Tag Archives: christian rock

Review: The Red Letters Project Book of Matthew

So sometimes I’m in a hurry … and sometimes when I’m in a hurry I don’t read emails as closely as I should. Last month was one of those times.

Whilst in said hurry, I received a note from my friends at The Ooze asking if I’d be interested in receiving a free copy of  Tyndale House Publishing’s The Red Letters Project: Book of Matthew for review on westcoastwitness.com.

I quickly perused the email description picking out the phrases “red letter words of Jesus,” “New Living Translation,” and “audio Bible.”

“Cool,” I thought,  “A dramatic reading of the red letter words of Jesus from the Book of Matthew. Maybe I can use that as a sweet intro for a Bible study or something – sounds good!” And I signed up.

Boy was I surprised when I opened the package a couple of weeks later and read this on the front of the album:

The Red Letters Project is an electrifying performance of rock music recounting every word spoken by Jesus Christ in the Book of Matthew …

Electrifying performance of rock music? Christian rock music?!? Bah!

Regular readers know this is not something I would have signed up for on purpose. Too bad … I said I would listen and do a review of this when I hurriedly signed up, so here we are.

To be polite I will not completely rip this album to shreds. I will, however, say this: while it is a noble thing to record the words of Jesus musically, large sections of Jesus’ words straight from the NLT do not work melodically (i.e. in song) and cannot be forced to when presented in big chunks.

The advice I would give someone attempting to create an album centered around the words of Jesus would be this: work with smaller sections of Scripture that more naturally form a melody rather than cramming large sections into a single track. Bite off too much, and it simply doesn’t work musically. That pretty much sums up my feelings as a listener.

Stylistically the tracks on this album move between generic sounding pop-rock to a few heavier tracks to a few rock ballads.

My favorite is number 3 on disc one entitled “Sacrifice,” mainly because it’s a bit heavier and in the first verse the singer stretches the word “hell” out for several beats. This provided laughs, and I actually restarted the track to hear that part again.

To conclude, if you are already into Christian rock, you may like The Red Letters Project: Book of Matthew. This may especially be good for youth ministers seeking a creative way to present Scripture to their kids. Additionally, if you are looking for a tool to help you memorize the words of Jesus as presented in the NLT, this will help as songs will stick with you (not because they are particularly great … simply because they are songs, and that’s what songs do).

TRLP is a three-disc box set that retails for $29.99 and can be purchased here.

I promise from now on I will read invitations from my friends at The Ooze more closely.

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Why Most Christian Bands Stink

Stryper

“Christian rock?” I asked my friend Adam as he proudly pointed toward the new Stryper poster adorning his bedroom wall. “They can’t be real Christians!” I exclaimed.

“Yes they can!” Adam protested back. “They’re Christian rockers!”

I remained deeply suspicious, secretly knowing these Maya-the-Bee-cartoon-character-knock-offs in multi-colored tights were undercover agents of the Devil.

It’s kind of funny looking back on it. An eight-year-old, conservatively raised, Church of Christ preacher’s kid growing up next door to a much more expressive, nine-year-old, Pentecostal preacher’s kid (okay, so they weren’t really Pentecostal – they were non-denominational, but definitely with charismatic leanings).

More than once I’d told Adam it was a safe bet both he and his family were on their way to the hot place (I mean, several of them had mullets and were fans of Benny Hinn for goodness sakes). This whole “Christian rocker” thing was simply another log on the fire.

Stryper wasn’t the only baptized devil music Adam was in to – Petra, Carman, D.C. Talk – all were introduced to me by him way back in the 80s, and so I listened.

At first, I had no real frame of reference to compare Christian bands to, but as I grew older and was introduced to other more well-known “secular” bands – Beck, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Sublime, Alice in Chains, 311, and more – I realized just how sub-par Christian bands tended to actually be. They were several steps below the mainstream showing no real signs of improvement.

And so, after being into DC Talk as an eleven-year-old (after getting their Free At Last album for Christmas), I eventually became disenfranchised with “Christian” music. Not coincidentally, this move away from Christian music coincided with my move away from all things Christian – for many years I lived as an unbeliever.

But when I came to Jesus in my early twenties, I never returned to Christian rock. My foray away from faith for a few years had led me into the mainstream music industry working at several radio stations as a modern rock DJ (not that a Christian can’t be a modern rock DJ, but I certainly wasn’t). An expert, if you will, on the then-current rock music scene.

My taste in music had been refined. I’d observed enough as a working professional to recognize talent and distinguish the difference between a good band and the unfortunate alternative. As skill went, most secular bands didn’t make the cut, and Christian bands barely had a chance since, in their musical culture, real talent had largely been a missing key ingredient for years (you can accuse me of over-generalizing, but deep down you know I’m telling the truth).

In my estimation, bands were signed to Christian labels, not because they had the right “stuff”, but because they had the right message – the right lyrics. In Christian rock, the message in the lyrics had always been more important than the technical skill involved in creating a great track. This always irked me, because I believe an artist’s display of technical skill is part of the message of their art.

If a song is technically sound, that says a lot. Whoever produced it is saying, “I’m passionate about this. I care about this a lot. I care about what I’m saying in this song so much, that I want to do everything right to make sure you listen, because what I’m saying is really, really important. What I’m saying is close to my heart, and I don’t want anything to get in the way of the message of this song or the experience I want you to have in listening.”

Conversely, if a song is technically unsound and put together in a shabby way, that communicates a lot too. It says, “I’m not very passionate about my music. What I’m saying in this song isn’t incredibly important because I’m going to let all these other things distract you. Off key? No problem. Cheesy chorus? Check. Lyrics that could have been written by a first grader at recess? You got it. But hey, I’m in a Christian band, so the Christian label signed me because of my professed faith – not because of I have high level skill. Now listen and enjoy!”

Okay, so maybe I’m being a little harsh, but this is seriously where my mind goes when not enough attention is paid to detail by a “professional.” What they’re saying without knowing it is, “This really isn’t the right profession for me” (to be clear, I don’t apply this type of thinking to amateur musicians – just professionals or wanna-be professionals).

This is on my mind today because I just finished reading Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock by Andrew Beaujon for a class I’m taking at Fuller. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book, but after diving into the first chapter a couple of days ago I knew the rest was going to be good and it was.

Beaujon is an excellent writer and regular contributor to The Washington Times, Spin Magazine, and several other noted publications. In addition to that, he isn’t a Christian, so reading his book covering the Christian music scene gave me an outsider’s perspective – something I really appreciate when it comes to any aspect of faith.

Beaujon, like me, believes that most bands active in the Christian music scene aren’t worth listening to, and (also like me) believes the reason most of them get signed to a label is because of their squeaky-clean image and the content of their lyrics – not because their musical talents and skills are outstanding. There are exceptions, however, and many are noted in his book.

I know Christian rock music has come a long way since the 80s. You people who listen to Jeremy Camp, Hillsong, Kutless, or Casting Crowns can put down your sticks – there are some good bands involved in the Christian music scene today, BUT they are few and far between. I believe the industry will remain this way until Christian labels and bands alike resolve to place the same amount of value on technical skill and production quality as is placed on message and band image.

Until this happens, Christians bands will continue to stink. But times are a’changing.

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