I love music that hits me in different ways. Sometimes I stumble upon something that instrumentally is so breath-taking, I just have to stop everything I’m doing and let the sounds wrap around my mind. It’s a wonderful experience I think we all can relate to. There’s other times that a song impacts me in more of an intellectual way. I hear a lyric that really hits my ear and my mind and I begin listening to it more closely. Suddenly I realize the song is about something I didn’t realize originally. There are often messages or themes in songs that can be hidden behind instrumentation, like a secret tucked away to be discovered by those careful enough to search for it. This kind of music makes me ponder.
One artist certainly included in this collection is Joshua James. He’s a songwriter that can be marginalized at times (or accused of) for being anti-American. I don’t hear that when I listen to his songs. I hear an honest critique of our values versus our history as Americans. We can’t deny the brutality of some of our own history, and some of the injustice. What I’m referring to mostly here is the removal of a native people from land that their families had settled on for centuries prior to colonization and American expansion. It’s a very dark part of our history that we need to be honest about. Some of that darkness shows itself in subtle places still. That’s what I hear in James’ songs. Perhaps that darkness troubles him as well and music is a way for him to try and process it.
One of Joshua James’ songs that hit me in a profound way is a track called Lovers Without Love, found on his album The Sun Is Always Brighter. There are a lot of elements to the song, even just the layering of the lyrics. All in all it’s a dissertation on America’s culture versus its professed values. In the second verse he states
its the world we’ve made and living in
of greed lust and poverty,
of war and pride, teen suicide,
and lovers without love like me
We’ve made the world we live in. Yet our culture wants to blame its problems on someone else. So some songwriters try to call out for something better, instead of pointing the finger in blame, shame, and hate at others. An honest assessment of where people have gone wrong is such a refreshing take on life, especially in a culture and society that looks for someone to blame at every opportunity. Another songwriter I’ll feature in this series is Tracy Chapman, whose track Unsung Psalm does just this, giving a very honest and personal audit to her own life. I say honest, because with lyrics like
If this is a dream wake me up now
If this is a movie let’s edit these scenes out
It would be a PG instead of an X-rated life
If I’d lived right
you know she’s being as real as she can. The track is about trying to do what’s right, but admitting that’s easier said than done. There’s no blame in this song, just a sincere account that not everything has been pure and clean, that good intentions sometimes end there, but either way there are no regrets.
I hope that at the very least you’ll be interested in digging through some of these artists deeper songbooks and discovering some music you might not have heard before, or at least not the same way.