Ten Independent Artists You Should Know (Spring 2002)
No hype, no radio play, no major distribution. It's not always easy being an independent artist, but it's probably easier today than it ever has been thanks to digital music, CD burners, and of course, the Internet. In the past, the quality of indie releases was far inferior to that of polished major-label projects, but that's becoming less true every day. Some artists remain independent by choice to retain more artistic freedom, while others still are trying to land a contract with a major record label. What they all have in common is a need to create music and communicate with an audience, specifically the message of the Gospel. With so many major releases available, it's hard to find time to devote attention to indie artists. Consider this list of recommendations "open mic night" for 10 diverse and talented indie artists I've stumbled across in the last year.
Acoustic pop and folk music is alive and well today in Christian music, thanks to artists such as Bebo Norman, Sara Groves, and Caedmon's Call. The introspective songwriting and honesty associated with the genre make it a natural means for Christian artists to connect with audiences. If folk music is your cup of tea (or should that be coffee?), I've got a terrific recommendation for you by the name of Jason Gray. Jason most recently was featured as the opening act for Sara Groves on her tour, a good match for her skillful and thoughtful songwriting. The Sara Groves comparison runs deeper since Jason's album, A Place Called Hope, was co-produced by Nate Sabin, who also produced Sara's highly acclaimed Conversations project (Sara also makes a brief appearance on this album). In the limited space of this article, I just can't do Jason's songwriting skills justice. If you insist on proof, check out the artists to whom I can't help but compare Jason: Steven Curtis Chapman, Andrew Peterson, Caedmon's Call, Rich Mullins (Jason also plays hammered dulcimer), and Mark Heard (a cover of his song "Look Over Your Shoulder" is found here). Lyrically, he's as gifted as any of these artists, expressing timeless Christian truths and feelings with originality and passion. Jason Gray is as talented a songwriter as you'll hope to find in Christian music. I can picture him being at home on the Watershed/Essential or Rocketown rosters. Odds are real good that I'll be doing a review of a major-label release from this guy somewhere down the road.
The Air I Breahte
Passionate and worshipful modern pop
I knew the song "Breathe" would become a popular worship song after first hearing it on 1999's Vineyard release, Hungry. Somehow, I doubt anyone expected that it would end up on more than 45 different albums worldwide, most notably on Michael W. Smith's Worship and Rebecca St. James' Worship God. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the songwriter and worship leader behind that powerful song: Marie Barnett. It's amazing that Marie started spontaneously writing "Breathe" during an evening worship service! The version of the song that appears on this album may be hers, but there are more impressive covers of it elsewhere — not surprising considering how many other versions there are. What's impressive is Marie's consistency in writing intelligent and passionate songs of praise to the Lord. "Fall on Your Mercy," taken from Psalm 139, is every bit as confessional and intimate sounding as "Breathe." I'll be surprised if worship bands don't jump on this song with the same enthusiasm. The Air I Breathe is wonderfully produced by John Andrew Schreiner, Fernando Ortega's longtime friend, producer, and songwriting collaborator. Marie's music on this album is progressive sounding, earning comparisons to artists such as Kate Bush, Sara Groves, Tori Amos, Twila Paris, and Sarah McLachlan — very ethereal and poetic modern pop. It's hard to believe that a major label hasn't snatched up an artist such as Marie, considering the frenzied push to develop new worship artists. With so many worship albums sounding formulaic these days, I'm truly thankful for someone like Marie Barnett, a songwriter who's passionate about writing creative expressions of art and praise for the church.