Monday, January 16, 2006

CD Review....


A few weeks ago I noticed a free offer on Challies Dot Com for a CD, the stipulation being that the recipient was required to do a review and post it on their blogsite. This particular CD was advertised as for children. Naturally with 6 children I am interested in finding godly music for my young ones.

Now I must plead some ignorance here as to the background of the Sovereign Grace Church movement. I had understood them to be of a Reformed background and therefore assumed them to be fairly conservative in their approach to music and doctrine. So when I received the CD and began listening, I was a bit surprised at the 'heavy' sound of some of the songs, especially since they were targeting a young audience.

But to be fair and try to bring an objective look at this Album, I will divide the CD into a few different sections and examine them separately.

Lyrics

As the back cover states, "How do kids learn about God's greatness? One excellent way is to sing songs that express God's character and nature in words that kids understand". I think that has been fairly well accomplished in these songs. The words reflect the issues children think about such as, who is God? Does He love me? How does God relate to this world and us as people? Will He forgive me when I sin?

Of course the gospel's message of Christ's propitiatory sacrifice is presented through his incarnation, suffering, and death to take our place on the cross. Many of the songs contain an element of the blood washing us from our sins, enabling us to stand in God's presence.

So overall, the songs are well written, and constructed in a way to impart some fundamental truths of scripture set to catchy melodies.

Presentation and Vocals

I was actually quite impressed with the overall quality of the presentation as most Churches do not have the talent and ability to release similar CD's. But then I guess this is the compilation of several Churches working together under the common ministry of Sovereign Grace.

The vocalists did very well and although I had a hard time guessing the ages, I would say there were a few soloists that were not much into their teens. Of course, children have a natural excitement and energy that flows out through the songs.

Music

This is the part where I get into the controversial. While it is true that there are many different 'tastes' in music, I cannot but think that there are some elements of the way an instrument is played that accentuate the fleshly nature of our fallen self. What do I mean? Well it is fairly obvious that romantic music is designed to create a certain 'mood' in the listener. Other music such as heavy metal causes the listener to feel intensely powerful and invincible. Much, if not all of our modern day Rock scene is wrapped around a sense of anti-establishment, anti-authoritarianism, and 'do it my own way' thinking. This is the mentality these songs create in the minds and hearts of the listeners. So I was a bit saddened, to say the least, to hear the 'heavy' current in a number of these 'childrens' songs.

Summary

While the overall presentation of this CD was quite professional, and the words were well written and scripturally relevant, I doubt I will be letting my children listen to the songs as a whole. There are a couple of songs that I believe may become 'classics' in worship circles, and most certainly were they arranged more modestly in the musical approach, I would definitely enjoy presenting them. Also, I think the age group of this CD would fall more in the early to middle teen range rather than as young as 7.

Hear for Yourself

Of course, please don't just take my word for it. Here is a link to their website where you can listen to short snippets of these songs and actually download the lyrics and music.
Sovereign Grace Ministries

6 comments:

Daniel said...

I would qualify my comment as coming from a former blues guitarist (having played for years in a band).

That "qualification" is not meant to suggest greater authority in my opinion, but rather to suggest a strong likelihood of being in possession of a greater bias.

As a former musician, I am often quite critical of music, being able to discern with some degree of accuracy the both "performance" and "expression."

For the sake of this post, when I say "performance" I mean that sort of musical "affected" whereby one consciously or unconsciously attempts to parrot or perform within the boundaries of a particular genre of music. Likewise, when I say "expression" I am talking about the ability to articulate in music something of our own heart.

When all of the components of a song share the same expression (that is, the instruments compliment the music, which in turn compliments vocals, which give consonant life to the lyrics) I think I have heard an "honest" effort. I might not like what I hear - that is a matter of personal preference - but at least I am impressed that there is a honest consistency to what I am hearing. If a "christian" song scores low on this criteria, I might like to tap my toes to it, but I don't have a great deal of respect for it - and I would probably look elsewhere for edification both for myself and my family.

When a song misses out on expression, it typically does so because of the musicians are putting way too much performance into it. Affected vocals (such as an affected rasp, or an overly "soft" voice, etc.) are particularly odious to me. The only reason someone tries to sound like they just woke up, are about to cry, or ran a marathon - is because they want to put an emotional spin on the music. Typically singing in a voice that targeted to produce an emotional response is disingenuous at best, and psychological manipulation at worst.

Likewise a overly instrumental starting/ending vamps as well as an abundance of instrumental fills (drums and guitar typically) suggest that the music is driving the song rather than accompanying it - that is, it suggests that musicians are "jamming" and that the vocals are simply part of that "jam"

So when I listened to the samples, I brought that "baggage" with me, and I mention it so that my comments will have context.

Were that not enough preface - yet I must also add that I am aware of my own tendency to legalism with regards to music (that is, the mentality that says "if you don't listen to the sort of music that I deem to be spiritually acceptable, you are likely sinning...") - few of us are mature enough to graciously allow others to listen to music that their own conscience would forbid - whether rightly so or not.

So how is that for a preface?

Anyway, pretty much all of the songs that included distorted guitar and drums ranked high on my performance meter - and while I might have tapped my toes to one or two of them (I think "three in one" in particular had some unusual, but not unpleasing arpegiated voicings), I wouldn't want my children listening to them. The musical genre for the most part seemed to be driving the rest of the show. Like wise for some of the more country sounding "ballads" (c.f. "who is like you").

None of the songs scored terribly high on the "expression" scale, and ("Have you heard" and "who is like you" perhaps scoring the highest - but not stellar or anything).

I would let my kids listen to some of the songs from the selection, but, frankly, some of them I wouldn't want my children to be singing around the house. When the music of the song competes with the message for the heart of the listener, I see compromise - I see "taint." As a parent I want to sheild my family from compromise, and ensure that whatever music is "daddy approved" is "primarily" edifying, as opposed to "subsequently" edifying, as in the case with some efforts (where "Christian" lyrics are simply tacked on to whatever musical genre is selling at the moment).

Jim said...

Daniel, I think you deserve the free CD for this well written review. I must say I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of this music.

I was beginning to think I was way out in the legalistic left field or something.

Why is music such a divisive and contentious issue these days in the Church? Unfortunately the carnal self wishes to have a part in whatever we do to glorify God.

Bob Kauflin said...

Jim,

Thanks for taking the time to review the Awesome God CD. Your review was fair, thoughtful, comprehensive, and helpful.

Our understanding of how music works in worshipping God is probably more similar than you'd think. We, too, never want the music to overpower the lyrics, but rather serve them. Probably the main area we see things differently is what music "causes" us to do. Music moves us emotionally, but there is a powerful associative effect that can be trained and/or changed. Heavy music doesn't automatically cause someone to "feel intensely powerful and invincible," although that kind of music is often used to voice those attitudes.

Having said that, we aren't married to a particular style, and encourage singing songs in different ways, to reinforce the principle that there is no music that God prefers above all others. Rather, it's our job to use music wisely and responsibly, and to find ways to glorify God in various genres, rather than just a few.

I pray some of the songs, in some form, will encourage your knowledge of and love for our great God and Savior.

Thanks again for the review.

Jim said...

Bob, my hope is that all believers will find their unity in Christ alone. I am asking the Lord to show me where I am simply reverting to my own "cultural" ways as opposed to sensing the liberty found in Christ.

Whatever we do must be to the glory of God and according to His Spirit.

Blessings to you brother,

Jim

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I have not heard this CD before, but I agree with you that the sort of music you describe does not aid worship.

God Bless

Matthew

Jim said...

It's interesting that the problem Israel encountered was the mixing of the temple worship with that of the idols. It's not that they denied God or even forgot about Him, but rather they chose to include paganistic practices in their worship of God. Ultimately this did lead to them erecting temples to other gods.

Blessings brother.