Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wide Open Spaces - FFH

Their most significant recording

Wide Open Spaces
Artist: FFH (http://www.ffh.net/)
Label: Independent/62 Records
Length: 10 tracks/41:25 minutes

I wish I had more recordings like Wide Open Spaces by FFH. It must be their most personal and honest recording. It’s a reflection of what FFH, after taking a three-year sabbatical, has become: an extension of Jeromy and Jennifer Deibler, chronicling their recent highs and lows.

You might be surprised by the theme of brokenness, which is why you won’t hear some of these songs on Christian radio. It’s unfortunate that Christians are sometimes shielded from unpleasant or controversial subjects. It may be a reflection of our reluctance to embrace suffering as part of the Christian life. When I hear songs like these, I feel a little less alone and crazy. Those who live under cloudless skies may find it harder to relate, but their perspective might change when their hard times come. At the very least, this may encourage them to take up their cross and empathize with the less fortunate.

Don’t let talk about suffering scare you off. This is not a heavy and melancholy recording. The sound is the FFH that many have come to know and love: gorgeous husband and wife harmonies, a strong pop sensibility and familiar music that sounds more mature and better than ever. There are lighter moments; particularly the celebration of the couple’s deepened relationship on “Hold on to Me” and “The Time of My Life.” The former has such a winsome-sounding chorus. The Deiblers know how to make great pop.

The opening “Undone” and “Wide Open Spaces” soar with a rock edge. The latter was co-written by veteran Christian music writer, Chris Eaton. Mia Fields helped write “Undone” and “What if Your Best,” two of the strongest tracks. Another recognizable co-write is Jill Paquette on “Who I’m Gonna Be.” Jennifer takes the lead on this song and a couple of others and is excellent.

What distinguishes this from past efforts is the lyrical depth, which stems in large part from Jeromy’s MS diagnosis in 2007. That and the break from FFH, which included spending six months of anonymity in South Africa, and the birth of their second child radically changed their perspective. The songs that emerged were unlike anything they had written before.

The idea that the best art comes from an artist’s pain is debatable, but there’s no denying that this is the most significant recording of their career. How often do you find an album whose theme is brokenness and becoming undone? It’s a little like Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of Christ’s call as an invitation to come and die.

This takes our humanity into account by being realistic about our trials and struggles. This is the soundtrack I need when I’m down and hurting. It encourages surrender rather than running.

This is a strong return for the Deiblers, who more than ever have something to say. This is art born in the crucible of life, which makes it all the more impacting.
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