Monday, June 7, 2010


I noticed that Tossing It Out was doing a list of religious-themed albums when I was looking to sign up for the drinking and driving list. Pretty much a shift from the profane to the sacred.

Christian music has not been my favorite genre. My younger sister went through a phase where she’d listen to it exclusively, and I found two problems with it:

(1) I suspected many of the bands used the “Christian” label to hide a lack of talent
(2) Often, the preaching was just too much for me

But I certainly could not argue that none of it was any good, and were it not for MaryAnne, I’d not have heard of Larry Norman, and probably would not have heard of Amy Grant until that MTV video with Peter Cetera. She’s a cutie, huh? If you call a married woman a cutie, is that a sin? In any case, both are represented on my list, as you will see.

Somehow, Christianity and Christian values have fallen out of vogue in the United States. I cancelled my HBO service after hearing Bill Maher (it was my favorite program) refer to anyone who believed in God as an idiot. In an interesting contrast, many aging rockers are releasing spiritual or even outright Christian CD’s. In a country founded on Christian values coupled with religious freedom, it’s a shame that now the people who practice those Christian values are the ones under siege.

But I digress. This is about the music!

I’m going to list the CD’s in the order of my exposure to them, which is slightly southeast of being in release date order.

Without any more pontificating, here is the list…

Slow Train Coming-Bob Dylan
Only Visiting This Planet-Larry Norman
Lead Me On-Amy Grant
In God We Trust-Stryper
Real-Michael Sweet
Testimony-Neal Morse
?-Neal Morse
Way Home-Ted Leonard
The Lou Gramm Band-The Lou Gramm Band
Salvation In Lights-Mike Farris
Healing-Todd Rundgren

Now I know you’re looking for the obligatory soul-searching that goes with the selection of such a list. And far be it from me to not bare my soul to the masses!

So hold onto your wings, ‘cause here we go!

Bob Dylan-Slow Train Coming
"Slow Train Coming" was Dylan's nineteenth studio album, and his first effort after becoming a born-again Christian.
Much has been made of Dylan's Christian albums, with several books and DVD's having been released on the subject. On "Slow Train," all of the songs either express his strong personal faith, or stress the importance of Christian teachings and philosophy. The evangelical nature of the record alienated many of Dylan's existing fans, and that included me.
At the same time, the record won him new fans, with the album topping a lot of Christian album lists, winning a Grammy for best rock vocal performance in 1980, and the single, "Gotta Serve Somebody" becoming his first hit in three years. The album went platinum in the US.
And I did not appreciate it for almost twenty years.
I still prefer not to be preached at, but when you listen to this album with Dylan's journey in mind, it works even for a heathen like me. The production and musicianship is excellent, and the lyrics are...well he's DYLAN!
Well worth a listen!

Larry Norman-Only Visiting This Planet
My sister MaryAnne used to play this one during her boycott of mainstream music. “Planet” is often considered Norman’s best album and a landmark album in the Christian-rock genre.
Produced by Norman and George Martin (who worked with an obscure band called The Beatles), this album is full of great melodies and lyrics. Get it for “Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music” alone!
For me it is a bittersweet listening experience, as my sister passed away some years ago, and this disc can’t help but make me think of her.
Amy Grant-Lead Me On
With six Grammys, numerous Dove Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and numerous other accolades to her credit, Amy Grant is an American music icon who has erased lines between genres. This album was chosen as the greatest Contemporary Christian album of all time by CCM magazine, and is often credited with being one of the first albums to cross over genres and bring Christian music to the masses.
The album holds up well since I first heard it played ad nauseum by Mary Anne back in the eighties. I recommend the 20th anniversary edition with a bonus disc.
Stryper-In God We Trust
It really was not until Stryper that I was willing to put on a Christian disc and listen, and that was because they were savvy enough to make their song lyrics secular enough to get radio and MTV play.
I heard “Honestly” and fell in love with it.
So why the subsequent album the one on the list? For the song that almost made my driving list, “Always There For You.” It rawks!
Michael Sweet-Real
In case you did not know, Michael Sweet is the lead vocalist for Stryper, and during their layoff, he released some pretty special albums.
I selected this one because of the acoustic version of “Always There For You,” which is simply one of my favorite songs of all time.
Other favorites include "Ticket To Freedom," "Second Chance," "Color Blind" and "Baby Doll."
This album is mellower than anything he has done, which allows his vocals to really come through.

Neal Morse-Testimony
In the late twentieth century (I love how that sounds), Neal Morse, at the time the lead singer of Spock’s Beard, was writing lyrics that were spiritual enough that it made me wonder if he were Christian.
In the early days of the new millennium, there were two more ever-more-spiritual Spock’s Beard albums, and the next thing I knew he’d left the band to pursue a Christian music career in the progressive-Christian genre. Since the Beard was starting to gain commercial success, you have got to respect his conviction here. This was not a big money-making strategy in the American Idol years.
Testimony was his first CD after leaving the Beard, and tells of his spiritual journey, which he invites you to join him on. With each listening, I relish every step.
This is one heckuva fine progressive album, and showcases Morse’s talent. With the Beard carrying on, there are two bright stars in the American prog universe.

Neal Morse-?
Neal goes firmly back to his prog roots with "?," which consists of one 55 minute track that explores the mysteries of God. Pure prog heaven with all the earmarks of Neal's previous work, this is a dazzling piece of music that some have called Neal's best work.
Featuring guests like Alan Morse (Neal's brother and fellow founder of neo-prog giants 'Spock's Beard'), Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), and Roine Stolt (Flower Kings), this album is a progressive rock fans dream!
Built on the musical foundation of multi-award winning drummer Mike Portnoy and the bass of Ajalon's Randy George, and featuring a guest appearance by original Genesis guitar wizard Steve Hackett, Neal creates a progressive masterpiece here.

Ted Leonard-Way Home
After seven albums with Enchant (his musical day job), and two side projects (Xen and Thought Chamber), Ted Leonard wanted to “make an album for God alone and inspired by my convictions. “
Ted has an incredible voice, and the songwriting is top-notch, with tremendous musicianship throughout.
Enchant ranks right up with Spock’s Beard on my progressive list, and Ted is up there with Neal, although a very distant second in output. Still, when Enchant/Ted does record, the quality of the album is top notch.

Lou Gramm Band -Lou Gramm Band
I know you all know Lou Gramm as the lead vocalist and cowriter of the multi-platinum band Foreigner. Do I need to mention the eight US Top 5 singles or the five Top 5 Albums?
When Lou sings "I've Got A Heart That's Made To Broken" he ain't joking. On his new Christian album, Gramm sings will all the energy of a man reborn through adversity. Since Gramm was diagnosed with a very large brain tumor back in 1997, that’s certainly adversity enough for me!
After the surgery, Lou’s vocals were never quite the same, and while he attempted to continue on with Foreigner for a while, I suspect that his new found faith didn't sit well with his Foreigner band mates, nor did his band mates think that Lou sounded much like Lou anymore.
On this new record, Lou’s faith makes the disc a labor of Love, with standout tracks like "Heart That's Made To Be Broken" and Willing To Forgive." "Baptized By Fire" sounds as much like the old Lou as anything here, and has a great hook. This album is about faith, hope, love and determination, but most of all, it’s about hope. Lyrically honest and penetrating, Gramm gives thanks for his second chance while teaching us all a lesson in living.

Mike Farris-Salvaton In Lights
You may remember Mike Farris as the frontman for '90s hard rockers the Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies, but then again, you may not.
Wheelies fans will do a double take when they hear this unexpectedly moving comeback. The singer has radically overhauled his image, shifting from gin-soaked frontman to gospel shouter on this roof-raising release, a drastic musical departure from his previous band's swaggering, boozy approach.
Farris delivers the goods on a handful of rearranged traditional, and is unexpectedly convincing throughout and obviously inspired as he keeps the faith on this stirring but not preachy album.
He's accompanied by horns and a tough yet restrained band with righteous female backing vocals that perfectly position these tunes between heaven and earth.
He testifies on his Staples Singers cover that he wants to "take you there," and by the time the album closes with "I'm Gonna Get There," you'll gladly follow wherever he leads.

Todd Rundgren-Healing
Tell me the truth-did you really think I’d submit a list without a Todd Rundgren album on it?
Most people know that Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon. Fewer people know that Chapman was apparently stalking Rundgren in his Woodstock New York the week before the horrible incident that gave Chapman his fifteen minutes.
Around the same time, Todd was the victim of a home invasion where he was tied up and blindfolded by burglars, one of whom was whistling his signature tune, “Hello It’s Me” while the home was ransacked.
There is much speculation that this album was the culmination of Todd’s reconciling himself with these events. This album has a lot of progressive elements, most notably the twenty-minute instrumental piece on side two. One of his finest albums, this was the beginning of an underrated run of work released throughout the 1980s.
Todd has always been spiritual in his work. In “Real Man,” he quotes some Paul feller (When I was a child, I thought as a child, I spoke as a child), and “Love Is The Answer” certainly does not hide the spiritual message (“Light of the world, shine on me, love is the answer”). This is his only album (so far) where the theme holding it all together is spirituality and healing.
It should come as no surprise that this is the disc on this list that I reach for the most.
And if you're anywhere Akron, Ohio on Labor Day weekend, he's gonna play it live in its entirety for the first time ever! Check out for details.

Like any list, there are the ones that didn’t make the list. Here are some of the albums that couldn't go to communion because they had not received confession:

Against The Law-Stryper
V-Spock's Beard
The Whirlwind-Transatlantic
Bruce Cockburn-Humans

Like “Healing,” the Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic titles were more spiritual than religious (although with Neal Morse helming both, it was a close call. But they mainly didn’t make the cut because an all-Morse list would have made for a boring read.

Also considered were some newer Christian bands like Skillet and Switchfoot, but I just do not listen to them enough.
So there you have it. I'd say my "Heaven Eleven" but being Catholic, I gotta figure there's some Purgatory time awaiting me.


  1. Looks impressive list, but as you will appreciate living over the big ocean there are many I haven't heard of likewise vice versa,
    I have heard of Bob Dylan but then who hasn't, It;s the taking part the counts and I certainly do enjoy these lists.

    Enjoy your day.

  2. Very commendable list-- this is why I like doing these lists, so I can discover new things that sound good.
    Of course, I knew about half of those artists and the other half I was familiar with after your explanations of who they were.

    I've got to check out Neal Morse -- you make it sound very good. I've come to the conclusion that Prog Rock is my favorite category of the rock genre. You have enticed me to look into some of these choices. Maybe later we can do a best prog rock list.

    In a few weeks I plan to do a Rock in Espanol/ latin music list which will cover several genres of music. Do you know anything in those catagories? If so sign up. I'll be putting up the date probably on my Saturday post.

    Tossing It Out

    Hey, I think that this is the best thing you've posted on your blog up to this point!

    A couple of things about this kinda surprised me. For one, I was surprised that you signed up to create a list of eleven favorite spiritual/religious albums because (based upon some of our previous discussions) I didn't know you could even name eleven, let alone that you might have eleven "favorites".

    Another thing... this Blog Bit coming as it does from a guy who on more than one occasion has told me that when it comes to discussing music he rarely knows what to say other than "I like it" or "I don't like it", this sure did contain an abundance of well thought out and well articulated insight. This sure did make a liar out of that guy who told me he never knows what to say. (That guy is YOU, in case my rambling here has confused ya.)

    I'm not familiar with any of these albums other than Dylan's "Slow Train Coming", but you nailed that one, and so I must assume you equally nailed the others also.

    Well, Brother, this was very nicely done; I'm quite impressed! Looking forward to seeing your Drinkin' & Drivin' and Love & Breakup Songs lists, too.

    And you must tell me how you were able to underline the album titles within your text. I've often desired to underline certain words in my Blog Bits but thought that this system does not provide us bloggers with that option. How you done did do dat?

    ~ Stephen
    "As a dog returns to his own vomit,
    so a fool repeats his folly."
    ~ Proverbs 26:11

  4. Yvonne-I'd certainly recommend the Dylan album. There's only one song on there that's kind of harsh, it's it's his voice more than the song.

    Lee-I seem to return to progressive rock a lot, so while a lot of those artists did not make my desert island discs, life would be hard without them.

    I know some people who think 'Testimony' is by far the best thing he's ever done.

    Sadly, I don't know much about latino music. Odd, since I've been in AZ for fifteen years. I always think when the lyrics are in Spanish that they must be talking about me...

    Stephen-It was simple really. Phoenix heat.

    I really do sit at a blank screen for a long time when it comes to reviews.

    This list took me pretty much all day Saturday to write.

  5. --> "I always think when the lyrics are in Spanish that they must be talking about me..."

    Nonsense. It's ME they're talking about! :o)

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McParanoid