A friend of mine who checked out my blog the other day said that I should put up some lists to make things a little more interactive and interesting. I said to myself, “Self, that seems like a great idea. Let’s put up some lists.” So here it is, the first official Blah Blah list, of many more to come. All this week, I’ll be looking at “The Top 10 in Christian Blues.”
“Why Christian blues?” you ask. Last spring, I realized that most of the music I listened to was the same. Most of my musical experience through the years has fallen under some sort of “rock” title. Rock. Indie rock. Pop rock. Acoustic rock. Math rock. Punk rock. Folk rock. Classic rock. Sure, there were the handful of reggae bands. Some tribal bands. Some straight-up folk bands. A few jazz guys. Some classical… But most of the music I had experienced and most of the CDs I owned were some form of rock music. Now, theologically this is sound, because Jesus, as the Rock, should be the basis of every God-fearing man’s music library, but I was curious about what lay beyond.
Thus discontented with my musical tunnel vision, I said to myself, “Self, we’ve got to change this,” and I ventured into the roots of American rock music. I took a few months and delved into jazz. I watched historical biographies (this one was genius). I rented CDs from the library. I read interviews on-line. All I listened to and all I thought about was jazz music. Jellyroll Morton. Louis Armstrong. Ella Fitzgerald. Jack Teagarden. Sidney Bechet. Chet Baker. Billie Holiday. John Coltrane. Miles Davis. Wynton Marsalis. Thelonius Monk. Charlie Parker. It was a fun, exciting, and inspiring time.
But, as all things do, it ended, and I moved on to the next great American music, which influenced and was influenced by jazz – blues music. I knew nothing about the blues, so once again I surrounded myself with documentaries and albums and searched for the heart of the blues.
Now, months after my blues experiment, I’ve found a great appreciation for the music style that I never had before, but I haven’t been able to find a lot of Christian blues that I enjoy. Since the selections are more limited, and the process more challenging, I thought this would make an excellent first for the Blah Blah lists.
Blues, as an American art form, was birthed in the Mississippi delta region, where the river meets the Gulf of Mexico, where cotton was king, the temperatures sizzling, and slavery, sharecropping, and hardship for American blacks a way of life. Its emergence is linked closely with gospel music and spirituals, and oftentimes there is a merging of the three that can’t be separated.
Blues is the foundation of what we know as American music, so it’s with great pleasure that I introduce to you The Top 10 in Christian Blues:
10. The Psalters – Home for Refugees
9. Glass Harp – Whatever Life Demands
8. Bob Dylan – Slow Train
7. Waterdeep – Gospel Train
6. John Davis – I Should Have Known
5. Doug Burr – Ain’t Got no Chains
4. Larry Norman – Feeling so Bad
3. Skip James – Jesus is a Mighty Good Leader
2. Son House – John the Revelator
And the Number 1 Christian blues song of all time…
1. Blind Willie Johnson – Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time
Every day this week (except Monday), I’ll put up the next MP3s in the list, until on Friday I release the final two, so check back for more.
Now, why The Psalters for Number 10 and Glass Harp for Number 9? The Psalters have been a favorite band of mine for a while now. They blend tribal, mediterranean, middle-eastern, folk, blues, and spiritual music together with electronic and rock in an interesting way, and while they aren’t a “blues band” I wanted them on the list to add some diversity and fun. The song “Home for Refugees” is more of a slave spiritual but contains enough elements of blues music to warrant a Number 10 position.
In deciding what songs to include, I asked myself, “How well does this song demonstrate the blues?” And, “How well does this song demonstrate Christianity?” Since this is a list of the best in Christian blues, I thought those two questions were sheer genius. Anyway, “Home for Refugees” gives us a glimpse at the early roots of blues music in the spirituals and chants of the Southern slaves, so it’s worthy of a listen for any blues fan. While The Psalters have remained largely unseen in the Christian market (maybe because they travel the world in a black van and give away their songs for free), as a band they demonstrate hearts to follow God wherever He leads them. This song was birthed out of a trip The Psalters took to refugee camps in Turkey. It is a cry for a final home, to no longer be a refugee in this world, but to be at home in God. Check out a great investigation of the lyrics here.
Glass Harp I chose to include in Number 9 because, as a band, they’ve demonstrated a constant attachment to blues riffs. They’ve got that classic 60s and 70s blues rock sound. It’s not my favorite blues sound, but I enjoy it, and it’s influenced modern rock and blues immensely. “Whatever Life Demands” is probably not the best demonstration of the blues music of Glass Harp, but I like it, and I like the sound of this live recording from 1969. From a Christian standpoint, Glass Harp really needs to be on almost any Top 10 list of great Christian groups, due to their historical importance, longevity, musical creativity, and devotion to God. I don’t wanna do a whole bio and review now, but let it be known that Phil Keaggy is and was amazing on guitar and Steve Markulin does the same for bass.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this first segment of The Top 10 in Christian Blues! Come back Tuesday for two songs about trains – Bob Dylan with “Slow Train” and Waterdeep with “Gospel Train.” Give me your thoughts on the top Christian blues, too. I’d be interested to know what you all think.
The Blah Blah – serving up the best in Christian music MP3s