From the Y Crate: Keoni

From the Y Crate #2:

“Keoni” by KEONI (Word)

One accusation frequently levelled at the Christian music industry is that it’s obsessed with finding “safe” equivalents of whoever’s big on the mainstream music scene. There’s some truth in that (you only have to listen to a lot of Christian music to see it), but there is one artist who’s always eluded the Nash Vegas copyists. As much as it’s tried, CCM has never been able to deliver a Christian Prince. Yeah, I know – we’ve got Tonex. But he isn’t really, is he? Topic for a separate debate, I guess.

Anyway, before Tonex, the closest Christian music got to a Prince soundalike was Keoni (and the fact that you’ve just read that sentence and said “Keoni who?” proves how successful he was).  This dude was funky and rocky in equal measure. Just listen to his cover of Sly & the Family Stone’s ‘You Can Make It’ that kicked off his self-titled debut album – man, what a punch! The album even had a couple of members of the New Power Generation playing on it. He could have been a contender…

Of course I have my own theories as to why Keoni wasn’t a hit. Keoni’s androgynous look on the photographs in the CD booklet can’t have helped matters much; they must have given conservative churchgoers – ccm’s core buying public – a major case of the heebie-jeebies. But Cross Rhythms magazine’s review best sums up the album’s undoing: “An intriguing album, though I have my doubts whether it’s a particularly commercial one.”


From the Y Crate: Stephen Simmonds

From the Y Crate, #1:

“Get Down” by STEPHEN SIMMONDS (Diesel)

I was in my first year at uni when this gem was released late in 1998, and GLR (my favourite station at the time) had it in heavy rotation.

Given GLR’s slightly elitist bent, that’s probably one reason it wasn’t a hit… but the mad conspiracy theorist in me has another. He reckons the powers that be felt the British public could only cope with one black Swedish soul singer at a time. And since Eagle-Eye Cherry already had that gig, Steve had to take the fall. Sad, really, ‘cos it was a cool tune – driven by a groove kind of reminiscent of Omar in his more esoteric moments (and there were times when Stephen’s voice reminded you of Omar too).

I got to interview Stephen at the time this single was released, and found him to be quite a wise, level-headed bloke – impressions that were confirmed when I then saw him sing live at Sound in Leicester Square. I hope he’s still making music, because we need more free spirits like his around.

Bad Quality: A Worthy Price for a Good Message?

Back in April, I met two of the guys responsible for one of the biggest surprises Hollywood has had in recent years.

Jim McBride and Stephen Kendrick are members of Sherwood Baptist in Albany, a small town in Georgia. This is the church that’s rattled the movie industry by racking up huge box office and DVD figures for their films Flywheel and Facing the Giants – films made entirely using volunteers with no experience of either acting or filmmaking. Last week, Sherwood Baptist hit the headlines again; their latest film, Fireproof, took over $6m in its opening weekend and debuted at Number 4 in the US Box Office Top 10.

When I met them in April, Jim (Sherwood’s ‘Executive Pastor’ – whatever that means – and executive producer of their films) and Steve (who co-writes the films with his brother Alex, who also directs them) explained to me that their aim with their films was “to love on people and give them a good message”, and that their instruction to their amateur cast whilst filming is “Don’t aim for an Oscar or try to be professional; just be yourself.”

The general sentiment I’m getting from friends in the US who’ve seen Fireproof is that it’s okay but not great – but that anyway, that shouldn’t matter because “the message is good.” They’ll complain about the film’s acting and writing being bad, but then say it’s still worth seeing because of what it has to say about marriage.

This is the bit that bothers me. As a kid, it was kind of implied that the more horrible food tasted, the better it was for me, and in the Christian circle, a similar logic seems to apply to works of art: “It’s not great, but it’s got a good message.” Well, similar but different. The food wasn’t bad; I just didn’t like it – although as an adult, I actually quite like green vegetables now. But a lot of so-called “Christian” art is simply just bad – and we’re meant to overlook that because of what it has to say. I’ve wasted enough of my life listening to awful music, reading crappy books and getting chronic bum-ache sitting through terrible plays, films or whatever, then being told to suck it up because “the message is good” (every Gospel singer who’s ever said “Don’t listen to my voice; listen to the words” – I’m talking about you!). Is it too much to ask to have both good quality and a good message?

I’m not saying any of this to have a go at Sherwood. Jim and Steve proved to be really nice blokes when I met them (they even prayed for me – not everyone I interview does that!) and the indie kid within me jumps up and down with unbridled joy whenever some maverick becomes successful without Babylon’s permission (yes, I know Sherwood’s films are distributed by Sony. But Sony came to them, rather than the other way round). When I spoke to Jim and Steve, they complained about the poor quality of other Christian films, and one comment that’s been made by many critics about theirs is that the quality has improved with each new one they’ve made. So maybe there’s hope. Just don’t mention Sunday School Musical to me…

Well, here goes nothing…

So, after years of fighting it, I’ve finally caved in and started my own blog. And here’s the crazy part: I still haven’t got a clue as to what it’ll be about!

That’s actually one of the reasons I haven’t had one for so long. Yes, I’ve posted the odd note on facebook and stuck a couple of pieces on Myspace, but not on a regular basis. Even now, I’m not so sure why I’m starting this one (I think I’ve already said that). I don’t want to become one of those people who has to write something about every little thing that happens and post it on the “woo” (© Fonejacker) for everyone to read. Opinions, someone once said, are like noses: everyone has one, and they all smell (I think I’ve heard someone say the same thing about another part of the anatomy – nuff said). Maybe this could be the Seinfeld of blogs – a blog about nothing!

Naah, I’m sure I’ll think of lots of things to blog about. It’s just beginner’s nerves getting the better of me right now. So do come back again sometime, and there’ll be plenty of musings, ventings and general ramblings by me up here for your perusal.

Here goes nothing…