In 1999, I decided that there were other places to buy music than our Christian book store downtown and that listening to “secular” music wasn’t going to send me to hell. That decision led me to research on the internet to figure out what band was the best acoustic guitar-based band out there. Overwhelmingly, the internet pointed to the Dave Matthews Band. I was spending a lot of time in the forums for guitar tab websites and all the posters seemed to idolize the proficiency displayed by Matthews. So I went to Best Buy looking for the newest album by DMB. I came away with a copy of DMB’s third studio album: Before These Crowded Streets, my first non-Christian music album purchase.
When I popped the disc in, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. This was my absolute first exposure to DMB’s music since this was before the days of streaming previews online. I quickly found that the online worship of Dave’s guitar work was pretty dead on. The arrangements were incredible and the songs were more linear than any I’d ever heard; you were never sure when a chorus was coming back around because the verses were so varied. To the same point, Matthews didn’t feel the need to write his songs with any sort of rhyming scheme. These were stream of consciousness missives about love, sex and social issues. The vocals were gentle and tender on one song and demented and growling on the next. Behind Matthews was an array of percussion, horns and strings that formed a palate of sound that I’d never tasted. I remember looking up the guitar tabs to some of these songs online and then quickly abandoning my attempts to learn them. I was nowhere near the level of skill needed to play along with these songs.
Looking back, I’m pretty sure I discovered this band at the apex of their career. After buying this CD, I listened back to their first two albums and really enjoyed them, but not on the level that I enjoyed this one. When their next couple albums came out, I bought them and I was disappointed that they didn’t have the same energy and creativity that “Streets” had. I did really enjoy Matthews’ solo album Some Devil, however.
This album signifies a seismic shift in my music buying habits. I left the ghetto of Christian music and found that there was a whole new spectrum of music outside it. It was then that I realized that there is no such thing as “Christian” music. Music isn’t a person, it doesn’t have a soul; therefore it needs no “redemption”. I firmly believe that God enjoys music and art made by non-Christians, so I can do the same. It’s strange that this all came out of an album by Dave Matthews (who is known for writing songs about casual sex), but it did and I’m glad.