“Put down my thoughts in a letter to the president/ Penciled and packed with all due respect/ Elvis commemoratives just for effect/ Never heard back: you think you know a guy… But my closets a shrine to an old friend of mine/ Here I talk all the time with a prophet, priest/ I pull out boxes and brooms and I gush like a groom/ For it’s here I commune with a prophet, priest and king” — “Prophet, Priest, and King”
Just reading those lines, you don’t know what sort of person would sing them, do you? It could be Rage Against the Machine, or Wu Tang Clan. Instead, it’s a Christian rock band from Atlanta, Smalltown Poets, in the opening song from their self-titled album. The band has enjoyed great success in the Christian music arena, grabbing a Grammy nomination for “Best Rock Gospel Album” and a Billboard award for “Best Video Clip by a New Christian Artist.” The album is punchy, filled with catchy songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on modern rock radio. So why aren’t they played there?
It could be a bias against a band marketed as “Christian rock.” Jars of Clay weren’t, and they scored a hit a few years back on mainstream radio, so it can be done. Or maybe it’s a lack of variety. The Smalltown Poets album contains some good, thought-provoking lyrics, the playing is first rate, but every song is about the band’s relationship with Christ — which, if you’re of the same persuasion, is fine, but you’re the choir the band is singing to. But if you believe something different, then the band comes off as a one trick pony. There are important issues in these men’s lives surrounding their faith — let’s hear about them. Because ultimately, believing in something (or nothing) takes more than blind faith. If the Smalltown Poets want to compete in larger forum, then they are going to have to answer larger questions. They make a good start. With songs such as the quoted “Prophet, Priest, and King” and “Everything I Hate,” which contains the line “I’m into everything I hate, my spirit is not fooled,” they make the listener think, which is rare for any pop music, much less one of this genre. All in all, I’d like to hear this band do less preaching, and more questioning. Ardent Records, 2000 Madison Ave., Memphis, TN 38104