Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sweet Sweet Sound - Sarah Reeves

Pleas from a hungry heart

Sweet Sweet Sound
Artist: Sarah Reeves (
Label: Sparrow
Length: 7 songs/22.43 minutes

If you have followed the praise and worship genre, you know that for many years Vineyard music was on the cutting-edge. Sweet Sweet Sound by Sarah Reeves feels like the natural evolution of music in that tradition.

Remember “Hungry (Falling on My Knees)” by Kathryn Scott? This CD is a modern successor. Reeves is hungry for the presence of God as heard in her many pleas.

Her lyrics have depth and poetic flair. She wrote with some of Nashville’s most sought after songwriters. This goes beyond simple choruses. These are fully-developed songs that can cross over into the rock and pop genres.

Reeves effortlessly fuses rock, pop and praise and worship in a way that reminds me of Kate Miner. Fast and furious guitars often punctuate the choruses making it sound like she’s being backed by Delirious. On “Awaken,” all of a sudden, you find yourself on this ethereal bridge that makes you think of Michelle Tumes.

“Come and Save” is a change-up. It’s pensive, piano-driven and includes strings. Stylistically, it’s a ballad, a song of confession and repentance.

The short “These Words of Mine (Intro)” sounds like an old scratchy record. Reeves asks God to humbly use her words, which often invite God to do something. This reflects a charismatic influence, which highlights the Holy Spirit and a God that can be experienced.

“Sweet Sweet Sound” is pop-oriented and will get the most airplay. The music is not as edgy, but it shows Reeves in a mode that will appeal to a wider audience.

This debut is well-crafted and appealing. It sounds modern and fresh. It’s one of the best recordings of its kind that I have heard.

The Listening EP - Dan Macaulay

Lead as no one else

The Listening EP
Artist: Dan Macaulay (
Label: Independent
Length: 4 tracks/19:37

Winner of a couple Canadian music awards, and having shared the concert stage with well-known Christian artists, Dan Macaulay has released The Listening EP, his debut recording in the US. Macaulay is Canadian-born, but now serves as a worship pastor in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Said to be somewhere between Michael W. Smith and Jason Upton, his style and sound remind me of Chris Tomlin. It’s slightly edgy pop/rock with subtle artistry. The full and polished sound reflects the work of veteran producer, Nathan Nockels, who has also produced Tomlin.

Lyrically, the focus is vertical—these songs express and facilitate praise. Macaulay sings passionately, but the song, “Listening,” is weighed-down by cliches. This track is included twice—a shortened, radio edit is a bonus.

I can’t help thinking of F. W. Boreham’s thought that an artist, or in this case, a worship leader, has an individualistic view. He sees as no one else does. He must therefore pray, write, perform or lead in a way that no one else does. This element is sometimes lacking among Christian artists, including those in the praise and worship genre. Macaulay’s music is ahead of the lyric content, which would be better if his words were less generic.

He defines himself more on the two remaining tracks. “Win With Love” is a great opener. It’s a plea to show the reality of God’s kingdom through love. The driving beat compliments the earnest desire. Humility is beautifully expressed in “Amazing.”

This EP highlights Macaulay’s potential. May he lead as no one else.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Desperately Wicked: Philosophy, Christianity and the Human Heart - Patrick Downey

Can we be good?

Desperately Wicked: Philosophy, Christianity and the Human Heart
Author: Patrick Downey
Publisher: IVP Academic
Pages: 181

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV).

Patrick Downey begins with Jeremiah’s claim to lead his readers on a journey that lays bare the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Various readings, political philosophy, Greek tragedy and the Bible serve to show what the heart wants, what it fears and why it lies.

The author believes that “the desire to possess and the desire to be seen are what led us astray in the first place. To find our way back, we must pursue the desire to know, both ourselves and our true good.” Our deceit is in how we see ourselves.

I realized this in just reading the book. I don’t doubt Jeremiah’s words, and I can say with the Psalmist David, “My sin is ever before me.” Yet, as I read Downey’s thoughts on our desire to possess, which he shows is more than merely being materialistic, I saw how deceived I have been about keeping to myself. It’s so far from that New Testament example of a young group of believers, who were “together and had all things in common.”

The author goes on to write about our desire to have good rather than to be good. Though many of us want to be good, Downey writes, “Most of us mean that we want to have the feelings that go along with being good.”

Downey’s ability to make us see our true selves make this a searching and illuminating book. Along with a Bible, it will make a fine companion for spiritual inventory.

It is not, however, an easy read. Some passages, especially the more philosophical ones, I had to read several times to try and understand what was being said. Readings from various sources are set apart in block format and are designed to supplement the text. Downey could have done better in tying this material to the topic under discussion. Most of the time it’s up to the reader to discern the correlation. Academics and those schooled in philosophy will have an easier time digesting the material, but anyone willing to make the effort will at least find parts of this rewarding.

One of those moments for me was when the author compares the “Romantic” Fall with the biblical Fall. The former is made to sound like the latter but is designed to replace it. The Fall of Romanticism looks back to a time when “we lived in a garden of delights as free, innocent and solitary animals, one with nature, and no self-consciousness.” Can you see where this is going? “According to this Romantic telling, if there is to be any escape from the alienating ravages of this knowledge, it must come through the poetic return to nature we find in word or song or utopian politics (cf. John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’).”

It’s back to the garden and a return to simplicity. As much as I value the arts and self-expression, I can see the subtle error of embracing these things as a universal panacea. They have their place, but the human heart needs much more than something that can only produce superficial change. The loftiest sentiments, the most honorable philosophies and the greatest refinements are no substitute for the bloody sacrifice required to truly change our hearts.

Can we be good? It’s not possible on our own. Downey points to what we need for that to happen. Christ’s resurrection is the answer to our need for change. Our only hope in becoming good is being able to share in Christ’s new life.

The practical applications of this our covered in the last chapter, which examines how we can be good in relation to others. This includes an interesting look at politics and war.

Though this book deals with the subtle nature of our depravity, it is not morbid or overly introspective. Instead of leaving a feeling of heaviness, it can serve as a hopeful guide to exploring the meaning of Jeremiah’s words.

Rock Gets Religion - Mark Joseph

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