Disclosure: I wish I could disclose that I’ve been paid fabulous millions to share my opinion, but that would be a big fat lie. Rather, YourLDSRadio.com has provided a listening copy of the album reviewed, plus a second copy for me to give away to a randomly-selected commenter on this post! All the thoughts expressed are entirely my own.
As I mentioned in the last give-away, I grew up during a really challenging period for “contemporary church music.” Not much has really changed. Some folks in the “church music” field write really awesome music. Others write mediocre stuff, slap a lot of religious references into it (some really ham-fisted), and figure the church folk will buy it just because it’s churchy. But “churchy” isn’t enough. It wasn’t enough then, and it shouldn’t be the limitation now. Good music transcends the labels.
More on this in a second. First, a brief reminisce, in numerical list form:
Part the First
Growing up in a tiny mountain hamlet in the wilds of Eastern Oregon, there were some basic limitations within which I lived. I went to school with the same 35 people from the age of 4 to 17. During the winter months (when we had a TV in the house), three sort of fuzzy channels came in over the air. The county (full of ranches the size of Rhode Island) had one stoplight, and that was installed during my junior high years. To get to a bus station, you had to cross two mountain ranges. We picked up one AM radio station, and it was predominantly country music, with the American Top 40 radio show on Sunday afternoon only. (Two guesses what I did every Sunday afternoon, and the first one doesn’t count.)
The two aspects of those limitations that most greatly affected me, however, were the music, and the tiny circle of people. Given enough good music, a person can withstand the crushing nature of being “on the fringe” in a group so small, your brain can actually count them without needing to assign numbers (it’s called subitization. Yes, knowing (and wanting to know) this sort of trivial information is one reason I was on that fringe.)
Without regular access to radio-broadcast music, I listened to A Great Many Records (those big black disc thingies), developed a very keen “FFW” and “REW” finger on my tape deck, and became an Early Adopter of CD technology. I spent a lot of time holed up with my angsty self, listening to music that kept me sane and happy.
Part the Second
I watched “The Parent Trap” (original issue, with the Most Awesome Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills) over and over. I still love that movie. The concept of going away and reinventing (or rediscovering, I suppose) oneself is highly attractive to many teens. Some get to give it a whack. My church runs a summer youth program called Especially For Youth. It’s a cross between summer camp and spiritual retreat and dance party and dorm living, and it was both formative and transformative for me. A week of classes with amazing speakers talking about real things; new people to meet; socials and dances; new people; devotionals several times a day; loads of new music to be sung and to hear; new people… Certainly, it’s easy to fall into a euphoric, receptive state when faced with that much sleep deprivation, but I had a blast. Yearning for a fresh start, full of people who hadn’t known me for the vast majority of my awkward youth, through whom I was certain I could discover the secrets of popularity with boy folk, I gleefully attended EFY for two years. It was amazing. I still have the soundtracks.
Summation of Parts
Combining Parts the First and Second, we come to the present day: music, and the chance to be a little bit anonymous in a large group of kids, can be a tremendously amazing combination. EFY still happens every summer, and though the program has changed over the years, one thing remains constant: they still produce a unique, themed soundtrack each year.
This year, the theme for the youth program at church is Arise and Shine Forth. We’ve been playing the soundtrack around here for a few weeks, and it’s been a great experience. The majority of the tracks fall into what I’d consider Good Music, regardless of genre. There are only three tracks I specifically skip (because they fall into either the airy-fairy, synthesized goop that made up so much of “church music” in the Poorly-Considered 80s, or else the lyrics led me to an *entirely* different concept than I’m sure the author mean me to grasp–a downfall of my own snarky personality, I’m sure, though my Eldest listened and asked, in a shocked voice, “Is he singing about what I THINK he’s singing about??”, at which point I reassured her that he was actually singing about personal inspiration, not sex… seriously, poor mix of lyrics on that one. Or else we’re all Darned Straight to Heck, Where It Is Always Uncomfortably Warm.)
A lot of the tracks have an almost country vibe to them (in a good way), and only a few use the identifiably “Wasatch Front” dialect patterns, which is fantastic. The majority of the male voices are really great, and well-suited to the styling of their songs. The track “Glorious” uses musical metaphors and combines them with a developing musical theme in a way that would have had me hitting repeat over and over as a teen, reveling in the way the music builds in layers (as the amazing classical composers did it–and their music endures the centuries!)
Overall, barring those three tracks that no one in the family liked musically, it’s a great album! It’s not so specifically “youth-y” that parents will cringe to hear it on repeat. There are songs that stand alone as “good music”, without needing a church label to sell them. There are songs that express what many people, young and old, cannot always quantify or qualify. The capacity to lift us out of ourselves is here, and that’s a pretty neat thing, I’d say.
And your reward for having got through all that rambling to the finish? Leave a comment in the next ten days, and you will be entered in a random-number drawing to get the give-away copy for your own listening pleasure. I’ll ship it anywhere in the US, and I’ll be interested to hear what you think of it! Feel free to comment with your own EFY or music story if you like–you’re not obligated, though. A simple comment will get you in the giveaway.
And if you need some great music, especially for your youth or just for yourself, pop over to YourLDSRadio.com and enjoy the tunes!