"He's taken our stripes on his back on down to here/I cannot walk if you did not walk/I cannot breathe if you did not breathe"
— from "Pure Clob Road"

The term "alternative" has long been overused to describe music, but Webster could well include 16 Horsepower in his definition. Multi–instrumentalist David E. Edwards formed the band in 1992, later signing with A&&M in 1995 for their first EP. Their latest project, Olden, covers those three years, 1992-95. Consisting of two parts early demos and one part early live tracks, the album is intended for devout fans, but also serves as a fair introduction to a unique sounding band. Most of the material can be found on two of 16 Horsepower's most acclaimed albums, Low Estate and Sackcloth 'n' Ashes.

Many have described the music as "country gothic" and "alternative folk." Edwards and company combine the folk/country instrumentation with dark and brooding melodies, akin to the Violent Femmes or, oddly enough, Radiohead if they went Americana. Edwards's despairing cracked tenor sounds like Bill Mallonee (Vigilantes of Love) crossed with Thom Yorke (Radiohead). You know you're in for something unusual when the album opens with a distorted mouth harp and Edwards's trademark bandoneon (similar to an accordion) on "American Wheeze."

16 Horsepower's audience is primarily secular, yet many of its lyrics are inspired by Scripture. The band hasn't really impacted Christian media and retail, but Edwards, the grandson of a Nazarene preacher and raised Baptist, did play at the 2002 Cornerstone Christian music festival with his side band, Woven Hand.

He's certainly not shy about his faith, saying, "I am a Christian. God the Father is everything to me. I can do nothing worth anything without him. The music I make is given to me to make for him—for his glory, for his honor, and for all who hear it. For he loves all, and has sent his Son for all to be reconciled to him. He and the things of him—his Word, his Spirit, his grace and rod—are my inspiration. Nothing else."

So why isn't 16 Horsepower bigger in Christian music? They're the sonic opposite of what you normally hear on AC pop radio, with several songs that seem to wrestle with resisting temptation, often resorting to the fervor of a religious fanatic. Like the most cryptic Beatles songs, Edwards seems to be more about emotion than message, coloring his music with religious imagery and Scriptural quotes. It's not exactly uplifting music with its haunting sounds and dark lyrics—including a couple of profanities on Olden.

My favorite lyric on the album comes from "Pure Clob Road" (excerpted above), with Edwards testifying to Christ's redemptive sacrifice. He paints a picture of Judgment Day using a two–step polka–rock in "Coal Black Horses," singing, "The sky will open up an' an angel blow his horn/An' down come Jesus lookin' so fine." In the rockabilly flavored "My Narrow Mind," Edwards confesses, "Wicked, wicked from the mouth I spout/O Lord, don' let these thoughts come out." And with the country rock of "Shametown," Edwards shares the hope we have through Jesus: "Today is the day of salvation/Ain't gonna tell no lie/Some through the water, some through the flood/Some by the fire, but all through his blood."

Some might see 16 Horsepower's music as weird and bizarre, or as a truly innovative spin on traditional gospel and spirituals. But say this much for 16 Horsepower—there's absolutely nothing quite like them.

Unless specified clearly, we are not implying whether this artist is or is not a Christian. The views expressed are simply the author's. For a more complete description of our Glimpses of God articles, click here.