All posts from “music”

April 13, 2012

Children's Music Done Right

Sandra McCracken and friends create a kids' album that's the epitome of excellence

My sons are now almost 21 and 19, so it's been a while since I've been in the market for children's music. But I've just listened to a new kids' album that's done with such style and excellence that I'd recommend it for music fans of any age. But by all means, if there are little ones in your circle, you'll definitely want this one for them.

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It's by a group of musicians who call themselves Rain for Roots, and the album, releasing May 15, is called Big Stories for Little Ones. The musicians -- Sandra McCracken, Flo Paris, Katy Bowser, and Ellie Holcomb -- are calling it "a collection of 10 new folk songs about classic Bible stories for young children," but they also add that the album is "for children and their grown-ups." Indeed. All lyrics are based on the poems of Sally-Lloyd Jones (author of The Jesus Storybook Bible.

Can't wait to hear it? Then check out the four-song preview sampler at NoiseTrade.

February 27, 2012

Linsane Tracklist: LeCrae, Hillsong, and More

NY Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin likes the former's lyrics and the latter's "mellow" vibe

You can't go online, turn on the TV, or read a newspaper these days without reading the latest "Linsanity" story about Jeremy Lin, the NBA breakout star of the New York Knicks. An outspoken Christian, Lin recently told Fuse what music he listens to before games, especially highlighting rapper LeCrae (mainly for his lyrics) and Hillsong (it "mellows me out"). He says such tunes remind him why he's playing the game in the first place, "to glorify God."

Check it out:

February 22, 2012

Dove Nominations: A Very Crabby Story

Seriously: Jason Crabb and Laura Story top the list of nods for the GMA Dove Awards

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Jason Crabb received eight nominations, including Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and Song of the Year ("Who Am I?"), when the nominees for the 43rd Annual GMA Dove Awards were announced Wednesday in Atlanta.

And Laura Story picked up six nominations, including Artist of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, and Song of the Year ("Blessings"). LeCrae got five nominations, while Kirk Franklin, Chris Tomlin, Natalie Grant, Jamie Grace each received four. The GMA Dove Awards show will take place April 19 at Atlanta's Fox Theatre.

Click here for a full list of nominees.

February 22, 2012

Country Club Jesus Meets Juke Box Jesus

And a whole lot more, including a Satan Smackdown, from the wacky mind of Steven Welp

A few weeks ago, I received three CDs, unsolicited, from a guy named Steven Welp in Richardson Texas. I'd never heard of him or his music. I've given the albums a few spins. And I'm still trying to decide whether it's pure genius, or just plain weird. Maybe it's a little of both.

It's just Welp and an acoustic guitar, with the rare harmonica tossed in. It's not great playing. It's not great singing. It's more like rhythmic spoken word, but nothing like rap. It's almost monotonous sometimes. So why write about it? Because for some reason, it's compelling. Maybe it's his strange cadences. Maybe it's his wacky sense of humor. Maybe it's his lyrics, and/or his ability to pack a ton of theology and Scripture into a song. Or the way he alphabetically names 144 denominations in a song called "Juke Box Jesus." Or the way he mocks superficiality in the church in "Country Club Jesus." Or the way he challenges the Devil to a duel in "Satan Smackdown Time," with lyrics that go like this:

It's Satan Smackdown Time,
I'm here to tell ya,
It's Satan Smackdown Time,
You'll rot in hell, yeah
It's Satan Smackdown Time,
There's no place that you can hide
You're gonna burn burn burn, yeah

I hate you Satan
The Father of Lies
I hate you Satan
You kill, destroy lives
I hate you Satan
I'll be so happy
When you finally go to hell
Forever burn in hell, yeah!

You've got to hear it to believe it. Strange but compelling stuff. Welp doesn't have a website, but you can hear samples here, here, and here.

February 14, 2012

After 10 Years Away, Natalie LaRue Is Back

Half of the former brother-sister duo, popular a decade ago, preparing a 6-song EP

The brother-sister band LaRue hit it fairly big around the turn of the millennium, as siblings Phillip and Natalie put together three albums of ear-pleasing pop songs, including a few radio hits.

They amicably disbanded after 2002's Reaching, and Phillip went on to a solo career as well as doing some music production. Natalie, meanwhile, slipped out of the limelight, got married, and started raising a family. Now, 10 years and three kids later, she's making music again, and hopes to release a 6-song EP in the near future. She's trying to raise money for the project at Kickstarter.com -- where many indie artists try to fund their albums.

On the site, Natalie writes: "Ten years ago if you would have asked me where I would be now, I don’t think I could have even imagined . . . So here I am now. Attempting, after a long hiatus, to step back into the world that was once familiar territory. Now I’ve got some new shoes, some old scars, and a lot of perspective. I have songs that have been birthed out of the most pivotal period of my life. The transition from girl to woman, woman to wife, wife to mother. I have lots to say, and somehow, some way, out of the fog of family life -- and with a little nudging from my husband -- I feel ready to say it. I am ready to start a dialogue with words and music in hope that I reach the hearts of people very much like myself: Women. Mothers. Spouses. Cooks. Cleaners. Friends. Sisters. Jesus-lovers. And oh, so much more."

February 14, 2012

My First Trip to the Grammys

Grammy nominee Jamie-Grace, 20, had a blast in LA, even though she didn't win

Guest blogger Jamie-Grace Harper, who recently turned 20, was the youngest songwriting nominee at the Grammy Awards, earning a nod for Best Contemporary Christian Music Song for “Hold Me,” an insanely catchy duet with tobyMac. We asked Harper – who has risen above her struggles with Tourette’s syndrome – to write about her first trip to the Grammys.

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When the Grammy nominees were announced in November, I wasn’t really paying attention. So when my friend and crazy talented singer Mandisa texted me and said, “Congrats, miss Grammy nominee,” I was pretty sure she was pulling a crazy trick on me. But then I went to the Grammy website and saw my song right there in the middle of some amazingly talented Christian artists. I kind of went crazy!

When the big weekend finally rolled around, it was crazy. I had a Friday night show in North Carolina, and then after some crazy early flights and jet lags, my sister, my bro-in law, and I finally landed in Los Angeles. We met up with our parents who were just as excited as we were about one of our first stops: Tommy’s, our favorite L.A. restaurant (best chili burgers everrrr!). After our chili fix, we were off to pick up my custom-made rhinestone cowboy boots -- designed by my actress-friend Sloane Avery – for Sunday’s big event. They were absolutely stunning, and as a Georgia girl that loves southern gospel and country music, it made me feel "at home" to have my boots on.

I also felt at home because my family was with me; I couldn't imagine it any other way. It was like a homecoming in some ways – my dad, my sister, and I were all born in L. A. Plus my sister sang harmony on “Hold Me.” So I needed my family with me to share the moment. So at about 12 noon on Sunday, we walked downstairs in our fancy clothes and got in a limo to head over to the Grammy's. (It still feels like that sentence is fiction!)

Walking down the red carpet was an amazing privilege. I was able to share a word of encouragement by telling the story behind "Hold Me" with EXTRA, Access Hollywood, and grammy.com. I also did the whole "stand here and smile for 15 photographers" thing – I was crazy nervous but unbelievably excited and honored.

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Afterward, my whole family (pictured at right) headed to the pre-telecast. We sat with our friend Natalie Grant and her husband, Bernie Herms, while they announced the winners. My dear friend Laura Story won the award for our category with her beautiful song "Blessings," and I was so excited for her. She and I have written together a few times and she's always so encouraging. I also had the chance to meet Kirk Franklin, Alison Krauss, Steve Martin, and see some friends like Brandon Heath, Dave Barnes, and Louie Giglio, who later introduced me to Chris Tomlin, who is hilarious. Then we headed over to the "actual” Grammys, running into our producer Chris Stevens on the way.

I sat with my mom at the telecast, where I really enjoyed the performances by Coldplay, The Band Perry, and the Tony Bennett/Carrie Underwood duet. And for the first time, I was absolutely speechless in front of someone when Reba walked out on stage. I own a pair of pink cowboy boots and a purple suitcase from the Reba line as well as some 33s from everyone's favorite redhead.

The road from being a YouTube kid to a Grammy nomination for "Hold Me" has been crazy, and I am so grateful. I’m still freaking out that it actually happened. I could not have done this on my own; I’m so thankful for my family and my music family (tobyMac, Chris Stevens), but most of all for the God I serve who put a dream in my heart, and has given me so many opportunities to fulfill that dream.

If I never get to go to the Grammys again, I'll never forget February 12, 2012. Ever.

Check out Jamie-Grace’s interview with Grammy.com here:

February 2, 2012

Look Who's Making a Comeback!

Eight years after calling it quits -- well, sort of -- Five Iron Frenzy is back from the dead

Back when ska was red-hot, Five Iron Frenzy was too, not just for their style of music, but for their energy (awesome live shows!), creativity, intelligence, and humor. So when they called it quits in 2003, fans everywhere moaned and groaned. Well, good news: They're coming back. They raised an astonishing $200,000-plus on Kickstarter to record a new album, they've already released a new single (free on NoiseTrade), and they're playing a number of shows this spring and summer.

Read all about it on their website, and hear frontman Reese Roper talk about the comeback in the video below -- where you can also watch him eat a handful of mayonnaise. If you want.

January 27, 2012

Derek Webb's Feedback Film: What Just Happened?

'Self-Sabotage,' a short film based on Webb's EP and the Lord's Prayer, is, um, unique

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First things first: Derek Webb is one of my favorite artists, one of the most creative folks I know. I've long been a fan of his music, his honesty, his commitment to justice, and his willingness to challenge the rest of us in sometimes unexpected ways. He and I have had some good conversations over the years, and he always makes me think -- often about things I'd never considered before, or at least in ways I'd never done before.

When Derek released his Feedback album last spring -- an instrumental meditation on the Lord's Prayer -- I really liked it. Still do. It's terrific music, and while I can't cleanly "connect" every note to a corresponding phrase in the prayer, I was fine with that. It's good music to contemplate, as are Christ's words.

Webb wanted the work of art to extend beyond the music, so he first commissioned painter Scott Erickson for a series of paintings as a companion to the project. I've seen the art, and it's very good.

Then Webb wanted to extend the project to the medium of film, and worked with director Scott Brignac to come up with a "cycle of short films" called Self-Sabotage, described as "an exploration of the Lord's Prayer based on and inspired by Derek Webb's Feedback. It follows six characters in a narrative with no words, only the music to parallel the stories. Their lives, like moving icons, open windows into the great mystery of communion through self-dethroning sabotage."

OK, I mostly get that. But frankly, the film itself lost me. I enjoyed the images, and the way they're wedded to the soundtrack. I thought I picked up something about a Father's relentless love for his child, but I might've been wrong about that. I also thought a lot of it was about some nut-job stalking a young woman.

Apparently I'm not alone in my head-scratching. When the film premiered in Houston, Andrew Causey, who moderated a panel discussion afterward, said he had these questions: "Why was that girl dancing in the streets? Who was that guy in the woods? Did one guy just punch himself in the face? Does the girl jump? What does this have to do with the Lord’s Prayer? Did the running guy commit a crime? If so, what was it? Why does the creepy guy keep following the sad girl? Why doesn’t she spray him with mace?"

Causey was apparently more haunted by the film than I was, because he kept thinking about it, determined to find more meaning behind the abstraction. And, Lord bless him, he has come up with some pretty good insights and ideas here. Perhaps if I gave it repeated viewings, I would come up with some of the same observations -- or completely different ones.

I'm no literalist, and I generally don't mind abstractions and ambiguity in art. But Self-Sabotage, though interesting to look at, was just a bit too abstract for me. I just didn't get it.

Check it out below (and/or buy it here). What about you? Do you "get" it?

SELF-SABOTAGE from Scott Brignac on Vimeo.

January 27, 2012

43,000 Voices for 27 Million Voiceless

Redman's '27 Million' live video, recorded at Passion 2012, benefits anti-trafficking campaign

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The Atlanta Falcons are no longer the only ones shouting “Rise Up!” in the Georgia Dome. Before a crowd of over 43,000 college students at Passion 2012, held Jan. 2-5, Matt Redman recorded the music video to his new single “27 Million.”

The song tells the gripping true story of an Eastern European girl, trafficked into the London sex trade. He wrote “27 Million” in an effort to bring global awareness to the issue of human trafficking. The song title reflects the estimated 27 million individuals trapped in modern slavery. Redman will release the mainstream single worldwide on February 27, with the accompanying music video recorded live at Passion. (Here's an amateur video of the performance.)

The powerful lyrics and catchy chorus caught on immediately among the young crowd. “We’ve got to rise up, open our eyes up! / Be her voice, be her freedom, come on stand up!” The crowd not only stood, but jumped up and down as they sang this freedom song.

The song opens with the voice of Christine Cain, founder of the A21 slavery prevention organization: “It astounds me, that not only does human trafficking exist on the earth today, there are actually more slaves than there ever have been in the history of humanity. It’s almost incomprehensible.”

Cain’s quote inspired Redman and wife Beth to write this anthem for abolition. They asked British hip-hop singers Lindz and Lucy West to join them in recording the song. Lindz adds an urban flavor with his rap interludes. “Not someone’s commodity / a precious being like you and me / a daughter a sister, a somebody . . . / No voice, she’s a slave to the night.”

The release of their single coincides with their February “27 Million” tour around the UK to support Cain’s A21 campaign.

2/27 UPDATE: And here's the official video.

December 8, 2011

Downhere's Marc Martel wins Queen Contest

Lead singer of Christian rock band to play Freddie Mercury role in upcoming tribute tour

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It should come as no surprise that Marc Martel, lead singer of the Christian rock band downhere, has won a contest to play the part of the late Freddie Mercury in the 2012 Queen Extravaganza Tour, a grand production celebrating the music of Queen and the classic band's 40th anniversary. A second vocalist, Jennifer Espinoza of San Antonio, Texas, was also chosen, as were two guitarists, a drummer, and a bass player.

"What an amazing and unexpected opportunity to come our way," said Martel, whose audition video earned him an MTV O Award and an appearance on The Ellen Degeneres Show. "Having gotten to know the other contest winners a bit, I'm confident we have what it takes to gel as a unit and give our best to do justice to some of the best rock music ever recorded. I am so thankful for for the chance to do this. Gonna be fun!"

Queen, one of the most influential rock groups of all time, has sold more than 300 million albums, recorded over 18 No. 1 singles, and have hundreds of millions of fans around the world.

Martel’s audition video (embedded below) of the song “Somebody to Love,” which has been viewed more than 5 million times, has wowed Queen fans for months. His voice is so spot-on, you’d think Mercury himself was singing.

The winners of the audition were just announced at a news conference this afternoon in Montreal. More details, including comments from Martel, to come soon.

Queen founder and drummer Roger Taylor has overseen the audition process, which concluded Monday with a final round of live auditions in Los Angeles. Taylor, who will produce and direct the Extravaganza tour, says it “will not be a traditional tribute show” but “a heart-stopping event. It’s going to be spectacular. It’s going to be very visual. There are going to be some shocks and some tremendous surprises. It will be a rock celebration in the royal tradition."

At Thursday's press conference announcing the winners, Taylor said that the talent "went way beyond my expectations. It was an incredibly difficult decision to choose the final line-up. I wish I could've kept them all, but in the end, I'm very happy with this group of exceptional musicians."

Martel is pictured above singing at the audition in L.A., and here’s a video of Martel at the same gig. And here’s Martel’s astonishing audition video, which posted in late September:

December 1, 2011

Three Grammy Noms for Brandon Heath

Heath leads the gospel music pack as award nominations are announced

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Brandon Heath (right) has been nominated for three Grammy Awards -- Best Contemporary Christian Music Album (Leaving Eden), Best Gospel/Contemporary Music Performance ("Your Love"), and Best Contemporary Christian Music Song ("Your Love," co-written with Jason Ingram).

Heath's nominations are deserved -- Leaving Eden is a fine album -- and it's especially good to see indie gems Gungor getting a nod for Best Contemporary Christian Album (Ghosts Upon the Earth), arguably the most creative worship record to come along in years. Three of the other album nominees -- Leeland (The Great Awakening), Mandisa (What If We Were Real), and Chris Tomlin (And If Our God Is for Us . . .) are unsurprising but mostly left me thinking, Meh. But the fifth album nomination, Royal Tailor for Black & White, is a real head-scratcher. Mediocre boy-band pop? In 2011? Seriously?

The Grammy folks were a little more on target with their nominees for Best Gospel Album, with Kim Burrell (The Love Album), Andrae Crouch (The Journey), Kirk Franklin (Hello Fear), Mary Mary (Something Big), and Trin-i-Tee 5:7 (Angel & Chantelle Deluxe Edition). Mary Mary ("Sitting with Me") and Franklin ("Hello Fear") also picked up noms for Best Gospel Song.

Joining Heath in the running for Best Contemporary Christian Music Song were Laura Story ("Blessings"), Jamie Grace ("Hold Me"), Chris Tomlin ("I Lift My Hands"), and Matthew West ("Strong Enough").

Other notable nominations with Christian and spiritual content include Emmylou Harris's Hard Bargain and Levon Helm's Ramble at the Ryman for Best Americana Album; Alison Kraus & Union Station's Paper Airplane, Jim Lauderdale's Reason and Rhyme, and Ralph Stanley's A Mother's Prayer in Best Bluegrass Album; and The Civil Wars' Barton Hollow for Best Folk Album. The Civil Wars, featuring former CCM star Joy Williams, were also nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "Barton Hollow."

For a full list of Grammy nominees, click here.

October 31, 2011

Mat Kearney Gets High at His Own Concert

And so do the other passengers on the Southwest Airlines flight for his in-air gig

Singer/songwriter Mat Kearney recently played to a captive audience -- at something like 40,000 feet on a Southwest Airlines flight last week, when fans were treated to an impromptu performance. Kearney said, “I’ve always actually wanted to pick up my guitar in the middle of a flight and just walk down the aisle and play songs, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually gotten the chance to do it.” Check out the video of him performing “Nothing Left to Lose” below:

October 26, 2011

Perhaps We Should Call Them Swift-Foot?

The San Diego band's Jon Foreman rocks out with the country/pop princess . . . and on Conan

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Switchfoot has had a dose of double-exposure in recent days. Last Friday, frontman Jon Foreman joined Taylor Swift onstage for her show in Glendale, Arizona, where they performed the Switchfoot classic "Meant to Live." Foreman called it "a good rock 'n' roll moment." A few nights later, on Wednesday, the San Diego band hit the stage on Conan, singing "Dark Horses."

Here's a fan video of the "Swift-Foot" gig, and here's a video of their gig with Team Coco:

October 5, 2011

Lamb's Messianic Music Goes Digital

The messianic Jewish duo from the 1970s re-releases its 12 albums for download

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Those who experienced the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s will no doubt remember Lamb, the messianic Jewish music duo of Joel Chernoff and Rick “Levi” Coghill. Messianic worship record label Galilee of the Nations is releasing Lamb’s entire musical catalog of 12 records via digital download from iTunes, Amazon mp3, Napster, Rhapsody, CD Baby and other online digital music stores.

September 23, 2011

The Next Lead Singer of Queen?

Marc Martel, lead singer of the Christian band Downhere, nails his Freddie Mercury gig

Queen's drummer has launched a talent search to play the role of the late Freddie Mercury for the upcoming Queen Extravaganza tour. Far as I'm concerned, the search is over:

Three more amazing videos showcasing Martel's voice -- from more Queen ("Bohemian Rhapsody", to a CCM classic (Keith Green's "Asleep in the Light"), to opera (Pavarotti staple "Nessun Dorma"). As one of the commenters said on one of these videos, Martel is "the Swiss army knife of singing." Yup, I'd agree.

August 16, 2011

Gay Musicians Struggle to Find Audience

Jennifer Knapp just one of several who have 'come out' to find decreased receptivity

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More than a year after announcing that she is gay, Jennifer Knapp tells NPR that she was "very hesitant" about coming out in the first place.

"Knowing that I was going to have to publicly deal with my sexuality — it really made me consider how much I wanted to participate in music," Knapp says of her decision to suddenly stop making Christian music in 2002. But after a seven-year hiatus, she returned, not as a CCM artist, but as a secular folk-rocker who still identified herself as a Christian. She told NPR she was "very hesitant to get back up into the public level, knowing that there would be discussion about my sexuality on the whole."

Other Christian musicians who have come out also shared their stories with NPR. Read the full story here, or listen here.

May 25, 2011

Jesus Rally Planned for Cornerstone

40 years after TIME's psychedelic Jesus cover, Christian rock's pioneers convene at fest

Forty years ago, on June 21, 1971, TIME magazine featured a psychedelic Jesus on its cover, with a story on the Jesus Revolution's impact on popular culture.

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This summer, the Cornerstone Festival will celebrate the anniversary with a Jesus Rally, featuring some of the great Christian rockers of the 70s and 80s, including Daniel Amos (pictured here), Randy Stonehill, Servant, Barry McGuire, Phil Keaggy, Classic Petra, Rez Band, and more.

Festival organizers have also planned a number of seminars and discussions for conversation about the Jesus Revolution's impact on church history, and how it's still affecting culture today.

Owen Brock of Servant, which played its final concert 20 years ago, says he was excited for a band reunion when Cornerstone brought up the idea.

“We were both interested and challenged by what it might take to pull this off well," he said. "We are currently immersing ourselves in the music again and we are very excited about performing at Cornerstone 2011.”

McGuire, best known for his classic song "Eve of Destruction," has never played Cornerstone before, but says "I’m truly looking forward to being there, with so many artists who have made such an impact.”

Since its 1984 origins, Cornerstone has pushed boundaries and challenged the concept of what a Christian Festival “should” look like. It's an annual pilgrimage for people of faith of all ages, styles, and denominations, some 20,000 in all each year.

This year's event will take place June 30-July 3 at Cornerstone Farm outside of Bushnell, Illinois. Tickets are available through www.iTickets.com.

April 21, 2011

Battistelli the Big Winner at GMA Awards

She won Artist of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, and top pop-contemporary song

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Twenty-five-year-old Francesca Battistelli was the big winner at the 42nd annual GMA Dove Awards on Thursday night in Atlanta -- the first time the event has been held outside of Nashville.

Battistelli was named Artist of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year, and also won for her pop-contemporary recorded song for "Beautiful, Beautiful." Chris August won New Artist of the Year, Best Male Vocalist and pop-contemporary album for "No Far Away."

The event, hosted by TV host and comedienne Sherri Shepherd, will be televised on GMC, on Sunday, April 24, at 7 p.m. PT.

A GMA press release rounded up the rest of the highlights. See the complete list of winners here.

April 21, 2011

Lady Gaga's Inclusion Problems

Pop star uses racial slurs in "Born This Way" -- and then calls her critics "retarded." Huh.

Last month, we blogged about Lady Gaga's new single "Born This Way," noting that at least one blogger interpreted the song as nothing less than the good news of the gospel.

To me "Born This Way" sounds less like an anthem than a peppy exercise song. When the chorus gets going, I always want to jump up and work those ab muscles or something.

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Gaga seems pretty proud of it. "I'm on the quest to create the anthem for my generation for the next decade," she said during the making of the album, also called Born This Way, "so that's what I've done."

And while it's clear from the title single and its accompanying video that Mother Monster wants her Little Monsters to be a "big-tent group" -- a race which bears no prejudice, no judgment, but boundless freedom -- she's also taking heat from critics who object to some of her word choices.

The first objections came soon after the single's release, when people noticed the words she used to describe Latino and Asian people: Chola and Orient, respectively.

"Whoa, hold up. Did she just say Orient?" wrote blogger Edward Hong on 8asians.com. For many, "orient" evokes "Oriental," a rather outdated term for Asians. "I can't help but wonder all sorts of crazy questions in my head: Is it okay to call Asians "Oriental" now? Are we back in the 1950's? Why did I love Lady Gaga again?"

Still, as a longtime fan, he's willing to be charitable: "I don't find the words that she uses to be racist in any means," Hong said, "but a bit ignorant."

Cholo or Chola, meanwhile, is a derogatory term derived from an Aztec word for dog, or mutt, which a spokeswoman for the group Chicanos Unidos Arizona called as derogatory as the N-word is for African-Americans.

"Are Latinos supposed to be grateful that a white superstar, born of privilege, included a racist shout out to our community?" asks writer Robert Paul Reyes. "Not all Latino ladies are 'cholas' in the barrio, some of them are teachers, writers, engineers and nurses and doctors."

This week, Gaga infuriated a few more people by calling certain criticisms of her title single "retarded".

When asked about people who accuse "Born This Way" of ripping off Madonna's "Express Yourself," she shot back: "Why would I try to put out a song and think I'm getting one over on everybody? That's retarded."
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That didn't go over too well with Gawker. "It's getting a little difficult to stay sympathetic to Gaga's divine cause when she casually throws around terms like 'retarded.' Last time I checked, the intellectually disabled were born that way, too."

Quickly realizing what she's said, Gaga apologized through Perez Hilton's blog, calling it "a furiously unintentional mistake" and quoting a snippet from the song: "Whether life's disabilities, left you outcast bullied or teased, rejoice and love yourself today."

She's also responded to those already firing snark at her next single "Judas" and calling it blasphemous for its appropriation of Christian imagery: "I feel like honestly that God sent me those lyrics and that melody," she said in the same interview that featured the R-bomb.

Fortunately, everyone can now take a breather to enjoy her fellow musical iconoclast Weird Al Yankovic's just-released parody single "Perform This Way," to which Mother Monster somewhat belatedly gave imprimatur this week.

(edited 4/25)

March 23, 2011

Third Day Plugs Adoption in New Video

'Children of God' clearly illustrates how we're all adopted into God's family

"Children of God," the latest hit single from veteran rockers Third Day, talks about our adoption as God's own sons and daughters, but the video takes the concept a step further with footage of actual adopted kids (including that of Third Day’s lead vocalist Mac Powell, who recently welcomed adopted son Emmanuel and daughter Birdie). Good stuff. Check it out:

March 4, 2011

Owl City Announces New Album Release

'All Things Bright and Beautiful' slated for May; Young calls it a 'dreamy' album

Owl City, an overnight sensation less than two years ago when his album, Ocean Eyes, went platinum in just eight months, will release a new full-length studio album, All Things Bright And Beautiful, on May 17 with Universal Republic.

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Adam Young, the Minnesota man who is the one-man band Owl City, recently blogged, "I’m so very excited about this new album. Much time was spent imagining, daydreaming, exploring and discovering, and I believe the result is that much more dreamy. When all is said and done, I think I’m most excited to hang up the brushes, take a deep breath and whisper, Thank You. Thank you, dear God, for allowing me to do this. I am so undeserving, and thus, so very humbled.

It's not known if Young, a Christian, actually covers the Anglican hymn that the new album title shares. recently covered a couple of hymns ("In Christ Alone" and "How Deep the Father's Love for Us"), but it's unknown if they will be on the album.

Produced by Young and recorded at Sky Harbor Studios in Owatonna, MN, All Things Bright And Beautiful features twelve new songs and was mixed by Young along with Grammy Award-winning engineer and producer Jack Joseph Puig whose credits include Beck, Mary J. Blige, Green Day and John Mayer to name a few.

MARCH 7 UPDATE: We have since learned that the two hymns mentioned above are not covered on the new album. Meanwhile, Spin magazine has more info about some of the tracks that will appear on the album.

February 22, 2011

'Hold Me' Has Got a Hold on Me

New Gotee artist Jamie-Grace, just 19, has a hook-laden single that just won't let go

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TobyMac is always looking around for promising new artists for his label, Gotee Records. He recently found -- and signed -- another in Jamie-Grace, a 19-year-old college student from the Atlanta suburbs who releases her debut EP, Hold Me, today. The title cut, her first single, is incredibly contagious; check it out in the video below.

TobyMac, who lends background vocals in the song, says, "I’ve not been this excited to work with an artist in a long time. She has a style that can’t be put into a typical label box—a dash of reggae, a dash of folk, a dash of hip hop. . . . Jamie-Grace is a natural, beautiful next step for our industry.”

Diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome at age 11, Jamie-Grace has walked a challenging journey that has included physical exhaustion, emotional stress, and spiritual doubt. After hearing Tammy Trent (who lost her husband to a diving accident in 2001) give her testimony, Jamie-Grace said she thought, "I’ve cried enough. It’s time to accept my joy." She decided that "even with Tourette’s, I still have something to do with my life. I love to sing. I have a story, and I’ve got to share it.”

Three years later, she's a college junior studying children's ministry and releasing her music to the world. Check it out:

February 22, 2011

Jesus Music Galore at Cornerstone

Event celebrates 40 years since The Jesus Revolution with awesome lineup of legends

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As if there weren't reasons enough to attend the Cornerstone Festival in any given year, just check out this lineup of legends for their Jesus Rally this summer, celebrating 40 years of The Jesus Revolution.

Petra. Keaggy. Rez Band. Servant. Stonehill. McGuire. Daniel Amos. And more. Man oh man.

February 22, 2011

Film, Tour Remember Larry Norman

'Fallen Angel' documentary, director, and Randy Stonehill headline event

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The Fallen Angel Film & Music Tour kicked off last night in Surrey, BC, featuring a documentary about late CCM legend Larry Norman (who died of heart failure in 2008), live music from Norman's contemporary and longtime friend Randy Stonehill, and a Q&A with the film's director, David Di Sabatino.

According to a press release, the documentary asks whether Norman, known as the “father of Christian rock," was "nothing more than a contemporary Elmer Gantry, a musical flim-flam man out to con the faithful."

The release also calls Norman "the most vibrant musical performer to shake, rattle and roll church pews during a hip countercultural revival of religion known as the 'Jesus movement.' Casting a prophet-like presence and with lyrics that cut to the marrow, Norman became the voice of a generation of young Christians trying to make sense of their faith amidst the chaos of the 1960s. . . . Over time however, Norman’s crafted image began to overtake him and the line between fact and fiction became blurred.

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Stonehill (at left with Norman many years ago), who was led to Christ by Norman, only to be burned by his friend more than once in later years, says he watched Norman "grasp for hope at first, but then slowly lose grip on those fundamental principles.” The press release says that in the documentary unfolds "the true story of this enigmatic figure for the first time."

See the trailer for Fallen Angel here:

Fallen Angel DVD Preview from churchspeak on Vimeo.

February 18, 2011

Tomlin, TobyMac Lead Dove Nominees

The two artists received six nods apiece for the GMA Dove Awards, to be held April 20

TobyMac and Chris Tomlin received six nominations apiece for the 42nd Annual GMA Dove Awards, to be held April 20 at Atlanta's Fox Theatre -- the first time the event has been held outside of Memphis or Nashville. Jason Crabb nabbed five nominations, and Francesca Battistelli four.

Joining Tomlin and Crabb as nominees for Male Vocalist of the year are Chris August, Doug Anderson, Brandon Heath, Israel Houghton, and Marvin Sapp. Joining Battistelli as noms for Female Vocalist of the Year are Audrey Assad, Natalie Grant, Britt Nicole, Janet Paschal, Kerrie Roberts, and Laura Story. Nominated for Group of the Year are Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, Gaither Vocal Band, Mercy Me, Mikes Chair, Sidewalk Prophets, and Tenth Avenue North. For a complete list of nominees, click here.

According to a GMA press release, the event will be delayed broadcast on GMC on Easter Sunday, April 24, at 7 p.m. Comedian and talk show host Sherri Shepherd of The View will host the Dove Awards.

February 18, 2011

Gaga, Snoop Dogg, the Grammys and God

'Believing that God wants you to be famous actually improves your chances of being famous.'

Rock reporter Neil Strauss, writing for The Wall Street Journal, has interviewed many celebrities through the years, noticing how many of them claim some sort of faith in God. That's not unusual, but through further analysis of his interviews, Strauss concludes that "believing that God wants you to be famous actually improves your chances of being famous."

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He notes interviews with Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg, Christina Aguilera, Eminem and others as he studied his previous interviews and analyzed the "God comments."

"Before they were famous," Strauss writes, "many of the biggest pop stars in the world believed that God wanted them to be famous, that this was his plan for them, just as it was his plan for the rest of us not to be famous. Conversely, many equally talented but slightly less famous musicians I've interviewed felt their success was accidental or undeserved—and soon after fell out of the limelight."

January 13, 2011

Whittaker's Viral Video Wins at People's Choice

Singer/songwriter/blogger uses platform to raise awareness of adoption

Almost a year ago, we blogged about how Integrity Music artist Carlos Whittaker and his son had become YouTube stars with a brief video in which he inadvertently makes his young son cry. (Check it out at the bottom of this post.)

The video, "Single Ladies Devastation," has received more than five million views, and just last week, it won the "Favorite Viral Video Star" at the People's Choice Awards. Of course, Whittaker isn't the star of the video; it's his son Losiah, who begins weeping and wailing (and possibly gnashing his teeth) when his dad, at the wheel of the car, tells his son he's "not a single lady" as Losiah sings along (with his older sisters) to Beyonce's hit single. Losiah's reaction is the big moment, and then seeing Whittaker try to recover (even mouthing the words "I'm a horrible father") is simply hilarious.

Whittaker has used the video's fame as a platform to raise awareness of adoption; Losiah, now 4 years old, was adopted from South Korea in 2006. Whittaker blogs here. And here's the video again:

January 13, 2011

George Beverly Shea to Receive a Grammy

Longtime singer for Billy Graham crusades will be honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

George Beverly Shea, who celebrates his 102nd birthday in a few weeks, will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the upcoming Grammy Awards.

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“I was surprised to receive the call from The Recording Academy president before Christmas and am honored for the recognition,” Shea said. “The music has been for God’s glory.”

Shea, one of the oldest living persons to be honored by The Recording Academy, still performs publicly on occasion. He recently joined longtime colleagues Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows at an event in Charlotte celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Over his musical and ministry career spanning more than 80 years, Shea has produced more than 70 albums of hymns, including nine CDs, with RCA and Word Records. He has already received ten nominations and one Grammy Award (1965) from The Recording Academy.

January 3, 2011

Rebecca St. James to Tie the Knot

After years of singing about abstinence and saving herself for marriage, St. James is engaged

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Rebecca St. James, who has long sung about abstinence, purity, and saving herself for marriage, announced today that she is engaged. The 33-year-old St. James will marry Jacob Fink at a date to be announced soon. Fink proposed on Christmas Day at the St. James family farm in Franklin, Tennessee; the happy couple is pictured here.

St. James said, “We are truly amazed at finding our dreams and ideals met in the love we’ve found. We are exceedingly grateful for this precious gift from God.”

Her signature song, “Wait For Me,” released in 2000, has long been a rallying cry for teen girls committed to abstinence and purity before marriage. St. James, who recently signed with Provident Label Group’s Beach Street/ Reunion Records, will release a new worship album in April.

December 16, 2010

Wishing a Merry Christmas and App-y New Songs

North Point Community Church has a very cool iPhone and iPad holiday medley

Using nothing but applications on iPhones and iPads, North Point Community Church's "iBand" recently released a video of an extremely cool Christmas medley. Enjoy! (How'd they do it? Click here to learn more.)

North Point's iBand from North Point Web on Vimeo.

December 11, 2010

Swoope-ing in to Sudan for Orphans' Sake

Profits from rapper's single will help build an orphanage in war-torn country

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Collision Records hip-hop artist Swoope has released a new single, "Actions Speak Louder," on iTunes as a benefit for an orphanage in war-torn Sudan. Fellow Christian rappers LeCrae, Tedashii, and Jai guest on the track, while a John Piper snippet (no, he doesn't rap!) also makes an appearance.

According to the Collision site, a ministry called His Voice Global, founded by Vernon Burger, has helped to build three orphanages in Sudan and are hoping to build a fourth. In September, a team of believers from from Reach Records, The Village Church, Red Revolution, Collision Records and His Voice Global went to Sudan on a short-term missions trip. Moved by what they saw, Tedashii, Lecrae, Swoope, and Jai teamed up to record a single to raise awareness and funds for a fourth orphanage. All profits from the single will go to building the facility.

December 7, 2010

'Violent, Tortured and Abysmal Shouts & Groans'

Terrific article in Texas Monthly about Blind Willie Johnson's music and faith

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When NASA launched the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft in 1977 on a mission to gather information from the planets, and even beyond our solar system, they included some information about Earthlings -- just in case any intelligent life out there intercepted the craft(s).

A recording included some 90 minutes of music from around the world, including a Cavatina from Beethoven as the concluding piece. The next-to-last piece was Blind Willie Johnson's “Dark Was the Night—Cold Was the Ground,” which a marvelous article in TexasMonthly describes like this:

"[It's] a largely wordless hymn built around the yearning cries of Johnson’s slide guitar and the moans and melodies of his voice. The two musical elements track each other, finishing each other’s phrases; Johnson hums fragments of the diffuse melody, then answers with the fluttering sighs of steel or glass moving over the strings. Sometimes the guitar jimmies a low, ascending melody that sounds like a man trying to climb out of a mud hole. Then the guitar goes up high, playing an inquisitive, hopeful line, and the voice goes high too, copying the melody. There’s no meter or rhythm. In fact, 'Dark Was the Night' sounds less like a song than a scene—the Passion of Jesus, his suffering on the cross, the ultimate pairing of despair and belief. The original melody and lyrics (“Dark was the night and cold was the ground, on which the Lord was laid”) may have originated in eighteenth-century England, but Johnson reinvented them. Occasionally his slide clicks against the neck of the guitar, and you remember that this was just a man playing a song in front of a microphone. You can hear the air in the room. You can hear the longing in his voice. This is what it sounds like to be a human being.

"The slide guitarist and producer Ry Cooder, who used 'Dark Was the Night' as the motif for his melancholy sound track to Paris, Texas, once called the song “the most transcendent piece in all American music.” In about 60,000 years, one of the Voyagers just might enter another solar system. Maybe it will be intercepted. Maybe the interceptors will figure out how to play that record. Maybe they’ll hear 'Dark Was the Night.' Maybe they’ll wonder, What kind of creature made that music?"

It's a fascinating profile about a great American musician who was "an utter mystery" because very little has ever been written about him. The Bookman, a New York literary review, once wrote that Johnson was Johnson was “apparently a religious fanatic,” also noting his “violent, tortured and abysmal shouts and groans and his inspired guitar.”
Check out the whole story here, and listen to "Dark Was the Night" below:

December 2, 2010

TobyMac Releases Christmas Single

Sixpence's Leigh Nash joins him for 'Christmas This Year,' an iTunes exclusive

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Hot off the news of another Grammy nomination, five-time Grammy winner TobyMac has released his first Christmas song in eight years with “Christmas This Year.”

Available exclusively at iTunes, the song features Sixpence None The Richer’s Leigh Nash. Toby sayz, "Christmas is the most celebrated time of the year for my family. While we were recording the song, we had a week-long Christmas party at my house . . . in JULY! I wanted to write a song that captured that pure delight without missing the spirit of the season... when love came down to let us live.”

December 2, 2010

Eminem's 'Recovery' vs. LeCrae's 'Rehab'

Potty-mouthed hip-hopper vs. righteous rapper at Grammys. Sorta. And other Christian noms.

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No surprise that Eminem's Recovery, the top-selling album of the year, received a whopping ten Grammy nominations on Wednesday night, including Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year.

But what most Grammy watchers won't notice -- either in the long list of nominees in every conceivable category, or on the Feb. 13 awards show on CBS -- is that another album with a similar title is also up for rap album of the year. Well, Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album, that is, with Lecrae's terrific Rehab While Eminem's last two releases were titled Relapse and Recovery, Lecrae decided he was ready for some spiritual rehab, a theme that plays throughout his album.

Also nominated for Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album are David Crowder Band's Church Music, Fireflight's For Those Who Wait, Gungor's Beautiful Things, and Switchfoot's Hello Hurricane.

Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album noms went to Steven Curtis Chapman's Beauty Will Rise, Israel Houghton's Love God, Love People, Sanctus Real's Pieces of a Real Heart, Ricky Skaggs' Mosaic, and TobyMac's Tonight. (The Skaggs nomination is slightly puzzling, not because it's undeserving, but because it's mostly a country album -- and there is a Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album category, where it more logically belongs.)

Meanwhile, Amy Grant's hit single "Better Than a Hallelujah" (written by Sarah Hart and Chapin Hartford) led the noms for Best Gospel Song. Others were Gungor's "Beautiful Things," Kirk Whalum & Leah Hathaway's "It's What I Do," Chris Tomlin's "Our God," and Ricky Skaggs' "Return to Sender."

Mavis Staples' astonishingly good You Are Not Alone was NOT nominated for Best Traditional Gospel Album, but WAS nominated for Best American Album -- and interestingly, that's a decent fit, though it could've gone into either category. Best Traditional Gospel nods went to Vanessa Bell Armstrong's The Experience, Shirley Caesar's A City Called Heaven, Patty Griffin's Downtown Church, Marvin Sapp's Here I Am, and Karen Clark Sheard's All in One.

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Finally, former CCM darling-turned-pop star Katy Perry, nominated for Album of the Year for Teenage Dream, apologized for using a mild form of blasphemy after learning of her nomination on Wednesday night's live show. "Are you feeling some Grammy love tonight?" LL Cool J asked Perry, who was seated in the audience. "Hell yes!" she blurted out, before adding, "Excuse me, sorry CBS."

NY Daily News writer opined on Perry's behavior: "She then held her hands up in a prayer motion and thanked her peers for the nomination. During the concert, the 25-year-old pop star didn't shy away from impious behavior, engaging in some graphic choreography while performing 'California Gurls.' While singing the line 'so hot/will melt your Popsicle,' she gesticulated wildly towards her groin area. Pulling an about-face after the ceremony, Perry ended her post-Grammy tweet fest with the simple hashtag '#GOD.' Perry's behavior comes as a surprise after she tweeted over the summer that 'using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.' Perry, who was raised by Christian pastors and first started singing in church, said she took issue with blasphemous behavior regardless of the perpetrator."

(Perry photo: Beck/Getty)

November 19, 2010

'Number One With a Bullet'

More than two centuries after it was written, 'Amazing Grace' still a global sensation

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A recent Associated Press story describes "Amazing Grace" as "a global music sensation" and "No. 1 with a bullet."

The writer asks, "Will Elvis' 'Hound Dog' last 200 years? Michael Jackson's 'Beat It'? Lady Gaga's 'Poker Face'? 'Amazing Grace' already has and keeps on going." Cliff Barrows, who led the singing for decades at Billy Graham crusades, adds, "We will sing this song until Jesus comes and it may be one of our theme songs in heaven around the throne."

According to allmusic.com, "Amazing Grace" has been recorded more than 6,600 times. That's a number to make anyone go gaga.

"It may be the most recorded song on the planet," said Jerry Bailey, executive at Broadcast Music, Inc., of Nashville.

November 19, 2010

Jason Castro Hits the Christian Market

Former 'American Idol' contestant is clear about his faith on 'Who I Am'

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Jason Castro may have only finished in fourth place in American Idol's seventh season (2008, when David Cook won it all), but he was a fan favorite for his good looks, great dreadlocks, endearing charm, and pleasant voice.

He released his self-titled debut album in April, a disc of primarily pop and love songs. But his label said he'd also release a follow-up version for the Christian market later in the year.

That time is now, as Who I Am released last week to Christian stores and online retailers. It's a pleasant pop album, with at least half of the ten songs explicitly about his faith. His first single, "You Are," is fast climbing the Christian charts. (Listen here.)

We interviewed Castro about his faith here, and he gives more of his testimony in the video below:

November 18, 2010

One to Watch in 2011

The Civil Wars' new song and video, 'Barton Hollow,' is worth a watch and listen

While we're in the process of voting on our Best Albums of 2010 (look for the list in a couple months), I've already heard what will likely be one of the Best of 2011 -- Over the Rhine's The Long Surrender, coming in February.

And just now I watched and listened to a one song from what could well be another 2011 contender -- "Barton Hollow," the title cut from the upcoming full-length debut from The Civil Wars, also due in February.

Not familiar with them? Half of the duo is Joy Williams, a former pop princess in the CCM market who has seriously found her niche and groove in her post-CCM life. The other half of the duo is John Paul White of Florence, Alabama. They met a couple years ago and have been making great music together. The title track from their 2009 four-song EP, Poison & Wine, was played in full on Grey’s Anatomy, and its music video has been viewed over 350,000 times on YouTube.

Check out the new song, "Barton Hollow," below (click here for lyrics):

November 5, 2010

Nelons Escape Concert Fire in Ohio

Opening act Beyond the Ashes helps gospel group escape flames at theatre

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The Nelons, a gospel group, were performing a concert at the history Majestic Theatre in Chillicothe, Ohio, Thursday night when a fire broke out. Members of Beyond the Ashes, the opening act, took quick action and helped the headliners to get out of the building safely.

Several members of both groups were treated at a local hospital for smoke inhalation, and later released. The Nelons have been cleared by a doctor to perform at a concert in Dayton tonight.

A curtain behind the stage had caught fire as Beyond the Ashes left the stage and the Nelons were about to begin their set when the fire alarm sounded. Aaron Crisler, spokesman for the Nelons, says Kelly Nelon Clark, her husband Jason Clark and daughter Amber Nelon Thompson credited members of Beyond the Ashes for helping them to escape.

The fire was put out within an hour, and there were no major injuries or fatalities. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. The event stirred memories of a horrible concert fire in Rhode Island in 2003 that killed 100 people.

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Anthony Facello, a member of Beyond the Ashes (pictured at left), said that "watching a 30-foot wall of fire engulf the stage area as our friends, the Nelons, sang was a scary experience. We didn't really think about doing anything but getting them and others to safety. I know it was God's hand that carried all of out of that fire. We are so grateful."

The Majestic Theater, which opened in the 1850s, has hosted many legendary entertainers, including Laurel and Hardy, Milton Berle and Sophie Tucker.

October 26, 2010

Owl City Covers 'In Christ Alone'

Adam Young says "something about this song makes me bawl like a baby"

Adam Young, best known as the pop sensation Owl City, was up late Sunday night recording a cover of the modern hymn, "In Christ Alone," by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. On his blog, Young said it wasn't for any particular album or project: "Not for anything special, just for fun."

"Something about this song makes me bawl like a baby," Young wrote. "If I were to count on one hand, the number of songs that have ever deeply moved me, this one would take the cake. Last night I probably spent more time actually crying at the piano than I did recording it. Such are the secret confessions of a shy boy from Minnesota . . .

"As I’m so often reminded what a priceless gift my life is, I ache with everything in me to make it count, so that when I finally cross the finish line, I’ll hear the words, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"

Young also noted that the spiritual meat of the song is not "intended to be 'crammed down the throat,' if you will. That is not my intention. This is what I wholeheartedly believe, and to that belief, I remain steadfast until He returns or calls me home."

Click here to listen.

October 25, 2010

Cash, DeGarmo & Key to Join Gospel Hall

The Man in Black leads latest group to be inducted into Gospel Music Hall of Fame

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Johnny Cash and DeGarmo & Key will be inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame in January, the GMA Foundation announced today. "The impact this group of individuals has made on gospel music is immeasurable," said Ed Harper, chairman of the GMA Foundation.

Cash, who died in 2003, was quite vocal about his faith in the final decades of his life, and recorded a number of gospel albums including Man in White, My Mother's Hymn Book, and Cash: Ultimate Gospel.

The D&K induction will be bittersweet, since Key passed away in June.

Other January inductees will include Golden Gate Quartet and Bill "Hoss" Allen, it was announced. For the full press release, click here.

October 21, 2010

New U2 Album Just Months Away?

Manager Paul McGuinness says the project should arrive before May 2011

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The oft-buzzed about (and tentatively titled) Songs of Ascent, reportedly U2's most directly worshipful album yet, is apparently on the fast track, says their manager.

"I would expect a new U2 album sooner than anybody thinks," Paul McGuinness told the Irish Times. "I would guess early 2011 before the next leg of the American tour which starts in May."

The Irish Times reported that McGuinness says the album will likely include "Mercy" and "Every Breaking Wave," which the band has been playing at its recent shows.

"Mercy" (see the video below this post) includes these lyrics:

Love has come again / I am gone again Love is the end of history / The enemy of misery
Love has come again / I am gone again

Love is justice, a charity / Love brings with it a clarity
Love has come again / I'm alive again

I am alive, baby I'm born again and again
And again, and again and again and again

Bono has described "Every Breaking Wave" (video, lyrics) as a "surging anthem," and says it will be the first single off the new album. Another possible song on the album, according to @U2, is "North Star" (lyrics), a song from the How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb sessions which included a guest organ appearance from Michael W. Smith. (In an interview with CCM, Smith described the song as a tribute to the unwavering faith of Johnny Cash.) Read more about more possible songs on the album here.

In a recent interview with Australia's The Age, Bono said that the new album -- the first of three albums they're working on -- is being produced by Danger Mouse, the alias for American production ace Brian Burton (Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz).

"We have about 12 songs with him," Bono said. "At the moment that looks like the album we will put out next because it's just happening so easily."

Bono said the next album after that will be a "club" record featuring Lady Gaga collaborator RedOne, Black Eyed Peas rapper Will.I.Am, and French superstar David Guetta. He also said that he and guitarist The Edge are trying to convince their bandmates Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. on recording an album based on the 20 songs the two have written for a Spider-Man musical that opens on Broadway next month.

"We haven't convinced the rest of the band to do that yet," Bono told The Age. "Larry definitely has a raised eyebrow."

Here's the video for "Mercy":

October 20, 2010

DCB and 700,000 LITE-BRITE Pegs

David Crowder's new music video is a wonder of stop-action creative genius

Some of my favorite movies feature old-fashioned stop-action photography; Ray Harryhausen (Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts), master of the craft, is one of my cinematic heroes.

I'm not quite ready to put David Crowder on the same pedestal, but his new self-made video comes pretty close. Using over 700,000 LITE-BRITE pegs, Crowder and 83 friends spent 2,150 man hours making 1,200 LITE-BRITE images for the three-and-a-half-minute video of "SMS [Shine]," from 2009's album Church Music. Oh, and they consumed 148 pizzas in the process.

I love the way Crowder and his team creatively blend real objects with the displays on the LITE-BRITE -- the way outside objects (plants, water, etc.) merge into the screen and become part of the show. Brilliantly conceived, marvelous executed. Enjoy!

October 13, 2010

Insane Christian Posse?

Why is the media so quick to label these clowns as 'evangelical Christians'?

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I've just read several stories that "report" that the two members of Insane Clown Posse, long known for their profane, misogynistic lyrics, are really "evangelical Christians."

London's Guardian, which "broke" the story on Saturday, had this for a subtitle: "America's nastiest rappers in shocking revelation – they've been evangelical Christians all along."

The Australian followed up with this: "US gangsta-rap duo Insane Clown Posse has admitted to having been an evangelical Christian group for most of its 20-year career."

Contact Music: "Insane Clown Posse Relieved To Admit Christianity."

The Washington Post: "America's profanest and most reviled shock rappers, have come out, for lack of a better term, as Christians."

At least the Post writer was on the right track with the phrase "for lack of a better term." Because nowhere do Violent J. and Shaggy 2 Dope, the two guys who make up the shock-rap group, say they're "Christians," much less "evangelicals." Why these media outlets feel the need to use those terms is beyond me. ICP has simply said they believe in God, and that they are in awe of creation.

Except not quite in those terms. In the lyrics to their song "Thy Unveiling," ICP raps: "F--- it, we got to tell / All secrets will now be told / No more hidden messages / ... Truth is we follow GOD!!! / May the Juggalos find God! / He's out there!" (A "Juggalo" is a fan of ICP).

Ah, but there's more: "Juggla, Juggla, f--- with the Juggla (repeat 3x) / May the Juggalos find Him! He's out there! / . . . This is our world! This is our world! This is our world! / SO GET THE F--- OUT! / . . . Suck My Nuts, B-tch! F--- You!"

Not gonna be singing that in any contemporary services any time soon, eh?

Explaining how he's awed by some parts of creation, Violent J. asks the Guardian writer, "Have you ever stood next to an elephant, my friend? A f---ing elephant is a miracle. If people can't see a f---ing miracle in a f---ing elephant, then life must suck for them, because an elephant is a f---ing miracle. So is a giraffe."

I don't think they'll be performing at any Christian youth conventions or showing up on K-LOVE (safe for the whole family!) any time soon. But that's not the point. If the guys in ICP have found God, that's wonderful.

What's stunning is how quickly -- and ignorantly -- so many media outlets immediately start labeling them "evangelical Christians." What's up with that? Somebody -- anybody -- finds God, and they're automatically an evangelical? What if they're a Muslim, or a Jew, or any number of other religions? Or no religion at all -- they've just come to see that there must be a Creator behind those incredible, effing elephants and giraffes?

Talk about playing fast and loose with a term. Let's leave it at this: The guys in ICP haven't used the word "Christian" or "evangelical" -- at least not anywhere I've read it -- so let's not call them anything that they're not claiming for themselves. If they do start self-labeling with those terms, well, that could be a whole 'nother discussion. Something about fruit.

October 6, 2010

Sara Groves: How to Support Rwanda's Artists

Singer/songwriter points fans to Azizi Life, great place to do your Christmas shopping!

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When I went to Rwanda in March 2009 with Sara Groves and a team from Food for the Hungry, we met a number of local artisans who created beautiful handiwork -- baskets, bowls, bags, jewelry, and more. But without much of a market, these talented artists didn't have many outlets for selling their work. Until now.

FH's Tom MacGregor and Christi Whitekettle have worked closely with these artists for a few years to build their business, and just recently they launched the AziziLife.com website, where you too can buy these fantastic crafts and support Rwandans while you're at it. (And yes, the term "starving artist" can be quite real over there.)

Groves recently blogged about Azizi Life here and here. She will be selling some of the products on her Christmas tour, but you can also buy the Azizi Life products right here. They even have Christmas ornaments and hand-carved Nativity scenes.

September 28, 2010

Here's One Fall Tour I Don't Want to Miss

Author Donald Miller teams up with Webb, McCracken, and Robbie Seay Band

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Every now and then, a tour lineup comes through town that lands in that Do Not Miss This category. The upcoming "Love Tells the Story Tour" is one such event.

Featuring bestselling author Donald Miller and acclaimed musicians Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and the Robbie Seay band, the tour will hit just ten cities in early November for what's being billed as "a rare night of music, art, and storytelling." (A couple of years ago, Webb and McCracken participated in a similar Art/Music/Justice tour.)

"I don't know if I've been more excited about a tour than I am about hitting the road with Derek, Sandra, and Robbie," says Miller. "It's going to be a creative night of storytelling through both speaking and music."

Miller's organization, The Mentoring Project, is sponsoring the tour. TMP is responding to the American crisis of fatherlessness by inspiring and equipping faith communities to mentor fatherless boys ages 7-14.

September 23, 2010

Katy Perry Too Racy for Elmo?

After complaints from parents, 'Sesame Street' pulls Katy Perry video from show

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9/24 UPDATE: Elmo responds, "We'll definitely have another play date!"

It's not unusual for big-name celebrities to appear on Sesame Street, so when the popular show started previewing its upcoming season online this week, we saw the likes of Jude Law, Will.i.am, Colin Farrell, and others -- including pop star Katy Perry singing a kid-friendly version of her song "Hot N Cold" with Elmo.

Turns out that Perry's clothes showed a bit too much cleavage for some parents, who posted such comments as: "Couldn't she wear something that was more . . . APPROPRIATE," and "I DO NOT want my five year old lookin at [that]!" Sesame Workshop, the folks behind the show, Sesame Street, responded by deciding not to run the clip on the show after all. Actually, Perry's outfit wasn't as revealing as at first glance: she wore a flesh-colored mesh top that went all the way up to her neck.

While Gawker.TV complained that "Katy Perry's Boobs Guest Star on Sesame Street," but it's hardly the first time breasts have made an appearance on the show. In a tender -- and decided non-titillating -- scene from the 1977 show, singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte Marie actually breastfed her son, Dakota Starblanket Wolfchild, on the show while Big Bird looked over her shoulder. It was a sweet and sensitive way of explaining breastfeeding to a child.

Here's the clip:

September 16, 2010

A Fantastical Lineup for This Conference

David Crowder hosting church music gig, featuring Jars of Clay, Rob Bell, Giglio, more

It's perhaps fitting that a man who released an album called Church Music would also host a conference by almost the same name.

Crowder's Fantastical Church Music Conference, slated for Sept. 30-October 2 at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, will feature a guest lineup of who's who -- including musicians Jars of Clay, Israel Houghton, Hillsong London, Derek Webb, and speakers Louie Giglio, Rob Bell, Francis Chan, and more. (For a complete lineup, click here.)

"Crafting and choosing the songs the church sings is a critical and crucial work of discernment," Crowder said. Organizers expect lively discussions as the event features workshops with titles like, "The Functional Limits of Creativity," "From Sunday to Sunday: A New Old Vision for Worship," and "Electronic Programming."

See Crowder introduce the conference in this cheesy but fun video:

September 9, 2010

Baylor Football Adopts David Crowder Song

Bears to take field to Crowder's 'Rise Up' at every home game this season

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Baylor University alum David Crowder loves his Bears -- so much that he wrote something of a fight song, "Rise Up," for his alma mater's football team, which will take the field to the playing of the song at every home game this season.

Crowder had seen some of the team's commercials over the summer, which had the theme of "rise up." He went to sleep one night, and woke up the next day with the song in his head.

"I don't want to talk about Manifest Destiny," he told Baylor, "but I woke up the next morning and I'm sort of in a dream state with this song in its entirety. Later in the day I remember I had a song in my head when I woke up, and I started talking to a guy I work with. I said I feel like I had a dream, something about Baylor football, and I started reciting lyrics to it. About halfway through, I go, 'This is a good song. I gotta go, I gotta record it quick before it disappears.' So that day I recorded it and sent it to some folks in the athletic department, and they got pretty excited. I was already excited, so we went ahead and polished it up."

At last Saturday's opener, the 42,821 fans in attendance heard the song, and the Bears rose up and whipped Sam Houston State, 34-3.

The song is now available for listening and downloading.

September 9, 2010

Musician's Song to Benefit Gulf Relief

New Orleans born Freedove's "The One" to help those struggling after oil spill

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Freedove, born in New Orleans and now living in New York, recently released a single, "The One," with proceeds to benefit Gulf relief efforts after the summer oil spill.

"It's a message of hope for the world," she told CT in an e-mail. "All proceeds from sales will go to Gulf relief efforts. I am hoping that more people will learn about the song and help the cause. It truly is a labor of love for my hometown."

The single can be heard on her MySpace page.

August 31, 2010

Rapper Spoofs Prosperity Gospel. Sort Of.

Rhymefest, co-writer of Kanye's 'Jesus Walks,' opines on megachurch, Osteen, and more

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"You know who I love?" rapper Rhymefest asks in a recent interview with Rapzilla, a Christian rap/hip-hop ezine. "What’s that guy with the curly hair? What is his name? A white guy. He has a huge church. He’s on TV all the time. He talks about health and wellness . . ."

Rapzilla helps him out: "Joel Osteen?"

Rhymefest: "Yo! I LOVE that dude! I watch him as much as I can. He comes across as just a beautiful person and not only because he’s a handsome guy with a beautiful family, but because he’s so tender with his flock, you know? And he doesn’t preach, he teaches."

Interesting comments, considering that just moments before, in the same interview, Rhymefest had said that he thought preachers of the prosperity gospel -- and Osteen is often considered one of them -- is "fleecing all communities. In fact, what did Jesus say when he went to the church? He said 'How dare you use my Father’s house as a market!' To me, that is a direct correlation with what Jesus’ thoughts would have been on prosperity preaching. It’s an issue. It’s fleecing the people. It’s idol worship. It’s anti-the-Christ in my opinion."

Rhymefest, who says he grew up in a Christian home but now considers himself a Muslim, co-wrote the Kanye West mega-hit "Jesus Walks." Rhymefest makes perhaps his strongest statement on the prosperity gospel with his song and video, "Prosperity." Check out the video below and judge for yourself. (Caution: There are a couple of bad words, and a couple shots that linger on cleavage.)

August 27, 2010

Owl City Soars with the 'Owls of Ga'Hoole'

Adam Young's new song, 'To the Sky,' to play prominently in upcoming fantasy film

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Owl City -- aka Adam Young -- was almost literally an overnight sensation in 2009, with his debut album, Ocean Eyes, going platinum and its lead single, "Fireflies," going triple platinum. It's not a stretch to say that in almost no time, his career took off and soared -- apt metaphors for the appearance of Young's first new song in a year.

"To the Sky" will serve as the theme song to the upcoming Zack Snyder animated film, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, opening Sept. 24. The song will be featured prominently in the film, play over the closing credits, and be released as the soundtrack's first single.

"It is such an incredible honor to be part of this film," says Young. "As a fan of both the children’s book series growing up, and Zack Snyder’s work as a director, having my music included is pretty surreal. I’ve been waiting for someone to make a movie like this for some time now. I’m endlessly grateful to be involved.”

The song's bridge hints at Young's Christian faith:

There's a realm above the trees Where the lost are finally found
So touch your feathers to the breeze
And leave the ground

Young is currently working on Owl City's next album, due in early 2011. He recently recovered from a painful bout with kidney stones, which forced him to miss some concerts. He has apparently had a full recovery.

August 26, 2010

My Christmas Wish List Begins . . .

Springsteen announces monster 'Darkness' package, lots of previously unheard songs

Dear Santa, I've been a good boy this year. Please deliver me the promised land . . .

Bruce Springsteen - "The Promise: The Making of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town'" Sneak Peek from Columbia Records on Vimeo.

August 24, 2010

Go See the BarlowGirl Concert. Or Else . . .

Army soldiers claim they were punished for skipping a concert by the Christian chick rockers

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Saying he didn't want to "be preached at," U.S. Army Private Anthony Smith told the Associated Press that he and other soldiers opted not to attend a Christian rock concert on their Virginia base in May -- and that they were punished by a staff sergeant as a result.

When Smith and about 100 other skipped the show -- featuring Christian chick rock band BarlowGirl -- they were "locked down" in their barracks, he said. "It seemed very much like a punishment." Smith says they were forced to clean their barracks while others attended the show.

Smith and about others filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity office at Fort Eustis, a base in Newport News, Virginia. The Army is investigating; at the Pentagon, Army spokesman Col. Thomas Collins said the military shouldn't impose religious views on soldiers.

"If something like that were to have happened, it would be contrary to Army policy," Collins said.

The concert was reportedly part of the "Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concerts" at Fort Eustis, a project undertaken by Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers. While the series was billed as encompassing a wide variety of faith perspectives, so far only evangelical Christian acts have been booked. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s Chris Rodda said, “’[S]piritual fitness’ is just the military’s new term for promoting religion, particularly evangelical Christianity. And this concert series is no different.”

As for BarlowGirl -- a trio of sisters from Elgin, Illinois -- they say they knew nothing of the "politics" surrounding the event. "Wow there's a lot of press in regards to our show for the troops. We loved playing that show & knew nothing about them being forced to come," Alyssa Barlow wrote on her Twitter page. Lauren Barlow tweeted, "We knew nothing at all about soldiers being forced to go to our show."

August 19, 2010

Yes, Bob Dylan Can Paint

The troubador, who has painted for decades, opens a new exhibit in Denmark

Check out the painting below, by a man most of us only know as a legendary singer/songwriter. But take the guitar and pick away and give the guy a brush and a canvas, and yes, he can create even more magic. This is one of many new paintings and drawings to be on exhibit at Denmark's Statens Museum for Kunst September 4-January 30. "It was an honor to be asked and a thrilling challenge," Dylan said in a statement about the collection, called "Brazil Series," which he created exclusively for the museum. "I chose Brazil as a subject because I have been there many times and I like the atmosphere." Check out 13 samples of Dylan's artwork in this Rolling Stone gallery.

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August 19, 2010

Bring Your Family to Fight Night!

Seriously. Phil Joel (formerly of Newsboys) and Focus on the Family team up for event

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Billing it as "a concert event for the whole family raising awareness and bringing excitement about doing family the way God intended it to be done -- with Him at the center!", Phil Joel (formerly of Newsboys) and Focus on the Family are scheduling a series of events called Family Fight Night this fall.

Comedian Bob Smiley will emcee, and Focus president Jim Daly will give a videotaped presentation. The first event is Sept. 24 in Franklin, TN; click here for more dates or to book an event at your church.

The announcement comes just as Joel -- who still has the best hair in Christian rock history -- readies to release his second album for children, deliberateKids.2. Here's a brief video of Phil and wife Heather talking about the new project:

August 6, 2010

Katy Perry: 'I'm Still a Christian'

Revealing (ahem!) cover story in 'Rolling Stone' sheds more light on pop star's religious beliefs

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Eight years ago, I interviewed Katy Hudson for a cover story for our sister publication Campus Life, our now defunct magazine for teenagers. The story, titled "The New Girls of Christian Music," also featured Stacie Orrico, Rachael Lampa, Paige Lewis, and Joy Williams, all of whom went on to enjoy more successful careers in Christian music than Hudson. But today, all four could well be featured in a story titled, "Where Are They Now?"

Not so for Katy Hudson, who has since gone on to change her name to Katy Perry, becoming one of the biggest female pop stars in the world. I could hardly imagine, talking to the then 17-year-old Hudson, that she'd someday be an international music idol, in a sense. But even back then, she seemed to be seeking craving attention in unique ways. After a concert at a local church, she met people at her merch table with the words "I'm Katy" written on her forehead with a black Sharpie. She had also put a black star around a big zit on her chin (today, ironically, she's a pitchwoman for Proactiv acne treatment), and she'd blackened out a tooth.

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At the time (that's her one and only Christian CD cover, at left), I wrote, "Katy Hudson's motto might well be, 'What you see is what you get.' And with Katy, you never know what you'll see. Or get." I described her as "a regular teen, trying to figure out faith and life and everything in between." And she told me, "I just want to be real. I'll never wear a mask."

She's not wearing much of anything in the brand-new cover story of Rolling Stone, an article titled, "Sex, God & Katy Perry." (Caution: The cover photo and several inside photos are quite steamy.) And she's not holding much back as she tells her story of growing up in a Christian home, of her brief dalliance with Christian music, her longing to be a pop star, her relationship with fiance Russell Brand, and her present-day beliefs.

RS writes that "one would think her religious past is behind her, but [Perry] still considers herself a Christian." She tells the magazine, “God is very much still a part of my life. But the way the details are told in the Bible—that’s very fuzzy for me. And I want to throw up when I saw that. But that’s the truth. . . . I still believe that Jesus is the son of God. But I also believe in extraterrestrials, and that there are people sent from God to be messengers, and all sorts of crazy stuff.

"I look up into the sky and I’m just mindf---ed — all those stars and planets, the neverendingness of the universe. I just can’t believe that we’re the only polluting population. Every time I look up, I know that I’m nothing and there’s something way beyond me. I don’t think it’s as simple as heaven and hell.”

Fascinating but also confused observations from a young woman (she's now 25) who is still trying to figure things out, having come out of a childhood in a Christian home where both parents considered themselves pastors and where speaking in tongues was commonplace. "My mom and dad practice ‘tongues and interpretation’ together—my dad speaks in tongues, and my mom interprets it,” Perry told RS. “That’s their gift.” The three children, including Katy, spoke in tongues as well. “Speaking in tongues is as normal to me as ‘Pass the salt. A lot of religions use meditation or chanting as a subliminal prayer language, and speaking in tongues isn’t that different—it’s a secret, direct language to God. If I felt intuitively that I had to pray for some situation, but I didn’t rationally understand it, I just let my spirit pray for it.”

Perry said that after her Christian label shut down and that it was clear that "my gospel career was going nowhere," she started writing love songs and pursuing a pop career -- not rejecting her faith in the process, but not exactly fully letting it define her, either. "Letting go was a process,” she said. “Meeting gay people, or Jewish people, and realizing that they were fine was a big part of it. Once I stopped being chaperoned, and realized I had a choice in life, I was like, ‘Wow, there are a lot of choices.’ I began to become a sponge for all that I had missed—the music, the movies. I was as curious as the cat. But I’m not dead yet.”

July 26, 2010

How to Write a Great Worship Song

Step 1: Acknowledge that there's no 'how-to' to creativity, says modern hymn writer Keith Getty

The following originally posted at Ancient Evangelical Future:

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At the recent National Worship Leaders Conference, Irish songwriter Keith Getty began his workshop by telling those who had come to learn how to write a great worship song to leave. “Because art is the expression of life, you cannot ‘how-to’ creativity.”

Getty collaborates with his wife Kristyn and friend Stuart Townend. “They’re the words and I’m the music,” he says, estimating that somewhere between 5 and 20 percent of the words of any of their songs are his. “But we both get involved on both sides.”

Here are ten notable and worthwhile ideas edited and distilled from Getty’s workshop comments:

1. The primary form we use is the story form. The gospel is primarily story. How do you take people who want 4-line worship songs and get them to sing 32 lines? By structuring the song as a story.

2. It is important to look at things that are harrowing and that don’t necessarily make us feel happy. The central core of the Christian faith is not something that makes us happy. We need to acknowledge our need for a redeemer. The reason we worship is that we meet God through the central story of the cross.

3. We need lament. But if you want to write lament, remember that a successful lament resolves. Not into a happily-ever-after ending, but like the psalms of lament, by ultimately acknowledging that God is God.

4. To write strong melodies remember that folk melody has to be passed on orally (aurally). I try to write songs that can be sung with no written music. I imitate Irish folk melody, with a great deal of contour, of rise and fall.

5. Use pastors and theologians as resources for your writing. But keep company with them. Don’t just ask them to fix your text here or there when you’re done with it.

6. Trinitarian worship safeguards us from so many problems our worship can get into: either an overly stern view of god or a casual view of god. Both can lead to problems in our lives.

7. Martin Luther is one of ten people from history I would want to have coffee with. I have looked at a lot of Luther’s hymns and emulated him. First, Luther had a high view of redemption. He also believed we live our lives in the midst of spiritual warfare. Thirdly, he had a high view of the church and a high vision of the church.

8. The congregation is the choir and it is merely the privilege of those of us who are musically gifted to help them sing.

9. Lyrics and great writing are the same thing. Lyricism is poetry. If your write lyrics, read as much poetry as you can. Lyricists are people who love words and do crossword puzzles.

10. Growing up, I never listened to pop music as a child. I was steeped in church music. That could be a blessing because everything I write can be sung by a congregation.

  • * *

Christianity Today interviewed the Gettys in 2008.

Learn more about the Gettys’ work at their website.

June 30, 2010

Unlikely Quartet: Aretha, Condi, Handel, Mozart

The Queen of Soul, a former Secretary of State, and great composers "team up" for concert

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Aretha Franklin will team up with Condoleezza Rice for a benefit concert in Philadelphia next month. You read that right: Condi Rice, the former Secretary of State, is an accomplished pianist who will accompany the Queen of Soul as she sings "Handel, Mozart and the hits," according to a press release, at Philly's Mann Center for Performing Arts on July 27. Proceeds will benefit programs that support inner city children and the Mann Center's own education initiatives.
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Rice will accompany Franklin on her hits "Say a Little Prayer" and "Natural Woman," in addition to performing a 20-minute set with the Philadelphia Orchestra. It will be the first of a series of concerts with Rice and Franklin, who calls Rice "a consummate classical pianist and since I sing the arias, I thought that we could do something, a bipartisan effort for our favorite charities."

June 24, 2010

Chapman Family to Join Steven on Tour

'A Night with the Chapmans' will include Mary Beth talking about finding hope after tragedy

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When we interviewed Steven Curtis Chapman last fall about how he and his family have dealt with the pain of losing a daughter, it was one of the most-read stories of the year on our website.

This fall, Chapman is hitting the road for "A Night with the Chapmans" tour with his entire family, including wife Mary Beth, who will share some of her own stories from the stage about finding hope in the wake of losing their daughter, Maria Sue, to a tragic accident at home two years ago. Mary Beth Chapman recently penned a book, Choosing to SEE (Revell), that chronicles their grief and still ongoing healing process. The book releases in September.

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Mary Beth has never taken the stage before in her husband's almost three decades in music. “There are three things I told God I would never ever do: homeschool, adopt, and speak in public,” she says. “Well, we've already homeschooled, you know we've adopted, and now this fall I'll be on stage speaking at Steven's concerts." She adds, "Now I'm telling God I will not go to Hawaii for three months."

The tour, sponsored by Show Hope, the adoption agency/ministry founded by the Chapmans, will include warm-up act Caleb, featuring Steven and Mary Beth's sons Caleb and Will Franklin. Tour dates and ticket info can be found here.

June 7, 2010

R.I.P., Dana Key

Member of legendary Christian rock duo DeGarmo & Key has passed away

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UPDATE: A memorial service for Dana Key will be held 1 p.m. Thursday, June 10, at the TLC Church in Cordova, Tennessee. A memorial fund has also been set up; donations may be sent to TLC Church / Dana Key Family, 4199 Pheasant Hill Cove N, Lakeland TN 38002.

Dana Key, who with musical partner Ed DeGarmo formed one of the great rock bands in CCM history, died of a ruptured blood clot Sunday night at the age of 56, according to CCM's website and various other reports. In recent years, Key was a senior pastor at TLC Community Church in Memphis, Tenn., which was his and DeGarmo's hometown.

"Dana Key was an awesome guy," DeGarmo told Christianity Today. "Extremely talented for sure, but he was much more than that. He was absolutely passionately in love with Christ, his wife Anita and their three children.

"He lived his life fully dedicated to building God's kingdom with every breath he took. He was a true pioneer. He could preach the gospel in a way that compelled thousands to accept Christ, and he could play guitar and sing like you were getting a glimpse of his soul. He was my friend and my brother. The world will miss him. I will miss him dearly."

TobyMac first met Key during his days with dcTalk in the late 1980s and early '90s, when dcTalk would open for DeGarmo & Kay. He said Key "was genuine and passionate to the core. He seemed to love God's Word more than the songs he sang about it. He obviously made huge impact with his songs and songwriting. But what I learned behind the curtain was even richer.

"He taught us from God's Word . . . most nights before we took the stage. That is something I admired. Thank you Mr. Key, you will truly be missed. Enjoy the view, my friend."

Christian musician Todd Agnew, whom Key signed to Ardent Records some years ago, wrote on his website that Key was "a believer and proclaimed Jesus Christ. Dana was a mentor and role model to me. There’s no way I can capture what I learned here in a hotel typing on my phone. I wish I had recorded it all and could put it in a book for you: Wisdom from one Christian Generation to the Next. But I can’t. . . . Dana was a man of God. Before he was a musician, he was a minister. And before he was a minister, he was God’s child. He will be missed."

Doug Van Pelt, editor of HM Magazine, posted a nice tribute to Key, noting how a D&K song ("You Gave Me All") was instrumental in helping him decide to commit to the Christian faith. "It’s neat how that song made a profound impact on me that night," Van Pelt writes. "It described the condition of my heart, which broke and I wept before the Lord for the first time in 9 years. I’m grateful for Dana Key and his faithfulness and his creativity."

Harold Smith, CEO of Christianity Today International and a friend of both Key and DeGarmo, said, "Dana's passion, pure and simple, was the gospel. He sang its truth from countless stages (amplified with some wicked guitar work), and preached its truth from the pulpit he so loved. 'Christ died for me,' he would say. 'I'll live for him.' And he did -- at high volume."

Ardent Records has set up a tribute on its website.

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Key grew up just a few blocks from Graceland in Memphis, and attended school with DeGarmo, dreaming about being a rock star, according to Mark Allan Powell's Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music. The two boys formed their first band, The Sound Corporation, in sixth grade. As a high school junior, he was invited to join the secular rock group Black Oak Arkansas as lead guitarist, but he and DeGarmo were already involved in music ministry for Youth for Christ.

DeGarmo and Key formed in 1977 and performed off and on for 20 years. The band was known initially for its innovative sound, as good as anything in secular music, and they remained commercially viable through the 1980s even as their sound became more predictable. But their lyrics and mission always remained the same: "Ministry is the primary reason for the existence of D&K," Key said in 1993. "Our music is simply a vehicle to communicate a message." They often held altar calls at the end of their shows.

Key -- a direct descendant of Francis Scott Key (composer of "The Star Spangled Banner") -- went on to become an executive with Ardent Records (while DeGarmo went on to co-found ForeFront Records), and wrote the books Don't Stop the Music and By Divine Design.

Here are two music videos featuring D&K:

Editor's note: This blog post may be updated throughout the day as we learn more.

May 26, 2010

Bono Avoids Paralysis; Tour Cancelled

U2 frontman's emergency surgery fixes partial paralysis in leg; singer must rest for months

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U2 frontman Bono underwent emergency back surgery Friday in Munich, and today the surgeon and others are saying that without the operation, the singer could have faced permanent paralysis.

The surgeon said Bono had "partial paralysis" in one leg, according to Irish Central. Dr. Muller Wohlfahrt said "Bono suffered severe compression of the sciatic nerve. On review of his MRI scan, I realized there was a serious tear in the ligament and a herniated disc, and that conservative treatment would not suffice. I recommended Bono have emergency spine surgery with Professor Tonn at Munich's LMU University Hospital on Friday. . . . The ligament surrounding the disc had an eight millimeter tear and during surgery we discovered fragments of the disc had traveled into the spinal canal.
"This surgery was the only course of treatment for full recovery and to avoid further paralysis. Bono is now much better, with complete recovery of his motor deficit. The prognosis is excellent, but to obtain a sustainable result, he must now enter a period of rehabilitation."

Which means two months of rest and postponement of the rest of the band's 360 Tour this year; make-up dates have not yet been scheduled.

The Edge, U2's guitarist, joked that Bono will now get more rest than he's had "in decades," but said that the singer's recurrent back problems had grown quite serious. "He [Bono] was clearly in shock about the implications of the injury," The Edge said. "Maybe he just overdid it and hurt himself. Luckily enough he did realise at a certain point, I think when he could no longer walk, that he needed to go to the doctor. Had he not done anything about it, it could have been serious and possibly permanent."

May 24, 2010

'Just Going to Slice Their Throats'

Christian band claims they were spared death by general in recent visit to Myanmar

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Bluetree, a Christian rock band from Ireland, claims that a general wanted to kill them in a recent standoff in Myanmar, where the band was visiting. The band, known for its radio hit "God of This City" (also covered by Chris Tomlin), had snuck into the country, knowing the possible danger.

According to a recent post on CNN's Belief blog, "high-ranking members of two different military units were pointing at [the band] and yelling in a language they didn't understand, according to lead singer Aaron Boyd. Their interpreter clammed up and the president of the NGO that had brought the band into the country said, 'This is bad. This is really, really bad.' Later, after leaving the country, the band was informed that their fates were being debated: 'We were told later their general said we're not even going to waste our bullets with them, we're just going to slice their throats,' Boyd said. 'Bottom line was our guy, whatever he did, whatever he said, managed to calm the whole thing down.'"

May 22, 2010

'I Don't Believe God Hates Me Any More'

So says former Christian pop star Ray Boltz as he resumes career, releases new CD

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Singer Ray Boltz, who came out as gay in September 2008, tells the New York Times, “I don’t believe God hates me anymore. I always thought if people knew the true me, they’d be disgusted, and that included God. But for all the doubts, there’s this new belief that God accepts me and created me, and there’s peace.”

After more than five years of self-imposed absence from stage and CD, the now openly gay Boltz, who lives in South Florida with his partner, Franco Sperduti, has released his first album since coming out. True includes songs about same-sex marriage (“Don’t Tell Me Who to Love”), and bias crimes (“Swimming Hole”). The song "Who Would Jesus Love?" includes these lyrics:

Would He only love the ones / Who looked the same as me / Would He only offer hope / When He saw similarity / Would He leave the others waiting / Like a stranger at the gate / Would He discriminate.

Boltz performs these days with just a guitar, while Sperduti is his booking agent. He has played at gay pride events and at liberal Christian churches. Boltz told the newspaper, “When you start to live an authentic life, you stop pretending. When I started writing these songs, I didn’t know if it’d be for a record. I didn’t know if anyone would even hear these songs. But I realized I could write whatever I want, and that opened up the floodgates.”

May 21, 2010

Benefit Raises $62K for Flooded Nashville Church

Brandon Heath, Jason Ingram stage "Love Your Neighbor" concert for El Shaddai Church

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El Shaddai Christian Church, a small but growing Hispanic congregation in South Nashville, was devastated by recent flooding the area, as six feet of water poured into the church on May 2. A handful of local Christian musicians came to their aid earlier this week with a benefit concert that raised almost $62,000 for the church.

Brandon Heath and Jason Ingram hosted their third annual "Love Your Neighbor" benefit concert, which also featured performances from tobyMac, Mike Donehy of Tenth Avenue North, Britt Nicole, and a surprise appearance from Amy Grant. Heath said the event, held at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, "felt like a big family piled into the living room to share songs, stories, and all that we have. I'm immensely grateful for the generosity of Nashville, and those watching online. Above all, God was glorified and out neighbors were loved."

Pastor German Castro of El Shaddai Church, who was rescued from the building as the flood waters rose, said, "We've experienced an outpouring of God's grace through the love of the body of Christ. . . . You were his hands and feet, you saw us through his eyes, and cared enough to know that we could not build up again alone."

See a brief video, featuring Heath, Ingram, and Castro, describing the situation below. Donations are still being accepted for El Shaddai's rebuilding. Make checks out to El Shaddai Christian Church and mail to El Shaddai Church, c/o Flood Relief, 10604 Concord Rd, Brentwood, TN 37027.

Nashville flood relief donations are also being accepted through MusiCares. Jars of Clay is helping the MusiCares effort by giving away five free versions of its hit song "Flood" (including a terrific version by Sara Groves) to anyone who donates $1 to the effort.

May 13, 2010

Britnification: Goodbye, Hannah Montana

Is Miley Cyrus trying too hard to grow up too fast? Looks like it from here.

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A Los Angeles Times blogger calls it the "Britnification" of Miley Cyrus. Another publication says she's gone Lady Gaga. Entertainment Weekly says it's "Death to Hannah Montana."

Whatever one's perspective, we're certainly seeing a different Miley in recent weeks -- more skin, more sexy poses, more sultry pouting lips, and more questionable "image-making" decisions. Today's development: The 17-year-old's new album cover, Can't Be Tamed, which releases June 22. Dana Ward of Clevver TV says "it definitely showcases a super sexy, more mature Miley. Between the leather jacket, pouty lips and short top with low pants, this is not the Disney star we’ve all been accustomed to seeing over the last few years. She’s grabbing her belt buckle and staring right out."

More mature? Physically, sure. But emotionally? And who's counseling/guiding her on these decisions? Is this the daughter that Billy Ray and Tish Cyrus want the world to see -- or ogle?

I, for one, have long given Cyrus and her family the benefit of the doubt, trusting that her few missteps in the past have been relatively innocent, naive decisions -- including the very ill-advised Vanity Fair photo shoot at the age of 15.

Is this really a good marketing move for someone who has not only prided herself on being a role model for young girls for the last five-ish years, but has also long been outspoken about her Christian faith ("I do everything for Jesus," she says.) One could argue that the album cover alone is a bit of a misstep, but when you combine it with her sexy new music video (viewer beware: it's a bit steamy), a "lap dance" of sorts, bumping and grinding with a 44-year-old man at a wrap party for her last movie (The Last Song), and her admission that yes, she'd consider doing a nude scene in a movie, you can't help but wonder if Miley, who won't be 18 till November, has gone too far too fast. Or if she should ever go that far in the first place, considering her Christian beliefs. She hasn't gone as far as Britney or Christina . . . yet. But even their first steps into "maturity" beyond their Mickey Mouse Club days were relatively tame compared to all the booty-and-boobie-shaking videos they would soon be known for. Is Miley Cyrus headed down that same path? Pray, let's hope not.

What do you think? Is Miley Cyrus trying to grow up too fast? Trying to hard to distance herself from her sweet-and-innocent Disney persona? If you could advise her -- or her parents -- what would you say?

May 11, 2010

Skillet to Tour with Creed This Summer

The Christian rockers have landed a nice gig with Scott Stapp and Company

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Christian hard rock band Skillet has been confirmed as a special guest for 16 of 25 dates on Creed's “20-10 Tour,” which begins July 28 in Washington D.C. It's called the 20-10 Tour because the first 2,010 reserved seats are $20 all-in (flat rate, no added service charge). For the full tour slate, click here.

April 26, 2010

Where Does Webb Stand on the Gay/Christian Issue?

Theologian Denny Burk says Webb's public comments 'anything but clear'

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Denny Burk, a New Testament prof and dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently answered a blog reader's question about Derek Webb, who has been touring with Jennifer Knapp. Knapp recently came out as being gay -- she talked about it on Larry King Live last week -- and Burk's reader wondered where Webb stood on the issue.

In a blog post titled, "What About Derek?", Burk says he did a little bit of research and concluded that "it's difficult to say" where Webb might stand on the question, "Can one be Christian and gay?" He said that Christians would likely find some "red flags" in some of Webb's comments on the matter, but adds, "I can’t find any instance in which Derek has stated unambiguously what his views are on the moral status of homosexuality. It looks like he’s trying not to speak definitively either way. I suppose the best case scenario is that Derek takes a traditional view on the question though his iconoclastic approach sometimes makes it appear otherwise."

Burk concludes, "My hope is that Derek is at least speaking more clearly about these things in private. His public statements are anything but clear."

Read Burk's full post and leave your own comments on the topic below.

April 24, 2010

Mercy Me! A Million Downloads!

'I Can Only Imagine' goes platinum . . . and other tidbits from the music world

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MercyMe's mega-hit, "I Can Only Imagine," recently hit a major milestone, becoming the first Christian song in history to surpass the 1-million mark in online downloads. Jeff Moseley, president of INO Records, said the event "is a testament to the fact that a song can change the world." MercyMe frontman Bart Millard, who wrote the song when his father was dying of cancer, added, "Once again it is overwhelming to see the success that a song which is so personal to me has touched so many lives."

> So, a million downloads makes for a wealthy band, right? Wrong. One 99-cent download from iTunes nets just 9 cents for the artist. So, for MercyMe, a million downloads adds up to $90,000, split by six people in the band equals $15,000 apiece, spread out over about a decade of downloads, equals, oh, about $1500 a year. Downloads simply aren't a great source of revenue for artists, as this chart clearly shows. The best way to make money online is to sell self-pressed CDs or discs through CD Baby, netting $7.50 or more per album sale.

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> While the Dove Awards were handed out recently, Canadian artist Matt Brouwer picked up a Juno Award (Canada's version of the Grammys) for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year for Where’s Our Revolution.

> Legendary singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn, he of 30 albums and multiple awards, is going to let fans a little deeper inside his head -- he's writing a memoir. to be published by Harper Collins Canada in 2012. Cockburn said the idea of writing a memoir had “popped up now and then,” and that it had “always seemed too soon,” but that the project finally seems timely.

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> In a recent article for Guideposts magazine, Denise Jonas -- mother of the Jonas Brothers band -- discusses their faith, her prayer life, son Nick's diabetes, and more. Mrs. Jonas writes, "My mom was a prayer warrior when I was growing up and taught me to trust God. Still, letting go can be scary. . . . When the fears get the worst of me, I pray—fiercely and fervently. I love my kids, but God loves them just as much if not more. I remember how my mom prayed for me, and I pray for them. That they’re safe in God’s hands. That they’ll be well. That they’ll make good choices. That they’ll know, no matter what, they have a mom who believes in them and knows when to let go and let God."

April 24, 2010

Over the Rhine + Joe Henry = Something Amazing

OTR to pair with Grammy-winning producer for next album

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Heard some Really Cool News today: The uber-terrific Joe Henry, he of the endless well of creativity, is going to produce the uber-fantastic Over the Rhine's next album. The Ohio husband-wife duo -- Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist -- are headed to LA in mid-May to start the recording process. No release date on the album yet, but I'm already drooling.

Detweiler made the announcement Friday in a long newsletter to fans, which included an appeal to fans to help defray the huge upfront costs of making a record -- in exchange for some goodies in return.

Among Linford's musings: "We are going to make a record that we can’t quite imagine. Hopefully it will be a little bit strange and a little bit wonderful. Hopefully we will, 'Blow the seams out of the songs.' (JH) One thing for sure: We are going to be surprised."

One can't help but appreciate Detweiler's reasons that he and Bergquist want to keep making music. Linford writes:

"One: We believe making music has something to do with what we were put on this earth to do. If we leave our songs alone, they call to us until we come back to where we belong. When we live in the sweet spot of that calling, it gives others (you?) permission to discover the sweet spot of your own calling and live there.

"Two: Both Karin and I have had occasion to bury loved ones. When we put loved ones in the ground, we find that we lose interest in acquiring stuff. We know we can’t take it with us when we go. No, it’s not about acquiring, rather it’s about what we are able to leave behind. That’s what gives life meaning: doing work that you can leave behind, your personal token of gratitude to the world in return for the gift of getting to be alive in it. (We believe the opportunity to make this record with Mr. Henry has everything to do with what we will leave behind.)

"Three: Presence. There is a beautiful passage of scripture that made an impact on me as a child that I have never forgotten. Jesus said that if you help someone in need, someone hungry or naked or thirsty or imprisoned, if you are able to be present with them and soothe them in some way, it’s the same as if God was hungry or naked or thirsty or imprisoned and you found a way to help God.

"There is so much need in this beautiful broken world it can be overwhelming. Maybe the most profoundly satisfying thing about making music for the last 20 years is we have watched people invite our music to be part of the big moments of their lives – a slow dance in the kitchen with someone who changed everything, a walk down the aisle at a wedding, a child being born... Unfortunately, big moments also occur during seasons when it feels like everything is going horribly wrong. We all need music during those dark times too – I know I do. It’s always humbling and amazing to learn that our music can be present in those too-difficult-too-imagine times. In some small way, through our music, it feels like we get to be present too, even when that is
physically impossible. We get to be there in spirit.

"That’s enough to keep us coming back."

And enough to keep OTR fans looking forward to what comes next.

April 23, 2010

'Crucial That We Not Lose Our Singing Voices'

So says Pepperdine Provost as his university prepares to host sacred song symposium

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Pepperdine University is gearing up to host The Ascending Voice II, an international event celebrating sacred a capella music. The mid-May symposium will feature some of the world's leading authorities on this rich style of music, while the daily concert lineup includes performances by top college choral groups, the Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem Alumni Ensemble, and Grammy-winning men's choral group Chanticleer.

I especially appreciated some of the comments from Pepperdine Provost Darryl Tippens leading up to the event:

"Many people think that group singing is in danger of extinction in America," Tippens said. "As financially strapped schools cut arts programs denying children the opportunity to sing; as we become a somewhat passive, listening culture, accustomed to highly produced professional musical recordings; and as mega churches employ bands and orchestras, thus replacing congregational singing with performance, there is a real question as to whether group singing by ordinary people will survive. This concern must be squarely faced—not through complaint, but through action. This is the purpose of The Ascending Voice.

"We think it is crucial that we not lose our singing voices. There is no substitute for the exquisite beauty and power of the human voice joined in harmony with others. Unaccompanied (a cappella) singing is as old as the human species, and long a distinctive feature of Christian worship. We believe it is worth preserving and enhancing.

"Singing has a transformative effect on both the singer and the listener. Group (or congregational) singing has been central to Christian worship for 2,000 years. While it has taken vastly different shapes in different cultures over the centuries, in the East and West, among Protestant and Catholic, charismatic and liturgical traditions—still, it has the power to resonate deeply and move us to tears, to joy, and to action.

"Singing lay at the heart of the Reformation. Singing was central to the Civil Rights Movement (“We shall overcome. . . .”), to the anti-war movement of the 60s. It retains this same transformative power today, but one has to hear it and do it to fathom fully its life-changing power.

“'Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise,'” said Martin Luther. In the words of Karl Barth, the great 20th century theologian, 'Singing is the highest form of human expression. . . . the community which does not sing is not the community.' Art and the sacred have always been intimately acquainted. Sacred music is perhaps the greatest expressions of this truth."

Amen, and amen.

April 22, 2010

Jennifer Knapp on Larry King Live on Friday

The singer/songwriter, who recently revealed that she's gay, is the featured guest

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Jennifer Knapp, a former Christian music star who recently revealed that she is in a lesbian relationship, will be the featured guest on Larry King Live on Friday, April 23. The CNN show airs at 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific.

The one-time Grammy nominee and multiple Dove Award winner walked away from music in 2003, but has been making a comeback in recent months, doing a number of tour dates and gearing up to release her new album, Letting Go, in May.

Knapp will be joined on Larry King Live by Clay Aiken (a singer who came out two years ago), Pastor Bob Botsford (an evangelical pastor who wants Knapp to repent of her lifestyle), and disgraced preacher Ted Haggard. Knapp is speaking openly and honestly about her lifestyle, while also maintaining that she clings to the Christian faith. Should be a fascinating conversation.

(Photo by Eye Photography)

April 22, 2010

Casting Crowns, Ingram Big Winners at Doves

Fans vote popular band as artist of the year; Jason Ingram picks up four awards

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At Wednesday night's Dove Awards in Nashville, Casting Crowns had a five-year streak snapped as group of the year, but moments later won the night's biggest award as the fan-voted artist of the year.

"To me it's extra special because the fans were voting," Casting Crowns leader Mark Hall said. "It really wasn't anywhere on our radar."

Producer and songwriter Jason Ingram was the night's big winner with four awards, while NEEDTOBREATHE earned three -- group of the year, rock/contemporary album of the year, and rock/contemporary song of the year for "Lay 'Em Down."

For a complete list of winners, click here.

April 19, 2010

Lady Gaga: Champion of Abstinence?

She used to work in strip clubs and likes to go without pants, but now promotes celibacy

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So, the pop culture phenom known as Lady Gaga, she of the scanty clothing and hypersexed music videos and songs, says she's now promoting abstinence. Hypocritical?

Check out my colleague Laura Leonard's insights on the CT women's blog, and weigh in with your own comments and reactions.

April 12, 2010

'Cinderella' to Celebrate Chapmans' Daughter

Rodgers and Hammerstein classic to honor remember Maria Sue, who died two years ago

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Steven Curtis Chapman and wife Mary Beth are sponsoring a special presentation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella next month in Nashville, as sort of a "give-back" to the community for its support of Show Hope (the Chapmans' adoption agency) and to celebrate the life of Maria Sue Chapman, their adopted daughter who was killed in an accident in May 2008 at the age of 5.

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Chapman, who talked with CT about how the family is coping with Maria's death, is producing the May 14 show at Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center, which will feature music by the Nashville Symphony. The cast will feature BeBe Winans as the King, Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel from Disney's The Little Mermaid) as the Queen, Heather Headley as the Fairy Godmother, and Alli Mauzey as Cinderella.

Tickets range from $30 to $130, and can be purchased here.

April 9, 2010

MercyMe Teaches Ticketmaster a Lesson

Popular Christian band doesn't need a ticket broker, or expensive tix, to be successful

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It's a longer headline than I'd write, but the title from this FoxNews.com story says it all: "The Miracle of the $10 Concert Ticket: How Christian Band MercyMe Is Taking on Ticketmaster — and Winning."

The article notes Ticketmaster's run-ins with artists in the past, and goes on to note that MercyMe's $10 ticket prices -- with a lineup of multiple bands, to boot -- was such a success (including several sellouts) that the band decided to add a second leg to the Rock and Worship Roadshow this year (tour dates here). The current leg includes MercyMe, David Crowder Band, Family Force 5, Francesca Battistelli, Remedy Drive, and Fee.

"The [2009] tour was a risk for the band, who weren't guaranteed a payday if fans didn't come," FoxNews writes. "While there were off nights, overall the tour averaged 10,000 fans a show, with some camping out in front of venues waiting to scurry to the best seats when the doors opened."

The writer asks, "If these bands can skip past Ticketmaster's fees and still put on a show without skimping on production quality, why can't acts with even larger fan bases do the same? Can touring be both a revenue stream and an affordable opportunity for concertgoers to connect with the musicians they love?"

MercyMe is gearing up for the May 4 release of their new album, The Generous Mr. Lovewell.

April 8, 2010

Musician Dad Makes His Boy Cry -- But It's All Good

Carlos Whittaker, a new Integrity Music artist, and son are now a YouTube sensation

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Carlos Whittaker, a new Integrity Music artist releasing his first album, Ragamuffin Soul, later this month, is getting some online buzz for something entirely different than his debut CD: He's now known as the guy who made his little boy cry.

In a cute-and-funny home video (taken on his iPhone), Whittaker filmed his 3-year-old adopted son, Losiah, dancing in his car seat -- with his older sisters next to him -- to the beat of Beyonce's hit song, "Single Ladies." When Carlos tells Losiah he's not a single lady, the boy initially looks stunned, then begins to cry -- as his older sister folds her arms and glares at Dad! Whittaker recovers and tells Losiah, "Yeah, you are. You're a Single Lady. Sorry...I was just kidding...You're a Single Lady, okay?" And then, to himself, "I'm a horrible father."

Hardly the case. ParentDish calls him an "awesome" father for adopting Losiah from South Korea in 2006. Whittaker is using the resulting media hype to call attention to international adoption, and we think that's awesome.

Check out the video here:

March 26, 2010

The World's Most Beautiful (Virtual) Choir

Choral conductor/composer brings global voices together online for a heavenly sound

A couple months ago, my wife and I heard one of the world's finest choirs, the St. Olaf Choir, conducted by Anton Armstrong. Their concert at Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church was nothing short of divine, bringing us to the gates of heaven. I doubt if even the angels themselves can top St. Olaf's.

Today, I discovered another amazing choir -- an ensemble of 185 voices from 12 nations . . . a collection of people who have never met one another, nor have they met the conductor for whom they were singing. This was conductor/composer Eric Whitacre's "virtual choir" singing his own composition, "Lux Aurumque" -- with each individual voice recorded with a simple webcam at each singer's home computer. Whitacre held online auditions, then put together a brief instructional video, followed by him "conducting" the piece for the virtual singers. They simply sang their parts into their webcams, and sent them to Whitacre, who enlisted someone to edit all the pieces together to form a choir. The result is nothing short of stunning:

Read more about how the project came together here. And as we near Palm Sunday and Easter, pay attention to the words (in Latin) and their translation:

Lux, Lux
Lux, Lux
Lux Lux
Calida
Calida
Gravis que
Gravis que
Gravis que
Pura
Pura velut aurum
canunt et canunt et canunt
et canunt angeli
canunt moliter
natum, modo natum

Translation:
Light, Light
Light, Light
Light, Light
Warm
Warm
and heavy/loaded/pregnant/deep/dignified*
and heavy/loaded/pregnant/deep/dignified*
and heavy/loaded/pregnant/deep/dignified*
Pure
Pure as if gold
(They) sing/prophesy and (they) sing/prophesy and (they) sing/prophesy.

*'Gravis que' is actually written and said as one word, Gravisque, meaning "and [definition]." There are many words listed because it actually means all of those, in a poetic sense that is difficult to capture in one English word.

March 23, 2010

Sara Groves in Rwanda: 'Like a Reunion'

Christian artist returns to village she sponsors through Food for the Hungry

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Last March, I accompanied Sara Groves, her husband Troy, their son Kirby, and a team from Food for the Hungry on a trip to Rwanda, where we visited a rural village, Gisanga, that Groves sponsors through FH. It was an amazing trip, and I wrote about it here and here.

On our return home, Sara told me that she wanted to return to Rwanda this year, this time with her whole band, to give a concert in Gisanga. That trip became reality recently, as Sara and Troy and their younger son, Toby, took the whole band. On the trip, band members met children they sponsor through FH, and they indeed held a free concert on one of Rwanda's legendary thousand hills on a sunny afternoon. Hundreds turned out for the show, some carrying a banner that read, "Thank You Sara," acknowledging the good work that she, her family, her band, and her supporters have shown in sponsoring the village, bringing food, education, vocational training, health care, and the good news of the gospel through FH's local workers.

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"The trip was amazing, and I wish you could have seen the concert we put on in Gisanga," Groves told me the other day. "One of my favorite moments was getting out of the van at the school, and immediately recognizing 6-7 children, and knowing them by name! It was like a reunion. It was such a sweet time."

Among the songs that Sara sang was "Joy Is in Our Hearts" from her latest album, with the chorus being sung in Kinyarwandan, the native language. See the video here:

February 24, 2010

Christian Musicians to Stage Haiti Benefit

Saturday's Nashville event, which will stream live online, to benefit Compassion International

Remember the Hope for Haiti Now benefit concert last month? Featuring the talents of Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Madonna, Coldplay, Sting, Beyonce, and many others, the telethon raised over $58 million for relief efforts in the earthquake ravaged nation. Subsequent downloads of the album have raised over $3 million.

Help Haiti Live, a Nashville event featuring various Christian musicians, is the same idea on a smaller scale. Musicians including Alison Kraus and Union Station, Jars of Clay, Switchfoot's Jon Foreman, and Brandon Heath highlight the lineup for the show at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, to begin at 7:30 p.m. Central.

Proceeds -- through ticket sales, online giving, and texting (text "Disaster" to 90999 to donate $10) -- will go to Compassion International, which has long been on the ground in Haiti and serves more than 60,000 children in the nation. Amy Grant was slated to appear in a simulcast from Los Angeles, but that part fell through this week.

To watch the event on Saturday and/or to donate, click here.

Help Haiti Live - Feb 27

February 18, 2010

Jars, Skillet, Crabb, Maher Top Dove Nods

Each earns six Dove Award nominations; Michael English up for top male vocalist

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Jars of Clay, Skillett, Jason Crabb, and Matt Maher each received six nominations for the upcoming Dove Awards, it was announced on Thursday.

Leading the way was producer Wayne Haun, with seven nominations. The 11-time winner is seeking his first major award. He's up for producer of the year, song of the year, and nine more. Click here for a complete list of nominees. The Dove Awards will be held April 21 at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry House.

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Two notable names were among the eight nominees for Male Vocalist of the Year -- one for his inclusion, one for his omission. Missing from the nominees is Chris Tomlin, who had won the award three straight years before losing it to Brandon Heath last year. And back on the list for the first time in sixteen years is Michael English, nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year for the first time since 1994, when just one week after he won that particular award, his Christian music career came to an abrupt end when his record label dropped him after he confessed to having an extramarital affair

English didn't perform for three years, but got back into the business slowly first as a producer and later as a performer again. He has slowly been re-accepted back in Christian music circles, and is now one of the singers in the Gaither Vocal Band.

February 17, 2010

Gospel Music Museum Coming to Chicago

The Chicago Gospel Music Heritage Museum is scheduled to open later this year

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that a new gospel music museum will open later this year in Chicago, the city where the genre was born.

The museum is the brainchild of the Rev. Stanley Keeble, who has worked with gospel legends Inez Andrews and Jesse Dixon. Rev. Leon D. Finney said it's "enormously important to have a museum like this in Chicago. Gospel music is part of the faith history of African Americans, as is how they shared that music with all people."

February 15, 2010

Pope Is into the Supernatural

Well, at least Santana's album of that name . . . and others on the Vatican's Top 10 list

It might not really be a list of the pope's favorite rock albums of all time, but the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, has compiled its Top 10, which includes The Beatles' Revolver at No. 1 and Carlos Santana's Supernatural at No. 10.

The complete list:

1. Revolver by the Beatles
2. If I Could Only Remember My Name by David Crosby
3. The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
4. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
5. The Nightfly by Donald Fagen
6. Thriller by Michael Jackson
7. Graceland by Paul Simon
8. Achtung Baby by U2
9. (What's the Story) Morning Glory by Oasis
10. Supernatural by Carlos Santana

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