Yes, yes, I know: The title of this post isn’t theologically accurate. There aren’t just seven bands that should be Catholic. Every band should be Catholic. Every person should, in fact, be Catholic. If Catholicism is true, then its claims extend to every living person on this planet. Not just seven bands.
But, just as some persons are closer than others to the Catholic Faith (whether they know it or not), some bands are closer than others to the Catholic Faith (whether they too know it or not).
The seven bands listed here are just those sorts of bands. Although each hails from a Protestant or secular background, they’re still the makers of “Catholic” music—music shot through with a sacramental vision of the world, and which wrestles with themes of God and grace, sin and redemption, community and communion, all in a language the culture understands.
As for why more Catholics aren’t doing the same…well, that’s another post. It probably has something to do with an entire generation of Catholics growing up singing “Friends are like Flowers” at Mass. But again, another day, another post.
So, for now, who are these seven bands? And what would it take to bring them all the way home?
1. Mumford and Sons
Let’s start with the obvious. Any band that peppers its pop with references to St. Francis and G.K. Chesterton, while belting out refrains like, “Awake my soul, you were made to meet your maker” is bound to end up on a list like this. And rightfully so. Marcus Mumford’s mum and dad were leaders in the Vineyard movement and even though Mumford no longer considers himself part of that movement, he can’t seem to shake his fascination with matters of the soul. As they say, you can take the boy out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the boy.
Perhaps all Mumford needs is better theology than he got growing up. Say, a hefty dose of Frank Sheed? That would certainly fix the theological holes in this song. (It is the long walk home that will change your heart. It is. It is. That’s what sanctification is all about: the walk. Gah!)
2. Over the Rhine
For almost two decades, the husband and wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Berquist has been making beautiful, Christ-haunted music together. And that music keeps getting better with age.
Their newest project, Meet Me at the Edge of the World, is due out in September, and, judging by what I heard in concert a couple weeks back, it almost has the feel of a prayer—part act of thanksgiving, part impassioned plea. Like all their music, the songs are works of poetry and grace, rooted in the farm the couple call home, with allusions to God and his creation breaking through at every turn. In some ways, I think there is no band more “Catholic” today than Over the Rhine.
As for what bit of Catholic teaching might convince them of the same…well, I’m thinking a good introduction to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body might do the trick.
3. Joseph Arthur
Yeah, I know, he’s a person, not a band. But “Seven Bands That Should Be Catholic” made a much better title than “Seven Bands/Musicians That/Who Should Be Catholic.”
Regardless, I confess I don’t know much about Arthur. He’s mostly new to me. But any guy who writes a song entitled “Saint of Impossible Causes” should be Catholic. And maybe with a little help from the Lives of the Saints, he could be.
4. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
This is one of those “so close, yet so far” bands. If Alex Ebert, Jade Castrinos, and the half dozen or so others who make up Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros saw they were on this list, they would probably laugh uproariously. So would the several thousand stoned young people who surrounded me when I saw the band in June. But this band is better than even they know.
Their music, which is born out a kind of communal experience more closely resembling a family than a band, is mostly about transcendence—longing for it, looking for it, suffering without it. It reflects a knowledge that we’re called to more and that when we don’t answer that call, we pay for it. Unfortunately, the band has yet to grasp the exact nature of the call and the answer. (I.e. If you want to become the prayer, praying is kind of a must.)
For that reason, I’m daily tempted to send a few Communion & Liberation peeps their way. They speak the same language.
5. Ben Sollee
My friend Chris calls Ben Sollee the love child of Wendell Berry and Paul Simon. Which is about right. He’s got Simon’s voice and sense of rhythm, while his lyrics reflect Berry’s love of the land and community. Known for strapping his cello on the back of his bike and peddling across country from gig to gig, Sollee has “Budding Distributist” written all over him…which makes me think a sit-down with Chesterton might be just the ticket.
6. Patty Griffin
Patty’s our requisite ex-Catholic on the list. But somebody needs to call this girl home. She may have left the Church, but she hasn’t forgotten it. And her recent fascination with Gospel music hints at what might be going on below the surface.
As for who should be doing the calling…Mother Mary seems the natural choice.
7. The Avett Brothers
Don’t let the long hair and banjos fool you: The brothers Avett are no back woodsmen. They’re readers. And thinkers. And philosophers.
Whether by chance or choice, they’ve woven some serious Thomism into even their most kick-your-heels up tunes. (How often do you hear “Free is not your right to choose; it’s answering what’s asked of you” on the radio?) Along with the philosophy, you’ll also find lots of old-fashioned common sense about love and marriage, family and fatherhood, friendship and prayer. The natural law has a firm hold on Seth and Scott’s writing—thanks, in no small part, to their adorable parents, whom I’ve been honored to meet twice. That’s why I think a careful reading of Thomas’ Summa, paired with a hefty dose of grace, just might convince at least one of these brothers to start eating fish on Fridays.
And that’s all I’ve got for now, folks. There are more worthy of a mention, but I’m back in Illinois this week, which means I’ve got nephews and nieces to chase. Feel free to add your own in the com-box though.