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The Martins – “New Day”

June 27, 2011

To be the king of this domain, there are certain contexts in which I shall adhere.  I admit, I usually give a relatively honest and fair approach.  I don’t work for anybody but myself and you, the reader.  Sure, I have personal favorites.  But I try not to be overly biased in campaigning for their successes.  There may be times where I don’t give you the entire gauntlet of my truthful opinions, nonetheless I strive to remain constructive and on point, critiquing my way through the process with meekness and sincerity.  After a few weeks, a blogger gets to know his demographic.  I believe for the most part, my demographic leans towards the Kingdom Heirs > The Martins.  So most times, I give what my demographic wants to read about.  I’m still wrestling over the idea of The Martins targeting their own audience.  But for anyone interested, here is a short review of The Martins newest release, “New Day”.

For rumors circulated of the hiatus, I’m over it.  But I was excited about this announcement of this project.  In a production perspective, it’s superb.  The innovative excellence of The Martins liquidate a very strong musical and vocal performance.  Country star Jay Demarcus leaves a very strong imprint on this work of solid, structured, collaborative music.  Collectively The Martins sound good.  Always have.  I don’t remember Jonathan Martin ever sounding this good, and on this project his voice really brings breadth, maturity, and confidence.

From a musical standpoint, the arrangements, the overall production, the melodious displays of a group confident of their talents and weaknesses, and the family harmony makes this project a delight.  Southern Gospel music creates a conflicted beast within me from time to time, and this recording is no exception.  Let me tell you why…

Upon first listen, I was impressed by the effort.  Captivated by all the things mentioned above.  It has a lot of pump and enthusiasm about it.  It actually sounds better than what it really is.  Jesus is in it, but it would’ve been nice to hear a little more about Him.  Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not making assumptions on where they stand spiritually or even where their producer sounds spiritually.  That’s not my job to determine.  Christ is clearly in the stories and musical portraits of grace and redemption which the album lends its focus.  But the actual name, “Jesus” or “Christ”, “Son of God”, or even “Messiah” is not even mentioned, at least not to my memory.  Without sounding judgmental, I don’t mind these absences from time to time.  I totally get how grace and redemption play a part in everyday life.  I can see God in art.  I see God in the gorgeous landscapes of our world that leave us in monumental and self-escaping awe.  I can see the work of Christ in film and secular, fictional books or music.  But homie, this is Southern Gospel, or progressive Southern Gospel, or whatever it is The Martins are.  For those that crack on CCM or P&W, there’s just as much God in this as some U2 recordings (by the way, this is one of those moments where I am completely candid and offering my entire un-biased opinion).

I believe The Martins love Jesus.  I can vividly see Jesus in the lyrics, redeeming a fallen world.  But I don’t really hear much of His name or the cross that he bore, the sin that He died for.  I do hear pieces of it, but it’s not explicitly drawn to my attention.  You don’t have to draw a map of Christ for me in every Christian song I hear.  To be honest, I would rather hear some of these songs over seeing Mama and Daddy in heaven songs.  But that’s not the point either.  I will say, it seems that they are going with the experiential, everyday life snapshots of Jesus in their lives.  As good as this project is, it still could’ve had a stronger message.  Some of it was dilluted and watered down.  Some of it worked and I could let slide.  But how can you let an entire album full of songs stop without something a little deeper, something more than Martin reunion nostalgia, something theologically and biblically compelling, pointing us directly to Christ, and not just indirectly?  I realize that the book of Esther does not mention God once, yet points us to Christ through the redemption story of genealogy and how God weaved that promise into His Son, and ultimately our (hopefully) salvation.  But in 65 other books, we are rather directly, in the midst of the presence of God wiping people out because of sin and calling for others to proclaim His message, glory and majesty.

And pragmatically, this is what it does.  Throughout the recording, we are “indirectly” pointed to Christ.  Fine for some.  Not sufficient for others, at least in this genre.  Tracks 3 (Tell Them That I Love Them – fantastic performance on a good song) and 6 (Unredeemed – wonderful song) do an terrific job of hitting the “cross” or “the blood”.  Track 10 (I Surrender) is a beautifully written and emotional, worshipful, self-reflecting song, penned by Joyce, that is bathed in well, surrender and the peace of God that manifests in and through us.  This passes my personal, standardized test.  “Love’s Gonna Drive This Train” is the song before, and features their longtime friend Michael English.  It bothers me, but does not surprise me that English finds his way onto this song of all songs.  Aptly put, this song is not very good.  Like Michael, if you’re going to show up and rock out, why not do it on one of the good songs?  If you’re going to list all the major cities of the world in a song with a blues feel, I’d wish they had just recorded “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash.  They are about equal in their spiritual message, but alas…I guess it’s a fun B.B. King like tune.  They won’t win any awards for “JPMs” (Jesus per minutes),not that I was expecting such an occurrence.  I don’t find that a reason for not buying it.  If you like The Martins and want to hear good, positive music, buy it, it’s GREAT music.  But the message seems to be lacking in our ordinary commonalities of how a gospel song is or should be constructed.  When we do stick in real, transformational songs, it hits at around 40% (which is generous…I’ll even include the Jason Crabb cover, Somebody Like Me only because they did a Crabb song and we’re familiar with it).

There’s a lot of good things in this world.  Music is one of them.  But what can overshadow the good things, is the fact that this world is a hard world.  We don’t need another soft message for a hard world.  I love The Martins and their music.  This project is near impeccable in a musical perspective, and lends us its loveliness and brilliance.  But a more forthright and Christ centered, Christ focused message would’ve made it one of the best releases of the year.  I feel like this is almost an album from a secular group, wrestling with their spirituality and religiosity, with some stories expounded upon dealing with their experiences in a southern baptist culture clashing with a liberal ideology, in which God reigns and loves unconditionally…but more importantly, “hey, listen to our music”.

I do love their broad range of influences canvasing its way onto our scene, and maybe I’m analyzing way too much, and should let their creative freedom express itself…which is why I remain conflicted.  Yet in essence, and I repeat myself again…impressive music. Great performances. Needs stronger Christ centered, Christ focused lyrics.  That is all.

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11 Comments
  1. Gaithermusicaddict permalink

    Hey nice review! To me it sounds like you didn’t enjoy it but you’re trying as hard as you can to sound like you did. But then again, you have made it clear why you aren’t very impressed.

  2. Gaithermusicaddict permalink

    BTW, how many stars would you give it out of 5?

  3. quartet-man permalink

    On your first point (or at least an early one), I do like the Kingdom Heirs, but I think I own more Martins recordings. I appreciate this review and understand your point about the lyrics. I picked it up, but haven’t listened yet. I am the type of person that thinks Christians can figure out lyrics without being beaten over the head with them. However, I also say although an artist shouldn’t have to force God or the Bible into a song to make it “more religious”, they also shouldn’t be vague or remove Christ from them to appeal to more people or make the song more flexible that it could be used as a love song. (I am not saying that is what they did here. I am speaking in general terms.)

    • I feel the same way about film. Even though i would be the first to say that something like _Facing the Giants_ or _Fireproof_ isn’t the greatest movie ever made, I appreciate it more than something completely flat and generic like _Soul Surfer_, which apparently ratchets the “feel-good inspirational” up to about a 10 and keeps the “Christian” at an anemic three or so. The golden mean, of course, is something like _Chariots of Fire_, which is a great film AND isn’t embarrassed of its Christianity.

    • True. I’m in agreement. I’ve always backed rock bands up that had a more vague message. Maybe I shouldn’t always have, but I did. But maybe I just hold The Martins to a higher standard, considering their style of music.

  4. I have this, but I haven’t listened to it yet, so I can’t speak to your points specifically with this project. But I give a hearty “Amen!” to your overall point. This is gospel music…we must have the gospel, and it must be clear! I’m listening to another new project right now, and one of the songs has a nice and positive message, but Jesus isn’t in it! I want to like the song, but I have a hard time doing so. So I understand your internal struggle.

  5. In the way of slight correction, I believe you were going for the book of Esther that does not mention God. LORD, or Jehovah, is all over the book of Ruth.

  6. matt permalink

    Homie??? At first I read “Homer” but that didn’t make sense….good review. I don’t have any Martin’s recordings, and I don’t plan on getting any. Nonetheless, I read reviews about as many artists as I can.

  7. As for the lyrics, I can’t really speak either way, not having listened to the album. Though I must say that the 30-second sample of “All the Love In the World” was practically putting me to sleep already. The startling naivete and shallowness of songs like that never ceases to astonish me. I guess it shouldn’t though.

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