Like any genre, praise and worship music goes through phases and trends. The ’80s brought choir-based proclamations, the ’90s normalized rock-infused anthems and the 2000s tested the endurance of impatient people with long-winded, ethereal ballads (looking at you, Hillsong). One modern trend seems to be praise with a touch of folk music. Banjos, fiddles, steel guitars all seem to be more common lately, and Seattle-based Ghost Ship is a great example of a praise and worship band staying up with the current, infusing their new album, Costly, with folksy vibes.
The band’s latest release is a 14-track album that sounds lighthearted but dives deep into theological topics, looking beyond what the Apostle Paul would probably describe as “milk” in 1 Cor. 3:1-3. Indeed, Costly is a five-course meal, touching on theological concepts such as spiritual adoption (“Adoption,” “Look What God Has Done”), the depth of God’s love towards humanity (“Heavy as the Sea”), that Christ loved before we were capable (“You Loved Us First”) and the second coming (“The Revelation of Jesus Christ”) among many other themes.
And it’s not all just happy praise. “Provide” questions if God will actually be there in times of financial stress. It ends with the haunting question: “Will you really provide for me something I can see? Because I don’t believe.” Despite being an uncomfortable question, it’s strangely encouraging to see such raw honesty in a praise and worship album — because we’ve all been there.
“Invitation” starts the album off with a peppy banjo filling in the background. For the most part, the album keeps this upbeat tempo with the exceptions of “Provide,” “Peace,” “Poverty and Riches” and “Hesed.” It is a well-produced work that allows the listener to consume the band’s diverse instrumentation with pianos, steel guitars and acoustic instruments. Combined with their songwriting, Costly is a solid example of what praise and worship can be on Sunday mornings. There is something attractive about this apparent folk music trend in praise and worship, especially if it is paired with deep lyrical content.
Recently, I attended Winter Jam, a touring festival which features all genres, everything from rap to rock to worship. But one of the most moving moments was when David Crowder, with his folksy mashup of traditional hymns “I Saw the Light” and “I’ll Fly Away,” fell over the crowd. Everyone — from teenagers with Mohawks to adventurous grandmas — was singing and clapping. Perhaps after so many years of boisterous, distorted guitars and stale lyrics, this folk music might help the church rethink how to stand out in an oversaturated praise and worship market. And with Costly, Ghost Ship stands a head taller in that crowd.