Sunday, January 30, 2011

Black on a Sabbath

I have a new playlist this week, inspired by the most recent Black Keys cd. It's simply titled "Black," and it has a mix of songs from groups with the word "Black" in their band name. Now, I teased you with the Black Sabbath reference in the title. Truth is, I don't own any Black Sabbath music. But I do own quite a bit of Black Crowes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Black Keys music. And I'm a big fan of all three groups. So, I made a playlist of about 25 songs to aid my dissertation writing.

All three bands are blues-rock oriented. This might explain in part their common choice of the word "Black." Your song choices are somewhat limited when your band performs under the term black. No Barry Manilow covers here.There's a certain grittiness to what they do. All of them feature great guitar work and soulful vocals. All of its great played very loud.

A few years ago, in my previous job, I asked an English prof who had taken a sabbatical to study the blues to do a presentation on the gospel and the blues at our annual Bible lectureship. He not only made a presentation, he brought the best blues players in the region together to play live. We hosted the session in the commons area of the library. Yes, the library. The windows were rattling. I had students write letters of complaint about the old dudes who were rocking the library and keeping them from studying. It was one of my prouder moments as the Bible lectureship director.

The English prof made a pretty big point that the blues never really make the turn to good news. This is what makes them the blues. Their power was precisely in their ability to capture in unvarnished form the underside of life.

This might very well be right. It is certainly the most valuable contribution the blues make with regard to truth telling in the world. And I would add that this capacity to come alongside the sufferer, not to talk them out of their suffering, but to join them and to name it, is part of the redeeming work of God in the world.

Which is why I hesitate a little with the assessment that the blues, if they are the blues, never make the gospel turn. There is no question, for instance, that the music of the Black Crowes dips into the musical genre of gospel if not its content. And nearly the entire cd, Howl, by BRMC is devoted to not only a gospel feel, but gospel lyrics. When you listen to BRMC, you get the sense that they have positioned themselves on the razor's edge. They have placed themselves on the faultline between light and dark and for them it could go either way. For them, the black is black. It's the other side of light, not simply the color of the leather they wear as a biker band. It is the place of struggle, the place from which light must shine if light is to be any good at all.

So, I am attracted to these bands musically. They are good. They make my head bob, even though I know how dorky that looks. But I am also appreciative of the worlds they evoke. As I write, I am listening to my playlist. BRMC: "It's the weight of the world I know as I struggle to be whole. It is the weight of the world I know..."


Unknown said...


I always go out and immediately buy any album you recommend );, but I am having trouble finding the album "Black" by the Black Keys. Is this a private label release?


Unknown said...

Playlist name is Black. Doh!

Mark Love said...


I would like to report the immense pressure I now feel for being responsible for your music purchases.