Christian Music and John Mark McMillan’s “The Medicine”

So I’ve just put a pot of water on to make some Saturday night pasta, in the mean time I’ve decided to write an album review. I suppose I should tell you the brief story that led me to this particular piece of music. Let me preface it by saying that I consider it a treat to actually review an album. It could be laziness, or just the fact that I’m not very enamored by new music, but I find myself buying about two new releases a year. It used to be that I was always looking for new bands on the horizon and looking out for new albums. Over the past few years my interest in new music has dwindled, and I’m much more content listening to an old record than a new artist.

It’s very rare that I am pleasantly surprised when it comes to listening to something that I’ve never heard before. I remember it happening some years ago now, when I listened to Wilco’s A Ghost is Born. I was in my best friends car one night, he had the album on and it hit like a ton of bricks, which is funny considering how light that albums sound is. Funny thing was, I couldn’t tell you what song it was that I listened to, I can just tell you that it hit me and I liked it. And it eventually lead me to really enjoy nearly all of Wilco’s music.

I remember waking up about a week ago, logging on to my FaceBook and just for the heck of it watching a video that my friend posted with the hash tag #musicthatdoesntsuck, so I guess that means it had to be good. This particular morning, like many mornings these days, I was stressed out, both mentally and physically. As many probably are, with the way things are politically, with the economy, and on top of all that just the everyday stress that comes with living. So, on this particularly stressful morning I clicked on the YouTube link my friend posted on his page. What to my wondrous eyes did appear, but a video and a song by John Mark McMillan. I happily watched as I ate my bagel before work.

I’d never heard of John Mark McMillan before, but I liked what I heard. The song playing was called “Skeleton Bones” and it seemed to hit me exactly the way the Wilco album did many years ago.

Christian music is not supposed to sound like this, its pretty good! Though I knew immediately that it was Christian music, which is something I liked. It was Christian music that didn’t wreak of the usual mundane stuff we hear pumped out in a fashion similar to that of the popular music of the secular industry. You know, the type of music that’s been run through one too many focus groups. Now my day was off to a good start and I felt much better.

Less than a week later I bought The Medicine. I didn’t know that McMillan had penned the popular Christian song “How He Loves” I just knew that he could write. It was evident in his lyrics, even One minute in to the first song of his that I’d ever heard. Also apparent was the fact that he was able to muster the courage to not sound like everyone else, something I admired.

For the last week I’ve been listening to the album as I drove around town. I listened to it straight through once and a few more times on shuffle, needless to say I liked it.

Modern Christian music, it seems, is supposed to have a certain sound, an almost corny sound that I can’t quite put my finger on. Its almost like there are a set of words and phrases that are to be repeated and any divergence from that path is to be regarded as wrong. Like using the mouths and minds that God has given us to create vivid imagery in our hearts and minds is to be avoided, so that even the basest mind can get the message. Though I’ve always understood The Gospel to be a simple message, one that is fit for the peasants and the kings, a message that does not need any dumming down. The addition of a metaphor that aptly attempts to put into words the wonder that is God is better than nothing at all. And a song that tugs on a joyful thought and applies it to Christ’s message is good. On the other end of the spectrum you have bands and artists that constantly force you question whether or not they are actually a Christians, a task that gets a bit too arduous. These artists are the byproduct of the Contemporary Christian music industry.

The Medicine does not fit either mold. I don’t want you all to think that I’m just writing this to bash on Contemporary Christian music, even though I am a little bit. I’m writing this because I thoroughly enjoyed John Mark McMillan’s work and I think that his music needs to be acknowledged and to a degree be emulated. Though I tread with caution there because I think blind emulation is something that has contributed to our current problem, and has created the other extreme, artists that won’t touch Christianity with a ten foot pole. There are in fact gems out there that write great Christian music and their work should not be marginalized.

Back to the album. The actual sound of The Medicine is a bit of a mix of Roots Rock, Folk Rock and plain old Rock music. The album is not lacking in lyrical mastery, and does not shy away from the powerful name of Christ, a plea for “righteousness” and what sounds like a real heart for God. It holds true to Christianity, all the while maintaining lyrics that uplift and make you think, as it holds on to a sound that leaves one desiring to hear more.

If I were you, I’d buy the album for $9.99 on iTunes, and check it out for yourself. It comes with some extras if you get it via iTunes. I hope the impact that The Medicine by John Mark Mcmillan had on me on a stressful Thursday morning will at least make you take a look at it, as I know this review is not quite like most reviews. I think about 25% was dedicated to the actual album.

Well, I polished off a plate of spaghetti and a couple of pieces of bread, now its off to bed so I can get to work in the morning.

2 Responses to “Christian Music and John Mark McMillan’s “The Medicine””

  1. Lindsey Bissell Says:

    Hey. I just google’d “what sounds like John Mark McMillan” and this popped up. Have to say I completely agree with your review. He’s insanely amazing and has brought a whole new life and breath of fresh air to my worship life. My personal favorite is Carbon Ribs. I attend Beach United Methodist Church in Jacksonville Beach, FL, and John Mark is friends with the guy who plays guitar in our worship band and we had the HONOR of having John Mark come to a service one night and lead a full hour and a half of sowrhip. It changed me. It truly moved me. Thank you for sharing your honest interpretation of his songs.

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