On Religion/Opinion

Anthony gives fans country music, biblical insight

At this stage of his country music career, Oliver Anthony is still reaching his fans by propping his smartphone in a tour-bus window and recording social-media videos.

Seven months ago, of course, he didn't have a career, didn't have a tour bus and didn't have fans. That was before a do-it-yourself solo recording of his populist anthem "Rich Men North of Richmond" hit YouTube and, with 128 million clicks at this point, changed his life.

In a recent video -- "To All My Friends and Family" -- Anthony apologized for his relative silence for a few months. He said he was swamped in music-business "craziness," finding professionals to handle concert merchandise and lawyers to protect his songs. In January, he retreated to an old church in Savannah, Ga., to record his first album, using "microphones from the 1940s" and the natural echo in the sanctuary.

"You know, I didn't want to come out on tour to just sing a bunch of songs to people and then go home and make money. It's like, I wanted to touch people. I wanted to get into people's heads and just try to make an impact," said Anthony, a high-school dropout in rural Virginia who held late-shift jobs in several factories in the North Carolina mountains.

"It's such a crazy place that we're living in now. ... It feels like the people that we elect to give a voice for us, they're the complete opposite. If anything, they silence us and manipulate us. ... It feels like, in a way, maybe, that we've already went off the cliff as a nation."

For many critics, that sounds like red-state political talk, not the words of an everyman who spent years struggling with depression and alcohol.

While Anthony's impact in America has been massive, audiences at recent concerts in Ireland and Australia also belted out "Rich Men North of Richmond" lyrics line for line -- especially the chorus: "It's a damn shame what the world's gotten to / For people like me and people like you / Wish I could just wake up and it not be true / But it is, oh, it is."

In the tour-bus video, the singer said his big questions today are about families, children and the future. This past fall, Anthony and his wide, Tiffany, had their third child.

"Life is such a short thing. I'm 31 now. ... If I'm lucky, I'll be dead in 50 years, but probably a lot sooner than that, and you will too," he said. "What kind of legacy are we leaving behind for the people who come after us? It says in Ecclesiastes that even the generations after us will be forgotten ... by the generations after them. Like, this is just a cycle that we're living in."

The singer didn't need to open his Bible to make that reference. But the heart of this recent video came from the Gospel of St. Matthew, with Anthony reading from the marked-up study Bible he takes on stage -- sharing Scripture with his audiences.

In this familiar passage, Jesus warns that he is sending his disciples into the world like "sheep among wolves," but promises that God will guide them, even when authorities attack.

"So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs," Anthony read. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

"Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my ..."

At that point, the smartphone fell out of the bus window, cutting off, "... Father in heaven."

Anthony retrieved it and signed off with, "I'll talk to you soon. Thanks."

Terry Mattingly is Senior Fellow on Communications and Culture at Saint Constantine College in Houston. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and writes Rational Sheep, a Substack newsletter on faith and mass media.

Upcoming Events