where all the good gospel at?

I am looking for music about God that does not suck.

Now, I know I’ve preached on this topic before, and the answer is relatively easy. My premise is flawed because  mathematically, my request is in trouble right out of the gate.

Unfortunately, there is this phenomenon, and I only have anecdotal evidence to prove it, but people who have been gifted with real talent are 100 percent less likely to come to the Lord. If you’ve got it goin’ on, you can rely on your own success for fulfillment, and you might be less likely to think about the fact that you are a wretch and need salvation.

If you suck at life, you’re more likely to seek solace in God, where love is guaranteed, and where reward is not dependent on ability. It’s an all-inclusive club, which is good for mankind’s hope of eternal life, but bad for Christian culture here on earth.

This is why the majority of Christians are largely awkward and socially inept. Let alone musically talented. And this is why, although God is the source of infinite creativity in all of the universe, we are stuck with the Left Behind series. WTF.

I hope Kirk Cameron does not read this blog. 

I have found a few spiritual tunes I can stomach, including Pedro the Lion, (I don’t care if he’s not actually a tormented believer. He sure sings like one.) The Blind Boys of Alabama and Lauryn Hill. I also like Johnny Cash, Over the Rhine, Tom Waits, Gillian Welch and even our own Southeast Engine, all of whom have some spiritual overtones.  Switchfoot is borderline nausea for me. But I like all bluegrass songs ever written.

Here are some lyrics that embody the kind of spiritual song formula I prefer. This is the Blind Boys from Alabama:

People get ready
There’s a train a-coming
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank the lord

People get ready
For the train to jordan
Picking up passengers
From coast to coast
Faith is the key
Open the doors and board them
There’s room for all
Among the loved the most

There ain’t no room
For the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just
To save his own
Have pity on those
Whose chances are thinner
Cause there’s no hiding place
From the kingdom’s throne

So people get ready
For the train a-comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board !
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank, you just thank the lord

Here is an example of everything I hate in a worship song:

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for You
Cause, I want to know You more
I want to know You
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more
I want to touch You
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more
I am reaching for the highest goal
That I might receive the prize
Pressing onward, pushing every hindrance aside
Out of my way
Cause, I want to know You more.

No, I don’t want to sing about touching God in the secret place, and I don’t want to see the phrase “pushing every hindrance aside” in any of the lyrics.  It’s God we’re singing about, here, people. Don’t try to muddy it up with your thoughts and observations or your sweet guitar solos. I need you to Simplify.

I want a singer who doesn’t ignore the sinful nature of man, preferably a tormented soul, and I would prefer at least three old-timey references. Trains are good. Or floods. Maybe prison? I also want someone to sound like they’ve known a hard day’s work. Not, like, a slave. But kind of. I think if maybe I just disqualify all male songwriters under the age of 40, I could eliminate a lot of the problem. And if the artist has ever worn skinny jeans or spiked their hair, you are not permitted to enter their name into the contest.

Does anyone have any suggestions for me?

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  • http://pencilsfromheaven.blogspot.com lmariea

    Ever tried Sufjan Stevens? He’s pretty cool, I hear. Yeah, the lyrics to a lot of those worship songs give me the heebie jeebies. I like the old hymns a lot better.
    bluegrass rawks.

  • Jaydubs

    Yeah, Sufjan is good. I am also a fan of the old-timey stuff, like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, or Sam Cooke (gospel or secular).


  • maebelline

    Arcade Fire is pretty real, but they’ve definitely spiked their hair. Katie Herzig? Ever heard of her? I think I sent you some stuff of hers once. But I wouldn’t call her gospel. If you like Over the Rhine, you might like Kim Taylor.

    You’d probably fall in love with Sam Cooke (though some of his stuff was definitely poppy), and would Iron & Wine count?

  • Dennis

    My problem with modern Christian music is that it’s all about us, not God. Here’s what we are going to do, this is what we’re like, we’re here, we’re listening, we want to know you more, please meet us here, we’re awesome.

    The worst is any song that calls God “worthy” of our praise. How insulting.

  • Jaydubs

    I’m pretty sure that wordpress hates me, because I seem to have lost another comment here. Anyway, I suggested Sam Cooke, too, as well as Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I posted some You Tube links to both of ‘em, but I am too lazy to do it again.

  • Jaydubs

    On a slightly related note, Kyle just discovered this weekend that Veggie Tales was a Christian cartoon. I think it took watching an episode featuring a burning furnace at a chocolate bunny factory for him to believe me.

  • theteet

    sorry, Jaydubs. i just discovered a SECOND spam folder on my blog admin, and there i found about 1 million censored comments from poor little jwray.

    i’ve recovered two of them.

    i’m not sure why my blog hates you so much, but i am truly sorry.

    Veggie Tales showed up as a recommended watch on our Netflix … i’m hoping it was just because we gave the Passion of the Christ a positive review?

  • http://faithfriendsfood.com Jessie Ellis

    Hey! I’m a friend of Meryl Williams. Love your blog.

    I’m loving Jars of Clay “Redemption Songs” and Over the Rhine.

    Sufjan Stevens is a good bet, too.

    I understand what you’re saying completely, by the way. I think we settle for less-than-praiseworthy (literally) lyrics, melody and so on…for the sake of feel-good harmony and maybe not-always-biblical words.

  • Christina

    Much of Christian music, contemporary worship especially, consists of Biblical quotes. Hence, things like “pushing every hindrance aside.” I, however, am dying for some spikey haired Christians with some real rock and roll instead of the syrupy sweet lyrics and sounds that ooze out of the Christian radio stations. Try Mat Kearney. He is a breath of fresh air – musically and lyrically.

  • Jaydubs

    Whatever. Silence the agnostic/Jew/Episcopalian. It all makes sense, Mel Gibson-lover …

    Actually, your question is appropriately timed, as Kyle and I had a convo over the weekend about Southeast Engine’s religiousosity (I had no idea!). That led to a convo about my love for Pedro The Lion. Man, that guy is great.

  • http://lemonscarlet.diaryland.com jessi

    I think the key is finding music by Christians that isn’t explicitly Christian. I find many U2 songs to be extremely “worshipful.” Um, what else is tolerable…

    Over the Rhine is really nice. I know a lot of people like Water Deep but I can’t remember if those people have bad taste or not.

    Pedro is also nice. All those Seattle people we used to go to church with…Damian Jurado, Rosie Thomas. Not especially Christian sounding…but interesting and good…and they at least used to go to a nice church.

    There is this church in Seattle called Grace Seattle and they make a lto of original worship music that is pretty amazing. Phil somebody (Peterson?) is the main dude in charge…he was never especially friendly or anything but damn, can he make music.

  • http://lemonscarlet.diaryland.com jessi

    Oh, and all Johnny Cash is all wonderful in the best possible train-reference way.

  • http://theblogofmystery.blogspot.com/ Ed P.

    I’ll second Over the Rhine and add Buddy and Julie Miller.

  • graceinfull

    Waterdeep is good. More explicitly Christian lyrics, but such a folksy, earthy sound. I love ‘em.

  • theteet

    did i ever tell you how much i love you?

    all of these are currently being researched on iTunes.

  • theteet

    currently are.

    they currently are being researched.

  • http://danieljclark.com Dan Clark

    i saw someone already suggested over the rhine. try john mark mcmillan too. he’s one of my new favorites. also taize, an ecumenical multiethnic monastic community in france is writing new chant for the old psalms – worth checking out. you can podcast their weekly multilingual services.

  • http://danieljclark.com Dan Clark

    you should also try derek webb’s and jon foreman’s solo stuff.