Christian Rock

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Aug 272009
 

Our Shuffle Sunday pick a few weeks ago reminded me of a theme I’d been planning to work up for a while. See, for my senior thesis I researched the phenomenon of Christian rock, otherwise known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). I examined the fan base, seeing who they are and why they buy what they buy. During the course of this I was exposed to quite a bit of Christian music, and learned that musically, it’s like any other genre: 90% of it is terrible, the other 10% not bad. Lyrically it spans the gamut from the in-your-face (Larry Norman, Newsboys) to “Jesus is my girlfriend” non-specificity (Amy Grant, Switchfoot).

Here’s some of the not bad, CCM artists covering other CCM artists (mostly). To dispel a few popularly-held beliefs: Creed is not CCM and neither is Evanescence. These are Christians who rock (horribly), but were never part of the CCM community. Know who was though? Sufjan Stevens. So don’t be so quick to roll your eyes. Go below to learn and if you want to check out that thesis, it’s here.


DC Talk – I Wish We’d All Been Ready (Larry Norman)
This was CCM’s first hit, a tune from 1969 by the “Godfather of Christian rock,” the man who the term “Jesus freak” was coined to refer to. The movement started when evangelicals brought a bunch of California hippies into the church. They abandoned free love and drugs, but didn’t want to abandon rock and roll. DC Talk are the biggest Christian hitmakers of the ‘90s – their song “Jesus Freak” is arguable the best CCM song ever – so it’s fitting they pay tribute to their forefather. Even if the lyrics are…well, you’ll see. [Buy]

Relient K – Between You and Me (DC Talk)
DC Talk’s 1995 album Jesus Freak heralded the second coming of Christian music. It sold two million copies to Christians and non-Christians alive, proving that whether one agreed with the message or not this was music to jump to. Relient K currently blur that same line, alternating Christian rock festivals with Warped tour appearances. [Buy]

Jars of Clay – God Will Lift Up Your Head (Trad.)
The more I listen to Jars of Clay, the more I begin to think they may be the best CCM group out there. Great musicians, greater songwriters, and phenomenal interpreters. For their album Redemption Songs they put new music to a dozen old hymns, making them both poppy and emotionally inspirational. [Buy]

Lost and Found – Scars and Stripes (Tim Graf)
The duo that invented speedwood – like speed metal, played on acoustic instruments – tackles a peer’s tune on a b-sides disc released only to fan club members. It’s more complicated lyrically than a lot of CCM tunes, which makes it more interesting. [Buy]

Third Day – Saved (Bob Dylan)
Many readers will know Dylan had a born-again phase, releasing three Christian albums. Needless to say, it’s an obvious source for in-the-know bands like Third Day to tackle. And did I mention Dylan’s coming out with a Christmas album in October? Maybe he hasn’t left the faith after all. [Buy]

Sanctified Glory Mountain Revival Family – Guilty By Association (Steve Taylor)
Ever since the controversy over his tongue-in-cheek hit “I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good” – he blows it up because he’s an ice cream man worried about losing customers – Taylor has been a bit of an outlaw in the world of CCM. Here he’s just as sarcastic as ever, criticizing Christians who think listening to secular music will send you straight to hell. [Buy]

Geoff Moore & The Distance – Why Should the Devil (Have All the Good Music)? (Larry Norman)
This song title could be called the mantra of Christian rock. It’s the quote commonly used to justify a genre that some Christians still object too (check out this site – it’s pretty funny). Well, he clearly doesn’t – this song rocks. [Buy]

Audio Adrenaline – Gloria (U2)
U2 is another band of Christians who rock, but enough of their songs are Biblically informed that there’s a whole Christian rock tribute album to them. Fun fact: many Christian radio stations will only play CCM covers of U2 songs, but not the originals. [Buy]

The Swirling Eddies – Alcatraz (Al Denson)
We heard their DeGarmo and Key cover a couple weeks ago, and this track comes off the same lovingly mocking album that takes the silliest classic CCM tunes and makes them even sillier. Ironically, it also makes them better. [Buy]

Philmore – Living On a Prayer (Bon Jovi)
Bon Jovi is in no way a Christian group, so it’s interesting to see a song you never thought of as religious repurposed. All of a sudden the title has a totally different meaning. [Buy]

Dec 242007
 

I almost didn’t do a Christmas theme this week just to buck the trends, but decided that, though Christmas songs may be a cliché, they’re a good cliché. So instead I’m just gonna post more tracks than normal. Which, given that every week my lists get longer, is really saying something. So go drink too much eggnog, accidentally kiss your second-cousin under the mistletoe, and wake up on December 26th to unpayable credit card debt. Cause, after all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Relient K – 12 Days of Christmas (Trad.)
A punk-rock take on the Christmas classic, made more memorable than your average punk cover by the addition of a new chorus. This has to be the most obnoxious song to carol, with verse after verse of shitty gifts, but the K guys manage to keep it fresh through at least 10.

Sufjan Stevens – O Come O Come Emmanuel (Neale/Trad.)
We got a taste of Sufjan’s reworking of Christmas classics last week, but here’s another, a subtle and fragile plea.

Jackson Browne & Bruce Cockburn – All I Want For Christmas Is World Peace (Timbuk3)
Incredibly lame title, but other than that the lyrics are interesting (“chestnuts roasting on my VCR”), and the two provide some earthy harmonies. Sure it’s a little over-the-top, but sincerity doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A couple slight audio imperfections, since it’s live, but nothing bad.

The Stars – Fairytale of New York (The Pogues)
Probably my favorite Christmas song, it’s full of fury and despair until the redemption at the end. No wait, there is no redemption, it’s just bitter the whole way through. There’s no way to better The Pogues version with Kirsty MacColl, and these folks don’t try, but provide another nice take, a lot more sincere and a lot less drunk. If you don’t have the original though, you need it.

Jethro Tull – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Trad.)
Ian Anderson and co. came out with a Christmas album a few years ago and, surprisingly enough, it’s not terrible. The original songs are very good themselves, which is rare for any “new” attempts at Christmas material. This instrumental cover, while not departing from the classic Tull sound, would be enjoyable to throw on during some ham stuffing or turkey basting.

Liz Phair – Winter Wonderland (Bernard & Smith)
She doesn’t show her groin, whine about divorce, or sing about how much she loves semen on this one. Instead, it’s a moderately updated take with a some drum machine and muted acoustic guitar backing a straightforward vocal.

Johnny Cash – Little Drummer Boy (Davis)
Kind of like Hurt, after you’ve heard Cash’s version no others measure up.

Jimi Hendrix – Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne
When you throw it in an instrumental distortion medley though, it takes on a whole new life

The Hotshots – Snoopy Versus the Red Baron (The Royal Guardsmen)
This was a favorite of mine as a kid, a new twist on the Christmas spirit that really hits home. This reggae-ska cover was a #4 hit in the UK and, though I think it suffers greatly for having eliminated the chorus, is otherwise fun.

Anberlin – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Darlene Love)
The original was the centerpiece of maybe the most famous Christmas album of all time, Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You. I couldn’t decide whether to put up this version or the softer one by Death Cab for Cutie, but that’s all over the blogosphere, so here’s a new one, a sort of alt-rock take that’s full of chutzpah. Wait, wrong holiday?

Darlene Love – Christmas Must Be Tonight (The Band)
I was really hoping this wasn’t originally by The Band since their version is so good I wanted to post it, but it was and I had to find another. Love just came out with a full album of Christmas material a couple years ago (she knows where her talents lie I guess), and has a voice that has aged beautifully, with far more character than her old stuff. Really belting this one out, she reminds me of seeing Mavis Staple sing The Weight with The Decemberists.

Bruce Springsteen – Christmas Day (Detroit Junior)
Live from one of his holiday shows in ’01, it’s a great call-and-response number that has loads of energy and doesn’t say a thing. Tell me those horns don’t get you dancing though.

Lost and Found – Mary Mary (Avery & Marsh)
Here’s a Christmas song I’m sure you’ve never heard, done in Lost and Found’s “speedwood” style (like speed-metal, but wood). If you can make it through some nasally vocals, it’s worth it.

Wax Audio – Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (John Lennon)
Couldn’t decide on this one whether to go for good or interesting for a cover of this, and I went for the latter. Listening to it at first I didn’t realize the premise, and I almost thought it was William Shatner. Turns out the vocals are by a different daft gent working way beyond his ability level, President G-Dubs Bush. Listen to it, it’s certainly creative, and even almost catchy in its own right. Here’s something similar done to R.E.M.

Ed Harcourt – In the Bleak Midwinter (Rossetti/Holst)
A lesser-known Christmas hymn here, it’s got a lot of history as a mid-19th century poem later set to music. Harcourt rocks it out, reels it back in, then rocks it out harder.

Herbie Hancock ft. Corrine Bailey Rae – River (Joni Mitchell)
The original song doesn’t really have all that much to do with Christmas when you listen to it, but it’s become a holiday staple for some reason, and lord knows there are plenty of good covers of it. This one’s off the surprise black sheep nomination for this year’s Album of the Year Grammy.

Neko Case – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis (Tom Waits)
I would think this would be impossible to cover, but Case does a nice slow-burning version accompanied only by some sort of airy organ.

Tom Waits – Silent Night (Mohr/Gruber/Trad.)
Tom used to use fragments of this to bookend Christmas Card live in concert in the late 70’s, but I hadn’t realized he recorded a version for a charity album ten years later. Where the 70’s version was drunken piano, that instrument is nowhere near this martial holler with soaring vocals (well, the ones that aren’t Tom’s are soaring), strings, accordion, and god knows what else thrown in there.

Train Songs

 Posted by at 1:23 am  No Responses »
Nov 192007
 

A staple of many genres of music, particularly folk and country, for decades now, the train seems to hold a mythical place in the imagination. Home of boxcars, hobos, hardworking men, and loads of accidents, songs have sprung up around the good and bad side of trains and the people who use them. So here we’ve got a selection, from songs about men building American railroads to getting stuck in the Boston subway system.

The Seldom Scene – City of New Orleans (Steve Goodman)
A song made popular by Arlo Guthrie, this take strips it back to banjo bluegrass pickin’.

Everything but the Girl – Downtown Train (Tom Waits)
Rod Stewart had a huge hit with an 80’s-tastic cover of this one, soiling it forever in most people’s minds. However, Everything keeps the pop core and takes away the production, leaving a song sounding not like either Rod or Tom had done it.

Raul Malo of the Mavericks – Downbound Train (Bruce Springsteen)
Not to be confused with the previous song. This guy’s voice is perfect for this song, taking a similar approach to the original, but doing it better.

Bob Dylan – Train of Love (Johnny Cash)
Cash had championed Dylan from back in his days in the Greenwich Village coffee houses, and in a tribute concert in ’99 Bob paid thanks to his mentor in a stirring rendition that may be one of his best live performances ever. Watch the video, featuring the backing vocals of Larry Campbell.

Johnny Cash – I’ve Been Working on the Railroad (Trad.)
A song from way back in the 19th century (maybe earlier), I used to have a recording on one of my children’s songs cassettes. Too bad it wasn’t this one; I might have musically matured faster.

Lost and Found – Locomotive Breath (Jethro Tull)
Lots of bad covers of this one it turns out, into which category some of you may think this falls. I love these guys though, a Christian rock duo that plays “speedwood”. Like speed metal, but with acoustic guitar and piano. Don’t do many covers, and notice on this one they have to edit a line to make it more moral.

Joan Baez – Railroad Bill (Trad.)
A version from live in ’63, it sounds like most other Baez songs. Pretty acoustic plucking, high wavering voice, and beautiful all around.

Jackie Martino – Last Train to Clarksville (The Monkees)
Updating this one for the thoughtful singer/songwriter generation, with plenty of organ.

The Kingston Trio – The MTA Song (Steiner/Hawes)
You probably all know it, but it’s a classic so I gotta include it. I couldn’t find any covers that weren’t just ripping off the Trio’s version, so we’ll go with that.