Listening Closer: The Power of Particularity, Part Two – Dustin Kensrue

“Of Crowns and Crows” may not reach the heights of artistry, but it’s real. It’s human. And most unusual of all, it’s a testimony of fidelity and constancy.

Listening Closer: The Power of Particularity, Part One – Josh Garrels

When I hear Garrels sing so fervently, he lifts up timeworn images and reinvests them with passion. As far as that goes, it’s a noble endeavor. But, speaking for myself, I want to hear something more than passion—I want to hear personality. I want to hear some threads in the tapestry that come from the loom of his own experience and imagination.

Listening Closer: Raised from the Shadows, Belle and Sebastian’s Resurrection Song

For Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian, the story has been similar—he’s found, in testifying of his struggles, the inspiration for art that meets people in the suffering and gives them confidence, joy, and reason to hope.

Listening Closer: In the Falling Dark, Bruce Cockburn Prays for Fire

In “Lord of the Starfields,” Bruce Cockburn lifts up a prayer that we might find the faith and hope to live redemptively in a world that brings so many down.

Listening Closer: I Have a Dream of Election-Season Peace

Election season is on us again. Can music help us keep the peace?

Listening Closer: Bettye LaVette Steals a Great Song Back From Madonna

Sometimes a cover version of a song reveals that different artists discover new possibilities, new interpretations, new insights in borrowed material. And sometimes it makes you wonder if the performer ever really listened to the words that they were singing.

Listening Closer: St. Vincent, Sufjan, and the Mothers That Made Them

Through the music of St. Vincent and Sufjan Stevens, we might also come to appreciate our own parents—their successes, their failures, their sacrifices, their scars.

Listening Closer: “Let It Go” Syndrome and the Hadestown Musical Cure

Both “Let It Go” and “Why We Build the Wall” depict people responding poorly to negative situations; believing their actions will keep them safe, they become, in fact, imprisoned.

Listening Closer: How to Be Uncool, Songs We Dare to Love

It’s important to highly prioritize critical discernment and humility when we talk about music, movies, books, and other aesthetic experiences. God calls us to excellence, but that doesn’t stop him from using anything available to break open hearts so they are better able to receive him.

Listening Closer: When Bands Sing At (Not To) Their Audiences

“A Singer Addresses His Audience” sounds to me like an artist declaring no allegiance to listeners who are focused only on surface details, patiently reminding them that the real call is to be true to a vision, to climb a mountain toward something timeless rather than trendy.

Listening Closer: Sleater-Kinney and Paying the Price of Hard Times

Sleater-Kinney’s “Price Tag” traces out the vicious economic cycle and our role in creating and perpetuating it.

Listening Closer: Giddens, Tharpe, and a Musical Communion

Community is what draws me to artists who focus on something besides themselves, who seek to respect the greatness that has inspired them and to give new, lasting life to occasions of beauty, vision, and excellence. That’s what draws me to Rhiannon Giddens. To Sam Phillips. To Sister Rosetta.

Listening Closer: Prayer Songs, Our MP3 Liturgies

Through the practice of those songs, I absorbed them. They would come to me in hard times and times of celebration, and I would pray them aloud. What’s more, when I sang I felt an exhilarating surrender of my immediate burdens and concerns, and a sense of connection to something larger than myself.

Listening Closer: Prayer Songs, D’Angelo and Andrae Crouch

Listening Closer: Breaking Up is Hard to Sing, Our Favorite Breakup Songs

In a sequence of thirteen songs, Sam Phillips was telling us the story of a marriage. And it took me to pieces, song by song.

Listening Closer: Breaking Up is Hard to Sing, Björk’s “Stonemilker”

You can follow a whole narrative in this song, and a fuller story throughout the album: the dawning realization of a lover’s despair and fear of death; the frustration in trying to reconcile differences, and getting no help.