I would like to introduce you to a couple of bands that tell the stories of the working poor, the middle American trying to survive when life has not worked out as well as it should have, those with a bit of religion (good and bad). While folk and country have the ability to tell such stories, I do not think the present day incarnations are doing a good enough job. Too much folk music is cerebral and whiny, while much of today's country music revels in an unhealthy lifestyle and glorifies it (the same complaint some have with rap) without maintaining the distance of a reporter or the self examination of previous incarnations. I believe this is due to marketing forces. Self reflection is seen as weak and people may not want to buy it- so we give fake nostalgia instead, the longing for a life that we never experienced (see Tim McGraw or Kenny Chesney for prime examples). This is fine on Saturday night, but not helpful as a work of art to illuminate.
The first band I mention, Drive-By Truckers, is a prime example of a band that illuminates and tells the story of a people. Like Chuck D calling hip hop the "CNN of the ghetto" DBT mine the depths of the southern experience, in a sometimes crass, but always compelling manner. In fact, they understand this, giving themselves a name that conjures up the Inner City and South at once, naming albums "The Dirty South," a term for a specific rap sub-genre from Atlanta and using the same subject matter as rap, albeit from a white southern point of view in songs like "Wife Beater," "Aftermath USA," "Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)," and countless others.
As you can see from their lyrics, this is not typical country music (if you have not heard them, imagine a combination of Lynyrd Skynyrd, REM or The Replacements and Waylon Jennings). This is a CNN of the poor rural south and I think it is becoming more relevant to the rest of the country and those ministered to by churches throughout America (I would say that inner city, mostly African American churches need to listen to rap- but many of their ministers understand this). It is hidden by those in our communities, but it is the heritage of many of those recovering fundamentalists in emerging churches, those angry at the church (some of whom still attend), those burdened with serious guilt and those trying to survive along the righteous path of good living (as DBT eloquently state in a song).
Here are some examples
Drive-By Truckers The Righteous Path(lyrics)- life is hard and people try to live righteously, the best they can even when they can't ("I don't know God, but I fear his wrath"). This could be the theme song of the men I grew up with. I think that is why it speaks directly to me.
Drive-By Truckers Putting People on the Moon (lyrics)- the anger and frustration of working hard and having no money as others succeed and your life continues on a downward spiral. It is written about the Reagan era, but holds a message for today. Hood's voice greatly annoys my wife.
2 others to check out, if you have time...
Drive-By Truckers 2 Daughters and Beautiful Wife (lyrics)- his view of heaven is beautiful and real (no theological niceties).
Drive-By Truckers The Southern Thing (lyrics)- DBT does not glorify the experience as much as it desires to walk a mile in the shoes of others and tell their side of the story, even if is hard to hear. This is such an example. The entire album Southern Rock Opera album deals with the "duality of the Southern Thing" I can appreciate.
The other artist is from Minneapolis by way of Brooklyn. The Hold Steady is another story telling band dealing with broken dreams, Christian guilt (Catholic this time) and hard living (but trying to "stay positive" in the midst of it). Give some of this a listen. Imagine Bruce Springsteen if he drank too much and read too much beat poetry.
The Hold Steady Constructive Summer (lyrics) - a song of trying to survive with old buddies and dealing with the "damage" of his Catholic school upbringing ("I heard your gospel, it moved me to tears. but I couldn't find the hate and I couldn't find the fear").
* I think Tony did us a great service by choosing a truck driver to tell some stories of Emerging Christianity.