Talking with Christians over the years, I’ve found that many people are content to listen to music that doesn’t project their biblical values because they claim Christian music just doesn’t compare—stylistically, rhythmically and qualitatively.
It’s an impression rooted in the awkward adolescent years of the industry, for sure. But things have changed.
You’d be surprised how many people have no idea what’s out there when it comes to Christian music—they still think the album selections and artists and styles have been frozen since 1994. So that’s why this column exists: to take the hot, chart-topping mainstream artists of the day and offer a valuable alternative.
Certainly, not everyone will always agree with my comparisons, and truth be told, we’re comparing apples and oranges. The artists mentioned in this column are artists in their own right, and they’re recognized because of their superior artistry. It’s my hope that through this, people discover new artists who will bring them closer to Jesus with positive messages.
Curious about a comparison? Want to ask me something in this vein? Shoot an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
GAVIN DEGRAW & JIMMY NEEDHAM
In 2003, the hit WB show “One Tree Hill” chose a soulful song from an unknown singer-songwriter from Upstate New York named Gavin DeGraw. That big break introduced the world to DeGraw’s unique brand of jazzy pop songs.
Since his smash debut, Chariot
--which contained “I Don’t Want to Be” as well as other hits “Chariot” and “Follow Through”--DeGraw’s soulful voice has produced a platinum-selling record, and four Gold-certified singles.
It’s been a few years since DeGraw has had a significant presence on the radio, but his latest album, Sweeter
, seems to be something of a comeback for DeGraw. The album’s first single, the Ryan Tedder-produced “Not Over You” already has been certified Platinum in the U.S.--DeGraw’s first single to achieve that designation.
, which released last September, only has released two singles thus far, and one of them--”Not Over You”--still remains No. 2 on the Adult Pop Songs Billboard chart.
DeGraw’s lyrical content often centers on the good, bad and ugly of relationships, from the ultimating “Follow Through” to the New Age anthem of the film Tristan & Isolde
“We Belong Together” (the lyrics declare the couple is “wedded by the planet force”), to the infatuated happy song “In Love With a Girl.”
DeGraw deviates sometimes from the romantic themes, though, such as on the drunkenness- and marijuana-glorifying “Chemical Party” and with the cryptic nature references of “Chariot.”
But for the most part, he sticks to the ladies. Other song titles communicate this trend: “More than Anyone”, “Crush”, “Just Friends”, “She Holds a Key”, “Young Love”, “Cheated on Me”, “Lover Be Strong” and “Stay.” Rolling Stone says the songs from DeGraw’s latest “are tinged with cringe-worthy bromides and painful ‘sexy talk.’”
If you’re looking for the soul-pop without the tired, old carousel of romantic relationships, it’s definitely worth giving Jimmy Needham
Immediately, listeners are captivated by the production quality, the brilliant songwriting and the uncommonly good vocals in Needham’s albums. Needham has an overall smoother and more pleasing soul sound than DeGraw and Jason Mraz, another mainstream soul-pop artist.
Although Needham has repeatedly listed DeGraw as one of his musical influences, his approach and focus is completely different. In a 2008 interview, he said, “If music—especially Christian music—doesn't either cause me to repent or worship, then I don't know why I'm listening to it.”
Fans of DeGraw would find much to love on Needham’s 2010 release, Nightlights. DeGraw-esque highlights include “Being Small”
(a song about God-borne humility), “Moving to Zion”
(about finding one’s home in Jesus), “Yours to Take”
(a declarative statement of commitment to God), “Part the Clouds”
(a song about sharing Christ) and “Miss a Thing”
(about having a heart for people in a broken world).
You quickly see the subject matter is much deeper and much more varied than DeGraw’s. Audiences are taking notice--even listeners who love Needham’s sound but aren’t necessarily fans of Christianity.
“We’ve heard from plenty of people that really dig my stuff and they don’t know anything about Christ,” Needham says. “I want to reach the unchurched so I’m glad my music and lyrics are able to connect with anyone.”
For a soulful, ear-pleasing artist who beats secular counterparts at their own game while on a mission to move listeners, spiritually, check out Jimmy Needham.
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