Studying the cultural history of contemporary worship music means I listen to a lot of albums. Arriving at the dissertation stage of my doctoral studies has required listening to 40 years’ worth of music from one of the most significant movements in modern church life—the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. It’s a lot of music. And trust me, there’s a lot of ugly.
But because I also serve as a worship director at a local church, listening to contemporary worship music is not just a scholarly exercise—it is also serious pastoral business. My people need solid spiritual food from their church music. They need songs that will sculpt their theological imagination and give voice to their praises, prayers, and confessions. The good news is that both as a researcher and as a worship leader, I have found many artists worth hearing.
To find these artists, I had to go beyond the Top 25 song list from the ubiquitous Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI). Today hundreds of talented songwriters are crafting excellent music that will never land on the CCLI charts. Their craft is just as good as that of the heavyweights, and their songs are more musically and theologically diverse. Consider three that represent the breadth and range you’ll find beyond the charts: Liz Vice, Miranda Dodson, and Cardiphonia.
Vice’s There’s a Light is a breath of fresh gospel air. If Grammy-winning artist Israel Houghton fuses gospel with Michael Jackson pop and worship arena rock, then Vice lands on the other side of the gospel coin. She fuses 1970s funk and soul with indie rock layerings, and tops it off with a smoky—even gritty at times—vocal performance. Imagine if Al Green and Adele got together to sing about Jesus. Some of that smoke and grit is baked into the album, which throws out the clean compression techniques of digital recording for analog tape. The result is warm, slightly distorted vocal tracks over the bass-heavy signature sound of 1960s and ’70s R&B.
What if you don’t have a vocalist with gospel chops, doo-wop backup singers, or a killer bassist in your congregation? Don’t fret. The album features several tracks with simple progressions and easy-to-learn melodies, like “Entrance,” “Truly Today,” and “All Must Be Well.” You can thank the album’s songwriter for that: Josh White, the pastor of Door of Hope Church in Portland, Oregon.
White is the former frontman for Telecast, whose sound was about as pure an example of Coldplay pop rock as possible. On this album, though, White shows a rougher side. The talent supporting Vice include most of the members of Deeper Well, a “gospel collective” based in Portland that includes Wesley Randolph Eader, La Liberte, and Holly Ann Winchell. The whole cast of Deeper Well has produced quality, unconventional worship albums and are dedicated to releasing their work for free for the church at Deeper-Well.com. Their industry subversion is your gain.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today