Nowhere to Go but Forward: Excerpts from Middling

I write an occasional newsletter (quarterly when I don't forget) to friends and family about my life: music, books, work, and getting older. I'd love to send it to you if you're game. What follows is an excerpt from the summer 2018 issue, focused on music that was really doing it for me at the time.


Households of the future will be identified by one thing: which global corporation they’ve allowed to take up residence. We’ve recently become serfs under the House of Amazon, inasmuch as we’ve invited Alexa under our roof. For the most part this is a great convenience—we can now listen to any music we’ve bought through Amazon all throughout the house simply by saying “Alexa, play ____________. Everywhere.”

I’ve already shared with you some of the limitations of this proprietary technology (see Middling 2: Electric Boogaloo). But I’ve discovered another one: I have no idea what album a particular artist’s music comes from.

Exhibit A, in which the A stands for Audrey Assad. This very talented Catholic songwriter has restored my faith in contemporary Christian music (or, at least, has mitigated my general lack of regard for it). She’s consistently contemplative and resists the cliches and tropes that make so much CCM sound the same. Some of Assad’s songs are made for radio and yet they still defy the constraints of radio friendliness; others are deeply spiritual in that they are deeply thoughtful while also being thoughtfully crafted. She challenges the genre she competes in, which is always a good thing, even though I would imagine it sets her up for the occasional bout of loneliness.

I first heard Assad on a podcast, talking about music rather than performing it. That probably biased me toward her, as I heard her reflecting on her craft and process. I’m a sucker for such things. My wife discovered her a little later and bought her whole catalog, and now almost every weekend there’s a block of time inaugurated by the phrase “Alexa, play Audrey Assad everywhere.” I dare say such a command might make the world a slightly better place.

The only problem: I have no idea which of her albums is my favorite, which song goes with which. Here are a couple of favorite tracks; I’ll let you decide how to bring them home.

On the turntable lately is Good Thing, the sophomore effort by Leon Bridges. His first album was so good that his second album made me nervous: nowhere to go but down. But he proved me wrong by going forward. His first album was an homage to 60s soul and earned him comparisons to the great Sam Cooke; this new album is of-the-minute but no less soulful—and by “soulful” I mean heartfelt and expertly performed. We had some houseguests over and I put it on for them, and the thirteen-year-old bobbed her head in critical approval. She’ll probably still be listening to Leon Bridges when she’s thirty-three and a third; that’s how good this guy is.


Come back soon for more excerpts from Middling. And do let me know if you want to receive the newsletter.


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