The latest part of the ongoing series chronicling the greatest 1001 recordings made by Christian artists
Continued from page 41
551. RICH MULLINS - CREED, 1993. From the album 'A Liturgy, A
Legacy & A Ragamuffin Band', Reunion.
Before his untimely death in 1997 Rich Mullins left behind a swathe of passionate, Americana-fused music which towers above the majority of recordings processed by the Nashville CCM marketing machine. 'A Liturgy. . .' is, along with 'The World As Best I Remember It, Vol 1', his greatest work and this - the most elegant exposition of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith -is an undeniable classic. It's folk flavour created through Rich's deft use of the hammered dulcimer is the perfect accompaniment as the lyrics set out the eternal truths ("I believe in God the Father/Almighty maker of Heaven and maker of earth/And in Jesus Christ his only begotten Son, our Lord/He was conceived by the Holy Spirit") and then leads to those unforgettable lines, "I believe what I believe it makes me what I am/I did not make it, no it is making me." Truly transcendent.
552. FLYLEAF - CASSIE, 2005. From the album 'Flyleaf',
The Texas rockers were never going to be the critics favourites, many journos tying themselves in knots for being both "radio friendly" and "formulaic". In truth, their alternative/hard rock sound with its emo and metal influences was a perfectly executed thing and in Lacey Sturm they had one of the most passionately penetrating female rock singers to emerge in either Christian or non-Christian music. The 'Flyleaf' album went on to sell a million and in amongst all the drop-tuned riffs and anthemic crowd pleasers there's this powerful song which shows off the stunning range of Lacey's vocals, starting with light ethereal tones and ending in dramatic emocore-style screams. The song itself is an unforgettable tribute to Cassie Bernall, the high school student who paid with her life by confessing Christ to two rampaging crazies during the notorious Columbine shooting. Seldom has a news event produced such emotionally charged art.
553. PROF HAROLD BOGGS - I'VE FIXED IT WITH JESUS,
1964. From the album 'I've Fixed It With Jesus', Nashboro.
The rich, powerhouse baritone of the good professor wonderfully aided by his two singing compatriots known as the Boggs Specials was heard on a welter of wonderfully downhome singles and albums released throughout the '50s and '60s. The Columbus, Ohio act's biggest hit was this track where over swirling organ vamps, Boggs' cracks his voice on the final lines of the song. Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia called it "a delicious example of '60s traditional gospel." I wouldn't argue.
554. RUSS TAFF - WERE YOU THERE?, 1991. From the album 'Under
Their Influence Vol 1', Myrrh.
Sandwiched between his time as lead singer of CCM pioneers the Imperials and appearances as part of the Gaither Vocal Band, 1991 saw Taff pay tribute to his musical forefathers by releasing a covers album made up of songs by artists who inspired him in his journey to become one of Southern gospel's most celebrated stars. The jewel in the crown of this cap-doffing collection is an arresting version of the old spiritual "Were You There (When They Crucified The Lord)?" which sees Taff and a small band of harmonisers going acappella to reinstate the song's heart-stopping passion that had arguably been lost after decades of being neutered by countless church congregations and MOR recording artists. Taff's vocal performance - set to a simple hummed backing complete with a gear-shifting key change in the last verse - is poignant but never maudlin and expertly charts the sheer emotion of experiencing Christ's crucifixion and resurrection power. As the song goes, this definitive version by Taff causes me to tremble.
555. BLINDSIDE - PITIFUL, 2002. From the album 'Silence',
"But I know, as I hammered those nails into your beautiful hands/Your eyes still try to search for mine, but I look away/Now your eyes are the only thing that can save me/I'm still so afraid of them piercing." These lyrics so powerfully screamed by Christian Lindskog were the backbone of the lead single from Blindside's breakthrough 'Silence' album. Not even Christian could believe such a lyrically blatant tune would be the lead song chosen by the record executives of mainstream label Elektra to promote the Swedish post-hardcore outfit to the world. For me, a new Christian who'd just stumbled across P.O.D. and hungry for more, this was quite literally a Godsend. Prior to this release only Scandinavian rock fans and a few Americans with impeccable taste would have heard of these guys but an addition of melody to their blistering, wall-of-sound palette really opened them up to the world. The guys went on to produce great music for over a decade; 'About A Burning Fire' was more commercially successful and 'With Shivering Hearts We Wait' shows off best how creative they can be. But it's still their 2002 passion-filled outburst that one turns to first for something to rouse the spirit and soul.
556. DANIEL AMOS - YOUTH WITH A MACHINE, 1983. From the album
In the '80s, while most Christian bands were still playing catch up with what was coming through in the mainstream by recording guitar-driven AOR, California's Daniel Amos, who had already moved from country rock to Beatlesque retro, were continuing their restless musical journey. By embracing Gary Numan/Thomas Dolby-influenced computer rock into their eclectic musical musings they sounded more relevant than any other Christian band of the era. In singer, songwriter and producer Terry Scott Taylor DA had one of the most quixotically inventive talents and the four albums 'Alarma!' (1981), 'Doppleganger' (1983), 'Vox Humana' (1984) and 'Fearful Symmetry' (1986) came eventually to be recognised as a coherent four volume exploration of musical and spiritual themes with epic story overtones that seemed to take in everything from Star Wars to Tolkein. 'Doppleganger' was ingeniously built around the sci-fi notion of a ghostly parallel universe linked to the biblical revelation that human activity here on earth is somehow replicated with what is going on in the heavenlies. Taylor himself would later say that he regarded "Youth With A Machine" as the centrepiece for 'Doppelganger' and perhaps the whole four Alarma Chronicles volumes. The song warns about "the siren call of technology" with its "whirlwind of commercialism and consumerism and blind eye to truth, compassion and love". An epic resounding in truth.
557. CHRIS SLIGH - SCARS, 2010. From the album 'The Anatomy
Of Broken', Word.
After some independent releases, singer/songwriter Sligh received huge exposure through the sixth season of American Idol. But he's subsequently been badly served by record companies and was dropped by Word after just one album with them which, when you investigate the quality of Sligh's songwriting and the rich warmth of his voice, is a corporate decision that seems close to criminal. But then the vagaries of record company politics making have long meant that mediocre talents can sometimes sell big while exceptional artists like this songsmith from Greenville, South Carolina can languish. Be that as it may, 'The Anatomy of Broken' is a magnificent album and this haunting mid tempo song is its pinnacle. From its opening prayerful lines ("I want you to know/That I'm weaker than I told you") it's clear that Chris is that rare thing in lyric writers, a man prepared to expose his brokenness.
558. PARAMORE - IGNORANCE, 2009. From the album
'Brand New Eyes', Fueled By Ramen.
If you're particularly inclined to conspiracy theories you might well conclude that there are many professional music critics who will automatically hammer any pop or rock act known to be Christians. Ever since Hayley Wilson and cohorts admitted they were "a group of Christians" though not a Christian band (the standard disclaimer for believers working in the mainstream) they have been savaged by jaundiced rock scribes. But then such treatment might also be attributed to the fact of the band's huge popularity ('Brand New Eyes' went platinum in the UK and gold in the US and in the upside-down world of the rock purist such sales are anathema) or the fact that Paramore are fronted by a female (misogynism still rules in much rock journalism). But whether such critics' prejudice is based on dislike of women rock singers, million-selling pop acts or Christianity, the lyrics of "Ignorance" could almost be aimed at their OTT viewpoints. "Where's your gavel? Your jury?/What's my offence this time?/You're not a judge but if you're gonna judge me/Well, sentence me to another life," Hayley punches out with all the sassy assertion of a rock singer on the top of her game. Without any of the whiny or bratty vibe that has immersed much emo and without any of the mindless hedonism that has personified pop punk, Paramore have skilfully gone their own way and sold millions of units doing so.
559. MAHALIA JACKSON - NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I'VE SEEN,
1955. From 'Songs Of Faith And Hope', Primo.
In 1955 and at the height of her acclaim as the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia recorded perhaps one of the most recognised spiritual songs in existence. Jackson spends the first half of this two minute 45 masterpiece teasing the listener into thinking they can tick all the negro spiritual stereotype boxes - wistful church organ accompaniment, dramatic piano flourishes, changing "the" into "de" and such like - before astonishingly changing tack at the drop of a hat in the remainder of the song. Delivering one of early gospel music's most remarkable vocal performances, Jackson inspires her band to kick into a seemingly spontaneous and completely infectious groove that turns this potentially mournful standard into an expression of joy in the sharing of Christ's suffering and leaves the listener wishing the track was at least twice as long.
560. KRISTENE MUELLER - MERCY, 2008. From the album 'Those
Who Dream', Jesus Culture Music.
The Worker of Redemption about whom Kristene so hauntingly sings has gifted the singer/songwriter not only with a delightfully emotive voice but also the ability to write songs that cut to the quick. For those who've made their Christian journey a legalistic exercise in rule keeping, "Mercy" sung over elegant piano chords and Chris Quilala's ricocheting percussion will surely connect. Kristene gently sings "You keep bringing me sacrifices to easy your mind/But it's your heart that I want." Kristene now records under the name Kristene DiMarco. Discerning seekers of anointed music will want to search out her earlier work.
561. SWITCHFOOT - LOVE IS THE MOVEMENT, 2000. From the album
'Learning To Breathe', Re:think.
The San Diego hitmakers have already been far more eclectic and adventurous than the critics have given them credit for and on 2000's 'Learning To Breathe' they brought, of all things, a black gospel chorus fronted by Darwin Hobbs to give their song an epic quality. Songsmith Jon Foreman stated that the lyric was inspired by C S Lewis' The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe and that memorable image of people and creatures turned to statues awaiting Aslan's breath. The lyric is certainly memorable, "A day in LA and millions of faces are looking for movement/And nobody moves and everyone's scared that the motion will never come." An epic song, powerfully executed.
562. THE STANLEY BROTHERS - THE ANGEL OF DEATH, 1959. From
the album 'Hymns And Sacred Songs', King.
The eerie, haunting sound of Carter and Ralph Stanley is one of the most memorable in the whole history of popular music and with their band The Clinch Mountain Boys took the melancholy sound of the Appalachian Mountains to national country music attention. In his classic autobiography Man Of Constant Sorrow Ralph Stanley wrote about his unique high tenor which when set against his brother's lead made their songs of murder and faith, tragedy and salvation into timeless classics of folk art. "As far back as I can remember everyone always told me I had an old-time mountain voice, what they called weathered and lived-in, like something you'd hear moaning in the woods. . . They say it puts them in mind of the sacred chanting at a Navajo ceremony, or the gospel singing from ancient times, way back to the olden days before the written word, when people first sang out their troubles. I don't claim to know much about chanting, but the part about gospel singing, well, my music comes right out of the church." When the Stanleys' take on the sounds of the Primitive Baptist Church was put to a song, like this Ruby Rakes composition, the effect is both mournful and truly uplifting.
563. THE STANLEY BROTHERS - THAT HOME FAR AWAY,
1959. From the album 'Hymns And Sacred Songs', King.
The Stanley Brothers could not only convey deep emotions with their plaintively sad ballads, they could also kick up a storm in any bluegrass hoedown thanks to the dazzling claw hammer style banjo of Ralph underpinned by go-for-the-throat fiddle. The high speed romp that was "That Home Far Away" may not have pleased Bill Monroe who reckoned the Stanleys had purloined "his" style, but for less biased listeners it's a joyful, knee-slapping romp.
564. JOHNNY CASH - HURT, 2002. From the album 'American IV:
The Man Comes Around', American.
Country singers of various types have always been good at communicating human sadness but few could reach the depths of human pain as the Man In Black. And given this bleak tale of addiction, as penned by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, with its stripped down accompaniment has a stark lament which is moving and utterly convincing.