A couple of commenters have raised questions about progressiveness in country music. Today, I want to suggest that there are progressive voices, at least in Americana, roots, and alt country music, but those voices are limited. They are almost always white, and usually populist and male. There are a few women in country who arguably identify as feminists. None of these artists are evangelical Christians like some major label country musicians, but faith imagery permeates much of their songwriting. It is often used in visions of a Utopian future, or it takes on a perverse meaning.
There's a script for women in commercial country music that doesn't necessarily coincide with more mainstream stereotypes and assumptions about women. If you've ever heard Carrie Underwood's ubiquitous 2007 single, "Before He Cheats" (lyrics), you'll recognize the tropes.
Of course there are exceptions, but the ideal country woman is often blond (and white), feisty, world-wise, and hot. She is deeply possessive of her man, and aims to squelch competitors for his affection. She gives the appearance of working-class roots even if she didn't grow up working class, and she's equally comfortable talking about guns (Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead"), Jesus (Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel"), and heterosexual romantic relationships (Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away").
One of the newer variations on these themes is the girl group Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley). Check out the first single of their August LP, Hell on Heels (lyrics):
In May, Religion Dispatches published my first interview with former darling of the Christian contemporary music scene, lesbian singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp. Then over the summer, I got to meet and interview Knapp in person while covering the Wild Goose Festival, an event that celebrated (predominantly Christian) spirituality, justice, and art. We talked a bit about the limitations of Christian music, feminism and sexuality on the same day she filmed the "It Gets Better" video below. I'll be critiquing some evangelical Christian music later in the series, so I'm very excited to share unpublished parts of our interview with you here today:
Responses to September 11 have been fraught from the start. As I thought through the problem of grief over the weekend, I was gratified that NPR posted the new work by minimalist musicians Steve Reich and the Kronos Quartet, WTC/9/11. Here's a sample:
What if the Rapture happened, but it wasn't like anyone had expected? In fact, what if "Rapture" might not be the right word, considering that the millions who vanished were of numerous different faiths and the date didn't align with anyone's holy texts? How would the people who lost everyone they loved live with their grief, and how would untouched families manage their guilt?
The Kirkus Review hails The Leftovers as Tom Perrotta's "most ambitious book," a claim that at first seems obvious for a writer whose previous works have centered on realistic suburban angst. However, despite its more imaginative set-up, The Leftovers is about exactly the same things as Perrotta's other novels: struggling to find contentment, doomed love affairs, and growing up.
Mavis Staples—gospel singer, soul artist and Civil Rights activist—is nothing short of a living legend. She started singing gospel with her family in the 1950s and had a successful Stax career as front woman for the Staple Singers. Though the family specialized in gospel, Staples' raw vocals and the band's bluesy arrangements endeared them to secular and religious audiences alike.
At seventy-two, she shows no signs of slowing down. Last year, she released Grammy-winning gospel album, You Are Not Alone, in a collaboration with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. It featured a handful of newly arranged old gospel songs as well as new ones like these (penned by Tweedy):
Over the weekend, St. Vincent's upcoming album, Strange Mercy, started streaming on NPR. The woman behind the band, multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Annie Clark, started out as a member of the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens' tour mate. She is known for juxtaposing sweet, Feist-like vocals with dark, often violent imagery. The disconnect between body and soul (that is, between the material and spiritual) is a central theme of her third album. The newest single, Cruel," examines this disconnect in the context of the trivial cruelties of day to day family life.
My name is Kristin Rawls, and, yes, I am a preacher's daughter. I'm in my early 30s, and I was raised in an unusual blend of Protestant traditions. The preacher (my dad) grew up in the Southern Baptist church, got "saved" during the Pentecostal-influenced "Jesus movement" of the 1970s and ultimately settled in a mainline (not fundamentalist) tradition. My family practiced a confusing mix of them all. The result? I became pretty cynical about the the whole thing.
This blog series is named after blueswoman Michelle Malone's song, "Preacher's Daughter" (transcript here):
Despite the obvious social critiques in the books, I never consciously drew parallels between the wizarding world and my world. I wanted Harry Potter to exist in a vacuum. But as the books went on, the back stories grew more complex, the danger became more insidious and intimidating, and the fantasy world turned out to be as confusing and terrifying as my real post-9/11 adolescent world. I dreaded the release of the last two books, knowing I would endure them more than I enjoyed them, but the idea of simply abandoning the series never even crossed my mind. Not only did I not want to analyze the books as cultural products or actively criticize them, I was and still am basically incapable of doing so (if you would like a really feminism-centric response to Harry Potter, Sady Doyle has a good one). Because I grew up reading these books, I have internalized the messages that I uncritically accepted in a way I only really could when I was a kid. As far as I'm concerned, it's word of God, and I don't think I'm the only one who feels that way.