By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (September 30, 2011) – The lyrics and roots blues music on Glenn Kaiser’s latest CD, “Cardboard Box,” are as hard and raw as the homeless people for whom he is singing.
Kaiser is singing for them not only as a gravelly voice for the voiceless, but also to raise funds for Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO), the homeless shelter operated by Jesus People USA, an Evangelical Covenant Church where he also is a pastor. Seventy percent of the net profits will be donated to the shelter.
Kaiser, lead singer for Resurrection Band and the Glenn Kaiser Band, doesn’t simply sing about the homeless – most songs are told from the perspective of an individual existing on the street. They lament what has happened to them and vent their humanity.
Kaiser wants to dispel stereotypes that are so hard to break. “Sure, some (homeless people) are drug addicts or are thieves, but that’s not most of them,” he states. “Most of them are good people who have gone through some hard stuff. They’re not (homeless) because it’s their fault.”
On the title track, one man recount:
Once was a husband
Things went south
Had us a home
‘Til we lost our house
Wall Street broker
Trashed our stocks
Livin’ in a cardboard box
Pedestrians don’t view him and others on the street as human beings, however:
All they can see
Are birds of a flock
God have mercy
Get me outta this cardboard box
Jesus People, an intentional community of several hundred people, has ministered to the homeless since Kaiser and several others started it in the 1970s. The CD grew out of songs based on years of interacting with his neighbors, who are among the most visible residents in Chicago’s gritty Uptown neighborhood.
His wife, Wendi, told him he should make the CD to benefit the shelter. “Then I started having all these ideas just one after another of how it could come together,” he says.
The song “Opportunity Dance” highlights the work of the shelter, where many of the residents have come to faith, and which aims to provide holistic assistance:
so I took the chance
to walk a different way
food on my plate – pillow on my bed
Learnin’ new things
Maybe love is real – maybe I can feel
the brush of angel wings
Kaiser knows their lives first-hand.
Even the instruments Kaiser plays are integral to the album’s theme. Kaiser has developed a passion for cigar box guitars, which he has made from objects that have been discarded.
They may have only one, two or three strings. He made a three-string guitar by placing two wooden desk filers on top of one another, sticking a neck on it and using three machine pegs.
“I love taking something that has been thrown away and making something new out of it,” Kaiser says. “That’s what God does with our lives.”
That idea shows up explicitly on “Unemployment Blues,” when the singer declares, “I don’t want no pity/just don’t want to be disposed.”
Critics have given the album rave reviews. One on cigarbox.com wrote,” I have a vast collection of cigar box guitar CDs, old blues re-releases and more music than my iPod will fit; however, none of them have captured lightning in a bottle like Glenn Kaiser has on this album.
‘It’s a primal, jagged recording featuring 2 and 3-string cigar box guitars, acoustic guitars and very sparse drums . . . but it becomes a masterpiece when mated with Kaiser’s lyrics based on the homeless people he helps everyday at the Cornerstone Community Outreach mission in Inner City Chicago.”
The album confronts the listener visually as well, requiring that the homeless be seen and not just heard. The front cover shows a grizzled man bundled against the cold, taking shelter in a cardboard box. Inside the cover are photos of homeless men, women, and children that cast a light, not only their plight, but also their dignity.
Kaiser says he hopes to tour, which would include Covenant churches. The album is available through GrrrRecords. To view a video of Kaiser singing “Street Talk” (sans cigar box guitar), click here. To visit his Facebook page, click here.