Tim Morse III (Album Review)

Tim Morse, Tim Morse III (Cymbalick Music, 2018). Tracks: Wake Up; Labyrinth; The Marquis; The Path; The Mary Celeste; My Ally; and Circle/Talisman.

For any one who has followed progressive rock over the past twenty-plus years, the name Tim Morse means something.  Something very good.  Something very special.  Not only is Morse the author of one of the very best books ever published about Yes—Yes Stories: Yes In Their Own Words—but he’s a serious and truly gifted musician in his own right.

His latest cd, Tim Morse III, is nothing but a delight and a pleasure.  Morse is, to put it at its most basic, classy.  He has taste.  A lot of it. 

True to prog, he can jump from style to style as well, all with elegance and ease.  Tim Morse III has hints of Yes, Big Big Train, Lifesigns, Genesis, Glass Hammer, Steely Dan, Dave Brubeck, and others. When he needs a keyboard jam, there’s a keyboard jam. When he needs a guitar to soar, the guitar soars. While his vocal range isn’t huge, it’s quite solid, and he knows how to use his voice to its best. Heck, he even gives us cow bell on track six, the wonderfully nostalgic “My Ally.”

Most importantly, though, it’s clear that Morse loves what he does.  There’s an infectious optimism to his music that is absent in so much recent prog music. Without naming names, too many musicians have gone down the path of cynicism, outrage, and naval gazing. In short, they have become obsessed with their own worries and fears, calling their bloviatings about politics, art. It’s not, and it’s a sad moment in prog history.

Even when Morse is dark—such as on the second track, “Labyrinth,” or on the fifth track, “The Mary Celeste”—he doesn’t leave the listener there. We see the darkness, maybe even experience it, and, then, we move on.  The themes of this album are not some unrelenting and unremitting tenebrous existence but but a life of joy, forgiveness, love, and redemption.

Frankly, having spent way too much time over the last six months watching the news cycle and the social media circus that devolves from it, I’m finding Tim Morse III a breath of alpine air, clear, cool, and wholesome.

Actually, to be even more blunt, Morse’s music makes me want to be a better father, a better professor, and a better writer.

Being Christopher Dawson’s Friend ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Though he might very well have been the most important Christian Humanist intellectual of the twentieth century, Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) certainly did not possess the easiest of lives. His mother rejected him when he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1914, and he suffered from severe anxiety, depression, mania, insomnia, and extreme self-doubt his entire adult life. At times, when he lectured, he grew so nervous that his wife would have to take over the talk, speaking for him. She was “tall and beautiful with unaffected charm,” Tom Burns reminisced. “She ministered to husband, family and their guest with an easy devotion.” Indeed, without his vivacious and loving wife, Valerie, it’s not clear just how Dawson would’ve survived adulthood. Had he been born several generations later, he would’ve been probably been diagnosed with some kind of disorder, and he’d most likely be heavily medicated—on Paxil, Xanax, and Ambien.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/01/being-christopher-dawson-friend-bradley-birzer.html

Francis Schaeffer on the Sanctity of Human Life

Pro Life demonstrators march down the streets of Chicago
March for Life Chicago, March 13, 2019

Francis Schaeffer, one the greatest Christian thinkers and presuppositional apologists of the second half of the twentieth century, co-wrote with C. Everett Koop (pediatric surgeon and Surgeon General under President Ronald Reagan) one of the most powerful defenses of the value of unborn life in Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979, revised edition, 1983).  This book is a must-read for anyone interested in an intellectual and medical defense of the pro-life position that holds that human life begins at conception. Schaeffer handles the intellectual heft, providing a position that aligns well with that of Christian Humanism. His use of the term “humanism” is decidedly different than the Christian Humanist version of the term. By “humanism”, Schaeffer means secularism. Koop handles the medical and scientific arguments.

Here is a brief excerpt from chapter 1 (page 4):

Until recently in our own century, with some notable and sorry exceptions, human beings have generally been regarded as special, unique, and nonexpendable. But in one short generation we have moved from a generally high view of life to a very low one.

Why has our society changed? The answer is clear: the consensus of our society no longer rests on a Judeo-Christian base, but rather on a humanistic one. Humanism makes man “the measure of all things.” It puts man rather than God at the center of all things.

Today the view that man is a product of chance in an impersonal universe dominates both sides of the Iron Curtain. This has resulted in a secularized society and in a liberal theology in much of the church; that is, the Bible is set aside and humanism in some form (man starting from himself) is put in the Bible’s place. Much of the church no longer holds that the Bible is God’s Word in all it teaches. It simply blends with the current thought-forms rather than being the “salt” that judges and preserves the life of its culture. Unhappily, this portion of the church simply changes its standards as the secular, humanist standards sweep on from one loss of humanness to the next. What we are watching is the natural result of humanism in its secular and theological forms, and the human race is being increasingly devalued.

Elsewhere in chapter 1 (page 6):

The Bible teaches that man is made in the image of God and therefore is unique. Remove that teaching, as humanism has done on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and there is no adequate  basis for treating people well… The loss of the Christian consensus has led to a long list of inhuman actions and attitudes which may seem unrelated but actually are not. They are the direct result of the loss of the Christian consensus.

My Top 12 Jazz albums of 2018

I read three jazz magazines—Downbeat, Jazzwise, and JAZZIZ—every month and visit a number of jazz-oriented sites on a regular basis, and I am happy to report that jazz is not only alive, it is vibrant, diverse, and abundant. Even better, the quantity of releases is matched by the amazing quality of countless releases. I listened to dozens—perhaps 200 or more—releases in in the past year, and time and again I was floored by the talent and creativity coming from musicians young and old, from all corners of the world.

This list could be much, much longer. (And I actually list 13 albums, if you keep count.) But in the interest of appealing to readers who likely aren’t as “into” jazz I am, I’ve kept it short and sweet. I think all of these albums are worth hearing and buying.

Love Stone by J.D. Allen. Some ballad albums drag, and others slip into sentimentality. Allen not only avoids those traps, he makes every single note count in such a way that there is a perfect marriage of warmth and anticipation throughout this remarkable, gorgeous album. There is not a hint of showmanship here, but the playing is otherworldly. Stunning.

The Future is Female by Roxy Coss. With song titles such as “Females are Strong as Hell,” “#MeToo”, and “Nasty Women Grab Back,” you might expect anger and heaps of spoken word lectures. Instead, you are treated to a brilliant, modern hard-bop session with sophisticated writing and beautiful playing. Coss and I likely differ on more than a few political fronts, but I have no reservations at all about this confident, engaging, and—again—beautiful set. Highly recommended.

The Other Side by Tord Gustavsen Trio. Gustavsen has been producing melodic, melancholy Nordic jazz for nearly two decades now, and he once again delivers a magical, dusky collection. This one has an overtly spiritual quality to it—Gustavsen’s “The Other Side” and Bach’s “Jesu Meine Freude/Jesus, Det Eneste” are examples—but there is a deep, pulsating restlessness that bubbles up from time to time. Recommended listening for late night, with a good bourbon in hand.

Flight by James Francies. He’s barely into his 20s, but Francies has already made his mark as a sideman in a wide range of settings, not just within jazz but also in pop, hip-hop, and R&B. That eclecticism is evident here, with modern production and stellar chops at the service of an impressive and cohesive artistic vision. There is certainly a strong nod, to my ears, to Robert Glasper, another Houston native, but Francies is his own man, and his restless, inventive approach is an indication that jazz is in good hands.

Little Big by Aaron Parks. His 2008 album Invisible Cinema remains one of my all-time favorite piano-driven jazz albums, and he never predictable or dull. There is a decidedly “rock” feel to this album, but this is ultimately an organic synthesis based in creativity and trust, full of both energy and melodic focus. Like his decade-old classic, this presents and sustains an aural world, from beginning to end.

After Bach and Seymour Reads the Constitution by Brad Mehldau/Brad Mehldau Trio. How many artists can release a solo album of Bach and Bach-inspired improvisations and a trio album bursting with freshness and mind-boggling skill? But we’ve come to expect this sort of thing from Mehldau, who can play anything and play it with an immediately recognizable sound and quality. The Bach album is respectful but often surprising, while the trio engagement is a deep dive into twists and turns that are as assured as they breathtaking. Artistry in spades.

Concentric Circles by Kenny Barron Quintet. Barron is fine wine—he is now 75, and he is, if anything, better than ever. Which is saying something. This has the feel and approach of 1960s Blue Note classic (think Herbie Hancock or Andrew Hill), but with a clear contemporary quality. Relaxed and crisp, warm and sharp, detailed and accessible—this is small ensemble playing at its finest, headed by a generous, joyful leader.

Live by Marcin Wasilewski Trio. This veteran Polish group has been a natural fit for the ECM label, with a melancholy and melodic style that reminds me at times of the Gustavsen trio. But this live set finds the trio in an energetic, even exultant, mood, with plenty of sparks flying, notably on the Police classic “Message in the Bottle” and Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof”, but also in the other cuts, all originals.

Ahlam by NES. This is perhaps the most unusual entry in this list, as it is sung in a variety of languages and has a strong “world music” flavor. Singer/cellist Nesrine Belmokh, who has a stunning voice, has roots in classical music (she’s worked with Lorin Maazel and Daniel Barenboim), but she effortlessly combines that background with jazz, pop, and traditional Arabic music, resulting in a deceptively simple and achingly beautiful album. Dreamlike in feel, which is fitting, as “Ahlam” means “dream” in Arabic.

Sonic Creed by Stefon Harris & Blackout. This has long been a favorite group, led by one of the finest vibrophonists today, and this long-awaited album, the follow-up to 2009’s “Urbanus”, does not disappoint. This is a sophisticated but immediately engaging collection, with a subtle funkiness and chamber-music quality that sets it apart, especially with the vibrophones in the mix. Rewards multiple listens!

Heaven & Earth by Kamasi Washington. How do you follow up a massive hit album titled The Epic (2016)? You go even more epic! Washington is one those rare artists (in any genre) who lives up the hype, marrying audaciousness with a focused vision, complete with choral parts and otherworldly sonic landscapes. The contributions of pianist Cameron Graves are worthy of note, as they ground the entire two-disc affair, from simple melodic lines to cascading walls of keyboard brilliance. Hard to describe, but has to be heard.

13th Floor by Eric Harland/Voyager. This ensemble lacks nothing in talent, with the prolific Harland on drums, Taylor Eigsti on piano, Walter Smith on sax, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Julian Lage and Nir Felder on guitar. It also lacks nothing in writing and cohesion; each cut is a perfectly realized gem, undergirded by Harland’s astounding time-keeping and driven by Eigsti’s often rhapsodic playing. This is not a “blowing session”, but a fully realized work of cerebral, muscular jazz.

Early Christopher Dawson: The Land (1921)

I post this more out of interest rather than agreement. Here’s a young Christopher Dawson contemplating the intersection of property ownership, history, and culture. It was his fourth publication, but one can already see the penetrating thought and style that would characterize his more mature work.

98 years ago. . .

Source: Christopher Dawson, “The Land,” Blackfriars (June 1921): 137-145.



This was a book–roughly 82,000 words–I wrote over Christmas break, 2002-2003, and then revised four times between 2003 and 2008. I wrote it in between writing the biographies of J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Dawson as a way to understand Christian Humanism. I wanted to know its scope as well as its limits, hoping to find something to move well beyond the simple and deceptive left-right spectrum.

Here’s the opening to the original version:

The nineteenth century witnessed the flourishing of progressivist thought in social relations, politics, religion, and biology.  Everything was evolving, or so it seemed, toward the better.  Smiles were more frequent, and lives just kept getting happier, as the citizens of the world were becoming one, homogenized, contented mass.  The blessings of modernity entangled everything, East to West, claiming that no more perfect offerings needed to be made.  Once properly educated and the childhood superstitions of the race outgrown, the prophets of modernity assured us, the masses collectively would speak as a god.  In a word, according to intellectuals such as Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, it would soon be “utopian.” 

It was a lie.  

Modernity was a trap, and we were its greatest victims.  We failed to resist, and it greedily fed on us.  In democratic regimes, the brightly colored and candy-coated machines of bureaucracy and large corporations mechanized us, making us far less than human.  In non-democratic regimes, the damage proved much worse, nearly irreparable.  Beginning with the assassination of a relatively minor figure by an equally obscure terrorist group in 1914, the twentieth century drowned in its vast killing fields, gulags, holocaust camps, trench warfare, and weapons of mass destruction.  Whether in the camps of the European or Asian ideologues, some humans, convinced of the righteousness of their cause, viewed all other human persons as nothing more than a collection of parts, ready to be dismembered and reassembled in a Picasso-esque fashion, or perhaps simply quartered and then quartered again.  Armed with the ideological doctrines of fascism, National Socialism, and Communism, the twentieth-century became a century of the inverted vision of Ezekiel: wheels within wheels, endlessly spinning, the abyss ever expanding, ever within reach.  All that was sacred became irrelevant.  All who remained relevant were shot.  And, the State and its faithful companion, War, demanded the sacrifice of much blood to the restored gods.  Demos, Mars, and Leviathan became ascendant, taking possession of the field, and claiming victory, their appetites insatiable.

And, the Logos wept.

If you’re interested, here’s the link to the amazon Kindle version ($4.99). If you’re interested in a copy to review for a print or online publication, please let us know through the contact button.

Thanks! And, enjoy.

Birzer Guide to Art Rock and Pop

Spirit of Cecilia Books has begun a series of ebooks–Cecilia’s Notations–on the history of modern music (mostly rock, pop, and jazz).

Other volumes in the series, forthcoming: on Talk Talk, Big Big Train, Rush, Glass Hammer, Tears for Fears, and Kate Bush.

To purchase the first volume of Cecilia’s Notations, Birzer Guide to Art Rock and Pop, please click here. It’s only $2.99.

How Did Kevin J. Anderson Build Your World? | The American Conservative

Have you ever wanted to live in a Rush lyric? Explode a sun? Attack nothingness itself? Download your consciousness into another body? Creep into the mind of Fox Mulder? Solve a mystery with a slowly decaying zombie? Meet Benjamin Franklin? Study the alchemical properties of a steampunk fortune teller? Save Superman from greedy commie thugs? Build a light sabre? Or, ride a sandworm across the desert?
— Read on www.theamericanconservative.com/birzer/how-did-kevin-j-anderson-build-your-world-science-fiction/

Ghost Rider

“Parking my motorcycle in front of a motel at the end of a long day on the road could certainly be sweet, like finally exhaling after holding my breath all day, but best of all was setting out in the morning. Whatever torments the night had brought; whatever weather the new day threw at me, when I loaded up the bike and swung my leg over the saddle, my whole perspective changed. Focus tightened into the mechanics and mentality of operating the machine, and awareness contracted to that demanding paradigm. As I let in the clutch and turned the throttle, my world-view expanded as i moved into a  whole new paradigm of landscapes, highways and wildlife. Infinite possibilities” p42, Ghost Rider

Not just the perspective, Neil Peart manages to express the very exact thoughts, emotions and even words any long distance motorcyclist would have endured. Brought back very distinct memories, even though my own experiences are from a totally different part of the globe.

Album from the archives — circa 2008-2010.