Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Far Country - Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is one of my favorite artists. I think he's underrated, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because he started out with folk-leanings, but his last major release, The Far Country, featured more rock.

After hearing this recording for the first time, my sister commented how much Andrew reminds her of the late Rich Mullins. In the following review, which I wrote shortly after its release, I traced the parallels between Andrew and Rich.

I like the artwork on the album cover.

Andrew Peterson directs our attention from the far country to our home in heaven.

Andrew Peterson makes it easier to bear the loss of Rich Mullins. Since Rich left in a whirlwind and chariot of fire, Andrew may come closer than anyone to catching his mantle. The poetic and whimsical verse, the otherworldly view, the storytelling, and the acoustic rock sound are all here.

It’s what makes The Far Country worth repeated listens. For now we are in the far country, but heaven is our home, and we long for it. The life that awaits us more than makes up for death and loss. This is the theme that emerges.

One song that captures some of this is the "Queen of Iowa." The inspiration came from a woman that was a big fan of Andrew’s music, who was dying of a number of AIDS related illnesses. Her church was generous enough to fly Andrew and Ben Shive out to perform in her living room. Andrew sings of seeing her, "She was as pretty as a flower in a crystal vase that lights up the room as it withers away." Though dying she was more alive than those around her, and Andrew knew that he would never be the same. It’s a touching and beautiful song.

"Lay Me Down," is Andrew’s "Elijah," the song by Rich Mullins that so fittingly eulogized his life. Andrew sings, "When you lay me down to die, I’ll miss my boys, I’ll miss my girls / Lay me down and let me say goodbye to this world / You can lay me anywhere but just remember this, when you lay me down to die, you lay me down to live." It may be somewhat ironic for a song about one’s passing, but the music, which includes some stellar electric guitar, makes me feel more alive. It’s a song that makes you want to sing and dance on the inside if not outwardly.

"Little Boy Heart" has a Bruce Hornsby energy with its sound and piano work. It’s no accident since Andrew acknowledges his admiration for his work. The title conveys a little of the adventure in the lyrics. It’s enough to make one long for a revived sense of childlike exuberance and wonder.

"Mystery of Mercy" features beautiful hammer dulcimer work that would make Rich proud as Andrew asks a somewhat different question, "My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me?"

As a single person who has struggled with relationships, when I read that "For the Love of God" was written for a dear friend, "who was terrible with relationships," it made me want to laugh. The honesty was refreshing. Andrew promised his friend that if he ever married, which seemed unlikely, he would write this song. He says, "What little I know about love between a man and a woman is in this song." It’s a great song that would be a meaningful addition to any wedding.

"More," written with critically-acclaimed folk artist Pierce Pettis, is about heaven and fittingly closes the recording. It’s a masterpiece of pure folk.

I liked the sparseness that I heard on Love and Thunder, Andrew’s previous release, but the slightly fuller sound on this recording is likely to appeal to more people. The music is more cohesive with less fluctuating between the extremes of sparseness and fullness. The electric guitar is a little more prominent, providing more of a rock edge to a few songs. The bluegrass heard on the last recording is absent. Most songs are a blend of mid-tempo folk, pop and rock. The production, musicianship and artistry are all top-notch.

Since I discovered him on his Clear to Venus recording, Andrew Peterson has been one of my favorite artists. If you are unfamiliar with his music, The Far Country is a great place to get to know him.

There will never be another Rich Mullins, but Andrew Peterson directs us toward home in a way that makes it a little easier to live in the far country. This is a look to heaven that alternates between hope, yearning and joy.
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