Good Folks Club is an album of processing, not an album of clear understanding. Much has been shaken and sifted in my own faith journey over the past three years, and these three songs stem from that. At the same time, there is an arc to the story – from the angst of the title track to the more reflective “You Loved Me Before” to the joyful surrender of “Poor in Spirit,” the listener can trace the trajectory towards a healthier, more rooted-in-Christ place.
“Good Folks Club”
The title track is a response to hard questions in my local church and the broader church. This song’s creative process started off with the question in its opening line, which I jotted down in Baltimore’s Carroll Park one chilly day in late 2020 or early 2021 – “Why am I so scared that I might be wrong and you might be right?” As a recovering legalist, I often see things in very stark terms of black and white, right and wrong, and grace is a slippery concept for me to apply both to myself and others. While I personally tend to be morally conservative and fairly traditional, I wrestle with the fact that Jesus attracted people easily recognized in His time as immoral, while the Church tends to repel them in ours. This song, therefore, is not an abandonment of Christian morality, but rather a cry of “Why?! How!? Jesus, what has become of your Church to make it a place of keeping out rather than welcoming in?” As our society becomes more and more polarized, this is something I feel more and more keenly. What does holiness look like? What does grace look like? And what, truly, would Jesus do in the moral morass of modern America?
- This song starts out with an organ quote of Hans Georg Nägeli’s tune to the hymn “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” which is given a shoutout in the last chorus of the song. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to start the song, which for a long time began right away with the beat that dovetails with the tolling church bells. Pretty late in the process, I realized that quoting the end of the hymn would work well to set the scene. The lyrics to the hymn’s first stanza are:
“Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.”
The images of hearts being bound in Christian love and a fellowship of kindred minds is so beautiful, and yet so far from the reality in too many churches.
- The partially-distorted bass trombone line during the interlude after the first chorus came from a line I had scat-sung off the cuff. I spent an inordinate amount of time transcribing this rather gnarly lick to MIDI and then finally recording it with my trombone!
- I nicknamed the “outro” section “the cacophony of hypocrisy”. It features a thick mix of church organ, bells, brass, drums, bass, and I’m probably forgetting some things (haha). I enjoyed playing with panning the vocals repeating “we’re the good folks” to one side and then the other more and more frantically, with the image of the increasingly agitated pharisaical character who delivers the lines running back and forth, as if trying to gain attention and validation for this “fact” in an ever-more frenzied manner.
- For a deeper dive into the music, check out this video I made exploring the construction of the song.
“You Loved Me Before”
The inception of “You Loved Me Before” came in spring of 2020, when I recorded a voice memo of much of the first verse/chorus while wandering around my parents’ development in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It then took over two years to fully flesh out musically and lyrically, with most of the work being done in August and September 2022.
The story of the song explores my own tendency towards workaholism, needing to be busy or accomplish things in order to find a sense of worth and meaning. But Jesus invites us to rest. It’s hard to rest when I need to work in order to feel loved and valued. So if I am to enter into the rest Jesus offers, I need to experience His love, deeply and daily. I need to rest in Him. I’m currently working (very slowly) through Greg Boyd’s thus-far excellent book Seeing Is Believing: Experience Jesus through Imaginative Prayer. (If that sets off alarm bells for anyone, let me know and we should have a conversation about it! Or just read the book haha.) It is changing the way I think about how to grow as a Christian – pulling me away from what he dubs “the try-harder solution” and into a posture of growth through resting in Jesus and experiencing Him. No amount of theological head-knowledge can replace the experience of communing deeply with the living God.
- The ticking clock sound at the beginning is from the clock I made in the shape of Africa in 7th grade woodshop class.
- One of the folks I asked for feedback on the project said that the string pizzicato at the beginning sounded very unhuman, which made it jarring when the vocals and other instruments came in. So in response, I made them sound even more obviously not-real, adding little bits of other sounds, including a very hammer-y sort of piano. The whole intro suggests a somewhat mechanical hurriedness, full of activity but not really full of life – just restless activity.
- Did you notice the French Horns? (Yes, I know they are properly called Horns in F and originated in Germany, but I’m tryna meet the people where they at.) Well, truth be told, they are just trombones with a ton of effects on them meant to thicken up the sound, but they ended up sounding more like horns. Who knew?
“Poor In Spirit”
“Poor in Spirit” is in part based on a selection from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. In the past couple of years, Jesus’ declaration that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3) has resonated deeply with me. Now what exactly does “poor in spirit” mean? I’m sure it can be interpreted in different ways, but Chambers expands on it like this: “‘Blessed are the paupers in spirit,’ that is the first principle in the Kingdom of God. The bedrock in Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty, not possession; not decisions for Jesus Christ, but a sense of absolute futility – I cannot begin to do it. Then Jesus says – Blessed are you. That is the entrance, and it does take us a long while to believe we are poor! The knowledge of our own poverty brings us to the moral frontier where Jesus Christ works.” Or as Tara-Leigh Cobble of the Bible Recap puts it, being poor in spirit is “square one” of the Christian life, and it “stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of the Pharisees, who think they’re nailing it” (see “Good Folks Club” for more on that…).
I want to live my life in total and true dependence on Jesus – without Him, I can accomplish nothing; without Him my judgment is deeply flawed; without Him I cannot truly love. When I recognize my own spiritual poverty, I can then receive from His spiritual riches.
- I was taking up too many tracks with my stomps and claps, so I needed to condense those down into just a couple of tracks to make room for all the vocals in order to stay within the track limitations of Cubase Elements. The stomps are primarily me stomping on the floor of my studio space. For some of the stomps, I added an extra element of stomping on a pile of coins, because, well…poor in spirit, coins – it seemed ironic and musically tasty, so there you have it. The claps were a mixture of me clapping in various parts of my studio and closing the metal shelves of a wooden shelving box thingamawhatsit, which makes a delicious sliding sound before the sharp slap of the closing of the drawers. I also used cajon hits for both stomps and claps – thanks Ashley for the cajon loan!
- The only other percussion besides the stomp/claps mentioned above is my beatboxing with a hefty dose of effects and EQ added.
- All the vocals are my own except for the last chorus/countermelody, which features my wife, Mia, my dear mom, and Ashley Thompson, the worship director from my church. After Ashley laid down that countermelody, I quipped that she should sing all the vocals on the album – she sounds so good!
Thank you to:
Jesus, to whom much of this album is addressed. Thank you for your grace and kind leadership and love in my life. Oh for grace to trust you more.
Brian Ballinger and Patrick Lenz for listening and giving such helpful feedback – these songs are much better because of your keen ears and musical expertise!
Mia Morrison, my amazing wife, for contributing vocals, giving feedback, creating the album artwork, letting me lock myself in my studio for hours upon hours, for letting me process the process of this project with you, and for your love and support in life in general. I love you!
My dear mom, who was the first to get back to me with additional vocals, far outpacing the tech-savvy younger generation.
Ashley Thompson, who laid down some amazing countermelody vocals for “Poor In Spirit” with ease.
Tony Scott, who was a listening ear for my updates on the project and who prayed for the process with me – thank you brother!