I listen to a lot of music, but I’m not about to tell you my music taste is totally refined. You can talk to my brother Addison for that. But in my listening to a lot of different music, I run across some gems every once in a while. Here are five that are going into my ears consistently right now. I’ll post Spotify boxes below the album where applicable. Not all of these are on Spotify.
1. Jess Ray – Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army – 2010
I was recently introduced to this artist, as in about three days ago recently. I’m hooked. The honest lyricism matched with the sincere reverence and worship of God combined is good enough for me.
“I’m deaf and dumb and blind and lame, with no hope, no way, no chance…Jesus Christ of Nazareth, You’re my only chance!” Ray exclaims in the chorus of “One Name,” one of the better three songs on the album. The second is aptly-titled “Better,” where Ray lists what knowing Christ is better than. It amounts to pretty much everything, which is truth. “Gates” describes the joy of the believer in light of weaknesses – “In my weakness, it’s far more clear. In my failures, it’s far more clear to me just who You to me and what You did to me, to me” – and the longing to see heaven – “And I can’t wait until You walk me through those gates, hallelujah!”
Looking for solid worship with a melodic, indie kick? Check out Jess Ray and the Rag Tag Army.
2. Ben Rector – The Walking in Between – 2013
Not often do we find great love songs that are clean with wonderful lyricism and a refreshing approach to the genre. Ben Rector is that, and with his latest output, The Walking in Between, he captures the topic of romantic love in several different ways that are truly refreshing each time.
The highlight for me right now is the upbeat, driving “When I’m With You,” in which Rector describes how he feels when he is with his special someone – “But when I’m with you, I’m no longer wondering. But when I’m with you, I swear I can breathe. But when I’m with you, I know who I am and who I want to be.” Other highlights include the simple “I Like You” (“There’s no need to complicate, dress it up or overstate it, without too much hesitation, here’s the way I feel, I like you”) and “Forever Like That” (“I wanna love you forever I do, I wanna spend all of my day with you, carry your burden and be the wind at your back, I wanna spend my forever, forever like that”). The iTunes version of the album includes an acoustic version of “Forever Like That.”
He also tackles non-love topics, such as “Making Money” and a plea to God (I’m guessing) on “If You Can Hear Me” (“Sometimes the devil sounds a lot like Jesus, telling me I’m not enough. I don’t believe it, no no, but I can feel it. And I need You so, yes, I need You so”).
Like the romantic singer/songwriter-vibe? Check out Ben Rector’s The Walking in Between.
Get “The Walking in Between” on iTunes (No Spotify for Mr. Rector)
3. Dre Murray – Gold Rush: Maybe One Day – 2013
This Christian rapper’s major exposure is little to the common Christian rap fan. Murray appeared on the song “Welcome to H-Town” on Lecrae’s Church Clothes mixtape last year. He’s part of the group W.L.A.K. (which includes Alex Faith, Swoope and Christon Gray) on Collision Records. But after this album, it will be hard to ignore him.
The album follows how a man is trapped in his obsession with material possessions, playing with the motif of Egyptian kings and queens who were buried with their gold and wealth in hopes it would come with them to the afterlife. Highlights “Maybe One Day” (featuring Christon Gray) and “Pharaoh” (featuring Tragic Hero) capture the image of a man who is seeking for the material that will satisfy him. On “Pharoah,” Murray exclaims, “Dear Pharoah with a tomb for your gold, food and drink abound, not an inch for your soul. Your death will soon show that you’re not in control.”
My personal favorites are “Fiend” and “Gold Rush.” On the former, the narrator laments how he has become a “fiend,” a danger to those around him because of his desires, while the latter is a track that captures the theme of the whole album, how the possessions just aren’t worth it in the end.
(Also: Christon Gray shows up four times on the album, which instantly makes it better.)
Like rap that approaches a real topic with some nice production and honest, real lyrics? Check out Gold Rush: Maybe One Day.
4. Still Trill Christians – Kings – 2013
Some dapper young fellas grace the cover of this Christian rap group’s debut Kings. The album is filled with “bangers,” songs that you can drive to, work out to and jam to. The theology isn’t too deep, but the message is clear.
The standout is “No Sex” (featuring Willie “P. Dub” Moore), in which the guys rap about how sex is best saved for marriage, that that approach is the most God-glorifying. It’s a refreshing look at sex as opposed to most of what we hear these days – “We can hit the mall and go shopping while we in it, and you be looking good, baby girl, I must admit it, but I don’t need no sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, because you’re worth more than that, that, that, that, that. Please don’t get me wrong, ‘lil mama, you so fly! But I listen to my Daddy, and that’s the reason why, that I don’t need to sex…”
Trying to just jam? Check out “Bingo,” “Keys & Yams” and “Winner” (feat. Jordan Armstrong. STC also shouts out to the beauty of doing relationships the God-centered way on “Miss You” (featuring Nina Sims) and “Loyalty.” “War” (featuring Mic Tunez) approaches the battle inherent in biblical warfare.
Like some upbeat Christian rap with a few songs refreshingly approaching romantic relationships? Check out Kings.
5. Christon Gray – Even With Evil With Me – 2011
I mentioned this guy a couple albums ago as being a supporting actor on Dre Murray’s Gold Rush: Maybe One Day. This is his first output as a solo artist, and it’s tight. The guy can sing and rap and glorify Christ while doing both. I can’t tell you which one I enjoy better. To get a hint of both, listen to this album. This is just about all singing, but it’s beautiful.
The highlights are the worshipful “Reign” and the title track. The former is a soulful track praising the reign of God over the world and over the life of the singer. The latter is an exclamation of how God still works in the life of the believer, “even with evil with” him – “Now I am trying to be the hero, just to find that I’m the criminal. And I’ve discovered through the course of sin that I’m no good alone. Jesus, oh Jesus, my Jesus, that’s why I love You so. Stories I am not inclined to tell, to say the least I laid my bed in hell. But You were there to catch me when I fell, tossed my sins in seas and fared thee well. Surely, goodness and mercy should always follow and never return void.” Gives me chills.
But perhaps the best is “Isle of You.” It’s a piano-driven love ballad Gray wrote about his wife – “Lord knows I deserve nothing, I’ve got everything, yes I do. Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, baby, He knows I’m no good alone. You bring out the best in me, and let me tell ya bout the way you make me feel.” It’s one of those wedding songs.
Like soulful, Gospel-lite Gospel-centered music that will drive you to worship? Check out Even With Evil With Me.
If I keep finding more and more awesome music, I might just do this again. That’s a “First Edition” with a hesitancy.