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.Email this Post