Marcus Hathcock: "There's plenty of passionate folk-rock with positive spiritual themes to go around."
Here's what I will tell you: I love Mumford & Sons--and it's not just because the lead singer and I share the same first name. The band creatively and poetically captures slices of life--the beauty and the pain, love and brokenness--all with hints of rock, country, Bluegrass and folk.
The band's first offering, Sigh No More, was No. 1 in three countries, and reached No. 2 in the U.S. and their native U.K. That album garnered the band a Grammy for Best New Artist and Best Rock Song ("Little Lion Man"), as well as other international awards.
On Sept. 24, you better believe I'll be checking out their new album, Babel. If the band's Double Platinum (U.S.) and Quadruple Platinum (U.K.) showings from Sigh No More are any indication, Babel is sure to be a best-seller.
Of course, there is the issue of that one song--their first breakout hit, "Little Lion Man." While it's a catchy, passionate banjo and guitar-led little number, it does have quite a few "F-words" in it. But take out that song, and the album is innocuous.
According to Adam Holz of Focus on the Family's Plugged In website, that song "contrasts starkly with the beautiful and spiritual messages about life and death, grace and forgiveness found in the remainder of Mumford & Sons' otherwise breathtaking debut."
It's true; "Sigh No More"--the title track of the band's latest project--declares: "Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you / It will set you free / Be more like the man you were made to be."
Holz rightly compares the story in "Roll Away Your Stone" to Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son. That's just a start; there's plenty more for Christians to love on this album. And Marcus Mumford has quite a background in the Church, as his parents head up Vineyard churches in the UK and Ireland.
So why is this band on here? This column isn't about what we're against; it's about finding the gold in Christian music that matches or, in many cases, surpasses what's offered in secular culture.
Now, that said, L.A. folk rockers Branches wouldn't stick their music in the Christian section at the record store. This band of six best-friends-turned-bandmates have roots at the Christian evangelical college Azusa Pacific University, and quick looks at the band members' Facebook pages reveal their deep personal faith in Jesus.
But it seems that, like many bands before them, Branches is skipping the Christian subculture in order to share their poetic stories of doubt, faith, loneliness, love and hope with a larger audience.
"We write songs that we believe and make music we'd want to listen to," frontman Tyler Madsen says of the band's debut full-length album, Thou Art the Dream. "It's just much more fun that way."
So what's the message? What do they believe? In the song "Helicopter," Madsen sings of his interwovenness with the Lord: "If I am a dreamer / then thou art the dream / If I am a pebble / then thou art the stream / If I am the sapling / then thou art the beam."
A testimony rings out with the song "Lines": "Your voice touched my skin and filled my bones / It's running through the trees like the wind that blows / You set my words alive like skipping stones / I thought I had to be alone."
Fans of Mumford & Sons' Bluegrass overtones and folksy rock will find a home with Branches. Some more Mumford-like tunes include the aforementioned "Helicopter", the driving "Lines" and the haunting "Going Home."
(It's worth noting that if you're a Mumford & Sons fan who has never heard of NEEDTOBREATHE, you should get on that, too.)
In this case, it's not really a choice between positive and negative; it's a choice between good and additional good. There's plenty of passionate folk-rock with positive spiritual themes to go around.
Posted August 21, 2012 | NRT Senior Editor Marcus Hathcock has been a newspaper reporter, an editor and now Community Life Director for East Hill Church in Gresham, Ore. He's also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and one of the worship leaders at East Hill. Follow his journey at www.mheternal.com.
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