So, the other day I began what is sure to be a very long series of posts about some of the amazing people God has placed in my life. Let’s go ahead and visit another installment in that series, OK?
I met (THE) Shawn Skinner in April of 2008. My wife, Kristi and I flew from TX where I was pastoring, back to suburban Phoenix to have a vision-casting meeting for what would eventually become Church of the Cross. Shawn and I hit it off on many different levels and it wasn’t long before he began leading worship for our church family. And over the years, I have watched as God has gifted Shawn with his own musical voice.
Shawn recently played at Crescent Ballroom, one of my favorite Phoenix venues. I love seeing artists grow into themselves and this night was a prime example of just such a moment. And I’m not just saying that because Shawn is a good friend. If you’ll pardon my indulgence, I’d like to post three videos as proof of my claim that Shawn Skinner is certainly finding his musical voice.
Shawn opened up with a new song called “12 O’Clock Shuffle.” The parts that sound like he’s copying Tom Waits are actually supposed to be sung through this cool flask-o-phone (an actual flask that Shawn has turned into a microphone) that Shawn didn’t bring this night. So, he’s not just paying tribute to Waits, though that might not be a bad thing; he’s approximating the sound of the mic he didn’t bring. Anyway, watch right at around the 1:30 mark when Shawn offers an abrupt transition and a random crowd-goer shows his enthusiasm. You can see Shawn gain some confidence in that moment. And it never left him:
Next up is “You Better Not Miss,” a true story that Shawn turns into a haunting vignette:
Last up is a Shawn Skinner classic, “Charlie and William.” I love when the sound man adds some reverb to the refrain about three-quarters of the way through:
Watch for great things because I have no doubt Shawn can and will deliver.
Being an AZ native, I love AZ music and no band symbolizes that better for me than Calexico. Hailing from Tucson, Calexico fuses experimental indie rock with mariachi bands and spaghetti western flourishes. It sounds like home to me.
The band just announced that their new album “Algiers” will be out in September on Anti. They also debuted the new video for the single “Para”:
It’s almost March. I nearly forgot about doing a mix CD for this month. I told myself that I would put up a mix CD every month this year (see January’s mix here, which is a collection of songs I’d like to hear my friend Shawn Skinner play). It’s only February and I nearly forgot about this project! I may need people to remind me.
But it’s OK, because this month’s mix is one of my favorite things to listen to. Ever. Years ago, I started digging in to the rich Arizona music scene. Yes, Arizona has a music scene and a very good one, actually. Not really in the sense that we have a regular nightlife, but more in the sense that there is some really, really good music that’s come out of Arizona. Some of my favorite music ever, in fact.
So, you don’t get far into exploring Arizona music without stumbling across Howe Gelb and his many musical incarnations, spinoffs and bands he’s influenced. It was through my explorations of Howe’s music, primarily his band Giant Sand and its offshoot Calexico, that I met the music of Rainer Ptacek, who played simply as Rainer.
Rainer, born in Berlin, moved to Tucson, AZ when he was five years old. He repaired guitars for a living and eventually crossed paths with Howe, weaving in and out of Giant Sand over the years. He also put out several albums of his own. I love Rainer’s sound and I collected several of his instrumental tracks and years ago, I put them on a mix CD which I listen while reading and studying.
In early 1996, Rainer was diagnosed with brain cancer. The Tucson music scene rallied around him with benefits and there was even an all-star tribute CD for fundraising that included Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris. After going in to remission, Rainer had to re-learn guitar and songwriting, which he did but the cancer returned and he succumbed in November 1997.
Here is an extended video of Rainer talking about colors as they relate to his music and performing “Worried Spirits” in the desert. Warning: he does let an expletive fly at around the 2:38 mark, so be forewarned:
Here is Rainer performing “Life Is Fine” on Jools Holland in 1993:
Here is a profile piece done after his diagnosis:
And here is Rainer performing “When You’ve Got A Good Friend” in 1985: