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MP3 Buddy Greene - A Few More Years

A new acoustic, gospel release with a little help on harmonies and instruments from some extraordinary friends: Vince Gill, Jerry Douglas, Bryan Sutton, Aubrey Haynie, Ben & Sonya Isaacs, Gordon Mote, Kelly Willard, and Jeff Taylor.

14 MP3 Songs in this album (57:14) !
Related styles: Folk: Modern Folk, Spiritual: Country Gospel, Christian

People who are interested in John Denver Tim O’Brien should consider this download.

Commentary on my latest recording… A Few More Years

One day, during the recording of A Few More Years, my assistant asked me to explain why I was so excited about this batch of songs. I reflected for a moment over the last 2 to 3 years - a period which involved buying and selling houses, moving, experiencing our first child leaving the nest, walking with more and more friends and family who were suffering from disease and other hardships, and knowing the grief of not a few loved ones dying. I then told her that during this period these songs helped me hear what I needed to hear, that is, aspects of the gospel that shored me up and helped me deal with the stress and emotional upheaval that was accompanying all of our circumstances. They were a balm for the weariness I felt, reminders of the steadfast love of God for his children, and the hope that comes from trusting in that love to bring me through whatever life in this fallen world may bring. They were also reminders of the things to come, of the new heaven and the new earth, and the New Jerusalem, the city of God, coming down. They were reminders of a God who sets things right, finally and completely in the age to come, but also even today as his children pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and act accordingly. With that in mind I’d like to offer some brief commentary on each of these songs.

I grew up in a church tradition that emphasized our heavenly destination through songs and preaching that described heaven based on a literal reading of things - you know, streets of gold, pearly gates and such. By the time I was a teenager, I had a growing awareness of a world gone wrong. There were race riots in our cities’ streets, an unpopular war, a cultural revolution that was pitting father against son and mother against daughter. Beacons of hope, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, were being snuffed out, while young rebels full of promise, like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, were dying as a result of their own reckless behavior. In the face of all this, somehow the promise of a heavenly reward and songs like I’ll Fly Away offered little comfort. In fact, they seemed escapist and indifferent to the world my generation was inheriting. The church, as it was being presented to me, seemed entirely irrelevant, an enclave for people trying to be nice while the world went to hell in a hand basket.

Years later, when I began to believe the gospel, heaven still wasn’t a motivating factor. Escaping hell on earth - which, by this time, my life had become – was, however, the big motivator. I just wanted to know how to live a better life here and now, and the promise of the resurrection life that Jesus offered was my last hope. Slowly, my life did begin to improve as I learned to make better decisions based on God’s will for me as revealed in the scriptures. I began to associate and make friends with fellow believers, and the fellowship with such good folk reinforced my attitude and desire to be a better person. I was learning to be a disciple of Jesus, or was I?

Actually I was, but not without some serious missteps along the way. What has been revealed to me throughout my 25+ years of trying to be a follower of Jesus is my tendency to make salvation about me, as opposed to God’s great plan to restore his creation, that is, to make all things new. “For God so loved the world” goes one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. Does God offer me eternal life through his son? Certainly - that’s what the verse says. Will he forgive the repentant sinner? Of course - the scriptures make this promise over and over. But why do we repent? Why does God forgive? To what end are we being saved? Is it for some forestalled, future state of bliss that, in the meantime, has very little, if anything, to do with the here and now? Are we, at best, to just hang on in the midst of ours, and everybody else’s suffering, till we get our reward in heaven? Or worse, are we to live indifferently to the suffering and injustice all around us, insulated and preoccupied by our quest for the American dream, assuring ourselves that God wants us to prosper, avoid suffering, and be evacuated before the “tribulation” gets here?

It’s no wonder that kind of Christianity had no appeal to me as a disenfranchised prodigal son over thirty years ago. Thank God, it has also become as tasteless and dissatisfying to Buddy, the recovering Pharisee. I, too, like the God in whose image I’ve been created, love this world, and did so even in my pre-Jesus days. I loved God’s creation, all that He had made and called “good”. And I hated the way we, I, had screwed it up. I hated the way I was living, because I knew life was supposed to be so much better. I wanted to see the world put right, and I wanted to find my place in it. So when someone said to me, “it’s all gonna burn, so don’t get left behind”, I didn’t hear an invitation; I heard just another form of escapism.

But the call to follow Jesus is first of all an opportunity to repent, that is, change directions, in one’s thinking and one’s actions, not once, but daily, hourly, minute by minute, if necessary, in order to have eyes and ears that see and hear more rightly the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus came preaching and demonstrating. And that gospel has to do with God, not deserting His world, but rescuing, redeeming, and re-creating His world.


Twelve Gates To The City
Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee have been favorites of mine since I first discovered them nearly 40 years ago. At the time they were still alive and touring as a duet. Sonny’s harmonica playing was amazing, and Brownie’s guitar playing, a very sophisticated Piedmont blues style, was the perfect compliment. Both were unique and highly expressive vocalists. I heard this song for the first time on a collection of gospel songs of theirs. Sonny sang it with such joy and abandon that it made me consider why. For African Americans who had grown up in the land of Jim Crow, been denied civil liberties and a place at the table in the land of the free, the prospect of gates thrown wide open, with access for all those who had been kept out, would be something worth shouting about. Their version was similar to those of other blues contemporaries, like Rev. Gary Davis, with simple verses: “If you see my mother up there/ Would you tell her this for me/ Say I’m on my way to the city/ Hallelu, amen!”

Revelation 21 and 22, an amazing distillation of Old Testament prophesy, provides a culmination of all of scripture that fittingly ends the New Testament. One day I got carried away while playing 12 Gates, and a half hour later had written three new verses that allowed me to include some of the powerful imagery from this passage, rendered in a way that would, hopefully, meet Sonny’s and Brownie’s approval.

Headed For The Promised Land
One morning last October, I picked up my guitar and started strumming, and a melody came immediately to my head, along with the somewhat predictable first line, “I’m headed for the promised land”. I decided I ought to stick with this one, see if I could finish it before lunch – and I did! It’s no great song, just another little celebration from another little pilgrim, stumbling after the resurrected Jesus into the world he’s come to reclaim for his Father.

I think this song was an attempt to work through some of the grief I was feeling over the loss of my dad, a kind of therapy, really. It helped to get me beyond the doldrums that had set in, because as soon as I wrote it I was imagining the friends I’d love to hear playing it. Musicians like Bryan Sutton (guitar), Byron House (bass), Aubrey Hayney (mandolin), and Luke Bulla (fiddle, harmony vocal) are all artists in their own right; it’s absolutely amazing what they bring to a song. And they all live here in Nashville. I love this town.

A Few More Years
I first heard this song on Tim O’Brien’s Grammy award- winning album, Fiddler’s Green. I’ve also heard that Ralph Stanley and Hazel Dickens have each done great versions of this old hymn. Its lyrics are credited to Horatius Bonar, a 19th century Scottish preacher and hymn writer with whom I’m vaguely familiar, but like most of his hymns, you won’t find it except maybe in an old Presbyterian hymnal. I just love what it says and how it says it.

I had been thinking about this song for some time as a possible addition to this project, when finally, just the night before recording, I came up with a partial arrangement. The next day in the studio Bryan, Aubrey, Byron, and Jeff breathed new life into this old gem, with great ideas brilliantly conceived and performed. I was also extremely grateful and proud to have Vince Gill stop by several days later and lend his enormous vocal talent to the track.

By the end of tracking it became clear that this song summed up the project best, and it became our title cut.

How Can I Keep From Singing
“What though my joys and comforts die, the Lord, my savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round, songs in the night He giveth.

Sometimes there’s nothing like a song to help you get through the hard times. This song came to my attention 7 or 8 years ago when my good friend, Jack Pearson, played it one summer at Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center. Since 1996 Vicki, the girls and I had been going every summer to family camp at this haven among the coastal redwoods of California, and one of the delights of the experience was always Jack and his music. Jack had been a summer musician at Mt. Hermon for many years already, leading campfire sing-a-longs, family concerts, and teaching the children songs, storytelling, and the joys of making music with small folk instruments such as the spoons or jaw harp. He and I hit it off from the get go, and I marveled at Jack’s abilities, broad talents, and big, tender heart, especially for children.

I’ve learned many songs from Jack, but this old hymn is special. Its origin is obscure, dating back at least to the late 19th century. The earliest versions that I’ve found in late 19th and early 20th century hymnals contain most of the lyrics of this version here, though set in ¾ time rather than my 4/4 rendering. It became a favorite song of folk singers like Pete Seeger during the mid 20th century, an anthem for hard-pressed workers during the labor movement, and again during the McCarthy era, but as far as I can tell it was altered and de-Christianized. As a Christ-centered lyric, I’ve found it immensely comforting and reassuring.

Denomination Blues
I first heard a version of this song on a Ry Cooder record over 30 years ago. It was written and recorded by Washington Phillips in the 1920s. Mr. Phillips was not afraid of preaching, especially to Christians that needed to get beyond their particular brand of religion and on to following Jesus. His lyrics included verses about the Primitive Baptists and the African Methodists(AME), two groups with which I’ve had little contact. I began coming up with verses of my own about some groups I was familiar with, beginning with my own group, the Presbyterians. Pat Flynn is a good friend, and, over the years, someone I’ve performed with a lot. Seems like every time we do this song another group comes to mind that needs to be added to the list, so he must share the guilt on these alternate lyrics.

This is one of those songs that draws mixed reviews, depending on the listener’s perspective. I’ve noticed that it doesn’t go over too well at church meetings, but it’s a hit in “worldly” settings, such as music clubs or house concerts - with the Christians present as well as the heathens. It’s as if we have to get away from the church building and our own party affiliation in order to let our guards down and not take ourselves so seriously. So, if you’ve taken offense over this one and feel inclined to write me, just know that my response will probably be, “you really ought to get out more.”

Hard Times Come Again No More
Stephen Foster was the first successful American songwriter, with hugely popular songs like “Camptown Races”, “Oh, Susannah!”, “Beautiful Dreamer”, and many, many more. Foster was able to make a living through royalties from sheet music sales, but, in a time of minstrel shows and fly-by-night publishing, it was a precarious one. After his initial success he encountered a series of personal and business setbacks that eventually left him broke, alcoholic, and estranged from his wife and family. He died at the age of 37, penniless and alone.

This is one of my favorite Stephen Foster songs, written in 1855, the year that both his parents died. It was the beginning of hard times that would lead to his own sad demise 9 years later. I’ve heard that toward the end of his life this became his favorite song, one that he was apt to sing in a tavern late at night after too much to drink. The words are haunting and timeless, expressing empathy for and solidarity with the poor, downtrodden sufferers of the world, reminding us, lest we forget, that they are always with us.

Shall We Gather At The River
Robert Lowry is the author and composer of many well-known hymns, including Nothing But the Blood, He Arose, and Shall We Gather At the River. He also composed timeless melodies for classics such as I Need Thee Every Hour, Something For Thee, Marching to Zion, and How Can I Keep From Singing, also on this CD. He was a 19th century professor and Baptist minister from Brooklyn who would “rather preach than write”, but whose lifelong love of music finally led to a rather late avocation as a hymn-writer after the age of 40. He wrote this hymn based on the vision of the new heaven and new earth in Rev. 21 & 22, especially 22:1,2. He wondered why so many hymn-writers had “said so much about the ‘river of death’ and so little about the ‘pure water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb’”, and then penned this classic.

When I think about the time when this hymn was written, in the 1860s, I can’t help but wonder about the state of our nation then - torn by civil war, grieving the loss of over 600,000 of her young men, President Lincoln assassinated, facing an uncertain future of reconstruction – and how that might have led Pastor Lowry to long all the more for a world set right.

I recorded this once before on my Hymns & Prayer Songs CD, but with quite a different feel than this version. I love everybody’s playing on this one, and especially love hearing Ben and Sonya Isaacs’ beautiful sibling harmony.

The God Who Rescued Me
I’ve always liked this song. It’s another deep catalog number of mine first recorded on my Minstrel of the Lord album, now out of print. Jeff Taylor and I have performed it regularly in concert, ever since we started playing together 5 years ago, so I wanted to include it here as my own testimonial. That squeezebox of his really helps to set the stage for my attempt to tell my own story of redemption, and continued renewal, in this fictitious sailor-turned-preacher tale.

I remember one night, after playing this song, as the applause died down, Jeffro exclaiming, in his best pirate’s voice, “Aarr!! is for repentance!”

All My Tears
Julie Miller wrote this fine song. It has been covered by several other artists (Emmylou Harris on her CD Wrecking Ball, for example). I first heard it on Julie’s album about the time I met her. I had asked her to sing background vocals on a song of Mark Heard’s I was recording at the time (I’m Crying Again, from Minstrel of the Lord, now available on the compilation CD Pilgrimage). As we talked about our admiration and love for Mark and his music, she mentioned having had Mark in mind when she wrote All My Tears not long after his untimely death in 1992.

To my ears this song does what a gospel song should do: it states the gospel in such a way that the irreligious and the religious can hear. The music is hauntingly beautiful, and the lyric is full of eternal longings. It’s one of those songs I’d want someone to sing at my funeral.

What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?
Another song recorded by the great Washington Phillips and often attributed to him as writer, but my research reveals that it goes back further, to the turn of the 20th century, when it was written and published by Charles Tindley, a former slave turned Methodist minister. After the Civil War, Tindley went about educating himself, eventually attending seminary. He became sexton at a Methodist church in Philadelphia during this time, and eventually the membership shrank so that the church was ready to expire. The pastorship was offered to Tindley, who became a gifted preacher and prolific songwriter and whose popularity helped to build the church back to a congregation of nearly 4000!

Besides Mr. Phillips’ version it’s been recorded many times. I first heard the song on Jorma Kaukenan’s fine CD, My Blue Heart, a few years back. It’s become a personal favorite in these ensuing years as more and more friends and family members have struggled with the effects of a fallen world where physical and mental disease, poverty, injustice, hurts of every kind, and that final enemy, death, afflict the human condition. The longing for a place where God will set everything right, where “peace abounds like a river”, is felt keenly as the chorus is sung and the persistent question asked, “what are they doing there now?”.

However, this song, unlike some “heaven” songs, is not escapist to me, anymore than a biblical understanding of heaven is escapist. It actually works to connect me with those “burdened with care”, or those “full of disease”, or the poor who are “often despised”, in a way that makes me - in the midst of a “world gone wrong” - want to “pray heaven down”, and in turn, be involved in the lives of those who are suffering. What else can it mean to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, than to not only long for the consummation of God’s kingdom, but, in the meantime, to live and work for its demonstration today? Is this not why Jesus was called a man of sorrows acquainted with grief?

My pastor, Scotty Smith, upon hearing the song, had this to say: “This song contradicts a lot of the way people think about Christian spirituality today. It clearly says the gospel is not an anesthesia, [and that] to be a follower of Jesus does not mean that all of a sudden these kinds of pains go away… Songs like this help me to identify in my mind people I know who do have these ‘minds burdened with care’…people that offer that currency as part of their worship. I think about those who were people of faith, whose bodies were full of disease.

“I think I hear the songwriter saying that he, too, is familiar with grief, and even a part of his longing is wanting, himself, to enjoy some of the relief (from death) that they are experiencing, because [in] his own heart - as the minstrel, the artist, the proclaimer - he’s not a stranger to sorrow either, any more than Jesus was.”

O The Precious Blood Of Jesus
1998 was the year of the much publicized execution of Karla Faye Tucker, convicted of brutally murdering two people in Texas with a pick ax. She had come to faith in Christ while in prison, awaiting her sentence to be carried out, and had changed dramatically as a person. Thousands of people were appealing on her behalf for the Texas Board of Appeals and then Governor George W. Bush to commute her sentence. Bill and Gloria Gaither were on tour in Texas at the time, following the news coverage, and finding themselves, like most Christians, conflicted over all that was at stake. The commutation never came, Ms. Tucker was lethally injected, and Bill and Gloria flew shortly thereafter to Hawaii for a video shoot. There, watching the surf pound the lava cliffs of the island, Gloria couldn’t stop thinking about the scandalous nature of God’s mercy and grace, extended even to cold-blooded murderers. The cross became larger than ever as she put pen to paper and wrote these wonderful lyrics.

After hearing Gloria tell this story and read her poem to an audience, I asked her for a copy. Shortly afterward I was on vacation at the beach. I read Gloria’s lyric again - with all of its sea imagery - and began my own meditation while observing the crashing surf, the teal blue ocean stretching into the distance, and the wide, endless sky. It’s no wonder the sea has inspired so much in the annals of literature and music, and in no time I, too, was trying to evoke the sea in my musical setting for Gloria’s words.

On this and several other songs I’m privileged to have my good friend Kelly Willard providing her exquisite harmony vocals. Kelly has sung on many of my past albums, and I’m a huge fan of hers, both for her vocal talent and songwriting. Well known as an outstanding vocalist in the field of gospel/contemporary Christian music, Kelly has sung on countless recordings of others and has produced many of her own solo efforts (https://www.tradebit.com).

Where Cross The Crowded Ways of Life
I first encountered this song in an early 20th century Methodist hymnal. Written around the turn of the century by Frank North, a Methodist minister from Philadelphia, its lyrics deal poignantly and powerfully with the plight of the urban poor. It’s interesting to me to think how few songs like this are being written today, when homelessness, crime, poverty, and all kinds of social injustice plague our major cities.

This hymn is ultimately a prayer and a call to the church to serve Christ in this world with the love and mercy that she’s received from the Savior. This happens day in and day out through ministries like those of the Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army, Room In The Inn, soup kitchens in downtown churches, charity medical clinics, and many, many more. However, as a suburbanite Christian, it’s easy for me to ignore or neglect this gospel work among the least of these, unless, that is, I’m intentional about following Jesus into a broken and needy world. When I do, I’m usually amazed at what God has to reveal to me about my own needs.

Twelve Gates (reprise)
After the last line of the last song (“…shall come the city of our God.”), it seemed that a reprise of Twelve Gates to the City would be appropriate. Keith Compton had this little snippet saved of my rehearsal with Odessa Settles, her brother Calvin, and Todd Suttles, captured just before recording the background vocals for Twelve Gates. These great singers form half of The Settles Connection, which is completed by Wayne and Shirley Settles, and Calvin’s wife, Sarah. It has been a blessing to discover, perform and become friends with the Settles Connection over these last few years. To learn more about Odessa and this unique family of singers, visit myspace and search for Odessa/Princely Players/Settles Connection.

In The New Jerusalem
This is a song that celebrates the church’s mission to the world as envisioned in the final two chapters of Revelation and initiated in the first few chapters of the book of Acts. It begins with an allusion to Psalm 116:8,9, which states: “For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”

I love the vision of the New Jerusalem. It’s described in detail in Revelation 21 and 22, and prophesied, alluded to, or hinted at in numerous other places in scripture (see for example Psalms 46:4,5; 48; 87; Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; 13:14). It’s the last of John’s visions, a picture that sums up all of history, or rather God’s story, as it has to do with this world and all that’s in it (see Scotty Smith’s comments on Rev. 21 & 22 at the end of this commentary).

For some time now I have been captivated by this biblical vision of heaven coming down. It’s such a better understanding of our destiny and purpose than getting saved so we can one day fly away. When Jesus commanded us to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, I believe he had this vision in mind and meant for us to literally pray heaven down. Evidence of “kingdom come” begins to occur when God’s people act on the fact that God is indeed THE king, on his throne NOW, committed to bring peace and justice on the earth, ready and able to bring peace and reconcile enemies, to turn swords into plowshares - in other words, he is making all things new (Rev. 21:5).

An example of this faith-based action would be when abolitionists protested and prayed till slavery was abolished in 19th century America; or when, a century later, civil rights activists prayed and sang their way to seeing the waters part and the Jim Crow laws changed. The fall of communism in eastern Europe, the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, not to mention the truth and reconciliation commission that allowed the perpetrators and victims of apartheid to acknowledge guilt and give/receive forgiveness, are, I believe, further examples of faith-based action based on an eschatology of God “making all things new”.

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