Christian artists seldom top secular charts or appear on Times Square billboards. The contemporary Gospel band Maverick City Music has done both, resonating with a cultural moment outside the pews.
Many have noted the decline in religious activity and affiliation among young Americans. But, despite this trend, Gospel music seems to have found its comeback. From Chance the Rapper, to Justin Bieber to the new Kanye West, Gospel elements have infiltrated the mainstream.
In a year of isolation where many have missed live concerts, Maverick City Music’s newest album with Tribl Records, “Tribl I,” captures the feeling of singing in a packed room with its call-and-response style and robust vocalization.
So far in 2021, the band has released six albums, including a Spanish record and an album entitled “Jubilee: Juneteenth Edition.” Even the worst critics cannot deny Maverick’s success. “Old Church Basement,” a song from this year’s album of the same name, climbed the Billboard Top 200 to its peak at #30 in May. This success earned them a debut on the Spotify Times Square billboard in New York City.
The band remarked on Facebook, “Spotify had to put us up like that New York let the people knowwww!”
The story-song recounts the singer’s early days in ministry through a series of narrative verses sandwiched between a classic Gospel chorus. The lyrics from the first verse frame the story:
“We got together every Wednesday night, about thirty teenagers
My friend Josh bought a cheap guitar and barely knew how to play it
He wasn’t putting on a show
Wasn’t well known, wasn’t trying to be famous
But we sure touched heaven in that old church basement”
Other songs on the album, including “Talking to Jesus” employ this same narrative style while upholding the freeform charisma of Gospel music, interjecting shouts of praise and vocalization.
Maverick’s newest album, “Tribl I,” hinges less on the power of narrative and more on the spirit of corporate worship.
The most popular song from the album so far, “Still Holy,” boasts nearly 650,000 Spotify streams at the time of this article. This song emerged as the early favorite, most likely because it captures the essence of the album. It hinges on easy-to-follow repetition, dynamic group singing and robust scriptural references.
While many other Christian bands tend to derive inspiration from the Gospels and the life of Jesus, Maverick City Music pulls broadly from the Psalms, the prophets and the pentateuch.
A quick survey of the lyrics in “Still Holy” highlights several Old Testament verses: “I won’t bow in reverence before an idol” (Daniel 3:12), “No weapon fashioned can come against us. It will not work in the end,” (Isaiah 54:17), “You go before us as a defender and while you fight we sing the victor’s song” (Deuteronomy 20:4).
The song moves in sequences of repetition wherein the same refrain builds in intensity over several iterations. It is the kind of song you could sing in a choir with no bulletin and no teleprompter, and the recording conveys this experience.
Sitting alone in your car with this song through the speakers feels a lot like standing in a crowded auditorium—an experience many of us sorely miss.
The other nine songs on “Tribl I” follow a similar formula, easy-to-sing-with songs teeming with scripture references for the theologically scrupulous. By this metric, the album succeeds at its goal (and the inspiration behind the album title) to “unite the tribes.”
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You don’t need to be a musical savant or a scholar of theology to understand and follow along with the songs in “Tribl I.” The album sticks closely to widely accepted Christian doctrine and well-known scriptures, making it appealing and resonant for those across denominations.
Its concert-like sound, diverse members and impressive vocalization may make “Tribl I,” like “Old Church Basement,” appealing to those outside the pews.
Who knows, Gospel music might even take Times Square again this summer.
–Liza Vandenboom Ashley | Used with permission
Liza is an Associate Editor at ReligionUnplugged and Poynter fellow. She is a graduate of The King’s College in New York City and the recipient of the 2020 Russell Chandler Award from Religion News Association for excellence in student reporting. Her work has also been recognized by Society of Professional Journalists, The Associated Church Press and Editor & Publisher.