- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Ten Shekel Shirt is comprised of three young men who met through ministry training at YWAM (Youth With a Mission)—Lamont Hiebert (vocals, guitar), Tommy Lee (bass), and Austin Morrison (drums). It's all too clear that ministry is very important to them, as they lead YWAM outreach through interdenominational events and coffeehouse gigs in New Haven, Connecticut (which is also the home to Yale University). The band's name is a reminder that ministry is not for sale—it refers to a sermon by Paris Reidhead that in turn was inspired by a passage in Judges 17, where Micah hires a Levite as his personal priest. The price for the Levite's services was ten shekels (pieces of silver) and a shirt (the band condensed their name because it rolls off the tongue better). These guys clearly have a lot to say about ministry and worship—I found their press kit to be one of the most theologically thought-provoking I've ever read! It's too bad their songs are far less profound.
The key to appreciating Ten Shekel Shirt is separating what they're supposed to be and what they are. Lamont, the band's principal songwriter, says his chief musical influences are Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Dave Matthews. Though "Meet With Me" borrows the riff from Dave Matthews' "Crash," there's not enough clever musicianship or innovative songwriting to warrant comparisons to the Dave Matthews Band, as some would suggest. Occasionally, there are some impressive musical moments, such as "Sweet Embrace," which hints that the band could be capable of funky riffs and interesting jam sessions. They are clearly an acoustic-rock based band, very straightforward and often reminding me of Satellite Soul or perhaps an acoustic version of Sonicflood. I could see Ten Shekel Shirt opening up their band to additional musicians and perhaps in time becoming some sort of cross between Dave Matthews Band and Tommy Walker's Praise Band—but they're not there yet. The album is extremely well recorded; the musicians and production team should be commended for making an excellent recording.
After hearing about how poetic the band's lyrics are, I was struck by their simplicity. I rarely found the words poetic. "Healer" for example begins with, "Healer heal me, Savior save me, Maker change me, Lover love me." Sounds like standard Vineyard Music stuff to me. I don't mean to suggest there's not a place for simplistic praise music, but at the same time I can't in good conscience call it high concept art either. The inspiration behind the songwriting is evidence of Lamont's poetic capabilities, but he never takes it any further than your usual praise and worship lyrics. For example, the album's title track is in reference to the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her hair because "much" was forgiven of her. It's a powerful image that could be dramatically applied to our lives, but the lyrics don't go much further than "I am the one who's been forgiven much / I am the one who loves much." Sometimes, such simplicity lends itself well to the songs. I think "Unashamed Love" is one of the most beautiful new acoustic worship songs I've heard in recent memory.
Perhaps Ten Shekel Shirt will improve their songwriting over time. I commend the band for putting ministry and worship first, but there is a place for superb musicianship and deeper songwriting in that ministry. Nevertheless, I ultimately give Ten Shekel Shirt a thumbs-up because they have a good understanding of worship music in general, and as a result they've debuted with an album of catchy acoustic rock and all original songs. I guarantee that in time at least a few of these songs will find their way into youth worship services across the country. Though Ten Shekel Shirt doesn't express worship to God in a particularly original way, they nevertheless express original worship in a sincere way—which is more than I can say for many other worship projects out there. This band has a lot of potential, and Much is well worth your listen if you don't set your expectations too high.