GMA Week: Doves wrap up

I confess that in some ways I don’t feel qualified to comment on the Doves beyond 140 characters of length. For one thing, my awareness of CCM is peripheral at best, and more substantively, I just don’t like most of what I hear.

As I wrote during the show, “I don’t consider myself old fashioned but the outer edges of ccm leave me w/ a ‘get off my lawn you kids!’ impatient grumpiness.” And though I cringe to think what kind of holier-than-thou company this next observation might put me in, most CCM I hear at the Doves (and I assume this is a fairly representative sample) sounds like less original versions of mainstream top 40, pop, and other secular musical styles (Brandon Heath’s “Give Me Your Eyes” was a notable exception).

My devil’s advocate knows that imitation is more than just mimicry (and that’s there no accounting for taste). Scholars of culture and art long ago recognized that to imitate is to make an important statement not only about the value of what’s being imitated, but about oneself.

Less abstractly, you’d certainly expect a parallel musical universe like CCM to not just create music that sounds like secular stuff with Jesus in the lyrics, but to innovate beyond existing stylistic boundaries. But it’s telling to me that the only places that innovation really seems to be happening (as opposed to coming as close as possible to sounding Justin Timberlake or Beyonce or Jonas Brothers or Kelly Clarkson and still be Christian music) is in a handful of acts that hail from styles and genres that (at their best) may borrow from non-religious sounds and styles but can claim a discrete stylistic and cultural tradition apart from mainstream music culture- namely, though not exclusively, black and white gospel (or “traditional” and “southern/country” in the parlance).

Just two examples: Signature Sound and Mary Mary.

Of course to the extent that the most popular CCM (which, as of Thursday night, means in addition to Heath, Steven Curtis Chapman, Natalie Grant and 10th Avenue North) often feels like one-off copies of their slicker secular cousins, contemporary Christian music testifies in its own way to the poverty of imagination afflicting mainstream American music at large. I mean, “Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone”? It’s got a great chorus that could have been the core of a really neat song, but as it is, the song is nothing more than a famous hymn with a related idea tacked on to the original. That’s not songwriting. That’s editing.

Put in terms of Thursday night’s show: if GMA was trying to show its audiences that Christian music can be just as preoccupied as mainstream American music with optics and image at the expense of musical and stylistic seriousness, then the 40th annual Doves was a success. Most performances (including Larnelle Harris doing “I Go to the Rock,” the Blind Boys of Alabama finale, and Natalie Grant mangling singing of … something) were notable for being oversung and overproduced - like people who talk really fast and wave their arms a lot thinking that will distract you from their lack of preparation or ability.

The best moment to my biased ear was Reba Rambo McGuire, her husband, and her daughter doing “Mama’s Teaching Angels How to Sing.” Every record label person from southern and country gospel in the Opry Thursday should have sat up and started taking notes and then beat a hot path to sign the New Rambos. Aside from singing quite well and reminding us how all the more lovely close harmony sounds alongside so much disharmonious music, the Rambos simply stood and sang magnificently.

Save forHeath, Mercy Me and a few fleeting seconds of Francesca Battistelli, the rest was noise to me (poor Sandi Patty struggled with the hacked up, truncated version of “We Shalle Behold Him” she had to sing). This is as much about the disconnect between southern gospel and the rest of Christian music as anything else, I imagine, but I go to this show every year really hoping that this will be the year I walk away gobsmacked. And this is the kind of anticipation GMA really ought to want (and be able) to reward.

Instead, GMA seems really preoccupied with race. Judging by the choice of awards given on the main show (urban gospel was the only subcategory song of the year not given out at the preshow), the constant stream of cringe-inducing jokes about race delivered by ebony-and-ivory style presenter pairings (like one of the non-Alec Baldwin brothers and Kirk Franklin bantering about black and white sheep of families),  and the regularly looping ad during commercial breaks for a (black) gospel choir video extravaganza, GMA seems to think that

a)if you have a black comedian host the preshow and feature several racially diverse presenters in between a healthy mix of “traditional” and “urban” (again, this is GMA vernacular) performances, no one will notice that no non-white performers won a major award;

b)”traditional” gospel and “urban” audiences  are where the future of Christian music is headed demographically; or

c)some unparsable mixture of these two contradictions.

I floated this thesis by an industry friend of mine, and he said I was giving GMA too much credit. He told me about how the GMA office couldn’t locate the contact information of a 15-year member of GMA (whose name you’d immediately recognize) when they needed to reach him about some logistical question regard his nomination, but had no trouble finding him when they wanted to cold-call this multi-Dove award winning songwriter to ask if he’d like to attend the Estes Park Songwriting  School - as  a paying student. Oh my.  (Another piece of weirdness is how EHSSQ has been up for several big awards the last few years and yet are never on the roster of performers or presenters … indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen them there … maybe under Ed Leonard’s regime, GMA will do a better job of featuring the artists nominated from the sg part of the world.)

Anyway, if Sinbad hosts next year’s awards, then something good may yet come of all this race weirdness. He was genuinely, naturally funny - the kind of showmanship so few artists and other talent seem to have.  And as any good student of southern gospel must surely know, it’s the good moments and bright spots you learn to look for.

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  1. Harry Peters wrote:

    Too bad the comedian for next year’s Dove awards needs to be black. Old Harry Peters believes Gallagher, the comedian who smashes watermelons with the giagantic sledge hammer would look good juxtiposed with the princess with the bazooka. [edit]

  2. onoagogo wrote:

    The fact that you gave a negative comments about Natalie Grant, and a positive one about Reba Rambo, makes me totally tune out the rest.

    Talent wise, their is NO comparsion.

    and on a side note, Mary Mary is probably the most immodest duo I’ve ever witnessed. Just looked at their pics on myspace, and their is more clevage than a Victorias secret catalog.
    Wheres the morality today?

  3. LW wrote:

    Just wanted to say that if you like Reba and Donnie’s version of “Mamma’s teaching Angels how to sing, you should hear the Isaacs do this song. On the chorus if you close your eyes I can almost think it’s Dottie, Buck and Reba themselves singing this song again. It’s stellar!

  4. onlygodknows wrote:

    Well for once I’d have to agree with many of your comments of April 22, 23 & 25. Tell it!

  5. Stephen wrote:

    Ernie Haase & the boys sang on the Doves four years ago, I guess it was.

  6. Stephen wrote:

    Both Ernie & Karen Peck Gooch were booked on a Gaither date this week, BTW, or they would’ve definitely been invited to participate in the show.

  7. Ben Harris wrote:

    Les Beasley got a good thing going when he started the Doves. I wonder how many of the artists the night of the awards knew even who Les Beasley is???

  8. Lisa wrote:

    EH&SSQ were here the night of the Doves, and I was in the audience.
    So were Karen Peck & New River.

    I TiVo’d the Doves to watch later, and listened to the different genres with rather more pleasure than dismay.

    Contemporary Christian Music is supposed to be CONTEMPORARY music, and that will slice across all genres, I would think. While some folks, the author of this blog included, will fuss and fume grumpishly about the “copycat” nature of some music, the truth of the matter is: We as Christians are not supposed to shun the world. We’re to be IN it, but not OF it.

    If Christ had been born in China rather than in Bethlehem, it’s a safe bet he’d have spoken Chinese. If the Gospel is to be taken out, especially to the young–it’s going to have to be in a genre they will engage with. Sorry, but that’s true.

    I get as much out of Kirk Franklin, Israel Houghton, and Seventh Day Slumber as I do Bill Gaither & Steven Curtis Chapman–who, I believe, gave one of the most moving performances of the night.

  9. Robert wrote:

    I saw prejudice in a different way. It seemed that anyone close to SG had a soundman that was asleep, while everyone else had a soundman who was on top of it. Or maybe it was that SG artists are used to singing on the same system every week and CCM artists are not? Not that I really care, just making an observation.

  10. Randy wrote:

    If a CCM artist is copying a secular cousin, how does that make their genre worse than SG, who has been copying itself for the last 60 years?
    To me, the genre’s popularity increased with groups like the Goodmans, Hinsons, and Crabbs, and I guarantee that if you judge by album sales, you will find that the outside-the-typical artists (although despised by much SG fans) were outselling anyone because of their originality. But, I’m sure you would compare those artists to ’secular’ cousins as well in country music or wherever.
    Although I do not agree with everything you write, I see nothing wrong with criticizing a performance or album or artist. However, you do seem to be stuck in a box, musically, and that is fine. SG is your thing. I would highly recommend, though, that you do not criticize a genre you know very little about (as you have noted). Stick with NQC and all the little politically pushed award shows within the SG genre.
    The Doves aren’t your game, and neither are they to the majority of your readers.

  11. rglaser wrote:

    From a front-row seat within my living room the Doves lacked luster in my opinion. Performances were poor throughout the night except for Heath, MercyMe and I enjoyed the New Rambos, they sounded the best of the SG performers by far.
    Steven Curtis brought it all together. Besides a few highlights scattered through-out the evening it was lacking, at least from my seat.

  12. Lilypad wrote:

    I waded through the Dove Awards. I really believe the Dottie Rambo tribute was a miss. When Sandi Patty was introduced they mentioned her history and importance and flashed a few photos. Going by memory I only saw one photo of Dottie. I must say it felt odd to see Reba and Dony McGuire as part of the Dottie Rambo segment as I haven’t seen them in public settings with her in over ten years or more. I assume the heavy set girl who sang with them was their daughter? Maybe the producer was unable to get someone top teir and that is why they asked Reba and Dony. I don’t believe they have released any new music in years and their career never actually set any fields on fire. David Phelps’s versions of If that Isn’t Love or Behold The Lamb would have been so beautiful and you can’t deny that he can outsing the two of them anyday. Also I don’t get the attire it seems every Reba does of recent times is so dark, coal black hair, dark clothing and she reminds me of Mortia on the Adam’s Family and Dony looked as if he is really ill and very frail. It all seemed out of place to me. To agree with another poster The Isaacs sang this song with Dottie Rambo and once you hear their version you can see why they would have been a better choice. I think family relation shouldn’t be a factor. I really don’t believe that if the Doves were doing a tribute to Mylon LeFevre they would fill obligated to have Eva Mae sing Without Him.

  13. LIZ MORRIS wrote:

    can you please tell me who wrote and sang look away mama. it was my grandmother’s favorite song and i cannot find any info on it any where. thank you

  14. Bryce wrote:

    LIZ, according to a site I found, called Google:

    “Look Away Mama” (Danny Sampson/Ruby Vanoy) Careers BMG Music/Regent Music BMI

    Wendy Bagwell And The Sunliters (1975 The Spirit In ‘76)

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