Press J to jump to the feed. Press question mark to learn the rest of the keyboard shortcuts
Found the internet!
r/LetsTalkMusic
11
Posted by2 months ago

Good Christian devotional music

Most Christian music sucks. Every time a Christian friend plays Hillsong in their car, I tell them to shut it off. Sometimes they ask me if their religion offends me, and my reply always is, "No it's not Christianity that offends me, it's your music."

I know several evangelical Christians that agree with me. I can only stand so much music in the key of C that has no sense of progress. And why are all these worship bands obsessed with U2?

What's funny is that Christians can actually be pretty good when they're not making devotional music. One of my favourite bands, Starflyer 59, is Christian. They've made great music for decades. It's when Christians start singing about the Lord that everything falls of the rails.

It's not as though good devotional music has never existed. Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and the Louvin Brothers did a good job. Mahalia Jackson's entire career was gospel. Joan Baez sang some good Christian songs. Nowadays, good devotional music is few and far between.

However, I recently heard Natalie Bergman's album "Mercy". Released last year, I think it's an incredible hidden gem and should have been on critics' top 10 lists. It's Christian devotional music that's actually good.

Why is this? I think it comes down to a few factors.

Natalie isn't just singing about how great Jesus is, she's wrestling with the fact her dad was killed by a drunk driver. Devotional music therefore becomes a vehicle to confront the reality of death.

For example, the first three lines in the song "Shine Your Light on Me":

Come on shine your light on me sweet Jesus

I've been walking in shadows

Death follows me wherever I go

At first glance, it looks like Natalie is being a cheerleader for Jesus. But as you keep listening, it becomes clear this is a meditation on mortality.

Natalie isn't afraid to talk about her personal life. She sings about her own struggles with love and loss, and what it is to be alone.

In Natalie's hands, Christian devotional music becomes something big, vast and cosmic. It gives you a sense that even in the depths of despair, there's hope.

What also helps is that Natalie sings her heart out. She's not afraid to pull out the harmonies. You know this is earnest because she's not holding anything back.

This is where I wonder, why can't all Christian devotional music be this good? Amongst Christian artists, why are precious diamonds like Natalie Bergman so rare?

48 comments
63% Upvoted
level 1

I think Sufjan Steven’s album Seven Swans is great Christian indie folk So beautiful

21
level 2

His Christmas shows are a lot of fun!

3
level 2

Seven Swans is exactly the album I thought of first. It’s gorgeous and the lyrics are absolutely devotional, but not in a hokey way.

3
level 1

I’m agnostic but I’ve been to reverend Al Green’s church and other traditionally black churches- the quality of music is incredible .

I regularly listen to music like reverend TL barnet and the youth for Christ choir, the staples singers, and things like furry Lewis covering songs including when I lay my burden down.

That music is absolutely moving. Anytime I hear modern Christian music not only is it not inspirational, it makes me want to turn off the device playing.

11
level 1

During the Renaissance, sacred music became quite complex to the point that the words were largely unintelligible and essentially perfunctory. When England became protestant, the monarchs demanded the music be simplified so the words (now in English instead of Latin) could be clearly understood. A good way to compare this is to listen to the music of Thomas Tallis in English and Latin, and compare how much simpler the former is than the latter.

My point is that devotional music (often called sacred music in a Classical music context) commonly involves ideological concerns that can be harmful to the music itself. The musicians may be concerned with spreading their message first and foremost.

You can find examples throughout history of religious ideology coming into conflict with musical creativity. In addition to Tallis, whom I mentioned above, try Little Richard's gospel music. It pales in comparison to his rock career. And it's not limited to Christianity. Supposedly the Taliban banned music in the late '90s.

That's not to say religious music can't be good of course. I'm quite fond of Renaissance and Baroque sacred music myself. But like I said, there are extra-musical concerns that often sabotage the genre. I think it's particularly the case today, at least in the US, that the audience for devotional music largely wants music that is unchallenging. The culture as a whole is very secular today, which leaves religious music predominantly to ideologically motivated listeners.

7
level 1

Have you ever listened to Wovenhand (DEE of 16 Horsepower)? Not all of his music deals with devotional themes, but there is a mysticism that permeates his catalogue.

Since you're a big Starflyer fan, I am sure you're already familiar with mwY.

I like Josh Garrels's music.

6
level 1

I'm not a Christian but through friends many years ago I got to know some halfway decent Christian albums. Check out Phil Keaggy's work. Most of his albums are not overtly Christian lyrically. A friend of mine loves the 77's. Otherwise, I agree with other comments here to look in the gospel or spiritual jazz direction.

5
level 2

Aww, the 77s! I love seeing their name mentioned. I LOATHED most “Christian music” at the time, as the image was so manufactured and fake-smiley… but they stood out as authentic and talented.

2
level 1

How do you feel about classical music? Because there's a huge trove of religious music right there. Mozart's Requiem, Bach's St. Matthew Passion and B Minor Mass, Handel's Messiah, etc etc.

13
level 1

Its bad because that’s not what CCM is really “for”.

CCM is very much aimed at a white, American, evangelical audience, who tend to be quite reserved in their worship. The music is designed to be simple, so that anybody can play along, and fairly unadorned because, to oversimplify, it’s considered uncouth to pull focus from God.

Compare this with Gospel, which is heavily rooted in Black church traditions and as such tends to be much more gregarious and animated.

CCM sounds rather dry to secular listeners because it’s presented in a roughly rock format, which isn’t normally thought of as a reserved, humble style of music. Which is why older worship music doesn’t tend to grate so hard, being based in country which is much less … sexy for want of a better word.

U2 tend to be a pretty big touchstone because they’re pretty outspoken about being Christians and their music (particularly their 80’s stadium period) very neatly slots into that idiom once you remove Bonos prancing.

I don’t know what’s good nowadays, but when I was a kid all the cool Christians listened to MxPx and Reliant K, though both of them were more Christian adjacent than CCM specifically. They even managed to get a bit of a following in more regular punk circles, probably as a result of them not singing about Jesus every 3 seconds

4
level 2

U2 tend to be a pretty big touchstone because they’re pretty outspoken about being Christians

They certainly haven't made any secret of it when it comes to their music either: The entirety of October album, 40, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Yahweh etc. The difference is of course that they didn't set out to explicitly make christian songs and thus didn't have to shoehorn that aspect in by force.

1
level 1

Check into gospel especially stuff from the 70s-80s. Clark Sisters and such.

https://youtu.be/vPulmVOany4

2
level 2
Op · 2 mo. ago

I agree, gospel music is higher calibre than contemporary praise. I wonder why more Christians aren't aware of it.

5
level 1

Of the big names in CCM, Casting Crowns is a surprisingly good band with legitimately great songs. "Who Am I" really has grown on me over the years, it's such a powerful and well composed song about the blessing of God's love. "City on the Hill" is a story about a past society's collapse and what we can learn from it. And nearly the whole album of Thrive is really good, it's easily my favorite Christian album. The musicality is ever competent and oftentimes interesting, the only songs I'd call filler are Follow Me, You Are the Only One and This is Now. Every other song is really good and unique from the rest, which is really rare for any bands, Christian or otherwise. The lyrics are well written and have something worthwhile to say. My favorite song by them is "Broken Together."

Their more recent work I have not been impressed with, atleast not by the hit singles.

2
level 1

Agree with the bland nature of a lot of Christian music. But Larry Norman is outstanding as a songwriter and musician. TBone Burnett and his old band The Alpha Band are also good

2
level 1

Kanye West, look at his Sunday service performances, they are amazing, though I say this not as a Christian

2
level 1

Jars of Clay. Their only single to break into the mainstream charts, "Flood", fell right back down when word got out that it was about Noah's Ark.

2
level 2

I remember another song from them "Good Monsters", which references those hypocritical types who mouth all the right Christian platitudes but never back it up with deeds.

So their version of Christianity seems more grounded and realistic than some others, willing to call out "their own side" for their failings.

2
level 1

Kendrick Lamar. His album to pimp a butterfly has the song, "How much a dollar cost" that is about exodus 14 and loving thy neighbor and always to follow their moral compass. But it's still considered "gangsta rap"

1
level 1

I've always thought so much of Christian rock (not all) was cynical. So much effort spent decrying pop/rock as the devil's music and then adopting it to spread the word . . . just never sat right with me. Jesus wouldn't approve of a bait and switch.

1
level 2
Op · 2 mo. ago

But Christianity isn't a monolith. Some Christians want to ban all worldliness. Others have no problem with wine and song.

And really, there's diversity of views in every religion. As a Jew, I've met some who won't even hear a woman sing. And I've met others that embrace the modern world.

5