Monday, November 26, 2007

On Christmas Music

Over the weekend I read an old article by John Fischer, in which he takes a swipe at the CCM industry. He essentially talks about how lifeless, so plastic, so un-original most of CCM turned out to be.

That article came to mind the moment I popped the new Mindy Smith album, "My Holiday," into the CD player.
Because it's that good. Because it's both fresh and classic. Because it's edgy yet traditional. Because she risks singing many of the standards (The Christmas Song, Silver Bells, What Are You Doing New Years' Eve? Away in a Manger) yet makes them her own, and thus makes them sound new again. And also because she includes new Christmas songs, a proposition always fraught with danger, yet they end up songs already sounding like classics. Because she stays true to the soul of Christmas, not pulling any "cute" tactics to try to make a quick sell, but also because she brings something new to the table.

In short - at the first take, I already love this album.

Back to the Fischer quote. It was on my mind because all last week I was listening to the Selah "Rose of Bethlehem" CD.

Somebody had recommended it back when I was looking for new Christmas music for our church. This was the 2nd to arrive, following the schmaltzy Hillsongs Christmas I panned a few weeks ago. And this one, well, at least it was better than the Hillsongs album. In fact, I'd give it a 5 out of 10. But in the end, it is still that pre-packaged, slick, glossy Nashville sound. It's the same formula, a studio-driven vocal group with whiny electric guitars and soaring string machines. The classic songs are overdramatized (I guess that sells big in Nashville), and the new ones just try too hard to be "catchy." And the theology is a little circumspect, especially the line "God predestined that his son would die, but he made man anyway." Why are we doing Calvinist theology in a Christmas album?

The big difference between these two albums is the question of soul. Mindy Smith's album has a soul, and everything on the album comes from that place. The Selah album is more like a Big Mall Christmas, with flashy lights and lots of eye candy to grab your attention, but with no real center to grab you once you've looked their way. In fact, I've probably listened to it 6-8 times in the last week, and I hardly remember anything about it. It's just. . .generic.

It's like there are two Nashvilles. The real one that produces Mindy Smith (and Allison Kraus, who sings backup on Mindy's Away in The Manger) and the Christian Nashville, that continues to spew forth bland, formulaic background music. So why is the Christian version always the cheesy, unoriginal, banal version?

Oh, except for this: Mindy Smith sings about Jesus too. She's just a Christian who eschewed the Christian Nashville promo machine, and we're better off for it.

2 comments:

MilePost13 said...

in the end, it is still that pre-packaged, slick, glossy Nashville sound. It's the same formula, a studio-driven vocal group with whiny electric guitars and soaring string machines. The classic songs are overdramatized (I guess that sells big in Nashville), and the new ones just try too hard to be "catchy."

um...hello...you just gave the definition of Selah...

Kent said...

I'm partial to the new Relient K Christmas album.