Music is quite the spectacular thing, if you think about it. We listen to music almost nonstop. It plays from our computers and iPods; it’s blasting in our cars and in every store we walk into. Music is literally everywhere, and it comes and all shapes and sizes. What we live through truly affects the music we listen to, and likewise the music we listen to affects us back. There are songs, albums, and playlists that we listen to for a while and then forget, but there are some creations that stick with us forever. They essentially make up the soundtrack to our life. We hear a certain song and it transports us to a very specific time and place. It’s quite amazing what music can do, actually. So I decided to break down ten albums that have had a huge impact on my life. With each one comes a story or two about life, and what I learned along the way. Hope you enjoy.
So Natural – Salvador
As I probably did with all of these albums, I remember listening to So Natural over and over again. It was the first Christian album that actually connected with me, and to this day I still know the songs. Salvador’s music was such an encouragement to me in one of the toughest times of life: high school. I had to make some difficult decisions, and the messages in their music helped me to stay focused on what’s truly important. They also helped me to learn a valuable life lesson, to live “For More Than Ourselves.” In my still-young journey of faith, I can look back and positively say that this album was a significant piece of the beginning.
Brushfire Fairytales – Jack Johnson
This is simply a feel-good album. The rhythms are infectious and I remember being physically moved by them. Some of my fondest memories from high school hang-out days took place in the dark of the night, as we roamed all over town on longboards and rollerblades. The streets were usually empty but for our wide-breaking slalom turns down the biggest hills. Always with one headphone in, Jack Johnson played quite often. My old buddies and I did all sorts of typical teenage shenanigans, from “Mudfootball” to TPing. And though Brushfire Fairytales may be the things of dreams, some of them found their way into real life, and they were a blast.
Wide-Eyed and Mystified – Downhere
Downhere was a group unbeknownst to me until I was introduced by my aunt. She gave me a couple of their albums and I was hooked. I regret not seeing them in concert when I had the chance, but I’m still blessed by their music. I was specifically hooked on this album, Wide-Eyed and Mystified, my freshman year of college, and there couldn’t be a more fitting title. I was certainly opened to a whole new world when I headed off to college, and this album helped keep me grounded. It also taught me a very important lesson that still resonates in my heart: “Little is Much” when God’s in it. We don’t always have a say in the hand we’re dealt, but we can make two life-changing decisions with that hand: make the best of what we’ve got, and give it all to God. This is a solid album by a stellar group of guys and it has served me in more ways than one.
Let Them Talk – Hugh Laurie
I think this was honestly the first time in my life that sat and listened to an entire album without doing anything else. Don’t get me wrong, I love listening to music, and I do it quite often, but I’m almost always doing something else at the same time. Whether it’s reading, writing, running, or driving in my car, music is always an accompaniment to another activity. But I remember sitting in the living room and just thoroughly breathing in this album. Its creativity and talent are astounding. It’s perfect music for a rainy day, or a long day, or any other day for that matter. Let Them Talk is Hugh Laurie’s pure genius, and I jump back to it fairly often. All of the tracks are engaging, but the title track is super clutch: “Let Them Talk,” because we are who we are, and that’s all we need to be.
Drunken Lullabies – Flogging Molly
This album takes me straight back to my apartment, senior year of college. Without a doubt, the guys I lived with are the best buds I’ll ever have. We weren’t just friends, we were brothers. I remember so many good nights, driving around town, hanging out in the apartment, playing Madden and Rock Band, having a good beer, and just enjoying life together. Drunken Lullabies was a hallmark of that year; it was always blasting in our apartment and in the car. It’s just fun music to listen to. It reminds me of what really were the good old times, or as Flogging Molly puts it, “The Rare Ould Times.”
Young Love – Mat Kearney
Ever since this album, Mat Kearney has been one of the most played artists in my musical library. It also inspired me to rediscover and appreciate his older stuff. What this particular album reminds me of is running Azusa’s streets. When I started college I hated running in Azusa. It was all squares and rectangles with stoplights every four feet. But by the end of my college career, I loved running Azusa. I would go somewhere different every time, take whichever streets I wanted, and map my route when I got back. I would just put in my headphones and get lost. Young Love helped me to get lost plenty of times, and I loved every second of it. One song in particular blows my mind, and that’s “Count On Me.” Thankfully, I know I can always count on Mat to pump out quality music.
Good Old War – Good Old War
Here’s an album by an incredibly original, harmonic band. They’ve got super catchy tunes and impressive harmonies. I continue listening to their stuff today, but this album takes me back to my last semester of college. It was a time of celebrating and moving on at the same time, and it’s fitting that many of the lyrics from Good Old War are bittersweet. I’m reminded of a good relationship that was cut too short, driving with the music up and windows down, as well as amazing times student teaching. All in all, it was a spectacular window in my life, but I came to grips with the fact that it was time to move on. Hence the thought, “I Should Go.” Again, it’s bittersweet, but a classic album to remind me of good times.
The Lumineers – The Lumineers
This is an album that’s become overly popular in recent months, but I was plugged into it while away in the Colorado Rockies. A few summers ago I went to visit a best bud out in Colorado. I had a lot of alone time during the trip, but it didn’t matter one bit. I had the absolutely stunning Rocky Mountains and The Lumineers to keep me company. Another folksy album, these guys really draw me in with their originality. A bit quirky, but all they’re all the more enjoyable because of it. Their songs are mostly upbeat but one in particular is quick to remind me: “Slow It Down.” This album takes me back to the still beauty of Colorado, and that’s not a bad place to be transported to.
Love & War & The Sea In Between – Josh Garrels
I’m just going to say it outright: this is my favorite album of all time. Without a doubt, it has had the biggest impact on my life of any album I’ve ever listened to. This is music that speaks directly to my soul. Josh sings in the most convicting way you’ll ever hear anyone sing. Love & War & The Sea In Between is exactly as it sounds. There’s such a span of style and content from one track to the next, but Josh’s artistry flows seamlessly throughout. His music is beautiful, sometimes hauntingly so, and his lyrics are a thoughtful, literary master class. The way he weaves his pieces together is beyond me. But that’s perfectly okay. I’m still able to take it all in, and revel in every minute of it. And that’s exactly the message he gives in my favorite song of his. He talks about how confusing life can be. It’s so far over our heads that we can’t fathom half of what’s out there. But we can take peace in the God who’s watching over us, because “Farther Along” we’ll be ushered into His glory, and all will be revealed. So sit back, enjoy the ride, and make some good music along the way.
The Christmas Sessions – MercyMe
Last but not least, I’ve got a Christmas album on here. MercyMe’s music is Christian go-to. And while I am a fan of quite a few of their songs, I can’t say that I’m in love with any one of their albums. The Christmas Sessions, however, are perhaps my favorite Christmas album of all time. I love every song on there. I’ll listen to this album even when it’s not Christmas. They’ve found the perfect balance of over-the-top, yuletide joy and the true meaning of Christmas. Their typical style is always apparent but never overshadowing, and their heart bursts through in every song. Ultimately, this album takes me home, to my family. It reminds me of life and love, and every good thing I’ve been blessed with, including music. Along with this album, I will be singing “Gloria” for a long, long time.