Music

Bleary Eyed Duty: The Unflinching Testimony of David Eugene Edwards

Woven Hand's David Eugene Edwards

In a world where you can have a Christian version of pretty much any genre, Woven Hand's David Eugene Edwards is a real outlier because you wouldn't know where to put him if he were a secular artist.


Woven Hand

Ten Stones

Contributors: David Eugene Edwards
Label: Sounds Familyre
US Release Date: 2008-09-09
UK Release Date: 2008-09-08
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Woven Hand

Consider the Birds

Label: Sounds Familyre
US Release Date: 2004-11-02
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Woven Hand

Mosaic

Label: Sounds Familyre
US Release Date: 2006-08-22
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As a friend and I wound our way towards Asheville, North Carolina, to catch a Woven Hand show, we talked a bit about Contemporary Christian music. I confessed that I didn't much care for it. Maybe it's due to my status as a pessimistic backslider, but I tend to find the music's relentless optimism tedious, and subscribe to the old cliché that Contemporary Christian musicians think about God first and the music second, much to their songs' detriment.

I told him about a Sam Phillips interview I'd heard, where she recounted getting out of her contract with a Contemporary Christian label by threatening to go public with the news that she'd had pre-marital sex. My friend told me about Michael English's fall from grace when he had an extramarital affair with another gospel singer, and its widespread ramifications within the Christian music community, which you could argue places unrealistic burdens of perfection on its artists. We talked about Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, and how his philosophy was fueling a local megachurch that had recently opened up a large satellite location, complete with a simulcast sermon.

It was a good conversation, and throughout it, I kept going back in my head to Woven Hand's driving force, David Eugene Edwards, and realizing that his music would probably never be welcomed into the mainstream Christian music fold, despite the fact that Edwards is one of the most devout musicians performing today.

The message is certainly there, from the band's name (a reference to hands clasped in prayer) down to the songs themselves. "Down in Yon Forest", from 2004's Consider the Birds, finds Edwards singing, "Down in yon forest there stands a hall / Bells of paradise I hear them ring / It's gilded all over with purple and pall / And I love my lord Jesus above anything." "Tin Finger", from the same album, observes that "All our words rhyme with guilt tonight / The love of him is law / He bares his arms". Those are far from isolated sentiments, as Edwards' lyrics consistently document the struggles inherent in faith, the struggles caused by a body that is essentially a prison, and the struggles caused by walking through a world that's filled with unbelief. But in a world where you can have Christian rap, Christian metal, and a Christian version of pretty much any genre, Edwards is a real outlier because you really wouldn't know where to put him if he were a secular artist.

Edwards' music is notable for its density, both with Wovenhand and with his previous band, 16 Horsepower. There's a mix of Gothic spookiness, Native American rhythms, churning guitar figures, trancelike melodies, and a relentless focus. Whatever you can say about it, you can't say that he's compromising his musical vision. As he once told an interviewer, "There's beauty in music because God is the author of music. And so with that, I try to be true to the creativity of it and to make it interesting and beautiful. Or maybe confronting, or peaceful, or angry, or whatever the mood is. I try to stay true to my own creativity as well as the message."

Edwards chronicles an internal struggle and his music reflects that. His lyrics speak of God's love, but they also speak of shadows and blades. "The theme," Edwards once told The Daily Times, "has always been the depravity of man, basically, and that relationship between man and his creator, as well as all the things that go along with that." That would certainly explain songs like "White Knuckle Grip" ("We're dealing with fire either way / Driving these streets in squandered time... I'm gonna dance this town to ruins / Stood close hell fire barbed wire") or "Sparrow Falls" ("Holy king cause my skin to crawl / Away from every evil thing").

While you'd think -- after hearing his music -- that Edwards' worldview is the product of a clapboard church from deep in an Appalachian holler, he's actually a product of a colorful Colorado upbringing. Scattered through interviews are references to accompanying his grandfather, a Nazarene preacher, on his travels. His grandmother, for her part, made sure that the young Edwards attended the funerals of fellow churchgoers. Despite that strict upbringing -- or maybe because of it -- Edwards dropped out of school to pursue music, ending up in Los Angeles and working construction on Roger Corman movie sets before he ultimately formed 16 Horsepower with bassist Pascal Humbert and drummer Jean-Yves Tola (the band's core lineup would reform for 2002's Folklore after several roster changes).

16 Horsepower made some waves, but it's tempting to look back on the group as a training ground that bred the full creative powers Edwards now brings to Woven Hand. Both bands have always been essentially one-man shows, with Edwards providing the bulk of the songwriting and creative vision, but his Woven Hand efforts sound more fully realized. Maybe that's because, despite the strength of his vision, he's blessed with sympathetic bandmates.

That was evident once we made it to the Grey Eagle in Asheville and saw the band perform. From the start, it was a no-nonsense affair. No sooner had the opening band, Suttree, finished its set and we'd ordered food from the kitchen than Edwards and company were kicking things off after the shortest of soundchecks. Edwards, seated on a stool and playing either a Gretsch electric guitar or an antique banjola, rarely looked at the crowd. Instead, he sang with his eyes closed and focused on some inner place as he played driving, churning riffs and sang of redemption and doom. At one point, he used the creaking of his stool as the intro to a song, while looped drones and feedback linked other numbers.

Bassist Pascal Humbert and drummer Ordy Garrison were incredibly powerful, lending both heft and grace to Edwards' driving compositions in the absence of studio flourishes like accordions or pianos. Before long, the entire evening began to take on an almost hypnotic aspect. In the end, I'm not sure the crowd's presence was even necessary; you got the feeling that Woven Hand was playing in its own world. The usual crowd chatter and laughter often seemed like an intrusion, even during the loudest songs. Before long, though, listeners were dialed in, so much so that when the band ended one song, it was greeted with applause and then a struck silence while Edwards rooted around the stage for a capo before he could start the next song.

If you're completely in tune with Edwards' rough-hewn Biblical views, then his concerts are definitely a gift from above. But if you're not quite so devout, or come at your spirituality from a different angle, Edwards' performances have the added benefit of letting you evaluate your own beliefs as you hold them up and compare them to the lyrics you're currently hearing. When you hear him sing songs that indicate that he's given himself completely over, you have to at least react internally, whether it's a "yeah, right" or a considered "hmmmmm".

Personally, I haven't done much research or reading to find out how Edwards' beliefs inform his views on larger issues. I haven't done so because the power of Woven Hand's music comes from the personal sphere, its chronicle of one man's daily quest to maintain clarity. There's a lot to take in. Edwards' music is challenging. He might share the "My God is an awesome God" sentiment that permeates Contemporary Christian music, but Edwards maintains a sometimes chilling Old Testament edge that's anything but a soft-focus filter on the Divine. It's a mix of sound and words that leads you to try on crazy, purple-prose descriptions like "This is music for vampires who are still clinging to God" or somesuch, just to try and get a handle on it.

But it's a testament to Edwards' unique position as a Christian artist, and his aforementioned attention to what he considers a God-given gift, that even if you don't find yourself in a reflective listening mood, you can still be swept away on the music in a club or at home. In the past, he's adapted a 4th Century plainsong into the rumbling hush of "Twigs", while a medieval song led to the organ intro and nimble banjo of "Swedish Purse". His latest record, Ten Stones, is one of his strongest and most aggressive yet, following the growth that was evident through Consider the Birds and Mosaic and adding more guitar crunch. "Kicking Bird" (a true standout on the night I saw them) takes a Native American Plains Chant and gives it a thunderous, stampeding arrangement.

Surprisingly, the artist closest to Edwards (in sonic terms, at least) may be Nick Cave. Both share the same willingness to let an arrangement barrel ahead, but without ever dropping the reins. Granted, Cave's evocations of God tend towards the blasphemous, resulting in a dark sensuality, but Cave also possesses an austerity that's right in line with Edwards' own rapturous belief. In a blind taste test, at least, either one of them could have come up with confrontational lyrics like those found in "To Make a Ring" ("Listen / Judgment is not avoided by your unbelief / Your lack of fear / Nor by your prayers to any little idol here"). Like Cave, Edwards is a compelling figure, making compelling music, seemingly unhindered by worries about what anyone else might think.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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