New release from Nashville: a timely, thought-provoking dive into 'God and Country Music'

Holly Meyer’s mama tried to raise her better.

Actually, I think her mother did just fine. That opening was my rather feeble attempt to set the scene (with thanks to Merle Haggard) for this post on “God and Country Music.”

Meyer, The Tennessean’s religion writer, had a big piece on Sunday’s front page about a religious revival in country music:

It turns out that the story idea came from, well, Meyer’s mother:

“And a good story idea is a good story idea, especially when it comes from your mom,” Meyer said.

Amen!

Full disclosure: I love country music. In fact, I wrote a column several years ago exploring country songs as “modern-day parables.” So I was pretty certain I was going to appreciate Meyer’s piece. And I did.

Her timely lede:

Country music stars are putting their faith in new songs that focus more on the church pew than the bar stool.

While religion has always been deeply entrenched in the genre, a slate of Christianity-infused tracks are receiving radio play this year, and they're being belted from award show stages.

At least seven high-profile songs reference God or his son or wade into the spirit of Christianity.  

"It is noteworthy," country music historian Robert K. Oermann said. "It is not common that there'd be this many at the same time."

Keep reading, and The Tennessean writer highlights seven recent hits by stars such as George Strait, Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley and others such as “the largely unknown Matt Stell” (I’ll admit this is the first time I’d heard his name). Meyer and intersperses the relevant lyrics throughout the story. It’s an approach that works extremely well.

Give Meyer credit, too, for producing a piece that gives more than fan girl treatment to the subject (and honestly, I don’t know if Meyer is a country music fan or just a talented religion writer doing her job by reporting a compelling trend).

This section is an example of Meyer attempting to dig below the surface:

While country stars embrace religious material, the songs tend to skim the surface theologically, David Dark, a Belmont University professor of religion and the arts, said. 

He suspects that not delving too deeply into religion allows a song to resonate with the largest possible audience and boosts the bottom line for all who are trying to make a living off it. 

"Vague love of God is part of the deal," Dark said. "You do have to at least pretend to believe in God." 

It’s good stuff.

Read it all.

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