Andy Squyres released a gem of an album on Thursday which I already reviewed here. It’s an album that fully lives up to anticipation. But one thing I’ve noticed is that folks act as if this is the only type of album with this level of honesty, the only album that pairs hope and pain for closely. Squyres does this all well, no doubt. But his brand is, undoubtedly, “church music”. He’s a worship leader. His circles include Taylor Leonhardt and Jess Ray, among others. You don’t stumble into his music without finding it through Christians in most cases. And while his songs are certainly edifying for the Body and hopefully he does make some headway into other musical realms, there is still the stigma of him being a worship leader that inhibits crossover a bit.
Due to Lent, and generally wanting to get some help learning songs on piano, I broke out a decent amount of Cool Hand Luke songs with a friend a few days back. Obviously, comparing the two artists on most criteria is unfair. Squyres is a blue-collar folk troubadour and Cool Hand Luke was an emo-adjacent rock band. The song structures are different, their intended audiences even more so. You wouldn’t see #moshpitsforandy. And I’m not going to say Squyres was even mildly influenced by Cool Hand Luke (or even heard of the group at all).
This will likely feel like preaching to the choir, but the key point to consider here is that this honest, raw degree of songwriting isn’t any new to Christian music. It’s something that has transcended genre, though conveniently been kept in the shadows in ages where it was less marketable. It’s ultimately not a contest, though. Christian music DEMANDS integrity and holistic humanity. Was Kings Kaleidoscope’s “A Prayer” controversial? Yes. Does it speak to the visceral reality of anxiety? Yes, even more so. We cannot pretend the Gospel has resolved every care in the world when suffering persists around us and sin still resides within us. Few artists want to deal with the outward challenges of the world, but much fewer want to name any sort of specific sins they face themselves. It’s much easier to be universal, but this approach is cheap and lacks vulnerability. The same with joy – when Squyres speaks of God’s faithfulness while he holds a stillborn child or weeps for a dead soldier, the picture is more vivid and real than any non-contextualized equivalent. The Cool Hand Luke side project, Polyvalent, is equally as real: songs of death, exhaustion, failure, feeling overcome at every corner. And Cool Hand Luke’s music itself has always been honest, putting substance before style while excelling at both.
And I think that not every artist needs to be everything to everyone. Some artists are meant to speak to the Church first and foremost. Some will speak to a world of unbelief. We all need to be challenged to bare our souls more plainly. We all need stores of real people with real struggles. God can most assuredly redeem our struggles, even if it’s simply in the context of being able to better support a fellow struggler.
Squyres is not the first artist to take a raw approach to faith-based songwriting, and he won’t be the last. But he joins an important core of the scene which defies the vain, surface-level lyrical styles of most mainstream artists (both Christian and non).
We’d love to hear from you – what are some artists you connect with on a lyrical level? What’s the most honest Christian song you know?