The Hazelwood Sessions

We moved into our house in NE Portland last November. I said to my wife I want this to be a house of music. We both have a musical background, her as a vocalist and I as a singer-songwriter. The first piece of furniture I bought for our new house was a 100-year-old upright piano. It anchors our living room.

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Kari and I both grew up singing in church. In many ways, it was the first opportunity to explore our musical gifts. And that was a wonderful thing about the churches we grew up in: Music was a central part. We were allowed to find our voices—on stage and off—in these communities.

Neither of us are particularly church people anymore. For me, I spent a good deal of time in church leadership and eventually found that it was time to leave. I had tried my best to reconcile the teachings of a man 2,000 years ago with the current state of the American church and I was lost and frustrated. It took a few years for me to finally realize that nothing in the church was changing any time soon. So I left.

I don’t know that anyone really took much notice. It was my own personal journey. I wanted to expand. I wanted to see if these ideals and values that are attributed to this Jesus of Nazareth were as widely-applicable as they were said to have been on the outside—in the wide, wide world.

Kari and I each cultivate our own sense of connection with God—the Universe—and despite the despicable entanglement of church and state these days, we really have no ill will toward the church. It helps people; it hurts people. It give meaning; it oversimplifies meaning.

When we moved into this house, I wanted to record some songs. But I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to write my own songs right away. So we figured we’d pull some standards that were close to our hearts and record them instead. We immediately thought of the hymns from our childhood. They were the songs we first sang in our respective churches. So we figured we’d record them as a sort of thank you to the communities and families that supported our dreams of music.

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Below are four hymns and a Christmas song. We recorded all the tracks at our house. A friend lent his upright bass to a couple tracks and another friend, his electric guitar. The songs are sparse and simple, yet they are full of emotion and longing. For a world-made-right. For peace on earth. For a life of real value.

I am not really interested in the strict theology of these hymns, nor am I interested in getting into conversations about particular dogmas. I simply wanted to capture the heart of what we grew up with in the church: God is love.

Pithy, sure. Cliché? Perhaps. To be fair, I also like the song Clocks by Coldplay and sometimes I order a Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks. Yes, yes, I can be basic in my own ways. And I’m okay with that.

I dubbed the EP The Hazelwood Sessions since our new neighborhood in Portland is called Hazelwood. And they are demos—not quite complete recordings—but I think you’ll enjoy them all the same. Perhaps not as polished as my wife would like…she tends toward perfectionism as anyone who knows her might suggest. But I’m putting them out there all the same, rough edges included.

I hope these songs give you hope and help you reach for meaning in our world. I would hope that music could be used to unite instead of divide. And so our small end-of-the-year gift to you is below. Enjoy and feel free to share. The songs are all public domain.

All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness ... the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives. — Dalai Lama