Jesus Music. Again.
When it comes to Jesus Music, Bob Bennett was born about a decade too late.
He entered the world in 1955, twelve years after Chuck Girard, ten after Annie Herring, eight after Larry Norman and John Fischer. So while Bennett wasn't quite there at the beginning, he came around in time—in the late 1970s—to pick up the ball and keep it rolling along. His 1982 album, Matters of the Heart, was CCM magazine's Album of the Year, beating out Amy Grant's monster breakout project, Age to Age. Many still consider Matters of the Heart one of the best Christian albums of all time.
Bennett, now 56, is still making great music. And though he sometimes wishes he'd been around a little earlier to work with some of those pioneers, he's now done the next-best thing: He's made an album that honors their legacy.
Jesus Music Again is a collaboration between veterans Bennett, Bill Batstone (a founding member of the Good News band and a longtime staff writer for Maranatha Music), and Alex MacDougall (former drummer for Daniel Amos). The album includes well-worn tunes like "Soon and Very Soon" (Andrae Crouch), "Easter Song" (Second Chapter of Acts), "Unidentified Flying Object" (Larry Norman), "Until Your Love Broke Through" (Keaggy/Norman/Stonehill), "Oh Happy Day" (Edwin Hawkins Singers), "Every Grain of Sand" (Bob Dylan), and more.
We recently spoke with Bennett about the new album, his career, and the art of writing great songs. (Hint: Authenticity is key, but don't tell people you're being authentic.)
How did Jesus Music Again come about?
About four years ago, I was messing around on my guitar, and I started singing [Larry Norman's] "Unidentified Flying Object" for no apparent reason. I realized that no one has really gone back and treated this music like the folk music of the Jesus era. Alan Lomax went into Appalachia in the '40s and '50s to gather folk songs, and that led to some of the folk music of the '50s and '60s, with Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio—the stuff I grew up listening to. But with this old Jesus Music, no one's surveyed those songs and put a bunch of them on the same album. I thought it would be great to revive these songs.
So it's mostly music for boomers like you and me, and not for "the younger generation"?
It would lovely if that were to happen, but I don't have any fantasies that I'm going to have my Tony Bennett moment. Because now that I'm on the other side of don't trust anyone over thirty. Now I'm the guy who says, "You kids get off my lawn!"
Perhaps I need to listen more broadly, but I think there is an approach to these older songs that's missing in action in today's scene. You've got lots of worship-leading music and lyrics on a screen, and while that's not necessarily bad, you used to be able to throw a rock and hit a guy or a gal who was telling a story with a guitar. That's not the case anymore. I think there's something particularly attractive about storytelling and testimony in songs that is not as revered and not as much a part of the church fabric.
It must've been hard to come up with just a dozen songs for this album.
We think our list is going to be as notable for what it lacks as for what we included. Everybody will say, "You should have done this" and "You should have done that." Our first criterion was that we thought it was cool and we thought we could do a good job on it. But if we can please ourselves, hopefully we'll please the people that are listening.