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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Weekend Update 

This post is in response to an excellent suggestion from a faithful reader. He says:
"...I would recommend a follow-up to your current post, in which you
describe the reasons you like each of your top ten, just a thought."
In the spirit of encouraging excellence in musical choices, here is why I think these particular selections represent the best that Christian music has to offer:

Chagall Guevara. In their original lineup, this band was a veritable who's who of the alternative Christian rock scene from the late eighties. The principal vocals are supplied by Steve Taylor, the weird uncle and gadfly of CCM who had hit the charts with his often satirical and sometimes irascible but always provocative lyrics. His most recognizable recent work is probably buried in the seminal Newsboys hit "Shine":
and try as you may, there isn't a way
to explain the kind of change
that would make an Eskimo renounce fur
that would make a vegetarian barbecue hamster
unless you can trace this about-face
to a certain sign...
Lead guitars were handled by Dave Perkins whose work with Randy Stonehill was nothing short of genius. The driving rhythm comes from guitarist Lynn Nichols of the original Phil Keaggy Band. On the drums, Mike Mead had also worked with Keaggy, Stonehill and others. The original bass lines for the cut that appeared on the "Pump up the Volume" soundtrack were laid by veteran Rick Cua, but he pursued other paths and the band picked up bassist Wade Jaynes. Unfortunately, they were wildly unsuccessful in the commercial realm and only produced this one gem of an album, including a quirky instrumental that consists mainly of a hilarious phone call that happened to get recorded on the answering machine upstairs when Dave Perkins picked it up in the basement during a jam session. The rest of the album is probably the most gut-wrenchingly honest music I've ever heard from a bunch of Christians and is well worth the listen. If nothing else, at least Steve finally drops his dreadful keyboard playing.

Steve Camp. This is the man that nailed the 107 theses to the door of Contemporary Christian Music - "a clarion call to recover biblical Christianity in the arts." He challenged the industry to reform and then stood by his principles. This particular album is so laden with scripture and theology it's actually hard to listen to with your eyes open or your Bible closed. Over the years, he has consistently delivered powerful lyrics backed up with passionate music. His style isn't groundbreaking, but his message is earthmoving. Oh, and two little factoids about him: (1) he doesn't charge for his concerts and (2) he was in our pastor's fellowship group in California.

Burlap to Cashmere. From everything that I can gather, this band is no longer around either, having produced a mini-CD of live stuff from their club days and one full-length album. They hit the scene in the late nineties with an incredibly fresh array of folk-pop with a sprinkle of Latin guitars, a dash of African drums, and even a dollop of the Greek bouzouki. They've been compared to everything from Cat Stevens to Rusted Root to Sister Hazel to Paul Simon. Even though it was perhaps the most-overplayed turn-of-the-century-Christian-skating-party song ever, "Basic Instructions" hits you with such force that you are almost compelled to like it.

John Reuben. He is the ultimate paradox. A white nerdy Christian hip-hop rapper. He is funny and irreverent but he speaks the truth in love. His rhymes are fresh and his beats are hot. I sound stupid reviewing him because I am so not that. In Hindsight, I'm not sure this one would stay in my top-ten. But pick it up anyway.

Michael Card. "Could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever do?" He is a top-notch musician (playing his guitar upside down, no less) and a true Bible scholar. It was hard to pick just one of his albums to feature in the top-ten because there are so many deserving of some accolades. I ended up on this one because it hit me at a time in life when the lyrics really struck a chord in me. You could never do his work justice on a "greatest hits" kind of album because with every listen you pick up something in a song that you would never expect. However, in Present Reality, Michael really bares his soul and reveals his own struggle in understanding how a genuine walk with God looks and feels.

Rich Mullins. To me this artist represents the perfect marriage of form and function. He is both inspired artist and brilliant scientist. Rich biblical themes saturate his lyrics, which are set against lush musical landscapes. One thing that impressed me early on was the inclusion of Scripture references for every song in the liner notes. This particular album stands out to me for the way that it gets into the nitty gritty of real life... "it's the love of Jesus putting on flesh and bones." It seems to me that this is his "coming of age" album and the one that followed is a real demonstration of the maturity and insight he gained during the journey.

Phil Keaggy. No, Jimi Hendrix did not respond to the question, "What is it like to be the best guitarist in the world?" by saying "I don't know ask Phil Keaggy." No, he did not cut off his finger as a dare to prove how good he was at playing guitar. However, it is true that his work as a guitar player is rivaled by no one in the Christian community and he stands among the best across all genres and venues. If you prefer the mellow sounds of his acoustic fingerstyle, then go for something like "Beyond Nature" or "The Master and the Musician", but if you want to get down and jam with him, pick up this reworked version of "Crimson and Blue". From the opening riff of "Doin Nothing" to the resounding finale of "Shouts of Joy" this album rocks. A particular high note for me is the 12 and a half minutes he spends trading licks and sticks with his drummer from the Glass Harp days. The only low note was that in the repackaging, a couple of fantastic songs got lost, including the Beatlesque jaunt "Love Divine".

Chris Rice. He is really just a youth worker pushed into a singer/songwriter career because everyone liked him so much. As you listen to his lyrics, you realize that there is a lot going on in his head, and he communicates it in a way that is very intimate, earthy and at times downright quirky, with a style that could be likened to a cross between James Taylor and John Mayer. I was tempted to catapult "Smell the Color 9" into the top ten, but I have a good friend who can't stand that song, so I went with this one instead. When it comes right down to it, I recommend anything by any of these artists, but I've tried to select a work that really captures the heart of what I like about them.

Keith Green. The Christian music industry (ugh) owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the work and ministry of this man. Even though he hasn't recorded or released an album in 25 years (mostly owing to the fact that he was killed in a plane crash in 1982), his in-your-face integrity and sold-out-for-Jesus message continues to leave a mark today. He wasn't afraid to challenge the church to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. Few voices can rival the passionate plea of "Asleep in the Light" or the tender devotion of "My Eyes Are Dry". His works have also been remixed and reissued in at least two different collections, one arranged chronologically and the other topically.

Seventy Sevens. There wasn't much good to come out of the 80s Christian rock scene. Just think about Stryper and you'll understand where I'm coming from. But this band stands out in a sea of vanilla bland as a Snickers Pie sundae. Fronted by Mike Roe (one of the Lost Dogs - the Traveling Wilburys of Christian music) and backed up by a tour-de-force of talent with Jan Eric / Mark Harmon on bass, Mark Tootle on keyboard, David Leonhardt on guitars and Aaron Smith pounding and thrashing (he is never credited on any of their albums as "drummer", but later went on to do so for the Ragamuffin Band). If Chagall Guevara is my top choice for a band that should have stuck together, these guys win my vote for the band that should have called it quits a decade ago. After three solid offerings of new wave / alternative rock, they put out this collection of what has been called 'greatest misses'. Roe calls it a musical 'white elephant sale'. As far as I'm concerned, if I could put together half the songs at half the quality, I'd consider it a masterpiece. It kicks off with some solid rock pieces, including one with the line, "I only got one gear and that's reverse, baby", then moves into perhaps the saddest love song I've ever heard. Somewhere in the middle you pick up the funky bass line of "God Sends Quails" before swinging into a song
that stands with the best of the stadium anthems of its era (think "Pride, In the Name Of Love" but with good vocals). They followed Sticks and Stones up with a band lineup shuffle, a couple of decent studio projects, and then wallowed in utter mediocrity and eventually became completely distasteful to me. Stick with their early stuff and you won't be disappointed.

I admit there a some excellent choices left off the list. Maybe they'll pop up in future top tens. Or maybe I just don't like em.

Links to this post

I love Randy Stonehill! His music is incredible. What a passion for God!

I also love Keith Greens's music, I am a huge fan. I know they were friends too.

I am a musician and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for downlad. Anyway, just thought that I'd share.

"All music on my site is free for download."


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