Our Word On Fire music critic and expert, Father Damian Ference, tries on a new genre for size today: Christian music. Yet when it comes to the art of Matt Maher, this is one singer/songwriter who is not to be pigeonholed. As Fr. Damian put it, "Maher does not impose his Catholic faith on anyone, but he proposes it to everyone." Who can argue with that? Amen indeed.
Now that we’re at the halfway mark of the Year of Faith, I thought that the time might be right to introduce Word on Fire readers to an artist who incarnates the Year of Faith both in his art and in his person: Matt Maher. If you’ve never heard of him, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve at least heard his music, either on the radio or at Mass – “Your Grace is Enough” is a pseudo-classic and his settings for the new translation of the Roman Missal are sung in parishes every weekend.
Many folks want to categorize Maher as a Christian artist, but in the spirit of Flannery O’Connor, I want to say that such a description is inadequate and inaccurate. Maher is an unapologetic Catholic Christian, but he is also an exceptional artist, and the title “Christian Artist” often calls into question, intentionally or not, the quality of the art. O’Connor liked to say that she was an artist who was Catholic. I’d like to say the same about Maher.
Last week Maher released “All The People Said Amen,” a collection of thirteen songs – some old and some new, some live and some in-studio – that in an a little over an hour’s time will have you clapping your hands, pumping your fist, bowing your head, stomping your feet, belting out epic choruses, and whispering humble prayers. Drivers beware.
The album opens with the title track, which works as an invitation and offers understanding and hope to the listener: “You are not alone, if you are lonely/ When you’re afraid, you’re not the only/ We’re all the same, in need of mercy/ To be forgiven and be free.” The chorus is big and fun, and it’s hard not to sing along, especially with the “Woah-oh-ohs.” Maher brings the song home with a very cool and convicted rendering of the Beatitudes...
Talent is one thing, but what one does with it is entirely another. Father Damian Ference, our resident music expert, examines Cincinnati band Walk The Moon, and advises a sound next step in ensuring longevity.
Lately I have been using my vacation time to visit friends from my first parish assignment, who at one time were in my youth group. It’s a great joy to maintain those friendships, as they are the kind of friendships that John Paul II had from his early years of priesthood and maintained throughout his life. Such friendships are precious to any priest.
My “dear young friends,” (as I call them in the spirit of John Paul II), are in their mid-twenties now, and although some have remained in the Cleveland area, others have moved on to Boston, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco and Washington DC. One of my young friends, however, lives and works in Norton, Virginia – the heart of Appalachia – where he does important and excellent work for the church. I went to visit him this summer.
My young friend was happy to welcome me and show me around Norton, but he, too, needed a couple days of vacation. So we decided to head south to Asheville, N.C., which is known for its breweries, galleries, farm-to-table restaurants, its history, nature trails, and for the beautiful basilica of St. Lawrence. Asheville also boasts one of the top music venues in the country, The Orange Peel. We had tickets to see Neon Trees.
The highlight of the night, however, was not Neon Trees – it was their opening act, Walk The Moon. The quartet from Cincinnati played a tight, fun, interactive, high-energy set that had the sold-out crowd jumping and smiling and singing and dancing – think secular Steubenville. And this was impressive, seeing that most of the crowd was there to hear the headliner and was unfamiliar with the music of Walk The Moon...