Singing Briner's Praises
One year before Bob Briner died of cancer, Steve Taylor approached him with the idea of producing a CD based on his book Roaring Lambs. Briner enthusiastically approved of the album, a brainchild of Squint Entertainment's Dave Palmer, and even handpicked some of the artists to perform on the recording. The result is an impressive lineup of CCM heavy hitters offering their musical interpretations of Briner's passion to "engage the culture."
The album opens, by no accident, with "Headstrong" by Jars of Clay, the critically acclaimed band that has enjoyed widespread mainstream success with its biblically sound brand of modern rock. With its MTV exposure and regular presence on secular radio, Jars personifies Briner's challenge to Christians to be salt and light.
One of the true gems is a remarkable collaboration of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (best known for its work on Paul Simon's Graceland) and Charlie Peacock, whose jazz-tinged piano perfectly complements Ladysmith's traditional Zulu vocals. "'Akehlulek' Ubaba" (With God Everything is Possible) is an infectious piece extolling the fruits of the Spirit.
Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith team up on "Out There," sharing songwriting credits with their close friend Briner. Sure to be a favorite on adult contemporary Christian radio, this song is lyrically solid but a bit bland musically. It pinpoints the dangers of immersion in the Christian subculture ("I talk to you, you talk to me / We speak in our own language"), while reminding us of God's amazing grace ("Poor, hungry beggars all are we / Invited to a feast / That none of us deserves / Filled to go to love and serve").
The most interesting of the duo numbers is "One Thing," featuring a weave of alternating vocals by Ginny Owens and Brent Bourgeois. It is a soothing ballad, with airy vocals and strings conducted by Tom Howard, yet it possesses a sense of urgency thanks to a repetitive keyboard arrangement.
Executive producer Steve Taylor serves up his unique brand of rock, complete with rollicking guitars, pounding horns, and a piano-backed chorus on "Shortstop." Using baseball imagery, he asks "who will rise up" in Briner's absence to keep pushing believers out into society ("Shortstop standing in the lurch / Bridging faith and field research / High-wire balance / Every move is inspired").
The album concludes with Sixpence None the Richer's melodic, easy-rolling "The Ground You Shook," featuring an effective combination of high-strung guitars and fiddle in this tip of the hat to Briner ("We walk the ground that you shook / We read the words in your book / And learn how to break our own ground / All the lambs will roar beautiful sounds"). It's too bad that Emmylou Harris, who adds fine backing vocals on this number, isn't featured more prominently.
In one other tribute to Briner, some of the Roaring Lambs proceeds will support Greenville College (Ill.) and Spring Arbor College (Mich.), two Christian schools that he loved.
See our related story, " Slivers of Enlightenment | Seven years after its publication, Roaring Lambs—now with a companion CD—still prods Christian artists to engage the culture."
The Roaring Lambs CD can be purchased at the Christianity Online Store and other music retailers.
Read ChristianityToday.com's Books and Culture Corner about Briner and Roaring Lambs.
Read Steve Taylor's Roaring Lambs chat transcript from Crosswalk.com.
Don't miss out on the excellent stories Beliefnet ran on Briner and Roaring Lambs: Christianity Today's Michael G. Maudlin wrote a review of Briner's latest book , and artists from Jars of Clay and Sixpence wrote responses to a critical Beliefnet review .
More on Steve Taylor is available from fan sites Quantitative Roland Stephen Taylor Ubiquitous Volume and Steve Taylor On the Fritz .
Crosswalk's music channel has a chat transcript with Taylor about the Roaring Lambs project.
CCM Magazine has an obituary for Bob Briner, another review of the Roaring Lambs CD, and a lot more information about the Roaring Lambs influence in Nashville. It also has a 1988 cover story about Steve Taylor , several articles about Sixpence None the Richer , and other such pieces about the CCM world.
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