Monday, May 26, 2014

New music: Troy Mitchell – Light of the World

Shalom, Chavah fans! We’ve added Troy Mitchell’s new (awesome!) Messianic music album to the station.

Troy is a friend of mine, and I’ve written a little review of his new album below, cross-posted from the Kineti blog.

Please, please, please support Messiah’s musicians by purchasing Light of the World for an easy $15. (Listen to his songs on Chavah, and if you like it, click the ‘heart’ icon to purchase.)

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(Can’t afford it? Email me, I’ll buy you a copy courtesy of Chavah Messianic Radio.)

Below is my review of Troy’s new album. Enjoy!


“May You shine a new light upon Zion
And may we all quickly merit its light.”

-Troy Mitchell’s “Or Chadash”, based on a Siddur prayer

Last week, my buddy and fellow Minnesotan musician Troy Mitchell released one of the best Messianic albums I’ve heard in a long while: Light of the World.

Listen to samples below and hear my thoughts on the songs, I think you fine Kineti readers will enjoy.

Intro

I got a chance to attend Mitchell’s album release party last week. It was a beautiful night, shabbat had just ended, bonfires were stoked, food and drinks (and wine!) were flowing. Mitchell busted out his guitar and sang some tunes for the Lord in the open night sky.

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The party was a blast! Mitchell strummed his tunes for the Lord, flanked by Aaron Eby on the bongos (conga? it was dark Smile), and another on the violin. I really enjoyed that.

Got a chance to catch up with some old Messianic acquaintances. It really was nice to see some old friends and to hang out with other Messianics.

(Note to Messianics everywhere: music for the Lord + food + community is a great trio for fellowship!)

The Music

Mitchell is a super talented guy. As a guitarist, he’s really masterful: I  frankly feel ashamed of my own guitar skills when I hear Mitchell play.


Mitchell’s cover of Matisyahu’s Live Like a Warrior

He’s a solid vocalist, a creative lyricist. Perhaps the most striking thing about Mitchell, however, is his sincerity in worship and in person. There’s no religious façade, just a kind and sincere person who loves the Lord. When I talk to him, he strikes me as a sincere, WYSIWYG person.

This makes his music all the more likeable.

As I left the album release party, I plopped the new CD into my car stereo, hit the road, and the next thing you know, I’m singing songs of Zion:

  1. Vehaya Bayom HaHu (In That Day)
    Hebrew.


    Mitchell opens up with an up tempo, almost Latino Rock sound, with lyrics from Zechariah’s Messianic prophecy:

    ”In that day, living waters will flow forth from Jerusalem.”

    I love the way the song ends: “In that day, the Lord will extend his hand again, extend his hand a second time!”
  2. Open For Me
    English and some Hebrew.


    A joyful, foot-stompin’, hand-clapping, upbeat easy-to-sing-to congregational song, with lots of niggunim (yadaidai’s). One of my favorites from the album. It’ll make even the most reserved worshiper start praising.

    Mitchell sings the words of the psalmist,

    “Open for me the gates of righteousness, and I will enter and praise HaShem.”

    This song was familiar to me; Mitchell had first chanted this song – in fact, all of Psalm 118 – a few years ago on a prayer recording for the meal of Messiah, a Hasidic Passover tradition now adopted by some Messianic groups.

    For the new album, Mitchell changed up the lyrics from the chanted version and added several of the surrounding verses including “This is the day HaShem has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

    I really liked this song, and I plan on playing it at my own congregation. I think it’s easy to sing and praise the Lord to.
  3. Or Chadash
    English and some Hebrew


    “May you shine a new light upon Zion
    And may we all quickly merit its light!”

    Powerful prayer from the siddur. Mitchell does it justice with his rendition, including a haunting intro and beautiful acoustic guitar line, finishing with thrice-repeated pleading petition, “May you shine upon Zion!”

    Theological note: I admit, meriting God’s favor is foreign to my western Christianized, Protestant-ized ear! “May we all quickly merit its light” sounds distinctly non-Christian to me. But the more I thought about it, Protestants do similar prayers, just without using the word “merit”. We all, as believers, hope to please God with our lives and actions, meriting his favor and forgiveness. Our good works don’t cancel God’s grace. So while initially I had reservations about meriting God’s favor, I think this message is ultimately biblical.

    I love the ending of the song. Mitchell switches from the main verse line and into a new chorus of pleading with God, “May you shine upon Zion!”

    The song ends abruptly when that last sentence is uttered. For me, I was put in a kind of awe. It’s such a powerful prayer, then the repeated plea left me stunned, wanting to sing it myself. I played the song on repeat several times and joined the pleading with God.

    I was so moved by this song, I did a bit of research on this traditional prayer. It turns out, Reform Judaism at one time removed this prayer from its siddurim. The founders of Reform Judaism, thinking God was done shining light specifically on Jerusalem, removed prayers that contained Zion as the locus of redemption from their prayer books.

    Ironically, after God did shine his light on Zion in 1948, and subsequently, Reform Judaism re-inserted this prayer back into its prayer books, some 100 years after it had been removed.

    That Messianics are now singing these same songs and prayers of Zion is something remarkable. I think Jews and Messianics and Christians generally realize that God’s favor has shone upon Zion and the Jewish people once again, and we see the reality of that today in the form of the ending of the Jewish exile, the restoration of the land of Israel, and Jewish independence in our historic homeland. May it continue! May we see more fruit from this new light He has shone upon Zion.
  4. Hashivenu Avinu
    Hebrew


    Easily the most beautiful song on the album. It nearly brought me to tears as Mitchell’s young daughter sings sweetly in Hebrew that old prayer,

    Return us, our Father, to your Torah
    And draw us near, our king, to your service


    There’s a beautiful, uplifting guitar riff break in the middle of the song. Troy sings a soothing niggun, then joins his daughter in singing Hashivenu. It’s really beautiful. His daughter’s soft and sweet voice mixed with Troy’s stronger, raspy voice is a nice mix. But really, there’s just a unique beauty had in 2 generations, father and daughter, singing with one voice to the Lord.
  5. Shiru Lashem
    Hebrew


    A soft acoustic guitar intro gives way to an edgy electric guitar-driven chorus in this heavier take on Psalm 96.

    I’ve heard many renditions of Psalm 96, this one is the edgiest. The chorus and tune are quite catchy, I found myself humming this one at work. It’s a fun take, upbeat and joyful, on this psalm.
  6. Light of the World
    English


    Great song! One of my favorites (THE favorite?) from the album, combining Messiah’s words in Matthew 5, “you are the light of the world, let your light shine before all men, so that they will see your good works”, and the psalmist’s words in Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light to my path…I haven’t forgotten your Torah.”

    To what end? To show that Messiah is telling his disciples to keep the Torah. If the Psalmist saw good works as Torah observance, and saw the commandments as a light to our feet, then Messiah is telling his disciples to keep the commandments, causing people to see those good works and turn to God.

    I actually blogged about this song last year upon hearing it for the first time on an older album produced by a group Mitchell was once a part of. In that post, I wrote of this song, “This is the worst song for the do-nothing gospel.” By that I mean, this song is a terrible song for those who say a good Christian’s responsibility is to believe in Christ and not worry about good works, rule-keeping, and Law-obeying. Because this song highlights Messiah’s own words that amplify good works, fusing them with the psalmist’s equating the Torah as a lamp, this song spells trouble for the do-nothing gospel!

    Lyrics aside, the musical side of this song is unique for the album. Reggae time! I love it. Not over-the-top, but clearly reggae-inspired, upbeat. The song feels a bit short and ends abruptly; each time I listen to this song, I’m singing at the top of my lungs, ready for more, but the song ends.
  7. Veha’er Einenu
    Hebrew


    Positively beautiful take on the Veha’er Einenu prayer. I’ve heard a few melodies set to this prayer, and of course the traditional melody, and I’ve never felt any of them have lived up to the powerful words of the prayer:

    ”Light up our eyes with your Torah, and let our hearts cling to your Mitzvot, and unite our hearts to love and revere your name, that we shall never depart from it.”

    Mitchell’s melody to Veha’er Einenu is the first that captures the same yearning as the ancient prayer. Mitchell sings his friggin’ heart out on this one, particularly in the repeated, “l’olam va’ed” ending, an emotional plea to God that we would never depart from his ways.

    String bass joins the acoustic guitar picking as the prayer repeats again, “enlighten our eyes with your Torah”. Some good background vocals add real depth and warmth to the song.

    Beautifully done. One of my favorites on the whole album. Kudos to Mitchell for putting this prayer to such a beautiful melody.
  8. Lechem
    Hebrew


    What a fun song! I heard this melody before in a chant Mitchell did for the Meal of Messiah, the then-titled Ashrei.

    It’s Messiah’s words from the gospels, “Happiness [joy, contentment] awaits he who eats bread in the Kingdom of Heaven”

    It’s a super simple song with really 2 repeated verse lines. I’ve played it a few times myself (guitar chords here), it’s a fun one. Mitchell mixes it up enough so as not to be too repetitive, each time adding a variation on singing or instrumentals, with a full on guitar and piano instrumental half ways through.

    Towards the latter end of the song, after a nice niggun from Mitchell, the drummer really goes to town with this – and I love it!

    Mitchell ends it with a shout, “Ashrei mi sheyochal…….lechem, lechem! B’malchut shamayim!”

    Fun song.
  9. Fire on the Mountain
    Greek. Yes, really!


    Mixed feelings about this one.

    One one hand, it’s a rarity: you don’t have much Greek music in the Messianic world! (In fact, the only other Messianic Greek songs I know of is Kemo Shephas from Troy’s last album!)

    Why Greek? Well, it’s from the book of Hebrews, which is recognized by biblical scholars as something of a Greek masterpiece. In particular, this song is taken from Hebrews 12,

    “You have not come to a tangible mountain…but to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the myriads of angels, the assembly of the first-born in heaven, to God, the judge of all…”

    So it’s interesting from that perspective: taking the Greek book of Hebrews and singing it in Greek. And I must admit the chords is catchy! Not knowing an ounce of Greek, I found it amusing to try to even make my mouth say “proseleluthate Sion orei!” so quickly. (I’m butchering that, even now!)

    Still, I find it hard to like Greek. I love Hebrew, it’s the holy tongue! But Greek? I don’t have the same desire. Yes, even though the New Testament is probably written virtually all in Greek, I just don’t have the same love for the language.

    Illogical as my distaste for Greek may be, it made it hard to like this song.
  10. In the Light
    English


    ”If we are in the light, as He is in the light, we’ll fellowship together.”

    Simple song, a fresh take on Hine Mah Tov. Simple song, easy to enjoy and sing. And really, it’s convicting for the Messianic movement, isn’t it? If we really are in the light, then we will fellowship together, amein?

    In that vein, I’m kind of glad I went Troy Mitchell’s release party, hosted by another Messianic congregation. Too many congregations here in Minnesota have little theological quarrels and dislike of each other. It was nice, as Troy’s song and the psalmist both commend us, to fellowship together.
  11. Shuvu
    Hebrew


    Troy writes of this song,

    ”A couple of years ago, I was visiting the west coast playing music and helping promote The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels that was recently released by Vine of David. That trip, and the message of the gospels inspired this song. The words are, “Shuvu ki malchut Hashamayim karva lavo”, which translates to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This was the fundamental message of Yeshua (Jesus).”

    Haunting melody, slow and rising.
  12. The Oil Remains
    English


    This song sounds deceptively simple. But the more I listen, the deeper its lyrics become. Mitchell delicately, softly sings  

    “Winds sweep the face of the earth,
    The pages of history turn,
    One kingdom reigns and another
    Power fades, and is soon given over
    One small thing stays the same
    One small people remain unwavering
    Like a fragrant smoke ascending straight to heaven
    Untouched by the wind”


    Reminding us of the reality that the survival of the Jewish people is a kind of miracle. But the song continues,

    Even if the flame goes out
    The light is only concealed
    Even if the flame goes out
    The oil remains


    I listened to this several times as I thought how the song's message could apply to the Jewish people and the exile, to Judaism without Messiah, to the Church and our spiritual drought, to the Temple and our longing (and trusting!) that it will be rebuilt, and even to Messiah and his return. Above all, it reminded me of God's faithfulness to Israel, how the reality of Israel's existence is a miracle and evidence of God, something we can point to and say, "This is God at work." I don’t know whether Mitchell and Eby intended it to mean all these things, but it they were brought to my mind through this song.

    Great song, one of my personal favorites from the album.
  13. Mizmor Shir (L’Yom HaShabbos)
    English, some Hebrew


    ”The whole world is waiting to sing this song of shabbos! I am *also* waiting to sing this song of shabbos!”

    I love this song, probably my favorite! 

    Simple message, an awesome remake of an old Shlomo Carlebach tune, some edgy rock guitar added makes this song feel like, as one fan put it, “a declaration of determined victory.”

    In some ways, it’s prophetic and quite appropriate that it is the Messianic world singing along to this old tune: if the whole world is waiting to take part in shabbat, it will be through the Master of Shabbat, the Messiah of the gospels. I see the broad Messianic movement playing a vital role in the restoration of shabbat to all humanity.

    So, I love that Messianics will be singing this old tune. I love that Carlebach wrote a song like this, a prediction of the universal nature of shabbat. And I think Troy’s version is more powerful than Carlebach’s own version, honestly. The electric guitar, bass line and some light but steady drum beat complements perfectly the power in the lyrics.

Conclusion

The overall message of the album is striking, maybe even controversial.

Striking, because of its absolute focus on Israel, in its reciting the prayers of Israel, its amplification of Zion as God’s chosen place. Most of the songs are in Hebrew. It’s clear the author sees Messianic Judaism in concert with the broader Jewish community, rather than outside of it or opposed to it.

This album may be controversial. As I went through the album, I realized there is no direct mention of Yeshua. Like the book of Esther, where God is present and yet hidden, Troy Mitchell’s album is filled with Messiah, but in a way believers are unaccustomed to. Several songs are derived from the gospels, some are quotes from Messiah (Lechem, Light of the World), others from the apostolic Scriptures (Fire on the Mountain), heck, even the album’s title is taken from the gospels! But Yeshua is not directly mentioned.

Mitchell’s delicate weaving of the gospels, the prophets, the psalms and the apostolic writings in a coherent fashion is something new and unique: it shows Messiah present, as he always has been with Israel and Judaism, without being overt and clumsy about it.  That is indeed an interesting direction for Messianic music.

This has an interesting side effect: I think an unbelieving Jewish person – a Jew who doesn’t follow Jesus – would find absolutely nothing objectionable about this album. In fact, such a person would really enjoy some of the beautiful tunes for HaShem. Perhaps it is an attempt in that space to, in service to God, reach across to the broader Jewish world and help mend the 2000 year breach between Jews and Christians.

If I could find anything to criticize about this album, it’s the heavy Hebrew! I shouldn’t complain. As a budding Hebrew learner myself, I still found it hard to interpret the songs in my head; I ended up having to look up the translation for most of the songs. I did appreciate the songs that do Hebrew and English, such as Or Chadash. I suspect most Messianics – who tend to speak little Hebrew – will have difficulty with some of these songs. At the same time, I applaud the heavy use of Hebrew because it in itself is a restoration the Lord is accomplishing in the 21st century. We as a movement would do well to learn the holy tongue and deepen our knowledge of the Scriptures and our base of Israel-centered faith as well.

This album gives us fresh takes on songs of Zion, songs and prayers of Israel, and songs from the gospels that both believers and non-believing Jews would enjoy.

Musically speaking, the album is professionally worked, sharp, produced and mixed with excellence. On a deeper level, there are with moments of heart-wrenching pleas to God, moments of joyful praise in unison with the psalmists, the prophets, and the apostles. The lyrics are deep, they provoked my mind to think and reflect. The music is joyful, sometimes traditional, other times filled with a modern edge.

My takeaway from this album is that it is pleasing to God and something fitting for the broad Messianic movement. I can honestly say I’ve been enriched through the lyrics and music on this album.. I think it will be the same for you, fine Kineti readers.

You can buy Troy Mitchell’s Light of the World here for a cool $15.

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