Some time in my tussles with flu, I came down with a horrendous craving for carrot muffins. Ordinarily, I regard carrots with the suspicious sideway glance of a vegetable-disliker who will grant that at least a carrot is not a rutabaga or a brussels sprout.
A match made in heaven for these carrot muffins is The Walla Recovery (listen), which wraps a moderately aggressive Christian message in a compelling bluegrass-pop blend. Now, for ideological reasons, I’m not going to start collecting Contemporary Christian music (at the other end of the spectrum, there are hip hoppers and metal bands who go far enough with misogyny that I won’t encourage them, either). I’m going to ignore some violations of my personal “don’t tell me what to do about Jesus” rule in order to chatter about how the band does what it does; but I also have some rampant hobbyist curiosity about why CCM has become the fastest-growing radio format and about how musical movements disperse through popular formats.
That’s more carrots than are usually in my presence at one time.
I started with this recipe from Food.com. Man, that makes a lot of shredded carrot! Please join me in preheating the oven to 400.
What lured me into The Walla Recovery was that, both musically and lyrically, it falls within the Americana subgenre. So it’s country-ish (well, bluegrass-ish) with lots of acoustic guitar but a more world-weary attitude than much of modern country. There’s a subgenre of Christian metaphor — focusing on brokenness, wounds, silence, hollowness, the superficiality of the world, and a yearning for grace — that blends so seamlessly with the basic attitude of Americana that if Jesus hadn’t been named specifically, I wouldn’t have been certain where this was going.
Sociologically, that’s interesting to me. Christian metaphor does pervade Western thought; but on junkets to church, I’ve heard a lot of devotional music that seems to be written on the assumption that divinity is present only in (a) tunes written before 1906; (b) Kumbaya; or (c) songs that explain very slowly, in words of one syllable or fewer, that it’s Sunday and we’re all gathered to root for Jesus. Go Jesus! Beat Satan! So a striking match of music and metaphor gets my attention.
Look! A moody photo of an egg. You want one egg. Flagellate it gently. Add:
–2/3 cup orange juice
–1/2 cup melted butter (this is one stick)
–1/2 cup sugar
Common sense would call for beating this frothy, but it sure looks from the photos as if I didn’t.
This is also a band that has some kind of fun with its musical compositions. MySpace is fighting me every inch on what I’m allowed to play, so I’m going to skip straight to “Trains,” which combines its metaphoric deployment of storm clouds with actual thunder and rain effects at the beginning of the song. It’s not impossible that the extra percussion during the Big Chorus is meant to be reminiscent of trains going clacka-clacka along the tracks. What can I say? I like trains.
I’m also seemingly incapable of mixing dry ingredients separately. (In my defense, I think my other bowl was in use for something.) Into the bowl, we put, we put:
–1 cup white flour
–1/2 cup corn meal
–1/2 cup oats
–1 teaspoon baking powder
–1/2 teaspoon baking soda
–between 1/2 teaspoon and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
–1 large pinch of salt
Now mix all this up with great enthusiasm. At this point, I realized that I had not yet employed the microplane. Oh, this can be fixed! I added the zest of about half a large orange. My refrigerator contains a lot of half-naked citrus waiting for some future use.
Since I’m already outside my comfort zone, let’s spend a minute with “Beautiful You,” which goes down the “love song to Jesus” path. This frankly makes me nervous, as done poorly, it can imply activities with Jesus that certain radical theologians posit only Mary Magdalen experienced, and then more conservative theologians get their gaiters in a twist, and if the Pope’s not happy, nobody’s happy.
This one’s interesting, as it focuses on longing-to-be-with more than the “I get carried away, I get lost in you” of the chorus, so it’s mostly about feeling distance from the object of one’s affections. The metaphors pile on at an astonishing rate, so that Jesus is portrayed as “tasting brokenness, smelling every prayer.” (What do prayers smell like? Incense?) And then from the mass of imagery, something like “I hope you hear me trying to catch on fire and throw me down a spark” emerges as a rather cool metaphor for any sort of relationship that inspires.
Also, it has bongos. I like bongos. Add the carrots. And since we’re throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, go for half a cup or so of crushed walnuts and a handful of raisins or currants or similar. Scoop the resulting mixture into muffin cups and pop the muffin tin into the oven for 18 minutes.
Hot fluffy muffins! Between the cinnamon and the orange zest, the root-veggie qualities of the carrot are muted. And I’m very much enamored of using oats and corn meal together to improve muffin texture, though I’m baffled as to why this works. In any case, it’s a sweet, spicy, non-rubbery muffin that I ate for about four meals in a row.
And the tiny currants only look a little bit like bugs.
For one last song, let’s go with a live cover of a popular song that’s more ambiguous in its potentially religious metaphor. It’s a song I don’t particularly like in its original version, but our Walla here sings it pleasantly.