Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Challenging Creativity

Call it a case of "put your money where your mouth is."

Last week I blogged about The Civil Wars and their debut album, Barton Hollow (or as they pronounce it, "Barton Hawller"). This beautiful set of songs has really captured my attention. It has also forced me to stand on some of the principles I've stated at this blog.

Many times I have proclaimed that Christian artists should have the freedom to produce the art they feel called to make, whether it is specifically "Christian" (which is a tricky definition) or not. So many times, we pigeon-hole Christian artists to make a certain type of music, or write only uplifting, God-honoring lyrics.

As far as I know, The Civil Wars are not a "Christian" band. However, Joy Williams had a career in CCM (contemporary Christian music) prior to joining John Paul White to form The Civil Wars. As far as I know, Mr. White has not had such a career.

In the midst of their moving vocals, there are lines such as:
"Ain't going back to Barton Hollow
Devil gonna follow me e'er I go
Won't do me no good washing in the river
Can't no preacher man save my soul"

"If I die before I wake

I know the Lord my soul won't take"

Doesn't sound like typical CCM fare to me. In fact, initially I stumbled on this a little. It bothered me hearing them sing this at first, because I took it as denying that the Lord can save.

Is this really what they're saying?

Of course not! I didn't consider the point of view of the song - from the perspective of a man who has at least robbed a large sum of money, who didn't think he deserved redemption. It's a typical theme in Southern music, but I fell into the trap of taking the song very superficially.

How about their first well-known song, Poison and Wine?
"Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine"

"I don't love you, but I always will"

Honestly, I was disappointed in myself for tripping up over something that wasn't there. Listening deeper, their lyrics like from Poison and Wine talk about the dichotomy in a relationship that is so strong that sometimes you can't stand the person, but you can't be without them. It is honest and provocative in the presentation, but it speaks to a dynamic those of us who have been in a deep relationship can identify with, even if we can't speak the sentiment.

I'm glad that I can realize and own up to my hypocrisy. Quality art, when it has depth, will challenge us in our preconceived ideas if we let it. If we get tangled up with a superficial glance, then we will miss out on the riches beneath.

The Civil Wars are a band that has found a niche the two artists would never have found alone. I applaud them for their music, and I applaud Joy for running in a new direction. By the way, they are produced by Charlie Peacock, head of the Art House, and a strong Christian who is a creative genius. Also, they sing a song in their live set, "Pray", that is a strong tune for crying out to Him, without succumbing to Christianese. The surface can be deceiving - the truth lies deeper than that.

Here's to mining the riches that Jesus our Creator, our Master Artist, has for His people!

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