From the first time I heard the opening slide of slippery steel guitar strings of the title track, I realized that Ten Shekel Shirt serves up something that’s largely outside of typical praise and worship songs.
Introspective, and at times melancholy, Jubilee somehow captures a depth of reflective thought that is largely missing from the Christian music genre. True, there are upbeat tunes, catchy choruses, and personal reflections on the walk of faith – but there are also songs addressing slavery, recovery from abuse, and poverty.
Lamont Hiebert, the band’s lead vocalist and songwriter became radicalized in the late ‘90s after hearing reports of child trafficking and slavery. The founding of a charitable organization (Love146) to provide aftercare for rescued child slaves and to help prevent further child abductions, followed his trip to South East Asia in 2002. That passionate dedication to put feet on his faith flows as a theme throughout the album, with many of the songs dedicated to survivors of abuse, exploitation, and slavery.
However Hiebert’s lyrics are surprisingly understated considering his dedication. Far from repeatedly pounding listeners to get involved, the tracks on the CD are a blend of social action tunes, themes of personal redemption and deliverance, and even love songs. Ranging from punchy to breathy, Hiebert’s versatile tenor tackles the “la da da da da’s” in “Warmtime Lullaby” and plaintive wailings of “Higher Ground” with equal amounts of finesse.
Of the eleven tracks on the disc, “You Rescue” is perhaps the most blatant faith-based song with a chorus including the phrase “’Cause you rescue, you redeem, you save, you intervene.” Hiebert’s faith is certainly found in most of the songs, but it is often blended into the lyrics as part of his life and world view, rather than songs of straightforward praise and worship. This approach is somewhat different than many of my listening choices, but I found that the subtlety offered in many of the tracks led to a deeper appreciation of the message and context of each song.
Several musical styles are often juxtaposed and layered within the songs. “It’s Slavery” features a nearly abrasive, alternative sound with a very faint underlying melody – nearly indistinguishable, that tends towards the symphonic. “Jubilee” alternates between a very pared down, thoughtful guitar and drum accompaniment and an upbeat, hope-filled euro-rock sound.
Very few of the tracks on Jubillee are easy to digest. It’s impossible to gain any appreciation for Hiebert’s work without spending time immersed in the music and reflecting contemplatively upon it.
Don’t leave with the wrong impression; Ten Shekel Shirt doesn’t come off as pretentious. Jubilee simply doesn’t offer up instant appeal, quick up-lift, fast-food pop choruses that are immediately ‘sticky’, the disc invites digging in, settling down, and interacting with the music and message. I for one appreciate the difference and continue to slot in hours of playtime of the group’s music.
5. Higher Ground
6. En Garde
7. Wartime Lullaby
8. Love From a Lesser God
9. You Rescue
11. It’s Slavery