Danny Duncan Collum 05-04-2016
Peter Case

Peter Case

HIGHWAY 62 runs from Niagara Falls, N.Y., to El Paso, Texas, and is the only U.S. highway to connect Canada and Mexico. In my home state of Kentucky, it passes the Wild Turkey distillery at Lawrenceburg and the state maximum security penitentiary at Eddyville.

Further north it takes you to Buffalo, N.Y., the hometown of roots music singer-songwriter Peter Case. That’s why he picked HWY 62 as the title for his latest album, a collection that can be taken as a sort of “state of the nation” recording. The Christian Science Monitor even said that the album “plays like a John Steinbeck novel set to music.” And they have a point. Most of the album’s 11 songs are peopled with prisoners and deportees, the evicted and the gentrified, and other 21st-century American outcasts.

Unlike many folkie populists, Case comes by his sympathy for the down-and-out honestly, if a little foolishly. Back on that lost planet that was the1970s, he dropped out of high school to become a musician and eventually landed on the streets of San Francisco, hungry, homeless, and frequently drunk. This part of Case’s life is covered unsparingly in the blog/memoir that he keeps at, some of which has become a book, As Far as You Can Get Without a Passport.

After a near-miss with the poppish-punk band The Nerves, Case got his ticket to the music business punched with The Plimsouls, whose hit, “A Million Miles Away,” was one of the high-water marks of jangly 1980s New Wave rock. But then, just before he could become really rich and famous, Case’s contrarian streak reasserted itself. He left the band and started what now looks to be the rest of his life as a singer-songwriter who sometimes records with the likes of T Bone Burnett and Ry Cooder, but most often performs solo with his own acoustic guitar and harmonica.

the Web Editors 04-29-2016
Image via Flickr.

The month of May is littered with important anniversaries in movements for justice — beginning on May 1, the day of recognition for workers and laborers everywhere. Take a listen. Got a favorite song for justice? Share below — and in the meantime, enjoy these tunes.

Karen Pulfer Focht 04-28-2016

Image via Karen Pulfer Focht / RNS

Tucked away just off a rocky road is a small community of women who have chosen to retreat from the world and spend their days working in silence — except for when they are singing sacred music.

They are cloistered nuns, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Their days consist of prayer, work, and song. And when they sing, people listen. Four albums have topped the charts. Their latest, “Adoration at Ephesus,” was issued April 26.

the Web Editors 04-26-2016

Photo via Kare11

Can your district representative sing? Because Peggy Flanagan sure can.

Flanagan, a representative of District 46A in Minnesota, took Minnesota's house floor with a moving vocal performance on the evening of April 25 to pay her respects to Prince Rogers Nelson, who passed away on April 21.

the Web Editors 04-21-2016

While Prince's musical and theatrical talent is widley regarded, many may not know Prince was a deeply spiritual and religious man. Here are things to know about his faith life:

1. Prince grew up Seventh-day Adventist.

Prince, who was born Prince Rogers Nelson in 1958 in Minneapolis, used to be Seventh-day Adventist. 

the Web Editors 03-04-2016

Fresh off winning five Grammy awards for his album To Pimp a Butterfly, rapper Kendrick Lamar released eight new tracks on March 4 under the project name untitled unmastered.

These new tracks continue Kendrick's tradition of talking faith and politics, including his relationship with God. For example, a lyric from untitled 05 reads: "Why you want to see a good man with a broken heart?/Once upon a time I used to go to church and talk to God/Now I'm thinking to myself hollow tips is all I got."

Patrick Walls 03-02-2016

Image via Gungor Music.

"I'd say this album touches more on political issues. People are taking sides and drawing lines, tension is growing in all of the areas you mentioned and music has a unique way of speaking to those issues.

It can be natural to want to pull the reigns back or go back to what we know when things get tense, but we must keep moving forward; hold on to wisdom from our roots but know there is wisdom ahead as well."

Jonny 5 11-17-2015

Image via the author.

There we were, a group of political musicians, arm in arm, leading the populace. And we didn’t really know what to sing. The irony of the situation stuck with me. The power of our songs had gathered the people. But once the people gathered, where were the songs for that day's movements?

2008 was the year that most people got to know my group Flobots and our music, especially through the national release of Fight With Tools. 2008 was also a historic election year. Eight years later, as we prepare to release our album in 2016, the country is gearing up for another decisive election. And as division grows, some artists are singing out, and some movements are finding their refrains. This timing is significant.

When we look at the movements happening today, we see everyday people seeking to resist violence, racism, and destruction. We see raised voices crying out for transformation. It is critically important that they succeed. 

Jeffrey Salkin 10-09-2015
Emka74 /

Photo via Emka74 /

I never liked “Imagine.” I am not the only Jewish teacher who feels this way.

“Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too.”

Lennon was saying: Let’s get rid of nations; let’s get rid of religion; let’s get rid of the idea that there is something above me that is worth dying for, and that might even be worth killing for.

Let’s get rid of the passions that help us transcend ourselves. Maybe that’s why the melody of “Imagine” is so subdued — almost like sleepwalking.

“Imagine” is a dream, and not a very good one.

Danny Duncan Collum 09-23-2015
Ekaphon maneechot / Shutterstock

Ekaphon maneechot / Shutterstock 

AS KIDS, Wilner Baptiste (viola) and Kevin Sylvester (violin) might have been labeled classical music nerds. They played in the orchestra at their Fort Lauderdale, Fla. performing arts high school and went to college on full music scholarships. They have excelled in an insular and rarified world: one in which people devote hours every day to mastering the subtleties of antique and unforgiving instruments and the difficult repertoire left by the dead white guys. It’s a sphere peopled almost entirely by whites and Asians, and Baptiste and Sylvester are neither.

“Wil B” Baptiste and “Kev Marcus” Sylvester are Black Violin, a duo that fuses the thrilling virtuosity of the European classical world with the booty-shaking funk and street-level grace of hip-hop. In September they released their first major-label album, Stereotypes.

While these two young men were honing their chops in that high school orchestra, they were also typical turn-of-the-century hip-hop kids, tuned into the world of rap. After graduating from different colleges, the two got back together and worked the South Florida clubs, developing an act that involved playing classical-string covers of hip-hop hits.

I know, this whole hip-hop and classical thing sounds like a gimmick, and if I’d read about it before I heard these guys, I probably wouldn’t have been interested. It sounds too much like the prog-rock abominations of the 1970s, when rock operas and rock symphonies almost killed off rock and roll. But I was lucky enough to hear Black Violin live before I ever read about them. They were playing at a banquet honoring top academic achievers from historically black colleges and universities. It was the perfect pairing of artist and audience. Taking the stage backed by a live drummer and a deejay, Black Violin rocked the house with sophisticated sparkle.

Bobby Jones. Image via  / Shutterstock

I knew this was going to be a great trip. I did not know it would afford me a chance to scratch off the top item on my bucket list.

But when the iconic gospel singer Bobby Jones met with the band of international journalists I am traveling with on a fellowship from the East-West Center, he mentioned the song “Oh Happy Day” was so popular among his fans in Russia, Italy and Japan that he can’t get offstage there without singing it.

Was I really the only one present who knew the song, or was I just the most brave? I don’t know, but in a flash I was singing backup — badly —  to gospel music’s greatest on one of my favorite songs.
Jesse James DeConto 08-27-2015
Sam Hodges / United Methodist News Service / RNS

Adriana Campos, front left, is a youth band member at Christ’s Foundry United Methodist Church in Dallas who teaches guitar there on Sunday afternoons. Photo via Sam Hodges / United Methodist News Service / RNS

Dynamic, charismatic-style worship is a defining feature of Hispanic churches from evangelical to mainline to Catholic, and across the U.S. they are opening their own in-house music schools to train young people to lead them.

Where English-speaking music ministers might earn postsecondary degrees in worship arts or sacred music at more than 50 Christian colleges, Hispanic congregations are following in the footsteps of Pentecostal churches by raising up music and worship ministers from within, even if they can’t fret a guitar string.

Clara Rice Photography / RNS

Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell. Photo via Clara Rice Photography / RNS

Three years ago, when Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell took the stage at a Jewish vaudeville celebration and said he was going to sing in Yiddish, people laughed.

As a 6-foot-plus African-American with one golden earring, he just didn’t look like the typical Jew fluent in the language of the pre-World War II shtetl.

Then he opened his mouth. Out came a rich bass voice in a longing lament to the isolated villages and tiny homes left behind in places like Poland and Russia.

Think Fiddler on the Roof's “Anatevka” sung by a guy who looks more like Chris Rock than Zero Mostel.

Tripp Hudgins 07-31-2015
Wild Goose Festival participants

Wild Goose Festival participants, photo courtesy Tripp Hudgins

This summer I had the distinct privilege of being asked to serve as the Liturgical Coordinator for the Wild Goose Festival held in Hot Springs, N.C. The festival is a time and place of celebrating the “intersection of Spirit, Justice, Music, and the Arts” that began a few years ago. As such, liturgies abound. Some of them were rather traditional. The Episcopal tent, for example, held Compline services every night. They also broke out of the mold and hosted a songwriter circle and an agape feast. The Goose is like that. Ask the Methodists about the beer tent. Oh, and the Baptists had a coffee shop.

People break from the mold a little. There was a Eucharistic liturgy where a blacksmith literally hammered a rifle into a farm implement. It was an unusual Eucharist, to be sure, but beautiful.

Image via Sojo Sessions

Image via Sojo Sessions 

Lowland Hum, comprised of married folk duo Daniel and Lauren Goans, have emerged with their eponymous second album a stronger, more versatile, and possibly even more intimate musical pairing than their first album, Native Air. It's this sudden sense of fragility and uncertainty in the face of the next layer of intimacy — and the corresponding joy when the leap taken finds solid ground — that Lowland Hum brought to Sojourners' Summit. 

Watch the full Sojo Session here

Danny Duncan Collum 06-08-2015

Brian Fallon's Christianity is less apparent than his Bruce devotion. 

Richard Twiss 05-07-2015

How Native Christians are reclaiming tradition to create an "Indigenous hymnody." 

Julie Polter 05-06-2015

Carrie & Lowell,  Asthmatic Kitty Records. 

Angela Denker 04-02-2015
Hozier, photo via

Hozier, photo via

All Holy Week, I've been listening to Hozier's “Take Me to Church” — an odd sort of spiritual exercise, I suppose.

At first it was the hauntingly catchy refrain: “Take Me to Church” — and after all I would be going to church all week this week, the holiest of weeks in the Christian calendar. Maundy, or Holy, Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday.

The refrain was jarring against the artist's desired impact of the song, that in fact no one would be taken to church, that no one would trust the institutional church that has proven so dogmatic, divisive, violent, and decidedly un-Christlike in its practice as to become "a fresh poison each week."

“Take Me to Church” is about sexuality, about dogma, about prayer, about worship, about heaven, hell, life, death, sacrifice, sin, confession, and absolution. It’s about Catholicism and Protestantism and Jesus and atheism and fear and hope and love.

We each see pieces of it. Many American viewers saw Hozier's music video and wrongly assumed he was gay — that the sum of his message was about the church's persecution of homosexuality. And even though Hozier is not gay, he did mean to indict the church for its horrible treatment of the LGBTQ community — but the message of his song goes beyond sexuality.

Hozier is an Irish singer, a man who grew up with the deadly legacy of Catholic-Protestant war, a man whose national church was beset by sexual abuse scandals and pews full of dogmatic believers who had never read the Bible. Masses in many cases were dominated by ritual and women and babies sent away to church-run facilities, like the one where the bodies of nearly 800 infants were recently found in an unmarked mass grave.

Americans can look on the Irish church with judgment, yet our own church scandals and hypocrisy can fill even more pages.

As a pastor looking toward Easter Sunday 2015, I see something else in these lyrics. I see and hear a deep longing. Not only for sex. But a longing for the God who came to earth in Jesus, who died and rose again because of love.

I asked colleagues and friends about their responses to this song, as it dominates airwaves during Holy Week, and no one seemed to want to broach the topic. Too sexual, some said. Another, that "it could not be redeemed." Another, that "people would be too offended."

Danny Duncan Collum 04-01-2015

Singer-songwriter Angaleena Presley paints a heartbreaking picture of what Appalachia has become.