gospel album at some point and this song puts down his marker as having the credentials for it. In fact this is a more than right fit for a list that already includes Free, Heaven Is 10 Zillion Years Away, Have A Talk With God and Higher Ground. Stevie was given this song in response to some personal traumas in his life and I can hear how it ministered to the brother. Lyrically it hits the right buttons and its rendered well by Stevie.

Musically here as well Stevie is on the button. The only snag for me is the use of the backing vocals. I put it down to what I expect from a choir in a song and that’s a sense of power and I don’t really feel it from them on this song. Does this diminish from the song? Definitely not, this is a quality song. Ned Says: 7/10

So What The Fuss

The first single released from the album is an interesting selection. On the recurring theme of simplicity, I’m not sure if Stevie could get more simple. Get a tune going round and stay with that for the duration of the song – no change from verse and chorus and only stretching out in a vamp at the end. Lyrically get four issues and get it to relate to me, you, them and us and then get it into the chorus. No great variation required.

Why Stevie gets away with such basic simple songwriting is personal enthusiasm, solid musicianship and quality input from his other artists. En Vogue do a good job backing the brother on this track. Prince’s guitar part should not be dismissed easily especially as we get into the vamp. At the end of the day Stevie conveys some serious issues in a good I could get away with saying funky fashion. Ned Says: 7/10

Can’t Imagine Love Without You

Sometimes I wonder why Stevie employs lyricists. This song proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the guy can write some cool lyrics. The range of impossibilities that are noted harks back to As with their expressions of how much the brother loves the person in question. He also puts these issues across in a loving, passionate yet soft way. Indeed, vocally he takes great care in allowing us to understand what he’s saying and the song is all the better for it.

It’s not easy being smooth without being cheesy or boring, but Stevie consummately does this without breaking a sweat. Everything about this song is rich in putting the case across, again thanks to a great string arrangement and all round superb musical arrangement. Ned Says: 7/10


I first heard this song at the same time as From The Bottom Of My Heart and it suffered in comparison. Yet after a number of times hearing the track it’s grown on me. Its grown on me a lot. It’s a cool throwback to some of the 60’s tunes in structure. It’s something I’ve said before, but I’m not slow to say it again. Stevie took Tomorrow Robins Sing and made it properly. Lyrically Stevie overstretches himself with how much you can fit into a line – which at times detracts from the message he’s getting across. It’s the first time that it happens on this album, and he tried it often in some of his latest excursions. Thankfully the bottom line of what he’s getting across – It’s Better To Have A Positive Approach To Life – comes across, but it’s advised that he quits this technique. To release it as a single where he’ll have to give live performances of it, or try to lip-synch it seems questionable to me, but that’s just me.

All that aside, this is an infectious hit. Ned Says: 7/10

A Time To Love

As the drum situation and a duet influenced the first track, so Stevie comes full circle with the final track. Just like Conversation Peace Stevie puts the title track last and uses it to summarise what he stands for. I’ve not really heard that much of India Arie, but she does a good job on this track. If her contribution is with the lyrics then she’s done a brilliant job with them – they convey Stevie as well as Stevie ever could.

It’s a strong song throughout and a good summary overall of the quality lyrically, vocally and musically. The only quibble I have is with the use of Paul McCartney. Apparently he’s on bass and acoustic guitar, yet these aren’t prominent instruments on the track until the end and that’s just a throwaway riff that my Uncle Joe could contribute.

Is it too long? Is Stevie a bit too preachy on it? Do we really need to be listening to drums for that long? Well yes, yes and no, but that doesn’t mean that the song isn’t worthy. I kinda can understand, having heard most of the rest of his output why Stevie would use the opportunity to take 10 minutes out of your life to ask that question of when will there be a time to love. It’s justifiable in the context of the whole album. Ned Says: 7/10

Overall Comment

Is this a return to form for Stevie Wonder? Is this his best work since Hotter Than July? I can understand why people ask these questions. Like a weight over his head, Stevie has had to pay the price of genius which is to create genius with everything he does and if he doesn’t woe be tide. I find it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to assess his work on its own merits not comparing it to his previous work so I won’t bother. What I will say is that are key developments in this album that show to me that he’s broadened his songwriting and production skills to prove that he can be effective and creative in his own way today as he has since the late 1960’s.

In an album of 15 proper full length tracks to only have three tracks hit under 7/10 is a good indication of how good I rate this album. There’s a richness, variety and maturity in the output of this album that leads me to applaud this man. Throughout, Stevie maintains vocal of efforts of high quality that I commend highly. What Stevie is known for as well as vocal excellence are great songs, and thankfully this album has a number of songs that go from good to great. If I wanted to be comparative, I would say that there are tracks on this album that would measure up with anything on Songs In The Key Of Life or Fulfillingness’ First Finale. In Passionate Raindrops Stevie has produced a beauty that in quality terms is right up there with his very best. With My Love Is On Fire he hits heights that he’s scaled routinely in the ‘golden’ era of his 70’s material. From The Bottom Of My Heart is a song that is more than comparable with love songs that he’s produced over the years. The key difference is, however, that these songs could not ‘fit’ these albums. It’s a sign of Stevie’s development that these are great songs that had to come out now, that had to fit this time and this era – they’re an example of him going to another level in songwriting.

Consistency with the theme of the album is another commendable point and there was nothing here that sounded soppy. It’s in no way a perfect album – if he dropped Please Don’t Hurt My Baby and Tell Your Heart I Love You then we would have an album that would contend with Talking Book and Innervisions as the greatest album he’d ever produced, certainly beating Songs In The Key Of Life to that title. As it is I’m left with a very good album – one that was well worth the ten years wait and proves that Stevie Wonder is still one of the greatest musical artists the world has ever produced.

Overall Album Rating – 77%