Music

     One of the kinds of resources I wish I wrote more about is music. No one should question the worth of books and (as research I'm doing for the Higher Ed program is showing) it seems that even our CCO-influenced students don't read much. For a religion whose founder is called The Word, and whose God communicates through a Book, evangelicals seem not to love the printed page very much. A recent reread of Os Guinness' splendid Fit Bodies, Fat Minds has convinced me that I still need to be a cheerleader for developing the life of the mind.


     But music, for many of us, our faith journey is blessed, encouraged, challenged and caressed by music. I am an advocate for listening to a wide variety of styles, if you don't have some classic baroque recordings in your collection, you are poor indeed, and one of my most-played CDs is a lovely oboe piece by Mozart. But for now, I want to recommend some recent contemporary Christian music. Specifically, I'd like to recommend some new rock-and-roll-oriented praise albums.


     Cutting Edge by Deliriou5 (Chordant). This double set has hardly left my player in over a month! At times it's like U2 doing Vineyard. Largely driven by guitars, some acoustic, some atmospheric electric, it rocks with a progressive passion like no other praise recording. Lyrically, the songs tell of angst and remorse, recommitment and renewed service, all performed with edgy arena-rock power pop.


     Creational images are used often in the Cutting Edge project and we should support such work which seems more fully biblical than some of the dualistic songs common in contemporary praise. For instance, in "You Split the Earth With Rivers," they sing You let the fields dance with the wind will you dance with me?


I especially like the images used in another song:


      Is it the wind that blows the trees?

      Sometimes you're farther than the moon

      Sometimes you're closer than my skin

      And you surround us like winter fog

      You've come and burned me with a kiss

      And my heart burns for you...


     It seems evident to me that these lads cut their musical teeth on U2. I do not mean it as a criticism, but there are numerous images, metaphors and riffs copped from Bono and company. They sing of God "scorching the Earth" in an obvious nod to "Bullet the Blue Sky" and, in a great tune about recommitment after a time of internal struggle, they say they will "raise the flag again." Even their slow-boil, haunting song "All I Want is You" has the same title as one from Rattle and Hum.


     A few Deliriou5 songs have already been making the rounds here in America. I've sung "The Prophet Song" and "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever" at various functions long before the American release. Deliriou5 has been making quite a wave in England for several years (read about it on the web at www.deliriou5.net). I cannot say enough about this very cool, very big and, I think, very successful effort at doing big worship Gen X-style.


     Dry Bones Dancing by Late, Late Service (Maranatha Music). Not to be confused with the stunning disc by Mark Heard, Dry Bones Dance, this recent release is performed in a cool style I'd call alternative acoustic. Designed for the movement of mega-teen wor-ship gatherings which are cropping up in cities all over the country, this is praise which all but the hard rockers will appreciate. Not all that different from Third Eye Blind, Dave Matthews, the Wallflowers, Hootie, et. al., it is clearly edgy yet accessible, acoustic, raw and loud. (The producer is the bluesy vocalist Chris Lizzotte whose own albums are not-able.)


     For contextualized campus worship music, I think this is very, very useful. That it draws listeners into deeper consideration and praise of God, of course, is the ultimate measure of this sort of a project; on this scale, DBD, it seems to me, is successful.


Vineyard Cafe: Shelter and Mercy (Vineyard Music). Vineyard, as most of you probably know, is the denomination of churches which are often associated with the "third wave" of the Holy Spirits outpouring (after turn-of-the-century Pentecostalism and 1970s charismatic renewal). Vineyard churches are renowned for their spirited worship and the recordings of their music (there are over 25 in the "Touching the Fathers Heart" series alone). They paved the way for very contemporary worship music, a bit cooler and rockier than Integrity/Hosanna, which was all the rage in the '80s and early '90s. Now, a decade later, two of their recent releases are unplugged/coffee-house versions of some of their earlier songs. These sparse, acoustic arrangements of pieces originally done with a big band and giant crowds have given the songs new, intimate life. I have been moved to tears by some of them; lifting one's hands in adoration while driving is not encouraged, however. Of the two, Shelter is the one I'd start with; the laid back version of the old hymn "Blessed Assurance" with the chorus, "This is my story, this is my song..." (written before the current interest in narrative theology, I might add) just blows me away.


     A few new, powerful albums which will meet the need for rockier versions of praise music include Darrell Evans' You are I AM (Vertical Music/Integrity), which really kicks. The big male voice (think Springsteen, Bryan Adams or maybe even Peter Gabriel) is obviously strong, and the lyrics, if a bit typical, are very powerful. Every group should learn the first cut on the album, "Whom Shall I Fear." The CD, by the way, is enhanced for computer buffs.


     The old label Maranatha! Music has burst onto the scene again in recent years (the Maranatha Praise Band is pretty good, although I think a little uneven). They've put out a very nice Acoustic Worship for Small Groups series, one called The Majesty of God and one called The Love of God, which come from the classic "Green Book" songbook. They are produced in "split track" format so that they can be used for small group singing if you don't have guitar-players handy.


     Real cool also are albums from an Irish band, Eden's Bridge. Stateside, two of their recordings have been released under the titles Celtic Psalms and Celtic Praise (Straightway Music). Don't be misled: this is neither cutesy leprechaun music or traditional riverdancing stuff. This is edgy a coustic praise, as done in live gigs in Ireland. Their version of the overdone "Awesome God" redeems the tune with ullian pipes and such.


     one voice by various artists (Metro One). This is a series of recordings which I have been telling folks about for a year or so. They have strikingly arty covers (torn paper and fabric art) and, ironically, include two recording artists on each CD. Sometimes, it seems to me, the singers are pretty different, which is a touch frustrating, but they have all grown on me. One of them, called You Alone Are God, has a hippy chick vocalist that is unlike any worship songs you've ever heard: atmospheric, mesmerizing, Jaime Eichler's half of the album is one of my faves! Some are a bit more edgy and alternative than others but all are truly different than the typical...


     Skallelulia! by The Insyderz (Squint). I didn't know if I should mention this. It really is 11 praise and worship standards ("Lord, I Lift Your Name on High," et cetera) and it really is the Insyderz. For those of you not in the swing of things, they are an incredibly fun and frantic ska band. I'm not sure such a zany style (and these are nothing if not zany) is conducive to genuine worship. For general group singing, though, this can't be beat, if you have a band that can do it. Of course, although not worship, exactly, the second Supertones album, The Supertones Strike Back, is one of my favorites these days. Every time my kids put it on, I dance more than they do!


     Write It on Your Heart by Extreme Teens (Rugged Records). Rugged is a record label which is concerned about the vapid and confusing nature of much hard Christian rock. (I think they misread some of it and have a narrow view of what is legitimate art/poetry for Christian musicians, but that's a different story.) Real hard and direct, their grunge, metal and hardcore bands are unmistakenly Christian. I guess it was a matter of time till they came up with a very hard modern rock release which is nothing but straight Bible text. It will be great for rockers trying to memorize Scripture, learn the songs and you've "hidden a passage in your heart", and I mention it here because some of the songs may be unplugged a bit and used in your fellowship singing. It wasn't designed for worship, but it does have possibilities as long as you pass out ear plugs.


     For a live recording, done in a traditional "praise" approach, give a listen to the Focus on the Family (no kidding!) release called renewing the heart LIVE: hymns and songs (Starsong Records) which works, for me, because of the husky-throated Kim Hill who serves as the song leader. That she has a few big black women singing with her doesn't hurt, either. It is a strangely moving mix and considerably better then I had expected. Not cutting edge, but quite nice.