Various Artists: Songs Inspired By The Passion Of The Christ
Genre: Progressive, multi-genre mix of sparse, soulful, dark-hued songs
Label: Universal South
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- First, let’s deal with the misleading title of this package, lest this awkward issue cast a shadow on the integrity of its design and execution. These songs are obviously not "inspired by" a movie that just came out this year - some are decades old. Certain media folks (like a columnist at the Nashville Tennessean) seem to be unable to get past this problem, and have dismissed the entire CD as a result. It’s the particular collection of songs gathered here that was inspired by Mel Gibson’s runaway smash, The Passion Of The Christ, and the compilation is indeed an inspired one. Because these songs did not appear anywhere in the film, this CD might be seen as an opportunistic shot at launching an additional product on the momentum of the film. That argument doesn’t wash, mainly because this CD does not accommodate any ready-made marketing niche. It surely isn’t a gospel or worship record, opting instead to encompass the arguably more intriguing gray area between the secular and the spiritual. Like the film on which it is based, Songs Inspired By The Passion Of The Christ is creative, challenging and, at times, unsettling, hardly a tossed-off effort to capitalize on its namesake’s success. The disc does follow the blueprint of many contemporary soundtracks by assembling a far-reaching mixture of artists. However, its artful, almost avant-garde presentation of mostly subdued and solemn pieces lends it a sense of continuity rarely found on soundtrack-related CDs.
The selections contained on the disc, like changing camera shots, reveal various perspectives on the Gospel message, though the connection in some cuts is admittedly harder to discern. The CD’s opener unflinchingly asks the evangelistic question, "How Can You Refuse Him Now?," originally posed some fifty years ago by Hank Williams, Sr., its author. The song appears wholly reinterpreted by the country legend’s granddaughter, Holly Williams, accompanied by a minimalist piano arrangement comprised of the barest of tonal threads. The stark simplicity of the song’s lyric, coupled with the chill of its ethereal atmosphere, gives its inquiry a reflective weight that seems rhetorical: "how can you turn away from His side? / with tears in His eyes, on the cross there He died / how can you refuse Jesus now?"
Alongside spirituals like The Blind Boys of Alabama’s sacred steel guitar-infused "Precious Lord" and Ricky Skaggs’ unaccompanied vocal, "Are You Afraid To Die?" lie divergent offerings like Bob Dylan’s dirge-like "Not Dark Yet" and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ "Darker With The Day." Choices like these, confounding though they may seem, possess a relevance that is emotional, if not literal, and are ripe for imaginative interpretation. Their inclusion also creates a cutting-edge appeal that has potential to reach ears typically closed to a traditional presentation of Christianity. The stylistic juxtaposition rejuvenates seemingly outdated pieces like Kris Kristofferson’s pop/hymn crossbreed "Why Me" (sung here, just a tad overwrought, by newcomer Lee Ryan) and an Elvis Presley gospel number that resonates with naked sincerity among its darker-hued counterparts.
Mel Gibson’s intent for Songs Inspired By The Passion Of Christ was to show that Christ’s death and resurrection is a message both historic and contemporary. Indeed, its universality makes it infinitely mutable, and this adventurously assembled collection makes the most of that malleability.
Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This article was developed by UMC.org, a ministry of United Methodist Communications