One would think that having Andrew Osenga’s Souvenirs and Postcards for almost two months now would mean that I’d written about it by now, but you’d be wrong.
Let me step through this, then, track-by-track. Andy’s written a wonderful, quiet disc, and I hope that my writing will do it a tiny bit of justice.
The disc starts with “I Miss Those Days”, a wonderful lament about missing one’s former life. Andrew did briefly attend Belmont University, but when the record company came calling, he chucked school for the rock-and-roll life, fronting The Normals, perhaps the best “Christian rock” band you’ve never heard. Andy missed out on the typical college experience, and when he went to his Midwestern roots to see his brother [I think] graduate from college, he was hit with nostalgia for the college life, for the time when “just like all the rest, I was looking around for me.”
Is there regret here? Yes, but it’s tinged with the happiness and gratitude that you heard in The Normals’ “The Best I Can” [from Coming to Life, one of the best albums I own]. Andy’s since met the love of his life, gotten married, and bought his little house in Nashville. The closing lines say all that need be said about this case:
but I am happy now,
oh so happy, since I’ve found you,
And I’m quiet now,
yes, quite content, since we’ve been living here,
and I’ve got everything I’ve ever needed,
and half the things I’d ever want.
and I may miss those days,
but if they came back, I would miss you so much more.
“Roses in a Dead Man’s Hand” may be my favorite of the songs on this all-too short [25:52!] disc. The poetic goodness of it all lends me to just quote the entirety of the lyrics and let them speak for themselves, but that always rankles me when I see it on other folks’ Weblogs. As perhaps best fitting for any well-written song that holds to the verse-chorus structure, the bridge is really what gets you there:
can I sing it hard enough that it will finally sink in?
the promise that I’m loved, and the promise I’m forgiven?
what I’m trying hard to say is that I’m wanting to believe in you again.
As my friend Mark Traphagen said in his review of Souvenirs and Postcards, “We know the promises of grace and forgiveness, but sometimes when we look in the miror, they’re hard to believe.” All we need is self to wonder why grace should be denied us, and Jesus to wonder at the power of that grace. We really are “nothing but a promise lying broken at the cross” many a time in our life.
“If I Had Wings…” does really set the mood of the disc well. Mark noted that the disc is very much autumnal, which reflects when it was all written. I’ve wanted to ask Andrew the significance of these lines:
climb an oak tree, and carve a pumpkin,
light a candle for its eyes,
Hello November, I need surrender,
I need to let October die.
The whole song haunts me in a way that makes me want to reach out and give my friend a hug. It’s accessible—Lord knows that we’ve all had these down moments. Unfortunately, none of us have the haunting vocals of Osenga and Steven Delopoulos [formerly of Burlap to Cashmere] to sing the despair of those dark doldrums.
“The Broadway Bartender” is classic Osenga disassociative songwriting. I remember asking about his previous solo project, Photographs, “How much of that is real and how much of it is fiction?” I think his reply went, “It’s all real, and it’s all fictional, but only some of it is biographical.” This is Andy telling a story that you know isn’t about him, but yet you enjoy it anyway. In an amusing story-within-a-story kind of way, you have the protagonist claiming to be fictional. All in all, it’s wonderful songwriting, and the production quality of it lends to the rest of the disc. [That’s Jars of Clay’s Charlie Lowell on accordion, with bgv’s done by Andrew’s brother Rob.]
“The Priest and the Iron Rain” is, apparently, an allusion to Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. [Again, my lack of a solid literary background fails me. I had to have my boy Joe Bassett tell me that.] The repetitive but ever-mutable chorus is always an enjoyable writing device when well-employed, as it is done here. The bridge is especially tough to listen to in light of the current bloody stasis of the Iraqi occupation:
so what’s the glory of dying,
round here, it all just looks like dying,
and my friend, I can’t keep from trying
to believe it isn’t real,
but we all know that it’s real.
“Baby, Don’t Worry” is probably the song that possessed me to buy ten copies of this disc and distribute them to friends. [AO: “I take it that this means you like it?” GM: “Yes, I think so.”] I’ll admit a slight tinge of guilt drove that purchase—it hurts to see a friend down on his luck!—but the folks I wanted to give this to will all have a great understanding. We all remember the broker-than-broke days when Ramen noodles became more friend than food.
this is just like the stories our parents told us,
Babe, you know they’re doing fine,
as long as we’re together we’ve got it all,
the rest will just take a little time.
Andy’s going to make it. I know.
“The Letter” is the last song on the disc, and I can’t help but think that the object has to be something that Andrew himself wrote. I’m almost entirely predisposed to scream “Innocence and Experience!” after Mrs. Richardson kinda hammered the corpus of William Blake into our heads my senior year in high school, and I really do think that the passage of life is wholly at stake here.
and everybody changes,
but there’s a part that always stays,
and I hope the writer of that letter
is still out there somewhere.
I think that we all have to hope that; without that hope for a brighter tomorrow, without a soul that can know joy and sadness, our lives truly aren’t worth living.