There’s no great secret here, but I’ll spell it out. I’m a Christian who has very little use for Christian music. Although some of my favorite music has been made by Christians (U2, Bruce Cockburn, Vigilantes of Love, Tonio K., Innocence Mission, Mark Heard, Peter Case, T-Bone Burnett, Sam Phillips, Buddy and Julie Miller, Over the Rhine, not to mention Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Blind Willie Johnson and Ralph and Carter Stanley), the Contemporary Christian Music genre in general, and the Worship Music wing of that genre in particular, holds little appeal. There’s too much imitation of Fleetwood Mac circa 1975, and too much wince-inducing, sub-Hallmark “apple of my eye/wind beneath my wings” shite. When it comes to music that actually connects in spiritual ways for me, and that I actually want to listen to in the car outside of Sunday mornings, give me Sigur Ros or Miles Davis. They probably didn’t know they were creating worship music. It just worked out that way for me.
So when an album comes along that fits squarely within the Worship Music tradition, and I actually like it, then there may be some evidence that hell has begun to freeze over. But it’s happened with Aradhna. The four core members of the band – Chris Hale, Peter and Fiona Hicks, and Travis McAfee – are as American as their names would indicate. But they’ve all spent significant portions of their lives in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. And therein lies the strange and wondrous merger of two worlds that contributes to the uniqueness of the band’s music, and to the surprising vigor of Amrit Vani. There are sitars here. And tablas. They sound as exotic as you would expect. And there are acoustic guitar arpeggios and gently lilting violin solos that wouldn’t sound out of place on a very western Windham Hill album. It works beautifully. The lyrics are sung in Hindi, and far from being an impediment, the language barrier is actually a great help (see “apple of my eye” and “wind beneath my wings” above). Like Sigur Ros, sometimes the indecipherable is greatly preferable to the old, tired formulas. And by the time we reach the final song, “Narahari,” the music swells and soars, the ramshackle choir enters sounding like the Hindustani angelic host, and something remarkable happens. I find myself worshipping God.
Amrit Vani digs deep in a contemplative, meditative way that few worship albums even begin to approach. And it’s quite lovely. Even in the car.