Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jimmy Needham - Nightlights

Just a nightlight against a blazing sun

Nightlights
Artist: Jimmy Needham (http://www.jimmyneedham.com/)
Label: Inpop Records
Length: 13 tracks/49:16 minutes

On Jimmy Needham’s Nightlights, soul reigns.

A funky bass line finds its groove on the gospel-flavored “Moving to Zion.” What makes this a delight is Needham’s use of allegory. It’s a tale of two mountains: Sinai (representing law) and Zion (representing grace). The former is no longer his home. It’s a strong opening.

On the lyrical side, Needham’s humility and self-deprecation is endearing. He takes his cue from John the Baptist, who said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 ESV). This priority comes through on songs like “The Reason I Sing”: “Make me a singer who is unsung / 'Cause You won’t share Your fame // 'Cause even accolades someday will fade away / Just like me.”

Needham closes with spoken word on the title track, which summarizes the theme: “Be Thou exalted over my reputation/ 'Cause applause is a poor form of soul medication.” It becomes a stinging indictment of self, which in “advancing His (God’s) kingdom” may “snag some acclaim.” “Do we not know it’s evil to love ourselves more than both God and His people?” he asks.

Needham admits that reading A. W. Tozer had a big impact. This is the verbatim source for that opening line from “Nightlights.” The rest of the quote reads, “Make my ambition to please Thee even if as a result I must fall into obscurity and my name be forgotten as a dream.” Sentiments like this are woven into different songs giving the recording a special beauty. This alone makes the CD worthwhile, but there are other fine moments.

One of the most striking tracks is “Grace Amazing,” which combines an aggressive rock riff with the work of hip-hop artist (Trip Lee). It strikes like a bolt of lightning as Needham sings of God’s resurrecting life. This is music to the wake dead.

Needham reinvents a classic pop tune with a soulful, brassy cover of “How Sweet It Is,” a song popularized by a host of artists, including James Taylor.

If the music industry had not coming knocking, Needham would have been content to remain a history teacher. This project reinforces that modesty. He recognizes that promoting Christ is more important than promoting himself, even if the latter is a foundation of the music industry.

Needham isn’t blinded by lesser lights. Addressing God, he sings, “Compared to you, I’m just a nightlight against a blazing sun.”
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