From Ivory Towers to Muddy Waters
Music matters. Though we tend to think of music as simple entertainment, we should actually think critically about our music. Why? Because people believe what they sing. Because of this, I’m going to share my thoughts on a particular band.
I am accustomed to writing reviews for academic books not rock-n-roll albums. But in the past few years I have come across an extraordinary musician whose ministry deserves applause. Over against the threadbare melody so often characteristic of Christian radio, Sean Michel rocks to the beat of a different drum. His music sprouts from the mud of the Mississippi in an untamed mix of southern folk, classic rock and Delta blues. It’s as if Johnny Cash joined ZZ Top to perform on Beale. In addition to his remarkable style, Sean’s lyrics smack of theological thoughts that usually sound from the ivory tower rather than the recording studio. (In fact, a number of his songs are inspired by scholarly monographs only read by nerds like Preston Sprinkle.)
Sean’s latest album, Electric Delta is smothered with scripture and saturated with truth. The rock begins with “Mississippi Mud”, an amalgamation of Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians with Twain’s sentiment for the Big River. The song is what Paul’s letters would have sounded like had they been strummed in New Orleans rather than spoken in Corinth. It mixes the metaphor of mud as a foil to baptismal water on the one hand and to eternal treasures on the other.
Now we’re dirty as
The Mississippi mud
[but] We bein’ purified
With God’s Holy water…
Dear Lord I’m longin’ for
That glorified flesh and bone
This old body’s just wastin’ away
But inside I’m renewed everyday
Got this treasure in mud and clay
We’re so burdened and groan
But livin’ by faith
The next track, “Unbelievable”, discusses Christ’s incredible incarnation and the inconceivable resistance of people to believe in him—even after his resurrection. In this song, the Beloved Disciple would recognize his own motif pulsing in rhyme and swinging in rhythm.
One day you’re on the throne
The next you’re all alone
Looks like your fans have all fled
You’re cast out on the street
Without no food to eat
Can’t find a place to lay your head
Well if I walked up out this grave
you know it wouldn’t matter anyway
they wouldn’t believe a single word I said
I know that this is true
I tell you what I’m gonna do
I’m comin’ back from the dead.
Sean’s music, however, is not for the faint of heart. There is a prudish tendency today to ignore infelicities in the Bible, especially those from the prophets. Let’s be honest: Ezekiel would not be invited to the Dove Awards. And Hosea would be banned from K-Love. But “Hosea Blues” shows that, like the prophets, Sean refuses to can the wild love of God in a prim container. So here’s a warning: the following words may be offensive, since the passages from which they were drawn were emphatically meant to be.
My baby girl ain’t nothin’ but a fiery ho’
Wanderin’ places she never should go
Opens her legs to them mens so she won’t be po’
What she don’t know, is dem mens could never save her soul
My baby girl ain’t nothin’ but a cheatin’ mess
Unfaithfulness pourin’ out from her breasts.
Everytime my baby walk out that door
A pain sets in and it won’t let go
She keeps runnin’ away from the one who loves her the most.
Well I’m a jealous God
I won’t share you with no one…
I’ll do whatever it takes baby to have you back in my arms
Time does not allow for comment on all the Electric Delta tracks, so I’ll conclude with this challenge. Music is meant to give depth to your soul, height to your thoughts, and breadth to your life. Sean Michel’s music does that for me; perhaps it will do the same for you.
If you are interested, you can sample his songs on ITunes or from the following websites:
 I.e., Beale Street in Memphis, TN: a significant avenue in the history of Blues.