Seven Deadly Sins: A Playlist


Rolling in the Deep — Adele
Mama Said Knock You Out — LL Cool J
Lazy Song — Bruno Mars
Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler — Pink Martini
Rich Girl — Gwen Stefani ft Eve
I Want It All — Queen
Eat It — Weird Al Yankovich
Can’t Stop — Miley Cyrus
I Want You to Want Me — Letters to Cleo/10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack
I’m Sexy and I Know It — LMFAO
I’m the Best (clean version) — Nicki Minaj
Devil Went Down To Georgia — Charlie Daniels Band
Jessie’s Girl — Rick Springfield
Dancing on My Own — Robyn

Flobots Singer: Why We're Writing Songs for Today's Protest Movements

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. 

Why John Lennon's 'Imagine' Is Actually Not That Great of a Song

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.

Elegant Beats

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.

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O Happy Day! A Surprise Gospel Moment

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.

When It Comes to Worship Music, Hispanic Churches Look Within

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.

African-American Opera Singer Revives the Yiddish Songs of the Shtetl

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.

The Liturgy of Wild Goose

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.

Sojo Sessions

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

Rock-and-Roll Transcendence

THE CLUB WAS full by the time New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem took the stage. Lead singer and songwriter Brian Fallon stepped to the mike in denim jacket and jeans, and the band lit into their song “Howl” (yes, a Ginsberg reference). That’s when I heard a strange doubling sound on Fallon’s vocal. The Gaslight Anthem is very much straight-ahead, meat-and-potatoes, guitars-and-drums. Why would they use that weird effect on the vocal?

Then it hit me. That sound wasn’t coming from the sound board or the speakers, but from us. The audience, en masse, was singing along with every word, on time and in tune. It was what happens when rock and roll is working right: The performers and the audience become one and are swept up into something much larger than themselves.

I’ve also experienced this in churches and sometimes even in collective political action. But some of my most dramatic moments of transcendence have come like this: in a dark room, packed with sweaty people, screaming back at some guy onstage with a guitar. The experience is even more interesting when you know that the guy with the guitar, Fallon, is also a Christian, who knows the true name of the Spirit that has overtaken us.

I only caught this show because my 15-year-old son, Joseph, took advantage of his spring break to insist that he be driven an hour each way, on a Monday night, to see one of his favorite bands. But it didn’t take much arm-twisting either. One of the last of the great guitar-rock bands, Gaslight is firmly rooted in the punk-rock ethos, but its sound has broadened to include elements of R&B and mainstream arena rock. And Fallon’s lyrical references range across the rock-and-roll tradition, from Hank Williams to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding to Elvis Costello and The Counting Crows.

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July 2015
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