As most of you know, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool soundtrack fanatic. And considering that whenever I write about music, I generally write about film music, you may think that Hans Zimmer and John Powell are the only artists I bother listening to. You’d be wrong.
I love Bach, Mozart, Chopin, and Ludovico Einaudi. I love the beats and theological acuity of Lecrae, Shai Linne, and Keith Green. I love the old hymns, written and sung by the saints through the ages (“The Son of God Goes Forth to War” is one song I never tire of). I love Bob Dylan, Mumford & Sons, Ratatat, Coldplay, and Acoustic Alchemy.
Below are a few more artists I’ve recently come to enjoy, and which I feel compelled to share with you. Because they’re just… that…. good. Shall we begin?
I don’t remember exactly how I became acquainted with Josh Ritter, but I glad I did. He’s a marvelous musician who also understands the power of storytelling and employs it with grace and gusto (just listen to “The Curse” or “Another New World” and you’ll see what I mean). I got one of his albums for free via Noisetrade, and then went about seeing what else I could learn about him. That’s when I came across this piece by Andrew Peterson, another favorite musician of mine:
Ritter is asking good questions. I don’t necessarily agree with his answers, but that doesn’t keep me from being amazed by the songs – and the songs suggest to me that he’s paying attention, watching and listening to the part of his spirit that resonates with a certain secret fire. And if he keeps writing songs this good I think he’s going to have to try pretty hard to ignore the source of all that richness. His imagination and sense of poetry and narrative are a rare gift, and I’m intrigued enough to keep listening. And listening. The same way I listen to Paul Simon’s Graceland. I don’t get every song, and that’s part of why I keep coming back.
My hat is off to Josh Ritter. Please keep writing
You can download Live at the Iveigh Gardens here, but I must also put in a word for So Runs The World Away. It’s simply mesmerizing.
Then there’s K.S. Rhoads. This Nashville-based singer, songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist has got, shall we say, “some serious skillz.” Check out his album Outside the Wilderness (available for download here), an eclectic but utterly cool blend of classical and pop. I cannot say if Rhoads is a believer, but his songs are rife with biblical language – some of it subtle, some of it startlingly overt.
Worthy of special mention is “The Harvest”, a stirring meditation on justice and judgment that calls to mind Psalm 37:1-2. Rhoads laments that “there are those who are guilty, and they will never get caught,” but takes solace in the fact that there will be “a reaping”, a day of retribution when the wicked are overthrown once and for all:
For right now, they have a seat at the table
but the table will be overturned
Because the Harvest is coming,
the Harvest is coming
Give this criminally-overlooked artist a chance, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
If you’ve already heard of The Oh Hellos, good for you. If not, allow me to make the introduction. These guys are splendid, musically and lyrically: fans of Mumford & Sons and The Civil Wars will find their work especially pleasing. Their debut album Through the Deep, Dark Valley is currently available for free download here. It’s a “self-contained concept album, and so for best results should be listened to in its entirety, in chronological order, in one sitting.” Josh Hamm gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up on Indie Vision Music:
This is one of the most joyful albums I’ve heard. Every song is filled with the vibrancy of life. Beautiful harmonies layered over simple folk accompaniment, with poetic conceptual lyrics underneath. There are few who could match The Oh Hellos for passionately creating music which instantly connects and draws the listener in. Through the Deep, Dark Valley is one of the most simply beautiful albums I’ve heard all year.
Last, but not at all least, I recommend to you Josh Garrels. Technically, he shouldn’t be on this list since I’ve been listening to him for over a year now, but I’m including him anyway because – get this – he’s temporarily offering all of his albums for free through Noisetrade. 100% of the tips go to support World Relief’s peacemaking effort in the Congo. I encourage you to read this interview with Garrels conducted by The Huffington Post:
I’ve always felt strongly that music doesn’t have to be, and perhaps should never be, solely a means of entertainment for the masses. It should enrich lives in some way. Even if it’s feel-good bubblegum pop, it doesn’t need to be mindless or appeal to the lowest common denominator, and should never be made with the motivation of “pushing units” and making the next big “idol.” Building upon this conviction, over the past two or three years I’ve felt strongly that any gift we’re given is meant to be of service – to be a blessing to the masses, and to ultimately to meet needs of others and not simply their wants and expectations. Taking the dollar amount out of the equation and leaving nothing between the listener and the music seemed like such a logical conclusion to this train of thought.
I cannot praise Garrels’ music highly enough. He is, in my estimation, the most talented Christian musician working today: a warrior bard who fights the fight of faith through searing poetry and sublime song. If you’re fed up with the theologically-deficient three-chord drivel that comprises most of CCM, waste no time in giving this guy a listen. Prepare to be wowed.