Last week I attended an arts conference in Chicago called “Story: Imagine Nation.” I’ll write more about my experience there in the coming weeks. For now, I’d like to introduce you to some amazing musicians I saw there.

John Mark McMillan

Prior to the conference, I’d heard of McMillan. I knew he was the one who wrote “How He Loves,” which David Crowder covered, and he also wrote “Sing My Love,” which Kim Walker performed so well with Jesus Culture. A week or so ahead of time, I downloaded his The Medicine.

It’s definitely not your standard CCM, hardly resembling what has come from worship artists the likes of Chris Tomlin. There’s a darkness to his voice, like that of an artist who emerges from week-long creative sessions, famished and delirious. Indeed, his lyrics are poetic and project rich imagery. His songs often focus on Christ’s atoning work on the cross, even referring to Jesus as God’s murdered Son.

One of my favorites, and one we’ll be using on a Sunday morning soon, is “Dress Us Up,” a petition for God to clothe us in his righteousness, to bring in the prodigal with “a ring and a kiss.”

All Sons & Daughters

I hadn’t heard this duo before last Friday when she played guitar and he the piano. They led worship so passionately, and the presence of God’s Spirit was thick in the room. During the first song, the rather new worship duo of David Leonard and Leslie Jordan reminded me of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová in the indie film Once. Gorgeous harmonies gloriously in sync. A musical unity, a spiritual unity.

Their Brokeness EP is a must-get. I like the musical arrangements almost as much as I like the “demo” sound of this video, which is essentially what I saw last week. My friends and family in Arizona, you need to check them out live, as they’re touring with Matt Maher. In about ten days they’ll be in Glendale and — get this — Yuma.

Meredith Andrews

Doing her best Regina Spektor impression, Meredith Andrews sang her “Laughing With,” as a response to one of the speakers. It was simply amazing, though dwarfed later by her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream (from Les Miserables), again as a response to one of the speakers. She simply blew me away as a vocalist. I didn’t realize she had such pipes, because she doesn’t shine on her CDs like she did live — or maybe it’s that her voice gets buried. I’m not overly impressed with any of her three releases, but then, I haven’t given any of them a thorough re-listen. Honestly, I’d love to hear her sing covers with just piano accompaniment as at “Story.”

Below is her “You’re Not Alone,” a beautiful song that sounds like so many I’ve heard before. Again, maybe I’d just like to hear her backed by a simple band, sans strings and overproduction.

I couldn’t embed the video, so here’s the link.

I’ll share more later about my brief trip to Chicago, including a jaunt to the hallowed Wrigley Field.

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