Dalama Jones | "Under the Sun"

ALBUM: Voyage de l'Âme (2014)

Around this time last year, Saskatchewan-based artist Dalama Jones released Voyage de l'Âme, a pleasure tour of nineteen miniature experimental soundscapes that stands as the strongest work in the 21-year-old's seven-year career. Jones' brand of cut-and-cut-and-cut-and-paste instrumental hip-hop takes strong cues from J Dilla, but the audio samples he threads throughout usually lean into the metaphysical in one way or another.

"Under the Sun" (which takes its name from Ecclesiastes' lament that "there is nothing new") features a heavily-lisped discourse on cosmic determinism pulled from Richard Linklater's film Waking Life, and the production Jones couches it in gives it an even more detached, out-to-lunch feel. Listen below.

GioSafari | "On The Road (Song For Robert)"

ALBUM: Heliotropism (2012)

It's no secret that "Bob Dylan", the 19-year-old folk singer who blew into Greenwich Village in 1961, was a persona fabricated from a swath of influences, most significant among them Woody Guthrie. In the same fashion, musician-activist Gio Andollo, who performs as GioSafari, modeled himself on that mythical Dylan, following his footsteps by moving to New York City to sing his songs of peace and Kingdom-ushering. His second EP, Protest Songs (Are Dead), is couched deep in Dylan's Freewheelin' and The Times They Are A-Changin' "protest singer" motif and even features an audio clip of the singer. 

GioSafari's nod to Bob on his first full-length, Heliotropism, is much more bittersweet. Transposing Dylan's ode to his own idol, "Song For Woody" (itself a version of Guthrie's "1913 Massacre"), Gio turns it into a lament for Robert Zimmerman, the boy Dylan left to die back in in Duluth when he shucked off forever the family and the life he was born into. Instead of the hero-worship of "Song For Woody", Andollo's take is sad and affectionate, wishing Dylan well while acknowledging that their paths have split - Gio found Bob's footsteps impossible to follow, "The imprints more shallow each step ‘long the way/Twenty one grams you lost with each role that you played".

If you like "On The Road (Song For Robert)", be sure to check out GioSafari's upcoming tribute to another '60s icon, John Lennon. I Am The Walrus comes out next month.

Andrew Peterson | "Mountains On the Ocean Floor"

ALBUM: The Far Country (2005)

Though long part of the in-decline CCM scene, Nashville singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson has always stood out thanks to his humble reverence and deeply thoughtful songwriting, much like his idol Rich Mullins did before him. His upcoming album, The Burning Edge of Dawn, Is due next month, and it continues the musical diversificaton begun on 2010's excellent Counting Stars and especially 2012's equally excellent Light for the Lost Boy. But while those albums evolved Peterson's sonic palette, his love of unconventional song structure and ear for a great melody go way back. 

"Mountains on the Ocean Floor", from 2005's The Far Country, showcases those traits perfectly, with Peterson using volcanic undersea mountains as a potent metaphor for God's grace, invisibly stored up and waiting to be revealed.  Listen below. 

Pony of Good Tidings | "The Earth, Its Ghosts"

ALBUM: Zing Zong (2012)

It's been three and a half years since Brooklyn's Pony of Good Tidings released their debut, Zing Zong, and we're still waiting in hope for a followup. In the meantime, check out this gorgeous track from that record.

On "The Earth, Its Ghosts", songwriter/singer Natty Green's acoustic guitar is like a babbling stream, and the softly shuddering cello and violin complement the glassy autoharp zings. The ethereal sound fits like a glove with the supernatural imagery - Green looks forward to the Second Coming, imagining the planet literally giving up its ghosts as they fly away to "where we are drawn, where we are named". Listen below.

Bobby McFerrin | "The Garden"

ALBUM: Medicine Music (1990)

From scat to beatboxing to throat singing to acrobatic changes of pitch, Bobby McFerrin is one of music's legendary vocalists. But it's not just technical mastery that sets him apart - every one of McFerrin's performances is imbued with his beatific joy and good nature.

Faith plays a big part in his music, as well - his most recent record, 2013's spirityouall,  celebrated African-American spirituals along with some splendid originals (and inspired the name of this very blog). "The Garden" is from Medicine Music, another of his more faith-focused albums. It's the first few chapters of Genesis recreated with his characteristic light touch and the help of his ten-member "voicestra". Listen below.

Jay Tholen | "Be Alright"

ALBUM: Control Me (2010)

One of the purest (in the sense of "authentic") Christian musicians working today, Jay Tholen blends chiptune with pretty much everything else he can find in the kitchen sink. With song titles like "The Last Words of a Fat Old Pervert" and charming handmade album covers, he's cut from the Daniel Johnston cloth of naked sincerity, deranged humor, and obsessive idiosyncratism. Creativity steams from his very pores. 

In addition to being a musician, Tholen is also a video game developer - his passion project Dropsy is a little over two weeks from release after a tortuous development process. So total is his dedication that Tholen admitted in this interview from March that his house was being foreclosed on because of financial straits he's been through to bring the game to completion. How can you not love this guy?

"Be Alright" is from Control Me, an album Tholen describes as "an honest expression of my love for the Gospel". It's a bouncy SNES-flavored pop tune dosed with ukelele and liberal keyboard-noodling to go with the firebrand lyricism. Listen below.

The Mae Shi | "Run To Your Grave"


Before splitting up in 2010, experimental punk band The Mae Shi released their last album, HLLLYH. A jolt of spastic electronics and frantic vocals, it was also a concept album themed around Judeo-Christian religion. The Mae Shi's membership held a wide spread of personal beliefs ranging from ardent atheist to devout believer, and the band's democratic songwriting process meant that not only do the songs skitter from passage to passage faster than comprehension, their stance toward the Deity is impossible to pin down (the album's title can be pronounced, "Hallelujah" or "Hell yeah").

For example, the mind-melting "PWND" takes the perspective of a soul-reaving Angel of Death pouring out indiscriminate wrath on the earth at the behest of a depraved God. "Run to Your Grave", on the other hand, urgently warns against slavery to money, and its final, repeated refrain, "Scream, cry, pray, confess/God will do the rest", is something else completely - a paean to self-abnegation and trust in God.

Washington Phillips | "Lift Him Up That's All"


ALBUM: The Key to the Kingdom (2005)

Washington Phillips was a gospel singer from East Texas whose sound stands as one of the most singular of all time. Playing a homemade instrument called a "manzarene", (contrary to the opinion of many until recently) Phillips recorded a scant eighteen songs in his life, but every one is downright magical. Phillips' voice is plaintive and always intimate, an odd trait for music recorded so long ago - and it's a precious thing to listen and sense that in 1927 the Jesus he was singing to was precisely the same as he is today.