Archive for April, 2006


I backtracked from “Monster Truck Eucharist” into churchmarketingsucks.com. This is one thoughtful response to being church in a medium-as-message culture (another being the old “SMASH EVERYTHING!” response), but I think my favorite thing about them is the concession they’ve made in creating a mirror site called churchmarketingstinks.com, (although they provide a lengthy apologetic for the use of “sucks,” in case anyone’s worried about the eternal state of their souls).

My favorite church marketing campaign: “You can go to church, or you can go to hell.”


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Sara Groove

I started this review of Sara Groves’ “Add to the Beauty” several months ago. Now that I see it will never be finished, and that its proximity to the album’s release makes it superfluous, I’m just posting it out of lack of will to burn it at the altar of good practice. In fact, I didn’t actually get around to the album; perhaps one of the stand-out aspects of album reviewing. I’d love to expand on some of the things I used the review to comment about, so here it is for my perpetual viewing.

. . . .

I am dealing with my resentment towards the category “Adult Contemporary.” AC is the purgatory between Top 10 and Oldies; a mod-furnished hospital room with cable TV, but a hospital room nonetheless. So when AC claims the man who wrote “Message in a Bottle,” or the band that brought you “Recovering the Satellites,” or relegates the uncategorizable Joni Mitchell to a disposable pop ghetto, you have a twinge of gratitude that Jeff Buckley was offered the tragic grace of an early departure.

The only thing harder to ‘fess up to than appreciation for an AC artist is high regard for a resident of the Contemporary Christian bin. Music that is safe for the whole family might keep your children clean on the way to school, but hope that rises from “everything is so great” is losing altitude fast. It has a beat, and you can dance to it, but you probably won’t for long.

So when the folks-in-charge present you with Sara Groves, Adult Contemporary artist, Midwestern wife and mother who watches Dr. Phil, file under “CCM,” it’s not exactly a sale that stirs the soul. But soul is exactly why “Add to the Beauty” creeps out of the bin at night and holds a singer-songwriter tent revival where Indie, Americana, Pop and R&B shed joyful tears at the altar. Groves, like CCM-ambivalence victims Waterdeep or alt refugees Over the Rhine, gets that music makes immanent, like no other art form, the satisfying ache of life between the holy and the human condition.

There’s a reason why you’re more likely to whisper “Lord, have mercy” in the grip of Otis Redding than on the front row at a Point of Grace show (props to you, ladies, but it’s just true). Gospel music is not simply music full of scripture; it is a sacramental, sustained, Spirit-groan that rises from paint-chipped, cracked wood, sweaty pews, from glistening, lined faces and raised, calloused hands clinging with unquenched confidence to the promises of God. It celebrates not a hollow victory of “we were already ok, and now we feel great!” but is a party in defiance of the passing realities set against us. When the exuberance and longsuffering of Gospel music left the pew for the big time, it birthed jazz, the blues, and rock and roll. It kept the flame under Memphis Soul Stew. Groves, who lists Gospel artists among her greatest influences, has a direct line to this tradition that bypasses all of CCM’s manufactured pop-evangelism and AC’s rock-lite. She reveals the hollowness of both genres, whose strained reach is not for Mercy’s extended hand but for the fickle handshake of the market share.

When Groves, whose collaborations with Neil Sabin, Charlie Peacock, and now CCM godfather Brown Bannister seem to bring out the best in these producers and arrangers, lets you smolder through an extended burn near the end of “You Are the Sun,” you begin to get that Gospel music is more than hooky prooftexting. “Add to the Beauty,” as an album and a title track, captures the now and not-yet of the Kingdom, our longing for God’s final renewing of our fractured worlds, and the liminal moments where the Kingdom shows through the heroism of everyday kindness in the name of Christ.

(Just imagine what obsequious praise I might have heaped on from this point).

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Behold! The U2 Eucharist!

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This is the kind of stuff I wish I could find in wallpaper. For real walls.

I might have arranged a few things differently, but I love this.

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Which Is Also Found Several Times in the Post Itself.

And this is a link to a self-referential critique of the use of self-reference, in case you didn’t click it already. Written by a mathematician. This is.

(Having a blog is going to save millions of bytes in forwards.)

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I have to stop reading celebrity playlists. What’s worse than having practically no shared tracks with Ben Folds? Finding out that you pretty much have most of Mandy Moore’s favorite music on your iPod (Hem, Sufjan, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley, Patty Griffin, Imogen Heap. . .). What’s worse than that? Finding not only Bjork, Buckley, and Patty G but the Police’s “So Lonely” from 1978’s Outlandos D’Amour (“I’ve always loved this one! I love the Police and this just happens to be my favorite song of theirs”) on Ashlee Simpson’s list.

Which 20something female pop star are you?

Not that I’m desparagingly critical of either Mandy or Ashlee (is that the real spelling or just the punky-Simpson-sister spelling? [ok, maybe a little critical of Ashlee]), but they just don’t represent my meticulously fabricated street cred.

I still can fall back on the possibility that there is a publicist out there, churning out meticulously fabricated street cred at inhuman speed, trying to figure out how to get me to buy more of their client’s music. Well, it won’t work. I already stole “Only Hope” from A Walk to Remember in the Great Napster Rush of aught-two.

I had some consolation in sharing a vibe with Beth Orton (who I always think I’m supposed to like, but can never listen to very long), including the salty-sweet Joanna Newsom. I also found a reviewer who goes by Charles DeMarr (from Better Off Dead):

“I am pretty sure that Macey [sic] Gray and Bjork had a love child and called it Joanna Newsom. This music is funky, but kinda strange. I don’t like it. In fact, I hate it. I hate it with all my guts. The End.”

DeMarr’s additional iTunes reviews make for a pretty entertaining read. At his better moments, he reminds me a little of Ted Nancy, or my man in the press, Gabe Durham. But more in the way Mandy Moore might remind me of Joni Mitchell (see above).

I’m starting to learn something about me by noting what types of things are in my livejournal entries. This is important work. The insights uncovered here for my life and future are astounding. I will be sure to reveal more to myself in the crucial days to come (Note to self: schedule more cruciality in coming week).

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Holy crap. Or, as Stan Hauerwas would say,

“In general, I hate Christian rock music. But now I have heard the songs of Derek Webb. Webb’s songs are free of the pietistic sentimentality that usually characterizes popular Christian music. His music, like the Gospel, is at once hard, edgy, and beautiful.” STANLEY HAUERWAS, author , educator, Duke Divinity School

(I bet you didn’t think he was going to say that.)

Ok, I’ll listen to it already. Blast you, Derek Webb!

(This post contains no mean-spirited wordplay.)

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