I was on my quasi-sabbatical from avfl when the Canaan Record deal was announced, but I’ve wanted to get around to commenting on it even if it’s later rather than sooner.
I’ve been thinking about this a while (the news has been an open secret for a few months now), and the first thing to say of course is that there’s nothing much of consequence to say at this point in a recently launched venture that has only the echo of an established name for a track record. The Canaan records of yore, with all those great groups and wonderful music behind it, is practically speaking, dead. The real measure of the new Canaan’s viability and seriousness will be the talent it signs, not the talent it had. And in that line, there are some first-rate catches out there to be had, probably chief among them, the Booth Brothers, which would be a serious score for Canaan.
But in the meantime, the main thing that stands out in all this is Canaan’s head honcho, Dave Clark. He brings with him an impressive record of creative accomplishment in Christian music and entertainment that bodes well for the label. He got his start as a bass player and songwriter for The Speers, and then went on to have considerable success writing for CCM: “Mercy Said No,” “A Strange Way to Save The World,” and “Crucified With Christ,” to name a few of the biggest. But he’s always kept a foot in southern gospel world, and it’s not only reassuring but also promising to see someone at this stage in his career investing heavily in southern gospel.
Specifically, Clark and Co. represent the best chance out there right now to return artistically serious A&R direction to a major southern gospel label. I won’t rehash what I have already recently said about A&R direction in sg. Suffice it here to say that there is a deep crisis of creative responsibility at most major labels in southern gospel these days.
I’ve just finished listening to three new releases from prime talent at Daywind, just to take one example, and the mind would reel from the sheer lack of imagination that pervades these albums, if they weren’t so boring so much of the time. It’s as though a robo-producer program was booted up and put on auto-pilot, producing super-slick (but thoroughly predictable) tracks and equally professional mixes for material that is largely lumpish and creatively impoverished. Judgment day rhymes with time to pay and your times’ runnin out so I’ll ask again and again … Hey, hey … (repeat as many times as necessary).
Judging from this kind of work, one gets the impression that “A&R” has come to mean “Affirm & Reinforce” whatever the artist already thinks, wants, likes or prefers. How else to account, for instance, for an album full of songs from a very young new group’s very young new leader, songs that are of the earnest but nevertheless half-inspired sort one would expect to come from the pen of your averagely gifted young adult songwriter still in the early stages of professional development? Your A&R guy should be warning you away from projects like this that early on establish professionally self-indulgent habits (of course you’re the most brilliant thing in Christian music since Michael W. Smith! … absolutely let’s record eight of your songs for your debut album), not steering you toward them and taking credit for the missed opportunities.
If Canaan can disrupt this pervasive habit of substituting uncritical encouragement and joyful noising for responsible creative direction and resist cattle calling as many artists as possible early on in favor of investing long-term only in artists who A)have the goods (by the standards of “A Strange Way to Save the World” or The Speers in their heyday) and B)want to do more than let go and let inertia, then the label has a real shot at building something exciting. There are, for sure, a lot of groups out there ready to do something different than the typical label deal. But of course (say it with me now), only time will tell.
Update: David Bruce Murray offers his own take on the Canaan possibilities. It’s worth reading.Email this Post