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“The Skeptics Sing” is an occasional feature here at The Persistence of Song.  Posts in this category will highlight music with an explicitly unbelieving worldview.  Analyzing these songs will prove helpful in understanding unbelief.  The first installment of the series focused on a track from a new Wilco album.  Read a general description of the series, as well as the first installment, here.

This edition of “The Skeptics Sing” features one of my favorite albums of the year by one of my favorite new artists of the year.  The Head and the Heart is a Seattle-based folk-pop group.  The band has garnered some attention on public radio stations, with both “Down in the Valley” and “Lost in Mind” receiving significant radio play.

The songs from the band’s self-titled debut album are not hostilely inimical to the Christian faith.  Rather, the motif of unbelief on The Head and the Heart correlates maturation with the loss of faith.  Three tracks in particular demonstrate this theme.

“Cats And Dogs” and “Couer D’alene” are a sort of musical portmanteau.  The former is brief and segues carefully into the longer “Couer D’alene.”  Here’s a good quality live version.

“Ghosts” is the third track on the album.  It’s as catchy as the albums first two tracks, though with a bit of a sinister minor key.  Here’s a live version from the same studio session as the last clip.

The growing-up themes are readily apparent in these three songs.

–        “My roots are grown, but I don’t know where they are.”

–        “Oh the songs people will sing for home / And for the ones that have been gone for too long”

–        “People say, ‘I knew you when you were six years old.’ / But I’ve changed.”

Sprinkled in these songs are two interesting remarks about faith.  In “Couer D’alene,” the speaker asks, “What will become of these gestures we’ve made?  I’ve given up my Bible; you moved out of state.”  And in “Ghosts,” we hear, “When Mary moved all of her *stuff* to Chicago, her mother made sure that she left with her Bible, but you won’t find her face on Sundays.”

In these lyrics, we hear accounts of growing out of the faith.  People grow up and grow apart from what they once confessed to believe.  A commonly referenced scenario is that of the church-going teenager, who in his college days forsakes the faith. 

Several reasons are commonly enlisted to explain this departure.  The apostates were unprepared for the philosophical and other intellectual challenges common at secular universities.  The legitimization of other worldviews causes them to question the legitimacy of their own.  The charm of debauchery leads some to disassociate themselves from the gospel.

These attempted explanations, though well-meaning, present only proximate causes of apostasy.  In reality, the true cause of young adult un-conversion is the lack of genuine conversion in the first place.  The antagonistic naturalistic professor (or party scene, or popular pluralism) gives deceived unbelievers the opportunity to realize their unbelief.       

This distinction has the appearance of triviality, but it is crucial in how we counsel the outed unbeliever.  If our recourse is to arguments for God’s existence or behavior modification, then we only deal with proximate causes and only treat symptoms. 

We need to exercise some narrative-control.  Perhaps, instead of treating them like they are growing out of or apart from the faith, we should question whether they have even been born for a second time (John 3:3).

Children are a great gift! I’m blessed to have two happy and healthy little ones, who were big babies at birth (both over 9 pounds!). However, several friends of mine have children who faced complications because of premature birth. Knowing what they went through has led me to be more active in March of Dimes this year.

I hope you will participate this year, as well.  Through The Persistence of Song, I want to offer you an easy way to be involved – the Music for the March series.

Posts in the Music for the March series will feature a collection of Amazon MP3 albums.  Purchase any MP3 album between now and September 23rd, and I’ll donate ALL of my Amazon Affiliate commission (which is 10% of the album cost, up to $1.50) to March of Dimes.  You can follow my fundraising efforts (and make other contributions) here.

This week’s collection consists of my candidates for the 53rd Grammy Awards (to be held in February).  One of my most visited entries on this blog is this post, which featured a few mid-year Grammy predictions.  Click any of the links below to contribute to March of Dimes by purchasing the album.  Checkout the YouTube clips to see if the albums are up your alley.

Album of the Year

Adele, 21 Adele (who happens to share my last name) has the voice of an old-soul, and 21 is a great production, with, imagine this, real instruments!

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Alternative Rock Album of the Year

My Morning Jacket, Circuital I cannot write coherently about Circuital without teenage-girl gushing.  The album’s title track has no serious competition for best rock song of the year.

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Best New Artist/Best Contemporary Folk Album  

The Civil Wars, Barton Hallow If anything, we should all rally behind them to keep Bon Iver (pronounce that like your French) and their prating falsettos at bay in the Folk Album category.

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Best Bluegrass Album  

Gillian Welch, The Harrow & the Harvest Ten tracks of minimalist, newgrass excellence.  It will be difficult for this album to win the bluegrass category, since the Academy plans to rename the award, “the Allison Kraus Award for Excellence in Bluegrass.”

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Albums that Deserve a Nomination

Abigail Washburn, City of Refuge, for Best Bluegrass Album.

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The Head and the Heart, The Head and the Heart, for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

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King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Diamond Mine, for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

I have a strategic plan for my daughter’s participation in music.  Guitar-playing daddy needs a proficient, live-in piano player.  We are in the stage of the strategic plan in which I’m seeking to develop her love for music in general.

We sang to Riley, instinctively, from the beginning.  Unfortunately for her, the earliest songs she heard me sing were diaper parodies like “Stinker-ma-rinky-dink, stinker ma-rinky-doo, I smell you.”  Mommy came to Riley’s rescue by singing hymns and nursery rhymes for comfort.

Singing became one of our most effective consoling strategies.  On two- or three-hour commutes to our parents’ homes, we tried to hold off as long as possible before offering renditions of hymns, for which we could remember the lyrics.

Riley loves when I play the guitar around her.  Of course, the appeal to her is “helping” (that is, an excuse to drop guitar picks in the sound hole).  She doesn’t know yet, that the guitar routine is an exercise in bait-in-switch.  Someday, she will want to learn to play guitar; I will require her to learn the piano first.

Randall Goodgame and Andrew Peterson’s Slugs, Bugs, and Lullabies album was my daughter’s gateway drug to other forms of listening pleasure.  Confession:  I like it as much, if not more than, my daughter does.  It’s the perfect mix of songs for children, offering rudimentary biblical instruction, assuring children of their parents’ love, encouraging them to play, and evoking their laughter.

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Somewhere along the way, Riley developed an insatiable love for the Jackson 5.  So, we frequent the best of album in the car, and a favorite evening treat is getting down to this classic performance.  And, yes, this two-left-footed, pop-music-hating geek tries out a few moves, too.

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Recently, I realized the need to shape my daughter’s impressionable musical preferences (or I’ll be rocking out the Jackson 5 for the rest of my life).  I may have been inspired by this Bill Simmons column--where he, a lifelong Boston Celtics fan, teaches his daughter to dislike the Los Angeles Lakers (perhaps, with reprehensible pedagogical strategies).  So, enter The Head and the Heart.  We’ve added “Lost in My Mind” to our YouTube playlist, and Daddy puts on his best sales pitch before we listen to it.

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I hope to pique my daughter’s interest in good music, but I also shamelessly admit that I want to steer her preferences.  By modeling excitement in quality music, I hope to preempt interest in womanizing, “gangsta” rap.

However, greater goals than making her a musician or influencing her tastes compel my musical interactions with my daughter.  My greatest musical aspiration for my daughter is that she will join me in the great multitude, singing, “Hallelujah! For the Lord, our God, the Almighty reigns” (Revelation 19:6).

To that end, I hope this final clip is a preview of coming attractions.

When calendars flip from June to July, many music critics mark the occasion with a “best-of-the-year” discussion.  My favorite mid-year recap is from NPR’s All Songs Considered.

I’ll join the mid-year music foray with some premature Grammy predictions.  I’m only prognosticating for categories I care about (sorry).  Note: the eligibility period for the 54th Grammy Awards, to be held February 12, 2012, is October 1, 2010, through September 30, 2011.

Album of the Year:  Adele, 21.

I’m tempted to exaggerate this year’s Album of the Year competition as a battle for the soul of the music industry.  Lady Gaga’s Born this Way will garner some consideration; it’s had too much publicity and radio play to avoid a nomination.

But if Gaga can meat-dress her way to Album of the Year, it will be at the expense of a truly great album.  Adele (who happens to share my last name) has the voice of an old-soul, and 21 is a great production, with, imagine this, real instruments!

I’m hopeful that The Recording Academy will get this one right.  They were brave enough to give Album of the Year in 2009 to Allison Kraus and Robert Plant and in 2011 to Arcade Fire.  It will take less courage in 2012 to get it right. [More of Adele’s music at Amazon]

Alternative Rock Album of the Year:  My Morning Jacket, Circuital

It’s time to make things right.  MMJ has been making great records for years, and I cannot write coherently about Circuital without teenage-girl gushing.  Perhaps, some hometown karma (figuratively speaking) is what their Grammy candidacy needed.  Much of the album was recorded in a church gymnasium—air condition-less, mind you—in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Alternative Rock Album of the Year” is a strange Grammy category.  One would think that the moniker “Alternative” would imply experimentation or innovation in the music.  But, no, it essentially means “less well-known.”  So, I guess MMJ gets the nod for Alternative Rock Album of the Year and holds off competition from Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Lonely Forest.  I’m prepared to shrug my shoulders if All Time Low or Foo Fighters walks away with award.

My Morning Jacket’s Circuital deserves the token obscure-nomination for Album of the Year (e.g., Arcade Fire last year), but since the token obscure-nomination actually won last year, the Academy may discontinue that practice!  [More My Morning Jacket music at Amazon]

Awards that The Civil Wars Should Win:  Best New Artist, Best Contemporary Folk Album

Theoretically, I love The Civil Wars; in reality, I acknowledge and respect them.  I understand how so many aficionados gravitate toward their music, but they’re not for me.  It’s me, The Civil Wars, not you.  Caveat aside, they deserve some hardware.  If anything, we should all rally behind them to keep Bon Iver (pronounce that like your French) and their prating falsettos at bay in the Folk Album category. [More The Civil Wars music at Amazon]

Best Bluegrass Album:  Gillian Welch, The Harrow & the Harvest

Eight years have passed since Gillian Welch and musical partner Dave Rawlings released Soul Journey, and those eight years of sowing yielded one spectacular crop of songs.  The Harrow & the Harvest is ten tracks of minimalist, newgrass excellence.  What’s amazing about the album is that Welch and Rawlings left some good material on the cutting floor. For instance, this clever and catchy tune, presumably entitled, “Knuckleball Catcher” did not make the album.

Bluegrass Album of the Year is notoriously difficult to land.  The Academy has neither confirmed nor denied plans to rename the category the “Allison Kraus Award for Excellence in Bluegrass.”  And, each year, larger country acts like to swoop in with a bluegrass effort (this year:  Dierks Bentley).  My choice of Welch is probably less of a prediction and more of a prescription, but here’s to hoping![More Gillian Welch music on Amazon]

Lesser-knowns that I’m Pulling For

Here are some under-the-radar types that deserve the acknowledgement of a nomination.

  • The Head and the Heart, The Head and the Heart, for Best Contemporary Folk Album.  Just beautiful music.  It’s a reissued album, so I’m not sure if it will be eligible.  [More The Head and the Heart music at Amazon]
  • King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Diamond Mine, for Best Contemporary Folk Album.  This album is the best I’ve heard this year, but it certainly will not get a nomination for Album of the Year.  It would be an accomplishment to even get a Folk Album nomination.  But there’s no more significant album for me in 2011:  I will always associate it with my dad, who passed away in March.  [More King Creosote & Jon Hopkins music at Amazon]

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