As I was driving in to work today, on yet another rainy day, I was listening to a Mewithoutyou CD and a line from one of the songs really stuck with me and caused me to think a little deeper about what the artist was saying. This got me thinking (always a dangerous thing) about some of the artists whose music has influenced or impacted me in some way over the years either to think more deeply about my own beliefs, challenge me to look at things from a different perspective, or just inspired me in some way. With that in mind I thought I'd put a list together of some of those artists. You may have never heard of some of these, but I would encourage you to seek them out. I think you will find it worth the effort.
Bill Mallonee: Bill, as a part of his band, Vigilantes of Love, and as a solo artist is one of the greatest songwriters of the last 25 years in my opinion. Most of you have probably never heard of him, but his willingness to speak honestly about the dark side of the human journey while still offering the hope of God's grace has always been a great comfort in my own personal journey. Most of his songs deal with the struggles of everyday life while making much larger statements about the fallen world we live in. Favorite songs: Drunk on the Tears, Parting Shot, Numb, Welcome to Struggleville.
Bruce Cockburn: Another great songwriter and musician, Bruce never fails to challenge my thinking, especially from a political perspective. While we often come down on different sides of the political fence, he always causes me to think about issues from the other side's point of view. In some cases he has even caused me to change my perspective. Bruce's songwriting has an amazing way of describing a scene where you feel like you are there seeing things through his eyes. His music, while certainly not overtly so, has an underlying theme of faith and grace and often provides some very insightful spiritual musings. Most consider him a Christian Mystic and I would probably agree with that description. Favorite songs: Strange Waters, Lord of the Starfields, Pacing the Cage, Let the Bad Air Out, Wondering Where the Lions Are, Mango.
Over The Rhine: OTR write some of the most beautifully poetic lyrics I've ever heard, and Karen Berquist's voice is simply angelic. The sheer beauty of the music and lyrics is inspiring and I often write with their music playing in the background. Their music is full of deep insights and always leaves me thinking. Favorite songs: Latter Days, Born, Changes Come, The Trumpet Child, Ohio, Drunkards Prayer, My Love is a Fever.
Rich Mullins: Rich simply wrote some of the most amazing worship music of the last century. His songs describing the vast beauty of God's creation always pop into my head when I see the mountains or the ocean or a glorious sunset. He really had a way of putting words to my feelings and turning my eyes heavenward. Favorite Songs: The Color Green, Creed, Land of My Sojourn.
Bob Dylan: I can't make a list of songrwriters and not mention the master of them all. I know many can't stand his voice, including my wife, but his lyrics are always interesting and challenging. You may not know what he's talking about sometimes, but he always makes you want to dig deeper into the lyrics to try and understand. Maybe it's just my proclivity for unique voices (i.e. Victoria Willams, John Prine, Neil Young, Bjork, etc.) but I actually think his voice lends authenticity to his music. Listening to him as a kid is where I developed my love for folk music and good songwriting. His songs still make me think to this day and I often discover new things even in songs I've heard a hundred times. Favorite Songs: Every Grain of Sand, I Believe in You, My Back Pages, Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar, God on our Side, I Shall Be Released, Tangled Up In Blue.
Keith Green: If you're a Christian and Keith's music doesn't challenge you in your walk with God and cause you to look in the mirror, then I don't know what will. He was certainly not afraid to challenge the church and it's often lazy approach to the Christian walk. He always told it like it was without worrying about who he offended. Oh that we could all be this honest and courageous in standing up for our beliefs. Favorite songs: Asleep in the Light. ("Jesus rose from the dead, and you can't even get out of bed" - ouch!), So You Want to Go Back to Egypt, The Sheep and the Goats.
The Choir: Their music is difficult to explain, kind of a spacey, moody, alternative sound heavy on the reverb. But lyrically, they are always interesting and always make me want to dig a little deeper. I started to listen to them in college in the early 90's as I was expanding my musical horizon beyond hard rock and heavy metal and getting into more esoteric music. Sometimes the meaning of their songs is not always apparent on the first few listens. It takes a little more time for the meaning to soak in, which in my opinion is what makes them so interesting. Favorite Songs: Circle Slide, Chase the Kangaroo, About Love, Weather Girl, Wilderness, Sad Face, Yellow Skies.
Mewithoutyou: This may be one of the most unique bands I've ever listed to. I couldn't describe their music if I tried, but lyrically they are amazing. I find them to be a real divider of people, i.e. you either love them or hate them. As with The Choir, the meaning of their songs is not only seldom apparent on first listen, it's typically not apparent after multiple listens either, which is what really makes them intriguing to me. Most songs are based on ancient writings and parables from different traditions, some Christian, some not, and are always full of rich imagery and symbolism. Favorite songs: A Sweater Poorly Knit, The Angel of Death Came to David's Room, In a Market Dimly Lit, Timothy Hay, A Glass Can Only Spill What it Contains, Bullet to Binary, A Stick a Carrot and a String.
So, who are some of the artists that have influenced you or moved you in some way?
Oh, and in case you're wondering, the line that I've been dwelling on all day is, "a glass can only spill what it contains." I'll let you all mull that over on your own.