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July 2000 Pick of the Month
Roaring Lambs
Artist:  Various
Label:  Squint Entertainment
Time:  12 tracks / 49:42 minutes

Samples
Salt & Light
Shortstop

Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." -- Matthew 5:13-16 NIV

                                                    *** 

In 1993, Bob Briner (1938-1999), a successful sports businessman, released his first book titled Roaring Lambs: A Gentle Plan to Radically Change Your World.  In the book he talks about the need for Christians to strive for excellence in both their professional and personal lives in order to "earn the right" with the lost to point them toward Jesus Christ. Briner emphasized the necessity for Christians to reenter the culture-shaping fields that we have abandoned so that we can affect our culture in a positive way.  He was an influential man who believed in serving others.

Based on Briner's book, the Roaring Lambs album was conceived and directed by Dave Palmer and produced by Steve Taylor. All songs on the album are new releases by some of the finest artists who are Christians--Steve Taylor, Bill Mallonee and Vigilantes of Love, PFR, Jars of Clay, Deliriou5?, Burlap to Cashmere, Over the Rhine, and Sixpence None the Richer. Listeners will also find collaborations by Ashley Cleveland and Michael Tait, Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith, Ginny Owens and Brent Bourgeois, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Charlie Peacock along with appearances by other roaring lambs such as John Mark Painter and Emmylou Harris.  There are no weak tracks on this album. What you won't find here are the names of God or Jesus included in most songs, but the references are definitely there.

One of my favorite songs on the album is Steve Taylor's "Shortstop"  The music rocks, the lyrics are fun yet grounded in truth, and the production is outstanding.

            Shortstop, standing in the lurch
            Bridging faith and field research
            High-wire balance, every move is inspired
            Hedge your bets and handicaps
            Shortstop's here to mind the gaps
            Lord, who will rise up when that number's retired?

                                                    ***
Paul wrote, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." - 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV

Another excerpt comes from the rock gospel tune "Salt and Light" performed by Cleveland and Tait, which reminds Christians that a characteristic of being salt and light in the world is to always speak the truth in love:

         Judgment seat, judgment seat
            It makes a good recliner, that judgment seat
            Truth in love, truth in love
            It's a powerful thing to speak truth in love
            Here I am, I will go
            Feet and hands, body and soul
            You make an ordinary girl shine bright
            In a world that needs salt and light.

                                                    ***

Jesus said, "...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Matthew 20:27-28 NIV 

                                                    ****

In conclusion, I believe this album will attract listeners of all ages in both the Christian and secular markets.  And may we all follow Jesus' example of service as the late roaring lamb Bob Briner did by asking those we come in  contact with, "How can I serve you?" 

Complete Track Listing:

 1. Headstrong - Jars of Clay
 2. Salt and Light - Ashley Cleveland and Michael Tait
 3. Out There - Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith
 4. One Thing - Ginny Owens and Brent Bourgeois
 5. Shortstop - Steve Taylor
 6. Kingdom Come - PFR
 7. 'Akehlulek' Ubaba (With God Everything is Possible) - Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Charlie Peacock
 8. Touch - Deliriou5?
 9. Daisies and Roses - Burlap to Cashmere
10. Goodbye - Over the Rhine
11. Wondering Where the Lions Are - Bill Mallonee and Vigilantes of Love
12. The Ground You Shook - Sixpence None the Richer

Trish Patterson   6/17/2000 

Roaring Lambs: a festival in honor of a man who inspired excellence 

THE MAN: BOB BRINER

Bob Briner, author of the book Roaring Lambs, encouraged believers to be "salt and light" in their culture through excellence.  He exhorted us to do all things to the best of our ability for God’s glory.  For preachers, preach well.  For storytellers, tell stories well.  For athletes, play your heart out.  And musicians, rock the world.  He seemed to carry on the message of the film "Chariots of Fire": "You can glorify God by peeling a potato if you peel it to perfection." 

Bob’s message is still changing the hearts and, perhaps more importantly, the minds of many believers, especially in the realm of the arts, where the role of the Christian is so often defined too narrowly. 

For a good number of Christians, the distinctive characteristic of good art and entertainment is that it clearly preaches the gospel.  Most "Christian music" is just that: platitudes, lessons, and testimonials that reach, for the most part, the converted, while aspiring to change the hearts of the unsaved. Bob Briner saw things slightly differently.  In his perspective, artists were glorifying God even and especially when they were beyond the walls of the church, living and working in the world, being examples of excellence. 

Briner passed away in 1999, a victim of cancer.  This loss wounded many of us who knew him and had been touched by him.  (Mr. Briner was a blessing to me personally, which I elaborate in a note following this article.) 

The church needs more advocates for doing what Christ himself exhorted us to do: Be in the world, but not of it.  Get out of the "Christian corral" where we become so comfortable, and learn to love those who don't love us. Christ lived that example; he could be found more often in the company of the church's enemies than in the tabernacle.

It is only proper that there be a monument to Bob Briner’s efforts that bridged gaps between so many disciplines, so many people, and brought them into a common effort of excellence for God’s glory.

THE MAKING OF A GREAT RECORD

Now there is an album of music in Briner's honor.  It’s called, of course, Roaring Lambs—a tribute paid by people who heard, understand, and are enacting Briner’s philosophy in their work.  As a result, we have what may be the most important (if not the most artful) album to come out of the Christian music industry in a while. 

Roaring Lambs features artists who are bound only by their faith, but who manifest that faith in a wide and disparate array of endeavors.  There are musical preachers like Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman, whose songs are clearly evangelical tools.  And there are others who pursue songwriting as exploration and poetry, such as Over the Rhine and Sixpence None the Richer.  Even Christian rock legend Steve Taylor steps into the spotlight for the first time in almost a decade. 

It's appropriate that Taylor take the stage here.  This album is produced by his own organization, Squint Entertainment.  With Squint, Taylor has made something monumental out of his "silent years", broadening the influence of Christian artists in music and film. There is a confidence and authenticity in the new voices he is shepherding, a few of which are present in this collection.  And to Dave Palmer, who conceived and directed this project, congratulations.  It’s quite an achievement, and it deserves to be heard.

THE MUSIC

The music on this record, for all of these good intentions, is by nature a mixed bag.  The only stylistic thread unifying these contributions is the heavy use of strings throughout. Lyrical approaches, levels of production, quality of writing and musicianship—these songs are all so different that listening to them straight through is a rather bumpy road. 

But there are some wonderful discoveries along the way. 

Steve Taylor’s own contribution pops out of the scenery like a jack-in-the-box. It's so wild and imaginative, it demands to be turned up loud.  "Shortstop" is a shocking return for the court-jester of Christian rock.  Celebrating Briner’s work "bridging faith and field-research", Taylor stirs up a potboiler of styles: old gospel vocal flourishes, Moby-style electronica, crunching guitars. With a characteristic wink, he pauses mid-song just long enough to say, "Yessirree, Bob!"  Listening somewhere, Mr. Briner?  “Shortstop” is so regrettably short, you’ll find yourself backtracking to play it again.  And again.

Charlie Peacock, who has recently moved away from music to focus on preaching, brings along some very special guests…Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  Their African harmonies are every bit as astonishing here as they were when Paul Simon vaulted them to worldwide fame on Graceland.  They lend their voices to a celebration of how, when God transformed and freed South Africa, "the whole world rejoiced." When the music pauses for an a capella recitation of the fruits of the spirit, it's like an incantation, that the rest of the world might be freed from its many and varied prisons.

From Delirious?, "Touch" rides a tidal wave of electric guitars, thundering drums, and strings.  Vocalist Martin Smith seems to be channeling Radiohead's Thom Yorke with his exhilarated crooning.  Lyrics that would have sounded sentimental and trite elsewhere are given the kind of conviction that makes them stick, elevates them to something higher. 

Over the Rhine, perhaps American music's best-kept secret cast a spell good enough to be the album's stirring finale. It makes one wish they'd part ways with Cowboy Junkies (for whom they've become a supporting cast) and start pumping out new albums right and left.  "Goodbye" is worth the price of the record.  Karin Bergquist's matchless angelic vocals giving flight to Linford Detweiler's lyrics while the piano chords ring out like bells over a sea of strings and percussion.  If this is any indication of where the band is headed, their most ambitious, surprising work is yet to come.

Bill Mallonee and Vigilantes of Love humbly volunteer a whole-hearted, good-humored, guitars-and-harmonica charge through a classic Bruce Cockburn hit, "Wondering Where the Lions Are." 

Exhausted yet?  The knockout punch comes from, surprisingly, the most popular bunch on the ballot: Sixpence None the Richer, with “The Ground You Shook.” In spite of their fame, Sixpence persist in writing poetic, surprising, courageous songs.  For those who discovered them through their #1 hit “Kiss Me”, it must be a surprise to learn what a trifle that song was compared to the heavier material that dominates their last album.  “Ground You Shook" reads like a personal letter to Bob Briner.  It’s a sonic feast of crisscrossing acoustic guitars, sonorous electric guitars, and…ladies and gentlemen…Emmylou Harris.  What a thrill, to have the queen of country music join in, the one who has been building bridges between artists as widespread as Neil Young, Daniel Lanois, Beck, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, and so many more.

The other songs, while not exactly stellar, are still enjoyable.  Jars of Clay, who stormed up the Top 40 with their contagious pop ditty called "Flood", start things off with a warm, ambient pop number called "Headstrong". Burlap to Cashmere offers a characteristically intricate acoustic number.  Ashley Cleveland and Michael Tait join forces in an 80's-style power pop number that borrows a guitar flourish from U2's "Mysterious Ways" and mixes it with the open-throated roar of a Melissa Etheridge rocker.  PFR’s "Kingdom Come" is a nice nutshell of the Roaring Lambs sentiment— God's glory can be spread in everything we do. 

The big-name summit of Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith, produces just what you'd expect—a sincere, sentimental, formulaic anthem. “Out There" warns the complacent Christian that "there's a danger lurking here/inside our place of comfort/We've got to go out in the dark/'cause there's a hungry heart/that 's longing just to know/that someone cares to go/out there..." This made-for-Christian-radio hit is just the kind of tear-jerker that will be sung at the firesides of a thousand Christian summer camps.

Only the contribution of Ginny Owens and Brent Bourgeois disappoints: stealing the opening bar from "All Along the Watchtower", its vague lyrics are heavy with unfocused, overused Christian lingo. "Like wind in our face/we face up to the truth/and truth is a word... a word that comes from God/and God is alive/that I still believe."  Huh?

Despite its imperfections, this album accomplishes something that’s long overdue. It’s hard to believe —the cooperation of musicians from both sides of that troublesome fence between “sacred” and “secular” music, all affirming the Source of their various talents, desiring to glorify God with excellence.  And for that, "Roaring Lambs" will be roaring from my stereo for years to come. 

Thank you, Bob Briner.  Thanks for this.

Music: 
Bob Briner: 

NOTE:  If the Dove awards want to recognize excellence and lift up something that has the potential to challenge and inspire Christian musicians to better work, what better opportunity than to give top honors to this important record!

PERSONAL NOTE: 
There are some people whose very presence commands our respect and attention, whose word carries that authoritative ring of God’s truth and insight. They walk humbly, but with such energy and concentration that you can't help but be inspired.  You walk away wanting to accomplish great things.  I can name very few people whose have had this impression upon me on a first meeting—T-Bone Burnett, Frederick Buechner, Madeleine L’Engle, Luci Shaw, to name a few. And definitely Bob Briner.

I met Bob in 1997 when he visited Seattle to give a talk about Christian influence in the arts and culture.  After a hearty handshake and some quick words about his writings, I immediately felt great affection for this big-spirited, welcoming, enthusiastic man.

At the event, organizers had failed to appropriately arrange the evening.  No one had put up a book table where attendees of his talk could purchase or peruse his writings.  Promotion had been nearly non-existent, and thus there was only a small crowd in attendance. Since I had brought along free issues of my own publication on the subject of Christianity and the arts, expecting there would be a table for such things, I was reluctant to display them, since there was nothing available at the event attached to the name of Briner.

Mr. Briner exhorted me to share the magazines with others, and, in fact, he began his speech by recommending it to the attendees. His generosity and grace flabbergasted me. He never even blinked at the oversights of the others.  He was here to do what he could with what he was given.  And he left us full of new insights and enthusiasms about how Christians can be “salt and light” in culture. In one short evening, he gave me great encouragement and challenged me to do my best at what God had given me to do.  I wondered at how he must influence those who saw him frequently. That evening passed far too quickly.

And so did Mr. Briner.  I only chatted with him off and on in the next couple of years via e-mail.   Just two years later, in 1999, cancer claimed this favorite friend and helper of so many Christians. 

I wish I had known him better. 

Jeffrey Overstreet 07/11/2000
 

Jeffrey Overstreet writes regular reviews, news, and essays on the arts and Christian perspectives at the Green Lake Reflections web page and in The Crossing , a magazine for Christian artists.  He has been published in Christianity and the Arts Magazine, The New Christian Herald, and AngliCan Arts Magazine, and he is a founding member of Promontory Artists Association.  You can contact Jeffrey at Promontory@aol.com.

If ever a various artists project (and there are loads of them these days) screamed "significant" and "momentous" with every sinew of its marketing tendons, Roaring Lambs, is that project.

Let's look at the projects' pedigree:

  • It's based on a book that is a touchstone to the contemporary Christian, Bob Briner's Roaring Lambs.
  • Briner died of cancer in 1999, at a too early age (61).
  • It was nursemaided by Steve Taylor's Squint Entertainment, home of arguably 1998's biggest roaring lamb album, Sixpence None the Richer's self-titled disc that contained the monster secular hit "Kiss Me."
  • It boasts the return to recording of both Taylor and PFR.
  • It assembled 16 of the biggest (and coolest) CCM recording artists to contribute specially written songs based on the Roaring Lambs concept.
Success is positively guaranteed. There can be no bad reviews of this project--and you won't find one here either. For the most part, this truly is a project to get excited about. Oh sure, like any various artist compiling, there are stronger and weaker songs, but no one embarrasses themselves--and some turn in downright stunning pieces of work.

What is a roaring lamb? 

In brief, a roaring lamb is a Christian who is working/living within the secular culture to expose that culture to Jesus Christ in ways it can accept. Or, as PFR sings in their contribution, "Kingdom Come":

 If actions speak louder than words
 Then let me live loud enough to be heard
 Louder than a scream
Jars of Clay open the disc with the song "Headstrong." Sounding like a song they forgot to include on their latest disc, If I Left the Zoo, "Headstrong" includes a solid vocal performance from Dan Haseltine as he tells the Christian (or is it the non-Christian?) that everything they believe is wrong:
I don't know what you've been told
But it's wrong
And I can't hold you when you fall
So headstrong. Headstrong, headstrong
One of the cool things about this release is that many of the songs work on so many different levels--encouraging Christians, planting a seed for unbelievers, entertaining everyone.

Another aural highlight is the pairing of rock queen Ashley Cleveland with dc Talk's Michael Tait on the song "Salt and Light." While there's no mistaking the intent of this song (Christians -- if you don't go into the world with the truth of God, who will? So get up off your butts and go! But speak the truth in love.) it's easy to get caught up in the experience of the song alone. Tait and Cleveland play off of each other perfectly--and throw in Kenny Greenberg's guitar playing and you're in song heaven. 

The song declares the problem, issues the challenge, and includes a caution--while still allowing for a positive response from the listener:

Here I am, I will go
Feet and hands, body and soul
You make an ordinary girl shine bright
In a world that needs salt and light
This disc is the best of what CCM can be--when it reaches out to the world at large. It doesn't bludgeon the listener with the name of Jesus Christ or God, but the intent is crystal clear. In this industry, that is a brave step to take, indeed. 

Other highlights are contributed by Brent Bourgeois and Ginny Owens ("One Thing"), Sixpence None the Richer ("The Ground You Shook"), Over the Rhine ("Goodbye"), and Deliriou5? ("Touch").

But the return to recording of Taylor and PFR has to be the highlights of this disc. Taylor's contribution ("Shortstop") is the most musically interesting song here and his legendary tongue-in-cheek humor shines through. Who else could include a line about an athletic supporter in a song on a Christian album?

Musically, Taylor includes a fantastic mid-song break of drums and horns--and with the extensive baseball imagery (the credits include John Butler and Jay Swartzendruber as Baseball Coaches) this will be the perfect blare-it-from-the-radio summer song.

Here's hoping the return of PFR is not just a one-off. The group disbanded because they thought they had taken their sound as far as it could go, but I for one am not tired of hearing their unique amalgam of vocal harmonies and orchestral backing. And Joel Hanson and Patrick Andrew prove they can still write a solid song.

Strong points on this disc are many. There are, however, a few instances where someone didn't put their best foot forward.  While not a complete miss-step, the high-powered superstar duet between Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith, disappoints. Even though it's produced by Taylor, it sounds too much like what you'd expect from these two--it's too reserved. It would have been nice to hear them go all out a little more.

And, I was disappointed in the song from Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Charlie Peacock. Peacock is listed on the song and I naturally assumed he would be singing--but he's not, he's playing piano. Now, it's good piano, but if you see Peacock's name, in this kind of context, then the expectation is he's going to sing. All instrumentalists on the project were not given the same prominence.
But, those are minor quibbles in a project this strong. 

There are also excellent contributions from Burlap to Cashmere ("Daisies and Roses") and Bill Mallonee and Vigilantes of Love, who contribute a stomping remake of Bruce Cockburn's "Wondering Where the Lions Are." 

Roaring Lambs is a great disc--and a great tribute to Briner. Time will tell if Christians take its message to heart. And if you haven't read the book yet -- for Christ's sake, pick it up.

Mike L Ehret 7/11/2000


 
 

 

   
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