Ten Independent Artists You Should Know (Fall 2003)
- Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
It would probably amaze the average listener (and independent artist, for that matter) how many "indies" are out there today. In just six months since our last indie list, we heard from hundreds of hopeful candidates wanting to be included in our popular semi-annual feature. (And certainly there are hundreds more we've never heard from.) Nevertheless, we're up to the task of presenting tomorrow's talent today through a process that's become like our own personal version of "American Idol." So, here are ten more independent artists you should know. (Be sure to check out their websites for examples of their work.)
Instrumental electronic pop
I still maintain that having your instrumental music used by The Weather Channel is akin to having it played on Top 40 mainstream radio. Bearing that in mind, with five of the fifteen tracks on
One glance at Stephanie Cuomo's photo, and you might expect someone who sounds like Sheryl Crow or Chrissy Hynde (The Pretenders). Not that she can't rock, but her voice is much less brash and her sound much more modern—like Plumb, Kendall Payne, Jaci Velasquez, Jewel, and Michelle Branch. After graduating from Liberty University, Cuomo began working for Frontline, a Gen-X ministry of McLean Bible Church in northern Virginia. Now she's Frontline's creative arts director, leading worship regularly for 2,000 adults. She's also been performing on the side over the years, originally with a band called Urthgirl.
All the Way
David Paul Strom's story is pretty typical—creating Christian pop/rock while performing in churches and coffeehouses throughout the southwestern U.S. since 2001. The quality of his music, however, is anything but typical. His new eight-song disc boasts an impressive pop/rock sound recalling The Wallflowers and John Mayer, the vocal similarities almost uncanny. Most of Strom's songs are Psalm-like, offering praise to the Lord and pleading for his love. The stream-of-consciousness rocker "Your Spirit" has an especially cool progressive pop sound akin to some of the great underground Christian acts from the early '90s, such as The Call and The Choir, without sounding dated. "Praise You Lord," meanwhile, sounds like classic upbeat Rich Mullins with its melody, worshipful lyrics, and simple pop/rock instrumentation. The songs would be all the more impressive if they weren't occasionally bogged down in praise clichés ("There is none like you," "Jesus, Lord I live for you"), but Strom's musical talents and passion for ministry shine through on this excellent disc.
This "independent artist" is really meant to call attention to an "independent label." C3Worship is based out of Christian City Church (C3) Atlanta, a rapidly growing church born out of C3 Sydney. The Australian tie remains strong, particularly with worship director Steve Deal, who originally hails from Sydney. Deal writes all the songs and performs on every track, which helps explain why
Poor Man's Riches
Poor Man's Riches' single "Motions" has received national Christian radio airplay, charting as high as No. 16 on the Radio & Records Christian rock chart. The five-member band formed in 1999 in their hometown of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. After a few years of touring and building an audience, they were named the Gospel Music Association's Nashville Spotlight band of 2003 and placed 2nd in GMA's national talent search. The greatest criticism of Poor Man's Riches is also their greatest strength. Stylistically, they're just like Kutless, Jeremy Camp, Seventh Day Slumber, and Jonah33—but Poor Man's Riches sounds as good as any of those artists who have enthusiastically jumped on the Creed post-grunge bandwagon. Their success will depend largely on the duration of the public's fascination with that genre, but considering the success of Three Doors Down and Nickelback, there is indeed an audience for Poor Man's Riches.
While studying poetry as an English major at University of Virginia, Julia Pirritano developed an appreciation for songwriting. She now lives in New York, working on a master's degree in creative nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College while teaching literature. It's also where she met Dan Cho, a talented graduate from Boston's Berklee College of Music. Together they make the unique pairing of Nonfiction, a folk-tinged pop duo featuring Pirritano's lilting vocals and acoustic guitar over Cho's production sense and skills as a cellist and keyboardist. Both contributing to the songwriting table, they strive to be equally poetic and honest in their words—hence their moniker. The songs are somewhat similar to each other, offering familiar Christian AC pop reminiscent of Jill Phillips, Ginny Owens, and Nichole Nordeman. Still, Nonfiction has a fresh approach to songwriting that is clearly faith-based without resorting to overused wording. Pirritano's vocals are especially engaging and Cho has a keen sense of musicianship, all overlaying tasteful drum programming. This new duo has a lot of potential.
You Wanted Time
Three independent worship leaders from West Virginia came together one evening for a prayer meeting, where a mutual friend prayed that God would "take the group through the veil to a new place of intimate worship." From that, Randy Sutherland (vocals, guitars), David Myers (vocals, bass, keyboards), and Chris Turley (drums)—who all grew up in a traditional church environment—came together hoping that God would use them to revitalize the church with "a new breed of worship." Don't replace your hymnals with TTV's music just yet, however. Although vertical in intent and originally worded, the songs don't lend themselves to corporate worship very well—certainly not as well as other worship bands, at least. But they've got a tight rock sound that might be described as PFR modernized with elements of Sonicflood, King's X, and By the Tree. The title track in particular is a catchy song of praise, thanking Christ for his sacrifice and his desire to spend eternity with us. While the low-budget production could be better, the rawness belies the strong talents of this band. This album sounds like the start of something big.
Ashes Ashes …
It's pronounced "lee-ah-DOR-iss," and the website claims that it means, "Combining a rusty piano, electronics, drums, and acoustics to create songs and sounds unheard." The "group" is really just Jason Smith, who started by simply recording and performing electronic music as a hobby in 1998. Things got more serious when Joey Belville of The Echoing Green responded to a demo tape. He took Smith under his wing to produce a three-song demo, which got him signed to A Different Drum, the independent synth-pop record label and home of The Echoing Green. Leiahdorus is in essence the combination of Smith's songwriting, vocals, and piano emphasis with Belville's programming and production talents. It's creatively produced synth-pop akin to The Echoing Green, New Order, Yaz, Erasure, and other great '80s acts. The poetic songs alternate between expressions of romantic longing ("Wake" ) and faith ("Dissection of Man," "Crowded People"). Smith is currently working on a second Leiahdorus project. Listen to this one in the meantime and then you'll be ready for it.
Worshipful modern folk-pop
This 23-year-old from Jackson, Mississippi got his start leading worship in his high school youth group, and later for a variety of groups and events while attending Mississippi State University to study marketing. After graduation, Byrd made the leap-of-faith decision to pursue leading worship full time. He's joined a ministry called Artists in Christian Testimony, which works to raise up new arts ministers for the church. Byrd's very understated and mellow alternative folk-pop sound is pleasant and creative, reminiscent of The Violet Burning, David Gray, Travis, Delirious, and Andrew Peterson. A number of the songs would be right at home with college worship ministries, Vineyard congregations, and Passion conferences. But what truly sets the album apart is the impressive production by Paul Moak, whose outstanding guitar skills are currently on display on Over the Rhine's tour. He's personally credited with close to 20 different instruments on this disc, which helps tremendously by coloring the album with a wide and diverse palette of sounds—some predictably acoustic and some surprisingly electric. In a sense, Beautiful showcases the talents of two artists, both with bright futures ahead of them in worship and production.
If you are an independent artist who would like to be considered for review on our site, please send your CD(s) and any related press materials to editor of independent artist coverage:
Attn: Independent Christian Artists
300 E. 4th St. Suite 406
St. Paul, MN 55101
Due to the number of projects we receive, we are unable to cover or correspond with every artist that contributes. But we do give all submissions a fair listen for coverage consideration.