Martina McBride’s new cd includes what is perhaps my favorite song right now: “Anyway.” It begins:

You can spend your whole life building
Something from nothin’
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway

You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway

God is great
But sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray
It doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway

And then the last verse, which I imagine every singer and songwriter must have memorized as a mantra:

You can pour your soul out singing
A song you believe in
That tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway.

Of course as with all good music, the song sits flaccid and unremarkable on the page, the lyrics sheared from the music. But the score here is pitch perfect, the arrangement patient and restrained, right up until the moment (in the chorus) when it isn’t, and shouldn’t be.

The melody in the verse stays within a very narrow tonal range so that McBride’s voice in that final line settles down on the one of chord so insistently and meditatively that build it anyway is not so much a command or the expression of a wish but a moral, an existential imperative, a prayer breathed aloud – defiant but quietly, beautifully so. Short of quiescence and despair, there’s nothing left to do but build, dream, sing, hope, love …. do it all anyway, against the evidence of experience sometimes.

The chorus opens the song up expressively: God. Is. Great. … Each word moving up from V chord toward the I in a higher register than the verse. This widens the song’s tonal (and emotional) range and creates a sense of urgency to the lyric’s description of what is essentially a basic paradox of life: we hope and scheme and dream and pray and things still don’t always turn out like we think they should. There’s not much figuring it out; it simply must be accepted. We persevere in hope, in faith, in belief of better days born of a power we might not be able to find in ourselves at the moment but that we trust in all the same … and act accordingly, trustingly, hopefully.

When you think about it, a song like this is spiritually very close kin to gospel music in its insistence on the compensations of grace to relieve and minister to the weary souled (indeed, several songs on the McBride album suggest this kinship). We persist, the song suggests, not because we fail, but despite and in defiance of our failure, in repudiation of it – our persistence itself a testament to the forgivability of human shortcomings and backslidings and reversals of fortune (whether self-induced or not). And if you can get that, if you can accept it and inhabit it (and when I say you, I mean me, we, all of us, because I’m at best an apprentice of this truth), then you can possess the grace necessary to survive, thrive, and maybe take hold of your own measure of sustaining happiness.

Update: Reader Mickey points out a crucial bit of context I missed here … that McBride’s lyric was inspired by a Mother Teresa verse. Due respect to the dearly departed mother, I find McBride’s lyric much more affecting than its inspiration. But no matter. Hat tip, Mickey.

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  1. RobertM wrote:

    Without God’s grace, I think our failures would be too much to bear. …Nice review of the song, and I’d like to hear it.


  2. ng wrote:

    I’ve been thinking of suggesting a column on gospel songs by non-gospel performers as I often find them far more creative than the similar stuff filling so many SGM CDs.

    Consider these lyrics by alternative country artists the Avett Brothers from their track called Salvation Song:

    “And they may pay us off in fame
    But that’s not why we came
    And if it comprises truth
    Then we will go.”

    Another verse (and I’ll admit the language is simple) says:

    “We came for salvation
    We came for family
    We came for all that’s good, that’s how we’ll walk away.”

  3. Mickey wrote:

    The origin of this song idea can be seen at and many other sites.

    It is almost unbelievable that you missed this. I’m in shock.

  4. thom wrote:

    You are right on this one! This is a wonderful recording - I love it.

  5. smells wrote:

    Whatever it takes to move you avery. There is still hope for you. :)

  6. SM wrote:

    Ya know, you already went so far as to review the song. How about an ALI on the album as a whole? Start comparing mainstream country with mainstream sg…just for grins and giggles.

  7. Practical Fellow wrote:

    I think most of us would agree that this song is really well crafted. I think this level of artistry is what SG as an industry should strive for. Does SG have songs with this level of craftsmanship? I’m not being ugly, I’m really curious. Because I think that’s how many country songs transcend the genre; they are so well-crafted that non-country listeners sit up and take notice. Case in point: I’ve been hearing Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” on rock stations and I think the song has now charted on non-country charts. The same with “Anyway”.

    So in the past 2-3 years, what SG songs have been recorded that were well-crafted works of art? Anyone? I’m drawing a blank at this exact moment…

  8. dkd wrote:

    Avery: I have always like Martina McBride. A lot of her music leans toward inspiration and life issues. It’s also a plus that she has an amazing voice to carry the message in her music.

  9. dkd wrote:

    Practical Fellow #7. You have raised some very valid points regarding the level of craftsmanship and artistry in SG compared to other genre’s of music. I just don’t think that there is even a close comparison as far as quality is concerned. I am talking quality across the board. Vocally, lyrically, quality of production etc. I would think that the budget’s of the record companies in the secular genre’s are much grander than those in the SG market. Most SG groups that I know are on a pretty tight budget when recording a project, even if they are with a Major SG/Christian label their budget would be much less then on a secular project.

  10. Youngbass wrote:

    Martina has really been true to her faith in her music. She is one of best female singers period…and by far, the best female vocalist in country music. I once thought Carrie Underwood was as good, but after hearing the two on CMT’s awards and the ACM’s…Martina proved herself. She has the best pitch and range of any artist I have heard in country music, since Reba.

    BTW - what is more amazing about “Anyway” is that she produces her own albums, which is just one more aspect that makes the song and artist stronger. She is a true artist and stands strong in her faith - awesome song lyrics and vocal arrangement.

  11. SL wrote:

    “God is great but sometimes life ain’t good” - I gotta say - ?? I miss how that is profound song writing - but whatever.

    And Douglas/Doug/Douggie (?) - another verse just for you - “You might hear some SG group sing, and you think they’re really baaad, and all you want to do is post some traaash, but be nice to them anywaaaaaaaaay…”

  12. Youngbass wrote:

    SL - GROW UP AND GET A LIFE! It sounds like you are a little pissed at Avery because he critiqued your favorite group. Get over it - life goes on - “Anyway” is a very well-written song - and whether you like it or not…life ain’t always good!

  13. Good Man wrote:

    I have never been a huge fan of Martina McBride. She has a great voice and has chosen some good songs to record but I saw her snub Howard and Vestal Goodman one evening at the Grand Ole Opry. She appeared to be upset because the Goodmans got more of an ovation than she did. The crowd carried on until the Goodmans returned with an encore. Martina tried to “retaliate” with Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art or something like that, but it evidently didn’t glean the response she hoped for. She was less than cordial afterwards.

  14. Trent wrote:

    As a sidebar, I believe Martina McBride’s husband owns Blackbird Studios in Nashville, which is widely considered the finest studio in town.

  15. SL wrote:

    #12 - Doug - so sorry if I offended you (not really) with my ‘verse’ but I was pretty much kidding. Anyway, you may want to calm down your boyfriend or your mother or whoever #11 is….before he takes a seizure.

  16. Rod wrote:

    SL…Are you like 4.

    Also Good Man were you there personally to see Martina do this or are you thinking she may have done it. There is a difference than seeing it from afar. Not a Martina fan just curious how close you really were…I say that also because I think Martina could care less if H & V Goodman received a few more claps than she did. I have found most country artist do NOT have that kind of jealousy unlike most SG groups.

  17. RobertM wrote:

    Practical Fellow,

    Re: #7 …so far, no takers.

    But who cares? I’m confident that 99.99% of sg fans did not leave their last concert or church service saying, “hmmm… no well-crafted works of art tonight. shame.”

    While traveling in my car today, I had enLighten 34 playing on my XM satellite radio for several hours. With few exceptions, the songs did what we WANT them to do: honor God and glorify His Son, Jesus Christ.

  18. anonymous wrote:

    “Practical Fellow wrote:
    I think most of us would agree that this song is really well crafted. I think this level of artistry is what SG as an industry should strive for. Does SG have songs with this level of craftsmanship? I’m not being ugly, I’m really curious. Because I think that’s how many country songs transcend the genre; they are so well-crafted that non-country listeners sit up and take notice. Case in point: I’ve been hearing Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” on rock stations and I think the song has now charted on non-country charts. The same with “Anyway”.

    So in the past 2-3 years, what SG songs have been recorded that were well-crafted works of art? Anyone? I’m drawing a blank at this exact moment…

    Posted 18 May 2007 at 12:39 pm ¶”"


  19. dd wrote:

    i do not have a dog in this hunt, but i will say this. We really undersell our own people. As i think one commenter said on another thread, “we eat our own”. Guys think about it, Joel Lindsey, Kyla Rowland, Diane Wilkenson, Sue Smith, Rodney Griffin…etc. Have we ever thought that its not the song, its the recipient in sg. That songwriter has labored and toiled in a storm or a trial that we can benefit from the blessing. We’re a picky bunch…like a bunch of vultures….but i love ya anyway.

  20. Practical Fellow wrote:

    RobertM (post #17) - I seem to recall you making a similar argument for Austin’s Bridge’s music in another thread (I’m not sure if they appreciate that or not). I think if you’re looking for average music about Jesus to sate your appetite, you shall always be satisfied. So enjoy.

    Anonymous (post #18) - I can go there. I think “I Will Find You Again” was a pretty well crafted song. It felt a little heavy on the drama side for me personally, but it definitely tapped into my emotion when I heard it and I liked the image of knocking on every door in the place to find a loved one. That’s the kind of original lyric I believe doesn’t always surface in SG.

    dd (post #19) - I guess there will always be those on this board that feel like constructive discussion is equal to personal attacks. I’ve had a previous conversation with one of the writer’s you listed in your post and they discussed how hearing really well-written music was a challenge to them to raise the bar a little and try to write a better song. I think a little more competition in the SG songwriting field would raise the level of quality all around.

  21. Marty Funderburk wrote:

    As a songwriter, may I say that some of my best material has never been heard by the SG radio listening audience. It’s frustrating to pour your heart into a song and discover that the artist, or record label are afraid to release it to radio because, once again, you’ve colored outside the lines of the conventional SG format. And I’m not talking just musically - there seems to be a fear that Mom & Pop can’t digest the “meat of the word” - so we’ll stay safe and continue feeding them pabulum. It tends to make us writers stick to the tried-n-true songs about holding-on-4-heaven. And furthermore, the bar has been raised so high in Country music that good songs no longer cut it…you have to produce GREAT songs or you’ll starve - the competition on that side of the fence is beyond fierce. SG radio’s willingness to play anything offered them lowers the bar across the board. Sometimes it leaves writers wondering - why should I try so hard when the industry doesn’t seem to appreciate the effort anyway. Of course, I and many others who do this for a living press on toward excelllence because the gospel of Jesus Christ deserves nothing less. Our only hope is that, if we continue to raise the bar for SG….and IF we can get radio singles that get played, hopefully the comparison factor will force the industry to raise its expectations.

  22. Practical Fellow wrote:

    RobertM wrote in post #17:

    “Practical Fellow,
    Re: #7 …so far, no takers. But who cares? I’m confident that 99.99% of sg fans did not leave their last concert or church service saying, ‘hmmm… no well-crafted works of art tonight. shame.’”

    RobertM - I’m sorry if I’m picking on you, but I think you couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve been to a gazillion concerts with several big groups where I’ve been disappointed with their new music and many of their song choices, which felt really contrived and mediocre. AND I’ve heard other people in the audience make comments on the way out the door. RobertM, you don’t have to choose between quality of art and quality ministry. Songs about the Composer of Life should have the highest of standards.

  23. dd wrote:

    i honestly believe that’s what happened to “He will Hide me” . Not alot of people can digest a song that’s that deep, or took time to chew on it. Songs like “Orphans of God” or “There is power in the name of Jesus” are more understandable to the general audience. And yet you just wonder if in that season for that particular song, how many people are paying attention.

  24. dd wrote:

    Sorry practical, i didn’t mean to not address what you were saying. i agree, when i see a great singer sing with confidence and poise and greatness any song, and makes the hair stand all over. i leave wanting that, i too want to get better and better, iron sharpens iron.

    And Marty, write it anyway, we’ll get the A1 and dig in……

  25. RobertM wrote:

    Practical Fellow,

    You’re trying to make it sound as if I’m endorsing mediocrity. That dog won’t hunt, my friend.

    I didn’t say anything about “average music” nor am I satisfied by it. As a musician and a teacher, my approach is probably similar to yours: God deserves the best.

    Having said that, my reply to you was provoked by this pseudo-gnostic attitude that claims there are no artful songs being recorded and performed.

    Do I have my personal favorites? Of course. On the other hand, have I heard some campy songs lately? Well, yes. …But there are MANY, MANY beautifully written songs out there, and I don’t the Lord is holding His singers and songwriters to the same standard as you. If you can’t think of a single “artful” sg song recorded in the last 2-3 years, you may need to reevaluate your motives.

  26. RobertM wrote:


    …Interesting perspective. I guess it’s a slice of life that most of us don’t see. Your work is beyond good, but I can see where writers and composers would get disappointed.

    If I remember, you had something to do with a tune called “I’ll Pray for You” from 8 or 10 years ago. It was so simple, but our family was virtually caught up in worship and prayer when we heard it the first time. Would it have passed the artful test? I don’t know. But it really blessed us, and I think fans are more appreciative than many writers realize.

    The gospel is not complicated, and often a directly written song does exactly what the listeners want/need it to do.

  27. CG wrote:

    More and more I am becoming a fan of Marty Funderburk. His transparency reminds me of another recent favorite of mine (dare I say?), Avery.

    Marty’s post (#21) allows me to continue holding out hope for this industry I continue to love (in spite of itself). Maybe Marty’s (and others like him) persistence, not to mention talents, will eventually rise to the top and SG will someday right itself (with the Lord’s help of course - not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    Go Marty (and Avery)!

  28. thom wrote:

    “Pile of Crowns”, “I Will Find You Again,” “He Will Hide Me” , “When He Touched Me” - just a few great songs that got little or no radio play,

    Marty: You are so right - MANY of the great songs never get radio play. I have written about this before and posed a question to the crowd that I would like someone to tell me how labels choose radio singles - upon listening to many CD’s I would generally choose another song to ship to radio. I don’t know what the label people are thinking most of the time.

    I will be playing album cuts on my radio program - not just limiting the list to “radio singles” but playing what I feel to be the best music. This will require using my own personal library of music and relying on the availability of entire projects, not just compliations.

    Listening to some of the stuff that comes out on the compilation discs makes you wonder where we made a wrong turn with SG music.

  29. Practical Fellow wrote:

    RobertM - (sigh) My motives are fine. Thanks for your concern. But I still maintain that not many songs at SG radio have blown me away in a few years. I think a good song has an imaginative premise, a well-constructed storyline and it conveys the message in an original way. A good song makes the chorus ‘pop’ by setting it up with great verses and a bridge. A great song invites an emotional response from the listener.

    I’m not saying they aren’t out there, but Marty F. is right. There is simply not a high enough bar for quality in the SG industry.

  30. RobertM wrote:

    Practical Fellow,

    I can’t judge your heart, but you seem to be too critical.

    How much more imaginative, constructive, and original can you get than God’s grace to sinful men? The story of salvation never gets old.

    We agree that some songs are loosely (poorly) written. So, regardless of how my comments sounded, I don’t want to seem combative. What bothers me is that the “industry,” “genre,” “bidness,” has its roots in men’s quartets and families who wanted to sing in church gatherings. What were the topics of their songs? Truths related to the gospel of Christ. This sets southern gospel, as a style of song, apart from country, R&B, bluegrass, pop, and you name it, although sg has borrowed from them all.

    Do you feel that the families and individuals who really love the songs today are less intelligent than those of you who don’t? Why do so many of us consider ourselves blessed by God to have this music today?

  31. RobertM wrote:

    …Can’t believe I’m taking the bait, but here goes. My nomination for the artfully written category. It’s not overly clever, but it >is

  32. Practical Fellow wrote:

    RobertM - I think we’re communicating on two different levels here. I think you miss my point(s) entirely, but I don’t think it would be productive to try to explain them again so I’m going to walk away from this thread. I will reiterate once more, if it’s necessary, that I’m not tired of the story of salvation. It’s hard to believe you read that from any previous posts of mine - but okay, fine. I simply think there is a fresh way to tell that story and that’s what I’m taking issue with here. Ah, but I digress. It appears that I’m not so good at walking away…

  33. RobertM wrote:

    Practical Fellow,

    I really tried to be conciliatory. We AGREE that God deserve the best. Please stop thinking I’ve missed your point. Your point(s) included a. you couldn’t think of any well crafted works of art from the last 2-3 years, b. sg should attain to the highest standards, c. there isn’t a high enough bar for quality in sg, etc.

    You’ve been clear. No points have been missed.

    These questions are sincere, but you didn’t answer:

    Do you feel that the families and individuals who really love the songs today are less intelligent than those of you who don’t? Why do so many of us consider ourselves blessed by God to have this music today?

  34. RobertM wrote:


    re: #31 …I typed song lyrics, and most of my reply seems to have been lost in the blogosphere. I’m too frustrated to try again, but I wanted to suggest that “Pocket Full of Seeds” by Carl Cartee, recorded by Karen Peck and New River, was a great song. Maybe it’s best that it got lost. Some of you are looking for something magical that apparently no longer exists in your sg musical world. I guess just stick to country where the songs “transcend the genre” or some such subjective nonsense.

    Meanwhile, a lot of us are going to enjoy some really wonderful sg ministry this summer. (And, please …you don’t need to remind me again that it is NOT ministry.) Thanks.

  35. gc wrote:

    ” Orphans Of God” is well crafted in every way..

  36. jb wrote:

    I am beginning to think we make “everything” too complicated from song writing to the Plan of Salvation. The most simple songs sang by family groups, such as ours, are the ones that minister the most. I guess it’s because people can relate. Remind Me of Calvary was sang at our church yesterday and I had forgotten how simple yet powerful that song is.
    The words “When your friends have let you down, and there’s darkness all around, Remind me of Calvary”. No big, deep words in that. My 21 yr. old son has 2 favorite songs right now. What a Lovely Name, and There is a River… How much better can it get. I agree with #34. Some of us ARE going to enjoy some good SG music this summer. God is So Good, so writers keep writing, and singers keep singing.

  37. LeeAnn Mills wrote:

    Marty, one of my favorite songs is “Just like a brother to me”, it has uplifted my family and I numerous times. Thanks for sharing.

  38. Marty Funderburk wrote:

    Thanks LeeAnn - I rarely ever get feedback on my music - I’m so glad you and your family found special meaning in that little song. Bless you.

    RobertM - “I’ll Pray for You” was Jeff Steele’s idea and the first song we wrote together - it’s power probably lies in its simplicity. Thanks for the feedback, again - we writers don’t get to see the tears or hear the testimonials like the artists do - it means a lot

    CG - bless your heart! I’m humbled by your regard for me, but I’m no Avery!

  39. Grigs wrote:

    The grass is always greener on the other side, I guess. Up until recently, I was exposed to country radio on a daily basis. Sure, there were some well crafted songs, but I’ve never heard so much crap in my life. A co-worker of mine and I would laugh out loud at least 5 or 6 times an hour at the overall stupidity of the lyrics. Lay off of SG, there’s lousy material in every genre.

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