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Music and Botany
by Paul Landkamer
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I came up with this title idea one night and I told my wife. She said, "It's waaaaay past your bedtime." OK, it's a loose tie, but it's still a tie.

I'd never been to a mainstream rock concert, but I'd heard the air frequently reeked of marijuana smoke. I don't count a Neil Diamond concert, since I was already married, and starting to behave a bit more responsibly. A friend said he didn't smoke any himself, but started to feel high from just breathing the air at some of those heavier concerts. I also remember hearing drugs helped get the creative process going. I know it's just an excuse, but that's a frequently-told tale. Lots of those drugs are plant derivatives, and some people even claim their music to be plant derived. I only mention this here, to keep this in a chronological order. It'll tie in later.

And now, on to some musical review and this-happened-to-me stuff. Since my last writing, I've added six new CDs to my collection. Two additions were influenced by an article in Christianity Today (CT). Two, I found inexpensively while on Christmas vacation, and I'd already heard of the artists. One, I came across by way of MySpace, and the last, I found while hunting for music as part of a project I'll be talking about in a bit.

Try to remember back a few years to that band of three little boys who did the song, "Mmm Bop". Yeah, that band of brothers, Hanson, whose song was played and played and played and played… Almost everywhere and in all formats. One could turn off the radio, and there they'd be on TV. Well, I sort of liked their music, particularly when I knew how young the kids were, but the song got overplayed. That hurt 'em, I think. Anyway, CT reviewed their new album, The Walk and said the boys had grown up quite a bit, and their music was heavily influenced by artists in their dad's record collection. CT said lots of that retro-influence could be heard on the album.

It surprised me that CT reviewed the album. Anyway, since I liked Hanson's earlier music, and CT indorsed it as clean pop with Christian undercurrents, and that it had a retro sound, I chanced it for myself. I like The Walk. Even though the retro flavor is faint, it's a good listen. I walked into my local used CD store and asked, qualifying it with recent readings, if they had Hanson's first CD. The owner looked at me and sort of curled his nose and said he didn't buy that one, but probably has some laying around. He couldn't find it, but said he'd give me one if he found it. He looked at his sale bin first, and said some stuff to himself. I thought I'd heard he found the album, but thought differently. After he finished talking to me, I went to the sale bin, and found Hanson's Christmas album for under $1. I picked it up, as well as a classic rock band's greatest hits album (1.95). (If you really need to know who it was, I'll tell you.) I'll recommend Hanson as a worthy addition to your collections. They're modern pop with faint retro flavors.

Around Christmas, when we were doing touristy Branson, Missouri stuff, I found two more albums. We'd finished the Trail of Lights where they put on the Shepherd of the Hills play in the warmer months, and we'd come down from their big observation tower. In the gift shop, I spotted a rack of music CDs, so I gravitated toward it. There, I found Glassbyrd's Open Wide This Window, and Radial Angel's One More Last Time. Glassbyrd is a husband/wife duo. I already owned a couple of Christine Glass's albums, and heard some of Marc Byrd's style in other albums. I knew I couldn't go far wrong with this one. Open Wide the Window is art-pop, featuring Christine Glass's ethereal, sometimes described as pixieish, voice. Radial Angel, the next artist, is pure modern rock, so naturally, I like it. Regrettably, I didn't find anything really outstanding about this one. It's got a sort of hard-pop sameness. It's still a good choice for anyone into modern rock.

Album five was acquired through some MySpace silliness. I opened my e-mail and there was a MySpace notification that I had a new friend request. I went there, and checked out the request. That request came from Michael Drive, formerly of Barren Cross (Christian retro-metal). I noticed my friend count was at 899, so when I accepted the request, I sent him a message saying I figured I oughtta give him a prize or something since he was friend number 900. I said, "I know, I'll order your CD." That's how I came to be in possession of One Direction Left… From Hell. The album is mostly-live tracks, and in a modern rock style. There's a strong retro-British –maybe even a faint punk and arena flavor to it.

The last album acquisition is part of a longer story. Over the Christmas weekend, we took a trip to Branson, MO. We had a cabin rented, and lots of my wife's family came to celebrate my wife's parent's 50th Wedding anniversary. Branson is a country music show place. I've never been a country music enthusiast, so I didn’t really expect much from the shows. Suffice it to say, of the three shows I went to, I liked 'em all. They were fun, and the music didn't grate on me like I thought it might. Luckily, there wasn't a whole lot of whiney steel guitar work. I'd been properly soften to that musical style.

Tuesday morning, we headed home. My wife and Grandma took our car. Grandpa and I took theirs. I drove, and Grandpa played his bluegrass tapes all the way to Leeton (about 30-45 minutes from home), where he found his favorite Gospel music radio station. Grandpa asked if the music was OK. I've always liked bluegrass, but I'd usually lump it in with country and western. Those tapes and the radio station might have been the clincher for me! The bluegrass music was OK, but I soon realized that Gospel music had lots more energy than my regular radio, Spirit FM or K-Love's soccer-mom line-up. I felt a need to find out more about the station. I won't say anymore, "No, I don't really like country." I'll have to change it to, "Yeah, but it depends on what you play."

We got home at around lunchtime. I Googled and Googled that radio station, and only came up with bits and pieces. The station is KYRV 88.1 FM out of Concordia and Knob Noster. The websites listed the address as in Concordia, and the phone number as a Warrensburg number, with an e-mail from one of our local ISPs, which turned out to be bad or outdated. I know a friend of mine is into country music, and does lots of stuff on the Internet, so I asked her if she knew of any website or e-mail that 88.1 ever mentioned.

I tried a MySpace search for the station-owner's name and found one guy who is a gospel and Christian music artist. He lives in Tennessee or at least quite a ways off. That could explain why the e-mail was bad. It turns out this was a coincidence. That guy wasn't the "right" guy. I tried to call the station, only to find that the number given on-line was wrong.

I tried putting some of the puzzle pieces together in different ways. I looked in the Warrensburg phonebook for his name, and I found one! He lives at the same street address shown on-line, but in Warrensburg! I called his home phone, and left a message on his answerer. I didn’t know if it'd amount to anything. I asked that he get back to me by way of e-mail. About half an hour later, there was an e-mail from him saying he'd be glad to hear from me. I e-mailed back, telling him my musical story, and now he wants me to offer him some musical input for his station. He also said that his wife and mine had a lunch appointment the following week.

Summing it up, I stumbled across this guy, by way of Grandpa's radio station, to find his wife and mine hang out together. My wife had been visiting his wife's mom at the nursing home and hospital. My wife told me today that we and their family have been exchanging Christmas cards for a couple years now. This gospel and country guy wants "my" opinions on what to program for his radio station. I told him I was more into the rock side of country and gospel, and was quite country/gospel ignorant. He wants to slightly modernized his station and get some newer stuff played. He says he wants to make KYRV "The non-soccer-mom" Christian music radio station." I think it's a God-thing that I'm finally getting to dabble in Christian radio stuff, and when I consider all those connections, I've gotta smile. But wait! That's not all! That friend I mentioned earlier messaged back and said she's not really into Gospel music, and didn't know KYRV. Her mom told her the guy next door owns that station. That street address happened to be their next-door neighbor! She said they see each other in the driveway from time to time, but that's about the extent of their interaction. I hope that changes. I told the station owner to give 'em a big wave and say "Hi" to 'em.

So now I'm trying to find music suitable to play on a gospel station. I've been asking around. One friend recommended Alison Krauss. I'd heard of Alison Krauss before. I checked her out at Amazon.com. I got quite a surprise. That bluegrass and country artist who Christians recommend just did an album with Robert Plant --yeah! Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant! I was quite surprised.

The album, Raising Sand, doesn't really have much of a bluegrass or country flavor (except last couple songs), and the message is mostly relational on love-lost. It's not a really happy-sounding album, but the music is great. It's got an art-rock flavor, but with frequent traditional instrumentation. It doesn't preach of lust, drugs, and other hedonistic pleasures and how foolish/futile Christianity is, like Led Zeppelin did. The last song, however, sings of finally going to heaven to see God after death. I think that last song could be played on KYRV!

It still makes me wonder. Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin (one of my old favorite bands, heavy metal pioneers, into drugs and hedonism –see? Plant/drugs botanical-influence), now working with known Christian artists. Robert Plant, the '60s and '70s classic rocker used to be part of one of the world's more worldly, agnostic, maybe even atheistic bands! If for nothing other than the novelty, I ordered the album. The producer (T-Bone Burnett) has even been known for ages in Christian circles. I hope Robert Plant found Jesus, or is at least on his way to doing so. He'd be a powerful musical tool in God's hands.

OK, maybe that botany title was a bit much of a reach.

Always let your music help keep your focus on Jesus!

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