Well-done Christian worship music?
September 17, 2008 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Do you have any recommendations for well-done Christian worship music?

I stopped listening to Christian music years ago when the radio stations got too ...fluffy? guitar-service-y?...but now I really like Josh Groban's "You raise me up" and Kutlass's "All of the Words". I did NOT, however, like the rest of Groban's album (too ballady) and the rest of Kutlass's album...can't really say why.

So! Do you have any recommendations for well-done Christian worship music? I can't really describe what I'm looking for any better than to say I really love "You raise me up" and "All of the Words".
posted by lemonade to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Casting Crowns' "Lifesong" album is particularly good.

The David Crowder Band is also well-done and very upbeat. When our church band plays their stuff, kids always dance.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:29 AM on September 17, 2008

There's a podcast I used to listen to a long time ago called Bored-Again Christian

I found a lot of music I really liked from there.
posted by cheemee at 10:42 AM on September 17, 2008

In my experience, the best "Christian" music isn't marketed as such.

Speaking as a musician and a Christian, the Christian music industry is a strange animal. There's worship music, written for congregational singing, which lately has tended towards a modified singer/songwriter confessional style, or an amped up U2/Coldplay style modern rock. If that's what you're looking for, people seem to like the David Crowder Band. There are some great worship tunes being written, but unfortunately the recorded versions of these songs tend to get weighed down by that funny production aesthetic unique to Christian music. For example, Brandon Heath is a great songwriter, but I don't care for the slick production. Stuff coming out of the UK is a little better, but still suffers some of the same production gimmicks.

Then there's pop music marketed specifically to Christians, which, I think it's reasonable to say, is universally reviled outside of Christian bookstores, the idea being that they're just superficial imitations of secular music trends, chock-full of spiritual platitudes, but devoid of artistic merit. Sort of the musical equivalent of a Thomas Kinkaide painting. I know that can sound elitist, but there's a level of commoditization of music in this industry I'm really not comfortable with, like musical cargo cults, aping the form of secular music without understanding it, just to re-package it as a product to be sold to Christians. The profit motive is pretty strong, and pop music already tends towards the shallow and schlocky, so it's not totally surprising how the insular Christian market reinforces these tendencies. But I'm getting off on a tangent here.

(And of course, that's just the white side of the aisle -- black gospel is a whole other matter, and incidentally, it tends to be more consistently good and easy-to-find.)
posted by sportbucket at 10:54 AM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:55 AM on September 17, 2008

There's worship music, written for congregational singing, which lately has tended towards a modified singer/songwriter confessional style, or an amped up U2/Coldplay style modern rock.

You mention U2, which prompted this secularist-but-U2-fan to come in with a tangent: if you listen for it, you can catch a LOT of Christian messages and Christian imagery in U2's work. And it is absolutely intentional -- 75% of the band members call themselves Christian, and it definitely is in their music. They just ALSO wanted it to be subtle so it would be the listener's choice whether to go looking for "their fish in the sand," as they put it, or just to rock out.

Granted, U2 is very different from Josh Groban stylistically, so that may be a different problem. But just thought I'd mention it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:05 AM on September 17, 2008

EmpressCallipygos: I completely agree. Especially in the early days, U2 was an outwardly Christian band. U2 has set the standard for successful Christian rock music, not only because many of today's worship leaders and songwriters grew up loving U2, but because the Christian message was already there from the beginning, instead of being grafted in to make it palatable to a Christian demographic.
posted by sportbucket at 11:32 AM on September 17, 2008

Pedro the Lion.
The Violet Burning.
David Ruis.
Fernando Ortega.

Also, go to Pandora.com and input the songs you like and it will generate a playlist of artists that are similar. It works well. You could also use the new iTunes 8 feature of Genius to do this, and listen to what they come up with.
posted by visual mechanic at 11:42 AM on September 17, 2008

I can't vouch for this myself yet, but a short while ago I read a review, by Orson Scott Card, of Amazing Grace: Music Inspired by the Motion Picture (scroll down, it's the last review in the column), which he quite liked.

He mentioned that he didn't much care for the same performers' solo albums (with the exception of Avalon's Faith: A Hymns Collection), and his reason why is a lot like the reason I mostly avoid religious pop music, and perhaps related to your reason for doing the same: You need good songwriting to make a good song; writing it about something that's important to you, even really really important, just isn't enough. You gotta bring the skill and the will to do something remarkable.

Sorry I can't recommend anything myself—my recreational sacred music tends more toward the traditional than the popular, with classical-style, bluegrass gospel, and Sacred Harp. But I hope the secondhand recommendation is worth something.
posted by eritain at 11:45 AM on September 17, 2008

I'm not familiar with Groban or Kutlass, and I'm not a Christian! But I really enjoy the music of Isaac Everett. His music is both explicitly Christian and rockin'. Worth trying for something that is outside the normal Christian music spectrum.
posted by Maastrictian at 11:49 AM on September 17, 2008

I've actually thought about asking this myself. sportbucket pretty much nails it IMO. As a Christian, I am pretty much ashamed of most of the music that carries that label. It's disgraceful, frankly.

Having said that, to me, it's either good music or it's not. It can be about good things or not so good things. I have heard secular songs that were more "worshipful", even without knowing it, than many so-called Christian songs. To borrow a saying, music can't be Christian - it doesn't have a soul.

As far as answering the question, U2 obviously makes my list. Also, do yourself a favor and check out Mute Math. They are what "Christian" music (for lack of a better term) should be IMO. Excellent songwriting that isn't pandering and is very original. In fact, You Are Mine is perhaps one of the greatest worship songs I've ever heard. They're also phenomenal musicians. Bruce Cockburn, Burlap To Cashmere, Snow Patrol, Lifehouse, and Switchfoot are all worth checking out.
posted by jluce50 at 11:51 AM on September 17, 2008

Switchfoot is my wife's favorite.
posted by mmascolino at 12:04 PM on September 17, 2008

Bruce Cockburn is a Christian singer/songwriter? Gosh, I remember his mid-eighties hit-ish song "If I Had a Rocket Launcher." I love that people change.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:24 PM on September 17, 2008

Agreed about the majority of Christian music being rather insipid. Also agreed about Isaac Everett - great stuff. Also check out the Psalters and mewithoutYou for other great alternatives to the Nashville CCM scene.
posted by Scordatura at 12:28 PM on September 17, 2008

Thanks for all the recommendations, clearly I'll be busy for a while! You all described what I don't like about the genre better than I did...especially sportbucket and jluce50.

Sportbucket, what is your favorite gospel music?
posted by lemonade at 12:44 PM on September 17, 2008

You could check out The Innocence Mission. Quietly unassuming - and Karen Peris has a simply beautiful voice, with which she sings such lines as,

You go outside. You see the Holy Spirit
burning in your trees
and walk on, glowing with the same glow.
Still you tremble out and in.

Their leaning is always toward the Lord although their albums might not altogether be deemed strictly "religious". However, you might find what you're looking for in a recording of traditional hymns and folk songs entitled "Christ Is My Hope" which includes three original songs.

Quite a few full tracks from their whole oeuvre can be heard over at last.fm at the moment - though I would pretty much steer clear of anything pre-Glow.

Personally, I would also recommend ploughing into Bob Dylan's so-called "born again trilogy" - Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot Of Love - not a dud song among them all!
posted by roryks at 12:54 PM on September 17, 2008

U2 has set the standard for successful Christian rock music, not only because many of today's worship leaders and songwriters grew up loving U2, but because the Christian message was already there from the beginning, instead of being grafted in to make it palatable to a Christian demographic.

And also (to this "pan-spiritualist"-for-lack-of-a-better-word-person's ears) that gives their work a spiritual appeal to those who may follow another faith.

I saw them in 1987, and they closed with their song 40, a song with lyrics adapted from the 40th Psalm with a bit of the 6th tacked on. Fans always bellow out the "How long to sing this song...." part along with them, and towards the end Bono often leaves the stage early, leaving the audience to carry the singing for themselves -- 10,000 of us all singing together. Even as we were walking out of the stadium and out into the street, people in the crowd kept on bursting into song again, causing people around them to overhear and join in, and so every so often suddenly you'd end up with an entire block of a city street all joined in and singing together.

A year ago, I wrote about "40", and wrote this: "The Sixth Psalm is a song of complaint, a 'blues song', Bono once observed. It asks God how long we are going to have to keep telling Him what is wrong with the world, how long we are going to have to wait for Him to come help us, how long before things are made right. How long before our songs of woe can be set aside and we can sing new songs of rejoicing." But the rest of "40" is a song of rejoicing itself, I noted, and it's ultimately hopeful.

Now, if you're standing in the middle of 10,000 people, and you're all singing a song of hope that God is finally going to come help us all set things right with the world, whether or not you all have the same conception of "God" just plain doesn't occur to you. Which I personally think may kind of be the point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:07 PM on September 17, 2008

Over The Rhine is an astonishingly good alt-country/jazz/folk/alternative group that falls more into the Pedro the Lion family of "band that happens to be Christian," more than the explicitly Christian artists in the CCM family. But they have a number of religiously-oriented songs that are quite good. Highly recommended.
posted by EarBucket at 1:39 PM on September 17, 2008

@Sidhedevil: See the middle of the second paragraph of the Bio section on his Wikipedia page. Listen to Creation Dream (on Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws) or Lord of the Starfields (on In the Falling Dark) for some musical evidence.
posted by jluce50 at 1:41 PM on September 17, 2008

Oh, and while I'm not a big fan of Rich "Awesome God" Mullins, his song "Hard To Get" (mp3, lyrics) is rather moving.
posted by EarBucket at 1:44 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

David Byrne and Brian Eno recently collaborated on an album that's "a mix of electronic and Gospel music" called Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. I'm don't listen to Gospel (and am not Christian for that matter) but I'm a fan of both Byrne and Eno, and I thought this was pretty good.
posted by Kupo? at 2:11 PM on September 17, 2008

Not rock, but you may wish to investigate John Tavener. His music is more along the lines of classical devotional music, and is hauntingly beautiful.

Loreena McKennitt has explored Christian imagery and thoughts in a couple of songs. Sarah McLachlan did a version of something by Francis of Assisi.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:22 PM on September 17, 2008

Wovenhand is amazing. It's intense, brooding alternative country imbued with a powerful yearning for Christian redemption. Here's a self-link review to their new album, Ten Stones, which I tremendously enjoyed in spite of, rather than because of, its intense focus on redemption through faith in Christ. Particularly glorious in both the spiritual and musical sense is "Not One Stone." Incidentally, Wovenhand is the project of David Eugene Vincent, who fronted 16 Horsepower, who had more of a post-punk flavor, if you're into that, and who toured with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:23 PM on September 17, 2008

Rule number one of self-linking: include the actual link. Here is the review of Wovenhand's new album I mentioned.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:28 PM on September 17, 2008

Anything done by Selah and both Offerings by Third Day. Good stuff.
posted by leapfrog at 2:43 PM on September 17, 2008

lemonade: I'm actively trying to avoid making a list of my personal exceptions to the rule about bad Christian music, because it's so dependent on personal taste. The point is I object to "Christian" as a distinct genre of music. The whole idea behind it -- that music created by Christians is fundamentally separate from other forms of music -- seems bogus to me. If I were to attach a particular heresy to it, I'd call it a gnostic understanding of music, as if being a Christian (i.e. having special knowledge) automatically elevates your art to another (higher) level. Non-Christian artists write fantastic, insightful songs about God all the time, and I've had songs that aren't even remotely spiritual in nature reveal something profound to me about my relationship with God.

So if "Christian" ceases to be a useful genre, then the question becomes, "what music do you find spiritually meaningful?" And that's a question I can answer:
  • Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan
  • Lie Down In The Light - Bonnie Prince Billie
  • Lost and Found - Griffin House
  • She Must and Shall Go Free - Derek Webb
  • Roots - The Everly Brothers
  • The Second Gleam - The Avett Brothers
  • Blacklisted - Neko Case
That's just stuff that immediately came to mind, I'm sure I'm missing some important ones. Oh, yeah, U2 got me through my first couple of years of high school. That first Jars of Clay record really opened my eyes back in the day.

Here's the takeaway: stop looking for God in Christian bookstores, and you'll be amazed at all the weird and wonderful places he shows up.
posted by sportbucket at 3:02 PM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think I understand what you're looking for -- I don't like most "Christian" music for the same reasons -- a lot of it, to me, is very "fluffy" and generic and doesn't stand up to the "hey that's a cool song" test. But I used to lead a worship team so I spent a lot of time trying to find songs that were good *on their own,* regardless of (maybe in spite of) their "Christian" status.

"He Reigns" - Newsboys
"Come to Jesus" - Mindy Smith
"Christmas Song" - Dave Matthews
"My Redeemer Lives" - Darlene Zschech?
"Made me Glad" - when done fast
"Let the Peace of God Reign" (when done soulfully) - Darlene Zschech
"Breath of Heaven" - Amy Grant
"Oh Happy Day" - trad. Gospel, I think Edwin Hawkins' version is the "definitive" (although the Sister Act versions is probably more famous

Rich Mullins, Caedmon's Call, Casting Crowns, Mchael W. Smith, Jars of Clay, Twila Paris -- these artists have some very cool songs but also some overdone, fluffy, or cheesy ones. If you listen to some of their greatest hits I'm sure you can find a handful that you'll like.

And don't overlook GOSPEL music. To my ears, this is often much more exciting and passionate than the average eyes-closed-arms-slowly-waving-in-the-air worship music.

All this said, I would second (third, nth) the opinion that a few other responders have expressed -- if you're looking for music with a Christian message, there's a lot to be found outside the traditional "worship" settings, and in my opinion those songs are often better.

I think Dave Matthews' "Christmas Song," Simon/Garfunkle's "Bridge over Troubled Water" (when approached from a spiritual perspective), Tesla's "Signs," the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," and John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" are much more exciting, heartfelt, sincere, and spiritually moving than the offerings of most "CCM" artists who have 1,000 songs called "Jesus, you're Great," "Hey God You're Awesome," "Shucks I Love God So Much," "I Can't Believe How Great God Is," "Hey Jesus Thanks for Everything," "Jesus You're so Holy I Mean Whoah, Seriously, Really Really Holy," "God I Love You," "God You Love Me," "God Loves Everyone," "Everyone Loves God," "God Bless My Daughter and Hey Why Don't You Play This Song At Your Daughter's Wedding," "Kids Grow Up Thanks to God, And If I Were Creating a Confirmation Slideshow, I'd Use This as the Soundtrack," "Death is Sad but Heaven is Great and I'll Make a Fortune on Funeral Sales for This Song," "Manger Song (Buy My Christmas Album)," "Jesus, Did I Mention How Great You Are?," "God is So Powerful He'll Kick Everyone's Butt One Day," "Hey God, See me Bowing Down to You?," "Hey Jesus, Sorry I've Been Such a Jerk (and Thanks for Dying for Me and Stuff)," "He Died for Me," "He Lives," "He Died for Me And Yet He Still Lives," "He Lives On Even Though He Died," "I Like Metaphors about Nails and Crosses," "Eagles Soar and Doesn't That Image Remind You of Jesus?," "Church Makes Me Feel Warm and Fuzzy Inside," "I Love God More than All This Other Stuff," "Wow I'm So Unworthy of God," "Praise Him," "Keep on Praising Him," "Don't Stop Praising Him," "Here, I'm Praising Him Now With This Song," "Praise God," "Praise Jesus," "Praise. Praise. Praise," "God, God, God," "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," "Holy Spirit, Get All Holy Spiritty On Me, In a Spiritually Holy Sort of Way," "By The Way Jesus, I Still Think You're Pretty Great, In Case You Thought I Forgot," "I Wonder What Heaven is Like?," "Heaven Is Probably Pretty Rad," "I Would Totally Suck Without God," "I Used to Suck but Now I'm A Bit Better Because I Found God," "Everyone Around Me Sucks But That's OK Because I Have God," and "P.S. Jesus, Still Great in My Opinion."
posted by Alabaster at 10:00 PM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

All this said, I would second (third, nth) the opinion that a few other responders have expressed -- if you're looking for music with a Christian message, there's a lot to be found outside the traditional "worship" settings, and in my opinion those songs are often better.

My church used George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" too. Well, they left out the backing vocalists singing "Hare Krishna", but hey.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:50 AM on September 18, 2008

Man, lot's of good stuff here!

I'll second Woven Hand... totally forgot about them. "Dirty Blue" and "Winter Shaker" from Mosaic are two of my all time favorite songs of any genre. They're heavier than most heavy metal and need to be cranked up to really get the full effect.
posted by jluce50 at 8:40 AM on September 18, 2008

Check out Josh Garrels - some slow, some fast, some folky, some hip-hoppy, all good stuff.

Depending on your taste, Paul Wilbur. You probably already know some of his stuff; he's usually classified as "Messianic" so there's quite a bit of Hebrew roots in his songs - lyrics from the Psalms, lyrics in Hebrew, etc. He puts rowdy, get-up-and-dance-like-David praise and slow, bow-down-and-worship-like-well, David, ah, worship on the same album - without abrupt transitions between the two. (I heard someone once say that the difference between praise and worship is that praise is fast and worship is slow. Ha.)

Check out worship albums or just recordings from some mega-churches (anywhere large enough to do this). You might find songs you don't care for when done by the original artist done in a way you enjoy.
posted by attercoppe at 10:54 AM on September 18, 2008

Well I finally got around to checking out the Bored Again Christian podcast suggested by cheemee, and my cynical little heart was surprised to find that it's really well done. It's a little hipster-y, and if indie rock isn't your taste, it probably won't resonate with you as much, but I like where he's coming from. Someone should do this with other kinds of pop music, too. Anyway, highly recommended.
posted by sportbucket at 11:31 AM on September 19, 2008

« Older Tinning a soldering iron   |   Slightly morbid bird question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.