Ryan Delmore,
The Spirit, the Water, & the Blood,
(Varietal, 2008)

Since I don't follow Christian pop music, I can't judge how atypical Ryan Delmore's music may be. It certainly isn't anything I expected it to be, starting with listenable. I suppose I ought to state here that my taste in religious music tends toward venerable hymns, spirituals and rural gospel, delivered traditionally. On the other hand, Delmore, a young singer-songwriter from California, is an Americana rocker in the mold of Ryan Adams and Neil Young -- stylistically equidistant between them, you might say -- with a passionate voice and an ear for striking melodies.

A Christian listener who grew up with rock and still cares about it could easily -- so I guess, anyway -- fall in love with what Delmore is doing. His sincerity is palpable and irrefutable; if it were otherwise, he'd be singing secular lyrics to these rich tunes and garnering flattering notices in non-faith circles. Personally, though doubtful of religious claims, I bear no hostility to religious expression, at least if it isn't tied to far-right politics. Nothing political, right or left, is happening in Delmore's songs. They're all devotional, some of them with the potential, I suspect, to move even the coldest unbeliever's heart an inch or two.

For example, "Falling Down" (which Delmore wrote with Donovan Lorenzen) brings to mind some of the most fully realized songs Bob Dylan composed during his born-again period. "Love of God," the closer, is an exquisite, ferociously lovely hymn, a step or two or three up from many I would hear -- I have the dubious distinction of being both an ex-Lutheran and an ex-Catholic -- in my church-going days.

A warning, though: Delmore's songs are so insistent in their evangelical Christian references that the non-devout will struggle to imagine them as generically "spiritual" exercises conjuring up some nebulous sense of the transcendent. To feel their full effect, you do have to believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins and will return in all His glory one of these days.

Finally: No, he is not related the Delmore Brothers. I asked.

review by
Jerome Clark

31 January 2009

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