Single Reviews: James Otto, “Soldiers and Jesus”; Due West, “The Bible and the Belt”

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August 29, 2010

I’m getting tired of the dime store theology in country music today. It’s officially reached pandemic proportions.

Up for airplay are two new singles in which religion is just a decorative prop used to elevate a human role to something divine. Instead of achieving that impossible goal, all they do is cheapen the divine into something that is only human.

I must admit, I was excited by the title “Soldiers and Jesus.”  Fan of “He’s Alive” that I am, I assumed this song had something to do with the final days of Christ before the death and resurrection.

Wrong. It’s about how soldier and Jesus both die for us, so they’re basically the same. It’s a false equation that manages to minimize both of them.  It cheapens the unique singularity of Christ’s sacrifice, along with His commitment to nonviolence in the face of violence being used against him by…soldiers. See the problem here?

American soldiers are not Roman soldiers.  Most of them sign up voluntarily and with the admirable goal of protecting our country’s freedom and liberty.  But they’re not doing the same thing Christ did. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And it trivializes their very different, very human sacrifices to blur the line between them and the divine.

So “Soldiers and Jesus” is a failure, but not nearly as spectacular a failure as the Due West release, “The Bible and the Belt.” This time, I knew what I was getting before I heard the song, but even the title couldn’t prepare me for just how clumsy and intelligence insulting this comparison would be.

Here, mom and the preacher use scripture to teach a young man right from wrong, but it’s dad beating him with a belt that really keeps him on track. All I can say is that anybody who accepts this song’s message as valid should not be allowed near children.

Country is the genre of music that produced “Why Me”, “Three Wooden Crosses”, and “You Can’t Be a Beacon (If Your Light Don’t Shine.)”  I suggest that country songwriters looking to tread down the same thematic path use those classics as their road map, or they’ll keep producing dead-ends like these two duds.

Grade: Soldiers and Jesus:  C | The Bible and the Belt:  F

Listen: Soldiers and JesusThe Bible and the Belt

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  1. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I haven’t heard the Bible and the Belt, but I suspect I’d be horrified by the message, as someone who’s horrified by people who think it’s okay to hit defenseless kids with anything, much less belts. And as far as as Soldiers and Jesus, that’s exactly the problem I had with the Cherryholmes’ song from awhile back that compared her son who died in the war to Jesus.

  2. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    I think the Cherryholmes song drew a more subjective, less broad comparison between the two – since it came from an individual character, the mother, and dealt with her individual faith – so I was able to get into it. But I can definitely see why others wouldn’t have liked it, and I do think the Jesus-soldiers comparison does not work at all in a broad sense.

    Good review.

  3. Erik NorthNo Gravatar says:

    Kevin bought up a good point about songs like “Why Me”, “Three Wooden Crosses” and “You Can’t Be A Beacon”–about how they are humble and how they stress that humility is a virtue. It doesn’t seem to be the case with these two songs here, however, not by a long shot. This kind of heavy-handed moralizing and proselytizing is what has been known to turn people off to country music in the past.

  4. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Great review – very well-thought-out. These are dead ends and duds indeed. Very good points, especially the one about the soldiers/Jesus comparison. It definitely does downplay the significance of Christ’s sacrifice. But I’m sure that radio programmers and less-discerning fans will tout both songs as profound and meaningful, especially one that mentions soldiers. I just hope that I will not be endlessly subjected to such songs by country radio.

  5. BobNo Gravatar says:

    Due West wasn’t the first artist to record the bible & belt song. Checking the song title, “the bible and belt” on ASCAP, it lists under performers, Bucky Covington. It was the last track on his debut album. The song has a line “Daddy’s belt left quite an impression on me”. Are the writers trying to spread a message that child abuse is ok? Not good.

    There’s a line in the “Soldiers and Jesus” song, “It seems like the news loves to run ‘em both down”. I don’t think that’s true for the most part. I think the media goes out of its way to praise the service of our soldiers. Maybe it’s out of a collective guilt because most don’t serve these days because there’s no draft. The sacrifice is not shared. I don’t recall seeing anyone “running down” Jesus lately either – only the hypocrites who use his name to further their own agenda.

  6. The underlying problem is that the majority of listeners refuse to think critically about these topics. As long as you don’t say something unkind about soldiers or Jesus, they’ll adopt the song with blind love.

    This isn’t confined to music; have a conversation with these fans about either topic sometime. I hate to stereotype, but it’s always just as vapid as it is fierce.

    And it’s one more reason I haven’t willingly tuned into the radio in 3 years.

  7. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    “The underlying problem is that the majority of listeners refuse to think critically about these topics. As long as you don’t say something unkind about soldiers or Jesus, they’ll adopt the song with blind love.”

    You said it. The same goes for songs about mama. Recently my local country station played Jesse Lee’s cliche-laden new song called “Like My Mother Does, and asked listeners to call in and vote on whether or not they liked it. My call was the only negative one. Every one else was saying “Oh, that song made me cry! It reminds me of MY mother!!”

    Not many people today are discerning enough to realize whether or not a song really is an artistically relevant contribution to country music.

  8. The funniest part about it all is that country has fallen over itself posthumously worshiping Johnny Cash. Cash has a very strong streak of religious recordings in his discography and, unlike many of today’s armchair warriors, actually served his country in uniform. It’s baffling to me how so many artists who found him to be a “major influence” would record songs so far removed from the humility and thoughtfulness of the Man in Black.

  9. Erik NorthNo Gravatar says:

    I think it has a lot to do with the fact that far too many of today’s so-called “country” artists have little to no actual knowledge or understanding of the genre’s rich history and traditions, only a stereotypical view of it (heavy-handed religious moralizing; faux patriotism; redneck attitude, etc); and none of these stereotypes tell the whole story, let alone the REAL story. “Soldiers And Jesus” and “The Bible And The Belt” seem to be great examples of the truth about country music being grossly distorted.

    And then for people to put Johnny Cash’s (or any other country legend’s) name into the lyrics of a song only to do it for the purposes of not only to distort the man’s true self but also to merely sound hip should be considered a gross insult to the intelligence of any true country music fan and scholar.

  10. Noah EatonNo Gravatar says:

    The message embedded at the core of this song is simply disturbing beyond belief.

    Not only is it sadistic: it’s even sexist in that it implies that, no matter how much the narrator’s mother and the preacher worked to teach him scripture, really it was the beating of a belt inflicted on him by his father that did the trick. It implies that talking sense does nothing, that actions always speak louder than words, and thus justifies the beatings through the father’s logic, as diametrically opposed to the more emotional, idealistic maternal appeal.

    This song’s message certainly doesn’t speak for me, and I certainly believe the vast majority of parents of the 21st century (or any century, for that matter). The belt may belong in the consensual BDSM scene perhaps, but not in any parental household.

  11. Shane HeinzeNo Gravatar says:

    In Due West’s “The Bible and The Belt” I don’t see it as the dad beating and abusing the kid. The way I see it is that when the kid got out of line the dad used a little discipline. I know not everyone agrees with spanking or a hit from the belt but this song is in no way promoting child abuse. It’s not the best song in the world but I think it deserves a “C.” The vocals and harmony I think are fantastic. And on a side note, the lead singer, Tim Gates, co-wrote this song.

  12. RogerNo Gravatar says:

    I’m interested in your impressions about Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home” (especially the third stanza about the old man) and Miranda Lambert’s “Heart Like Mine.”

  13. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar says:

    I played both of these songs last week while listening to new releases, but I didn’t make the connection that both were trite religious-themed songs. Nice catch on that and grouping them together.

    I definitely agree with most every point the review made too, and most of what’s already been said in the comments, so there’s not much left for me to say. I will add that I think Travis McClain’s theory that name-checking Jesus or the military in a song is a really, easy lowest-common-denominator selling point for way too many music listeners. And he’s right that as long as you don’t criticize either, you’ve written a meaningful song to their ears. It’s frustrating to say the least.

  14. [...] 9513 gives it a thumbs up |  Country Universe says "“Soldiers and Jesus” is a [...]

  15. kkchevyNo Gravatar says:

    My problem with soldiers and jesus is that it makes no sense. Listen to the first stanza of lyrics. The author is crying at a funeral because his “granddad” just got brought home on a B52 after dying in war. Ahh…sorry to have to point this out, but our brave soldiers who die in war are rarely old enough to have grandkids…I’m just sayin’

  16. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Hmmm…good point.

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