Holy Week began yesterday morning with the waving of the palms. We stood outside our church on the corner of Ford Parkway and Macalester, savoring the little bit of sun that offered warmth against the bitter Minnesota cold. It may have been the first day of spring, but it was still in the 30s. We waved our palms to sing Hosanna, to fight back the cold, to celebrate the march toward Easter.
So with that backdrop I offer an Easter music list.
I’m always making mix CDs for my wife, and as I started another list for her, I realized I was collecting a lot of gospel songs. Most of my mixes are pretty random, so I decided to lean into the theme.
The result is a collection of music that speaks to faith and spirituality and hope and the gospel. I’m well beyond saying this is “Christian” music, but it is a collection of hymns, psalms and laments, tinged with that old-time gospel sound.
- “Little Light” by The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers
- “What Wondrous Love Is This? by Chelsea Moon & The Franz Brothers
- “Not Enough” by Caedmon’s Call
- “Here it Comes” by Romantica
- “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word” by The Welcome Wagon
- “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash
- “Purpose (live)” by Cloud Cult
- “Hand in Hand” by Jayanthi Kyle
- “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Rattle & Hum movie version)” by U2
- “Be Thou My Vision” by Ginny Owens
- “All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons & Daughters
- “The Transfiguration” by Sufjan Stevens
- “Lamb of God, Have Mercy” by Gospel Machine
- “People of God” by Gungor
- “Poor Man’s Son” by Noah Gundersen
- “This Little Light” by Mavis Staples
- “This No More” by The Vespers
- “Amazing Grace (featuring The Lily of the Valley Gospel Choir)” by Justin McRoberts
- “40 (live)” by U2
Behind the Music
I always think it’s interesting to talk about how such a list came to be. But it’s probably not. Just in case…
Why mix CDs?
Because they’re easy to listen to in the car, where my wife primarily listens to music. I made a mix tape to go along with her first CD, but that was back when we had a car with a tape player (turns out it didn’t work right). I try to put the playlist on her phone too, but the CD is something I can actually give her.
Plus, the 80-minute limit on a physical CD gives you a hard restriction on how long the playlist can be.
Why those artists?
Nearly every mix I make for my wife features at least one U2 song. Hard to whittle down the choices for U2 though. “Please” almost made the cut. The versions of “Walk On” that end with the “Hallelujah” chorus would be ideal, but I try to avoid duplicate songs on my wife’s mixes and I’ve used that song before. The Rattle & Hum version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” includes the gospel choir, and the movie version has the practice performance, which seems understated and perfect.
And how do you not end with a live version of “40”? Ironically, that song was mentioned in yesterday’s Palm Sunday sermon.
I discovered Jayanthi Kyle at the Romantica show last month, then realized we’d seen her the year before at a protest and already loved her protest song, “Hand in Hand.” Seemed fitting to have a protest song on a mix like this. She’s also the lead singer for Gospel Machine, so she has the distinction of appearing more than any other artist on this mix.
“He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word” and “What Wonderous Love Is This?” both came from Holy Week services at my church a few years ago, when I really needed it. We’ve also sung “People of God” in my church. A list like this needs to recall your home church in some way. Not every church has such great music, but my church—Messiah Episcopal Church—has been blessed with a rich depth of musical artistry.
There are a lot of options for “Amazing Grace,” but I like me some Justin McRoberts. He gives us some soul and a little more gospel choir, which nicely echoes U2.
Cloud Cult always offers a healthy dose of spirituality, even if it is a little nebulous. Their new album is getting all the attention this spring, but this live version of an old song stuck out to me.
While there are a lot of throwbacks on this list (old hymns, U2, Mavis Staples, etc.), most are new (or at least newish) to me. I’ve mentioned both Noah Gundersen and The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers in recent lists of stuff I’m into, so they seemed like a good fit. But one actual throwback is Caedmon’s Call. While re-reading Addie Zierman’s When We Were On Fire I made a playlist of old 1990s Christian music. A lot I could borrow from those days, but this song still feels fresh. Another throwback, to our wedding, 15 years ago: “Be Thou My Vision.”
And you can’t have a list like this without some Johnny Cash.
Your theme doesn’t work!
I’m sure you could examine the lyrical content of this list and tell me the theme doesn’t work. Maybe it’s more melodically “gospel.” Whatever. I tend to ignore the words, which is ironic, given my teenage devotion to Christian music.
It’s probably a hopelessly broad theme—as evidenced by the praise songs I just started throwing in there—but it feels like it fits. That probably means I have it more defined in my head and I’m just not finding the words for it.
What I’m trying to say is that there are certain songs that have a certain gospel feel to them. They drip with faith—sometimes even when they’re expressing doubt. They’re spiritual songs, in a way that not all Christian music is. If that makes any sense.
Update: Now on Spotify
I went ahead and re-created the list on Spotify for your enjoyment. Unfortunately, three of the songs were not on Spotify: “Not Enough” by Caedmon’s Call, “Here It Comes” by Romantica and “Hand in Hand” by Jayanthi Kyle. I also used a different version of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” but this is close enough.