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Friday, December 5, 2014

Album Review: "Maybe God is Lonely Too" by Caleb Stine

Welcome to my massive post about Caleb Stine's newest album, "Maybe God is Lonely Too". The album was released in the Spring of 2014, so I'm a bit late. Please read this previous post I did about this guy whom I still consider my favorite music artist of all time, and I'm also honored to call a friend.



This is the album cover. It's painted by Caleb and he had the original artwork on display at the CD release party. I absolutely love the detail and the surreal nature of it. It's a picture of the off-ramp from highway 83 South in Baltimore City to 28th street. It's the exit that Caleb and I both share and have seen many times (Caleb is a close neighbor to us). I think this streetview is pretty close to the scene I beleive.

It's a meditative album and a concept album. It starts off with the sounds of nature and birds. Midway through the album, the bird interlude returns and in the final seconds of the record we hear those beautiful bird sounds a final time.

Let's talk a little bit about the title of the album, "Maybe God is Lonely Too". Although the album title is not mentioned specifically in any lyric, there certainly is a lot of songs about loneliness and also concerning God, prayer and Jesus. I listened to an interview on WYPR which Caleb did regarding this album just before it was released (you can find that here). The topic of Caleb's choice of album title came up. The interviewer, Tom Hall, asks Caleb if his choice of the album title came out of the school of thought that says God created the world because he was lonely. Caleb said that is one way to take it but it could also be taken other ways. Obviously as a Catholic I would disagree with the idea that God created the world because he was lonely because God is completely satisfied in himself, in the holy trinity, and has created us out of a pure and selfless act of love. However, on the other side we see that in the person of Christ, it is absolutely true that God has experienced human loneliness, and that is how I understand the album title, especially since there's a song at the center of the album about Jesus on the cross.

Jesus's earthly loneliness started with being born in a stable with just his parents, some shepards, and some animals. After his baptism, there's his 40 days in the desert where he was tried and tested in complete solitude. I don't think many of us can empathize with that level of loneliness. And finally at the climax of his life on earth he is completely abandoned by his followers during his sorrowful passion. Christ felt every describable pain that humans can feel and that includes the pain of loneliness, rejection, and abandonment. Hebrews 4:15 says Christ was tempted in every way which would certainly include loneliness. Finally we get Jesus's final words on the cross, "My God my God, why have you abandoned me" (Mat 27:46). This is a quote from the 22nd Psalm and it fully expresses his total abandonment not only of earthly comfort but also of the Father. So yeah, Maybe God is Lonely Too.

Lets go through the album track by track:

The first track is titled "The Mountain" and is a meditation on nature, the destruction of the environment, and the way to peace. Amazing guitar solos and soulful vocals. It also touches on the topic of death, a recurring theme in Caleb's songs. He does have some friends join in later in the song (drums, vocals, violin) which is refreshing after his last album which was almost completely just vocals and guitar. There's a beautiful video with the song which you can watch here:


The Mountain by Caleb Stine from Allen Moore Films on Vimeo.

Next we get a track titled "Everybody's talkin' Bout the End of the World". This has a tongue in cheek feel at the beginning but then turns serious towards philosophical concepts like hope, the end of the world (obviously), and how we can't know when or how it will all end. The second verse contains some pretty cryptic language I haven't seen in Caleb's music before. Reminds me a bit of some Bod Dylan. It then gives a reference to the emperor's new clothes and implies that what we see and feel in this world isn't really real. The line, "You'll spend your life in a cell in complete seclusion for testing the illusion one night". This reminds me of a CD I listened to by Steve Ray. He said that some argue that what we see in this life isn't real and everything is an illusion. Steve Ray argues fairly humorously (as Caleb does in this song) that those who say they believe that don't try walking through closed doors. Hopefully those who strongly believe these things don't actually test them.

The next track is a personal favorite. It's an old fiddle tune called 'Five Miles from Town' which Caleb translated himself to be played on guitar. It just feels so warm and fun. Now I need to find a version of the original fiddle tune.

Next we have a kind of dark Blues story song called 'Watcha Think of Me Now' about a guy who is persecuted by and ultimately shoots a Ku Klux Klan member and sent to jail. Even though it's subject and story are difficult, it does end on a fun note. Caleb's band comes in on this one in a big way. The title of the song is also found in another of his songs, "The Last Curtain Call". It's used differently but it's interesting to see phrases reused in new and different ways. I think of the White Stripes who had several songs with the phrase: Truth doesn't make a noise.

The fifth track is another huge highlight for me. It's called, "I've been prayin" and is a story of a guy who lost a girl and has taken up prayin. In the interview with WYPR Caleb discusses the song and reflects on prayer and whether it's prayer that changes us or it's that we've changed and in that change prayer comes with it. I've spoken with Caleb personally about faith topics a number of times. We talked about prayer and how it changes us rather than changes God's mind. It's a wonderful heartfelt song of lost love and the resolve to change one's ways.

Next we have the amazing gospel tune, "Safe at the Savior's Side". This is the most blatant gospel song Caleb's ever written, hands down. Such an incredible and powerful song. Just before the song we have the sounds of birds, followed by a long deathly silence, and finally the biting first line of the song, "Death will soon be on us, the end is drawing neigh". The backing fiddle is pure and beautiful. When I first heard this song live I really thought that Caleb was covering a song that was over a hundred years old and I literally did a google search on the song to see who originally wrote it. Turns out it's 100% Caleb. In this central song on the album we have Jesus on the cross in complete loneliness and agony. However, the song points to the solution - we can be safe at the savior's side. It's in joining our loneliness to Christ's that we no longer are lonely. We comfort him and he comforts us.

Next we have a fun light hearted tune called "The Long Path" which is another great attempt by Caleb at a classic country song. You can tell they had fun making this one and can even hear Caleb laughing a bit in the lyrics. "Picked up something, not sure what you found on the long path". You also get the line, "You never know when a new friend might appear in the form of a blinding light on the long path". I feel this must be a reference to the end of life and when we see Jesus, our eternal friend.

'If you Fly High Enough' is the next track and combines deep thoughts of belonging and freedom with the want of a spouse. If a spouse isn't in the cards, Caleb asks, "Please send me a dog". I've offered Caleb our dog Rolley on occasion in case he's serious. This is one of the more lonesome songs I've heard from Caleb.

Next we have another instrumental. It's a translation onto guitar of 'Cello Suite Number 1 Prelude' by Bach. This is where you see the amazing skills of Caleb on the guitar. It's almost the polar opposite of 'Five Miles from Town' which is just 6 tracks previous. From pure country fiddle tune to an orchestral arrangement. Caleb also translated this song personally for use on guitar. In the WYPR interview Caleb reveals that this track is kind of a revealing of God. He jokes that when you hear Bach it's like listening to God himself. It's perfectly situated right after an incredibly lonely song to hear the beautiful voice of God.

To close up the album is the beautiful love song, "Assateague". Clearly a biographical song of new love. The song references Assateague island on the eastern shore of Maryland (near Ocean City). I've camped on that island before a long time ago and it is quite beautiful and has wild horses running around on it. He uses that image as a metaphor for young love. I think we can also see how this song fits into the whole of the concept album. There's the loneliness expressed in "If you fly high enough", then God's voice in the Bach tune, and finally we have a love song where we can see God and ourselves in a relationship of true love. Caleb sings, "We both sail away to forever". It makes me think of the book of revelation which ends with the wedding feast of the lamb when Jesus himself comes to us as bridegroom to be with us forever. It's a beautiful way to end the bible and Caleb uses the same to end his album.

Anyway, I highly highly recommend this album for everyone. Pickup a great album by a modern country folk singer. The album is not available in stores or online. You can only get it at a Caleb show or by sending the man himself an email at calebstine@gmail.com.

As a nice appendix to this post I'll add some of my favorite youtube videos of Caleb

CALEB STINE VIDEOS

For some really great videos of Caleb, check out his live version of Ragged and Real:


This is a great studio performance of Hank William Jr's 'Living Proof' with a great intro into why Hank Jr should be defended:


Here is a live version of 'When She Comes' which was performed at a local Baltimore festival and shows a lot of footage of the festival:


Caleb's "The Eternal Present" video with Claire Anthony on vocals is pretty cool:


This one is a duet Caleb wrote called, "Come Back Home":
I loved the song so much I had Caleb teach me the chords and Suzanne and I can now sing it as a duet. It's also got a lot of religious themes to it, most explicitly in the lyric, "I have counted every hair upon your head".

This is one I myself recorded back in 2010 on an iPod Nano:
The sound quality of course is horrible but I think it's pretty cool to see him play this uniquely Baltimore song right in the heart of the city. I'm ashamed to say that you can hear my vocals in the background during the recording :)

There's also this one I recorded at the annual Caleb Stine Our Town Theatre fundraiser:
I did a bit of visual filters with this one for some reason. It's a really fun song called, "The Beautiful Waitress". This one you can hear some background singers as well (my wife and I).

Don't forget, you can also check out just about all of his songs on his website here.

So yeah, you can probably see just how big a Caleb nerd/fan-boy I am now.

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