Okay, I’m on a mission.
Last night, Fran, Rhiannon and I went to see Point of Grace and Mark Schultz perform at a local mega-church. It was the second time we’ve seen Point of Grace, our first Mark Schultz concert. We went mainly for Rhiannon, who is just nuts over what she calls “Fish Music” (because the local Contemporary Christian Music, i.e. CCM, radio station is WFSH 104.7, affectionately nicknamed “the Fish”). Now, I do not mean to be a grouch when it comes to CCM; there are a few bands I truly enjoy: Switchfoot and Third Day top the list, and I was impressed with Delirious? when I saw them a couple of years back, and I can even get enthusiastic over someone as squeaky-clean as Rebecca St. James. But you know, in my opinion there are too many CCM bands that sound like U2 knockoffs, and some of the biggest names in the business (Steven Curtis Chapman, Jeremy Camp, Casting Crowns, Jars of Clay, Mercy Me) are all so honed in their midtempo rock, adult contemporary sound, that… well, it all just starts to sound the same after a while. At least to me.
Okay, I understand I’m not exactly their target demographic. I grew up listening to bands like Yes and Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead. As a matter of fact, I still listen to these guys, with the main difference being that at this point in my life I wince at how sexist or violent or angry so many of their lyrics are. But these old progressive rock/jam bands made music that was (at least, for its time) risky, gutsy, edgy, and even a tad bit dangerous. Yes may have been the least scary of the lot, but even their music broke all the rules of pop radio (on their classic albums from the early 1970s, the average song length was about ten minutes).
So last night at the concert, I thought to myself, “Self, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Since Fran and Rhiannon love the pure-pop sounds of most CCM, I cannot begrudge them the music they enjoy. But if I want Christian music with an edge, I need to go find it — and its normal habitat will not be radio stations like the Fish.”
Now, in its heyday the Jesus music scene of the 70s did produce a few artists who made unusual, edgy, or just plain weird music. The Resurrection Band (later shortened to Rez Band) could be called acolytes of Led Zeppelin, and more recently their protegé band, Seeds, has a sound similar to Crosby, Stills and Nash. Larry Norman, one of the true pioneers of Christian rock, created music that combined his 50s-rock falsetto voice with a bluesy psychedelic sound (and in-your-face lyrics). Probably my single favorite Christian musician, Phil Keaggy, is a masterful guitarist and, having seen him twice over the last eighteen months, it’s reassuring to note that he still knows how to jam. Indeed, his album Crimson and Blue is probably the single best example of improvisational Christian rock that I’ve yet run across. Among younger artists, Zehnder has a jam-band sensibility, even though none of their recordings that I’ve heard seem to be particularly improvisational.
So that’s all good stuff. But I’d like to find some new Christian jam music. Does it exist?
Last night I tweeted a request for “Jerry Garcia with Jesus” music, and people both on Twitter and Facebook rose to the challenge. One person suggested I visit www.indieheaven.com, a website that invites us to “discover the other 99% of Christian music.” You can search their site by genre, and I was pleased to see that “jam band” was among the many genres listed in their search box. So I selected that category, clicked on the search button… and had 0 results.
Meanwhile, other folks threw out a variety of ideas: Jesse Manibusan, Soul-Junk, Daniel Amos, Waterdeep, among others. Meanwhile, my own Googling yielded The Selah Project, which (along with Waterdeep) seems to be the most promising. I’m beginning to think that contemporary, creative, Christian music that hasn’t been put through the corporate rock blander, er, blender, does in fact still exist out there. And I suspect that there’s more of it, but it hasn’t made it onto my radar screen yet.
So, do any of my dear readers have a favorite Christian band that’s just a little too freaky to get airtime on the big corporate radio stations? If you do, please let me know.
And I should end this post by being honest and saying that both Mark Schultz and Point of Grace put on a fine show. I don’t mean to be a nay-sayer about all the mainstream Christian musicians who I am sure work very hard at their craft and their ministry. So I want to be clear that by saying “it’s not my cuppa tea” I’m not saying “it’s lousy!” Far from it. Once again: better to light a candle than curse the music that isn’t really to my taste. But before I can light my candle, I need to find it.