Ten Independent Artists You Should Know (Spring 2002)
- Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jan
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,
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,
Worshipful R&B with touches of African music
Daniel Nettey has some respectable musical credentials on his resume that help explain his sound. In 1998, he toured with worship leader Ron Kenoly as a back-up singer, and he later performed in the UK on the same bill as Ron Winans (of the famous gospel-singing family). Not surprisingly, Daniel's music is mostly a blend of smooth R&B, inspirational pop, and contemporary worship, not too unlike some of the music from BeBe Winans. His deep baritone on beautiful piano ballads such as "I Will Worship" and "Revive Us (Revive America)" even sounds a bit like Ron Kenoly's worshipful sound. His soulful performance on "Sanctify Me" recalls The Winans from the late '80s and early '90s. The pop/R&B of "In Your Presence" and "Thank You" have the same pop-R&B sound of Gerald Levert or Luther Vandross. What sets him apart from other similar-sounding artists is his heritage — Daniel originally hails from the Gold Coast of Ghana, West Africa, and he lets that shine through in some of his songs. The African groove on songs such as "Ywe Yie (Take Heed)," "God's Eyes on Africa," and "It's Not Hard" are buoyant and a lot of fun, blending reggae with rhythmic pop and traditional African folk (featuring a terrific — but uncredited — bass player on these songs). If only Daniel straddled cultures more often on
Referring specifically to verse four in the last book of the bible, Rev 21 is comprised of brothers Rick and Tim Hammond, who sing and play all manner of guitars. They are joined by the talented Christian producer Alan Shacklock, who did a smashing job on albums by Shaded Red (
Imagine Yourself Forgiven
Considering the first-rate production, the talent of the musicians involved, and the hype surrounding her project, it's a wonder Robin Welty isn't already signed by one of the major record labels such as Sparrow, Word, or Rocketown. Robin has been performing since her teen years and studied music at Anderson University. She moved to Nashville in 1995 and soon was writing and performing backup vocals for numerous artists. I've read articles and reviews comparing her music to that of Alanis Morrisette, but Robin isn't nearly as alternative-rock sounding. She does, however, have a very modern-pop sound. I imagine Amy Grant sounding a lot like this if she hit her stride today rather than the early '80s. Robin's vocals even sound much like Amy Grant (especially on "Simple City"), though there's a deeper quality on her other songs that recall Margaret Becker (who, incidentally, has cited Robin as one of her favorite indie artists). Many of the nine songs on Imagine Yourself Forgiven have a driving-pop anthem to them, such as the rhythmic "No Tomorrow," a song similar in sound and theme to U2's classic "Where the Streets Have No Name." Robin does a fine job of balancing pop melodies with soaring pop/rock anthems, switching to balladry on a couple of the tracks. Her songs wrestle with concepts such as God's grace and the fragility/impatience of human nature, and her lyrics have the same honesty and depth as Ginny Owens or Kendall Payne. This is thoughtfully written and skillfully made Christian pop. The only things separating Robin Welty from some other similar-sounding Christian artists right now are the facts that she's unsigned to a record label and that she's writing better music.
In All You Do
Classic blues/rock with a little gospel
I'm not sure why there are so many people who think Christianity and blues music are incompatible. Half of the Psalms seem kinda bluesy to me. Dave Foraker and his band, True Blue, combine the best of both worlds with their joyous brand of blues-styled rock. True Blue hails from the Charlotte, North Carolina-area and features lead singer and violinist Dave, drummer Rick Hodges, bassist Ted Robertson, and guitarist Tom Williams. Things started off strongly in 1996 with their debut CD, but their success was cut short when Dave suffered a stroke and was unable to play fiddle, sing, walk, or even talk. By the grace of God, he was able to slowly rehabilitate himself, and the band reunited to record their second CD,
It's a Mystery
Melodic modern guitar rock with techno
Hailing from Joliet, Illinois (just outside Chicago), Daniel's Window blends modern guitar rock with melodic pop and techno-dance, drawing strong comparisons to Garbage and No Doubt. In fact, lead singer Heather Hershey is about one step away from sounding like Gwen Stefani (No Doubt). The rest of the band is comprised of guitarist Alby Odum, bassist Bill Coleman, keyboardist Caleb King, and drummer Jesse Burkhead. For an indie release, this is a remarkably well-produced debut that features some pretty creative arrangements. All five members contribute to the songwriting, which largely focuses on God's endless love for us and the change he affects in our lives. The band succumbs a bit to overly simplistic pop-worship songs that sound rather similar to each other, but they make up for it with radio-friendly modern-rock gems such as "Sorry" and "Loves Me, Loves Me Not," which is as good as anything I've ever heard by No Doubt. Also check out their slick, modern take on the old hymn "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less" on "Solid Rock." On top of all this, the band truly has a heart for youth ministry, performing for youth groups across the country and even developing a six-week Bible study that relates to this album. Considering the popularity of Christian bands such as Plumb, Skillet, The Benjamin Gate, and Superchic[k], it's no mystery that Daniel's Window is a hit with youth groups across the country. They've got a style that's just aggressive enough for the boys, yet melodic and danceable enough for the girls. Listening to
Filling the Pages
Thoughtful piano-based pop.
Hailing from Spokane, Washington, and graduating with a degree in music composition from Whitworth College, Matthew Ebel recalls the classic singer/songwriter from the '70s. For most of his second album,
Modern hip hop
As far as I can tell, there's only one genre of music that hasn't quite made a successful transition into Christian music, and that's hip hop. I believe artists such as Toby Mac and John Reuben are making great strides, but we've yet to see artists such as L.A. Symphony and Tunnel Rats earn the full recognition and accolades they deserve. Add Philadelphia's The Cross Movement to the list of unsung Christian hip-hop heroes, a five-man hip hop collective consisting of Tonic, Earthquake, The Ambassador, Enoch, and The Phanatik. Where Tunnel Rats leans in a more experimental direction and L.A. Symphony toys with old-school elements, The Cross Movement is firmly rooted in the popular hip-hop styles of today. Their most recent project,
Gypsy Flat Road
Acoustic folk rock
Sandra McCracken needs the least introduction of all the artists in this year's list. At the very least, you're probably familiar with her relationship to Caedmon's Call — her husband is Derek Webb (one of Caedmon's singers) and she arranged a few old hymns for the band's recent worship album,
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.