Music Monday: Big Daddy Weave – Beautiful Offerings

My first encounter with Big Daddy Weave was when I was dragged along to a K-Love Christmas Concert at some local mega-church.  They were the headline act in an otherwise uninspiring and, at times, downright painful lineup.  By the time I got to Big Daddy Weave, I was in a bad mood and just wanted to go home.  As you can probably tell I have a love/hate relationship with Christian Music.  Truth be told, it’s mostly hate.  It’s entirely uncreative, sounds the same, and ultimately has the feel of a number of people following a template.  Of course, my biggest hang up is the lack of seriousness or depth.  Christian music as a whole has decided to sell “positive and encouraging” instead of “truthful and bold”.

Nonetheless, I was glad I stuck around for Big Daddy Weave.  While the rest of the bands were over the top, BDW was down to earth.  They were down right engaging, actually.  Their set was easy on the ears, seemed well practiced, and over all they seemed focused on Christ.  By far they had the best Gospel presentation of the night, even a bit bold. They shunned autograph seekers at the end of their set to pray with and talk to people who were in need.  I was particularly struck by their focus on worship in their music, instead of just being fun or wanting to be “encouraging”.  In a night and lineup full of hot garbage, Big Daddy Weave was a diamond in the rough.  They certainly left an impression on me, as I entered the show not knowing who they were to leaving the show a fan.

In their latest release, Beautiful Offerings (I have the Deluxe Edition), we find another offering for this band.  Their 10th album, 9th on Fervent Records, gives us a glimpse of a Christian band that actually seems to get what Christianity is.  I get the feeling from a lot of bands that they’re just playing Christian.  I don’t get that impression from BDW, but instead that it matters to them to express their true faith as best as they can.

Bravo for the effort.

Yet, in some ways, the leopard can’t change its spots.  You can still hear the familiar and predictable riffs, the cliched lyrics, and occasionally the drive toward writing a hit instead of writing a song.  It’s a testament to the power of influences on a musician and a writer.  In the end, they’re a product of the industry that pays their bills, but in a different world, a different time, it feels as if they would willingly be something different.  Almost like they want to be.

Track 1 – Beautiful Offering

Mike Weaver’s familiar voice (and twang) tells a story of a giving up his entire life to God culminating in a characteristic driving chorus with an undeniable hook.  The rhythm guitar is offset by a string (violin) lead which seems to want to be fighting for control of the song at times.  The drums are solid, but nothing special.  Mike has a great voice, using volume and dynamics well which comes through in this song, as does his great range.  It gets a little repetitive but never becomes boring.  As with a lot of their songs, you want to sing along.  Good song.

Track 2 – My Story

A drum and synth driven song sets the background for Mike’s couplets.  Good time to mention that BDW welcomes a new drummer on this album, Brian Beihl.  The focus of this song is the lyrics, which are good enough.  What I don’t get is why it’s set in a hypothetical.  “If I told you my story, you would hear…”  I kept thinking “Just tell me, dude.”  But that’s missing the forest for the trees because the story here is the “grace that is greater than all my sin, Of when justice was served and where mercy wins, Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in, Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him”.   Now, that’s pretty cool.  They made a song about Jesus that actually did justice to the Gospel.  The instrumentation could be more varied, the melody less predictable, the harmonies fuller, but the theology is God honoring.

Track 3 – I Belong to God

A step down from the first two tracks but, not a step off the cliff.  The “cutsey” intro of slide guitar and uncreative drums is only outdone by the lack of creativity in both melody and lyrics.  It’s songs like this that remind us that BDW is a product of their industry.  In trying to write of God, they end up writing more about themselves, what they are, what they’ll do, etc.  It’s a style that appeals to the lack of depth of your average Christian radio listener that thinks “positive and encouraging” means “holy and true”.

At some point I’m hoping to write about their talent and ability with their instruments, but so far the only thing that stands out is Mike Weaver’s voice, which is certainly above average, but far from brilliant.  Sad.  Professional musicians should get beyond the high school level at some point, right?

Track 4 – Come Sit Down

They slow it down here, but it’s just a slower version of the same song.  The Christian Music industry suffers from this thinking that the same basic song faster, slower, in a different key, or with different instrumentation makes it, fundamentally, a different song.  It’s like a Doo-Wop band believing they’re not really Doo-Wop because each of their songs has a different tempo.  Of course every band’s attempt to break this mold is the “bridge break down” where they stop singing part A and part B over and again, and start singing part C (the bridge) almost exclusively, occasionally breaking it up for a small part D (bridge of the bridge).  It’s not new, and BDW isn’t doing it in some unique or transformative way.  BDW does, however, do it well.  It’s toe tapping good, actually, and becomes interesting instead of boring.

Finally I get to write about musicianship!!  Jay Weaver (Mike’s Brother) does some interesting things on bass guitar on this track.  It is, literally, the first time I noticed an instrument on this album.   Notice I don’t say anything about the lyrics.  There’s really not much to say, they aren’t very interesting.

Track 5 – The Lion and The Lamb

No idea what’s going on in the first :20 of this album, the intro feels like Sunny Day Real Estate merged with the Newsboys.  Musically, that thread is woven into the rest of the song.  I don’t think Mike is singing this one, but I can’t tell who it is (their website reads more like a press packet than a site to promote the music).  

Five songs in a row and I’m noticing a pattern:  they like to get to the chorus quickly and have short simple verses.  It’s fine to do that with one or two songs, but this is becoming a hallmark of their music.  It serves them well to promote singing along with this music and simplicity, but it doesn’t serve them well in trying to write good music.  This track is exhibit A in making that case.  There’s so little build up, you feel like you’re sprinting from the very beginning.  There’s something to be said for laying a groundwork and working toward a high point.  But alas, these songs leave the impression you’re starting on the high point and leaping off.  Thrilling, yes, but that’s all there is to it.

Track 6 – Heaven is Here

Oh cool, they have an electric guitar in the band.  First time I actually noticed it.  Once again, we’re in a big rush to get to the chorus, which is a disappointing “Hallelujah (x73… approximately)” and then a falsetto “Heaven is here!”.

*yawn*

I’m not even sure what “heaven is here” is supposed to mean.  Look around you, fellas, if this is heaven, I’m rather let down to be honest.

They try to save the song with an inspired and soaring bridge, but again, when you’re in such a rush to get to the chorus all the time, the attempts at building just don’t work.  The bridge is the best part of the song, but it’s ruined when you realize that it’s just to point you to their chorus (which is the dumbest chorus I’ve heard in a long time).

Track 7 – It’s Already Done

Slowing it down here, but still sticking with the ABC rock format.  Short verse, chorus, short verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.  You get it by now.  Redeeming this song is the great lyrics.  It’s an altar call of sorts, and the addition of the choir to the informal melody style leave you feeling like this is modeled after an old spiritual.  Pretty cool song, actually, even if it fails to break out of their mold.  Lyrics are God honoring and solid.

Track 8 – I Will Go

I’m going to stop telling you about the song format.  You get it by now.  I haven’t noticed an instrument in what feels like five days.  It feels like they’re leaving so much on the table with this album.  What they play is adequate, but it seems like that’s all they want to be musically.  The lyrics certainly have their heart in the right place and this song shows that.  “I will go where you send me! To the ends of the earth, just say the word and I’ll go.”  Good, but it would be better if you followed it with something of substance that wasn’t essentially a repeat of the same thing.  So much on the table, and they’re not doing nearly enough with it.

Track 9 – Praise You

Well, they sure know how to write an ear worm, that’s for sure.   It’s catchy and it sure seems like they want to lift up God, but really, there’s not much to commend this song.

Track 10 – Glory Unspeakable

This song feels like they just needed to write a song because their contract said so.  The lyrics are so lazy, and the music… well, by now you know my thoughts on that.  Just look at this chorus, which I remind you is often the focus of their songs:  “We’re gonna be home soon, Tell people everywhere, In the struggle hold on because we’re almost there, It only hurts for a little while, But in a moment we’ll see his glory unspeakable”

Why are we telling people that we’re going to be home?  What’s hurting?  I’m 34, am I really “almost there”?

And the bridge, good grief.  “How I long for the day when this all fades away, And I look on the face of the One who saves, I’ll lift up my eyes to his glorious light, See the promise of heaven revealed in my life”

The day/away rhyme is the most tired of rhymes in all of songwriting.  How is the promise of heaven revealed in your life when you die?  Come on guys.

Track 11 – You’re Gonna Love Him

And here we run into our first theological problem.  Basically the whole song is an appeal along the lines of “Do you have a God shaped hole in your heart?  Do you think God is a big meanie who won’t fill that hole even though He’s the perfect shape?  Well think again, man who seeks after God on his own!  Jesus is really a cool guy!  Give Him a try, won’t you?”

I remind you “THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” {Rom 3:11-12 NASB}

They swear “You’re Gonna Love Him”.  I highly doubt the one bent on rebellion will.

Track 12 – Welcome

The music is beginning to vary a bit.  Almost feels like a different album by now.  An acoustic lead in this downright worshipful song.  Still, they’re eager to get to their chorus and make it the meat of the song.  Every evangelical worship pop band writes a song like this ‘Come into this place, Jesus, we welcome you, come and do your God things in this vague place that we never define in the song’.   BDW says, essentially the same things, and occasionally throws in some la-la-la stuff to break up the several identical choruses packed into this song.

*yawn*

Track 13 – When You Love Somebody

Holy repetition, Batman.  Good grief guys, stop rushing through your music and write a song that actually says something.  You can repeat vague pleasantries all day, it doesn’t make them meaningful.

Track 14 – Jesus I Believe

Certainly a different sound, based around piano and violin; neither of which are particularly interesting.  The ABC format is still in place.  Lyrically, we’re on sketchy theological ground.  “I need to hear You now, I need to know it’s You, I’m standing on your promises, I know your Word is true”

Ok, well if you know His Word is true, why do you need to hear from Him?  I get his heart is in the right place, and that’s awesome, but this kind of lyric is seen as “heartfelt and genuine” when in reality it’s just sad.  You have the Bible.  Read it, and you’ll know for sure you’ve heard from God.

Track 15 – Good Good Father (live)

Wow, they’re a good live band.  The simple music seems to help that along, but still it comes off well.  This is a decent worship song, but it’s not extraordinary.  Still, good effort.  The heartfelt praise for God comes through, they speak to God in a reverent and exalting way, and generally don’t make the song about themselves.  Good stuff.  Still, kind of get that 7/11 feel toward the end (seven words, eleven times).  Repetition is not your friend in worship, and this song goes on way too long.

Overall, I think the album shines a little brighter than the rest of the Christian Music Industry.  But, frankly, that’s not saying much.  I find very little to commend this album to anyone except to say that I think BDW comes off as genuine and honest in their effort.  But their devotion to writing simple, chorus based songs, with punchless repetitive lyrics keeps this album firmly in the category of average.  Sad, they seem capable of much more.

Two stars.  


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