Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Luke: A World Turned Upside Down - Michael Card

Commentary on Luke inspires Card’s latest

Luke: A World Turned Upside Down
Artist: Michael Card
Label: Covenant Artists, Distributed by InterVarsity Press
Length: 11 tracks/42:11 minutes

Few can turn Scripture into song as well as Michael Card. His lyrics cover every book in the Bible, but his new CD focuses on the gospel of Luke.

This collection is associated with Luke: The Gospel of Amazement (see separate review), which is the first of four commentaries on the gospels in Card’s Biblical Imagination Series. A commentary and CD on the remaining gospels will be released in each of the next three years.

Card is currently hosting Biblical Imagination seminars across the country teaching how to “engage with Scripture at the level of the informed imagination.” Judging from the quality of the commentary, and the response that he is receiving from the seminars, these events are worth attending.

Those who know Card’s music recognize that it has always been informed by the Scriptures, but with the release of his new commentary, it’s apparent that he is a scholar, having been mentored by the late William Lane.

His exposition of Luke provides the basis for these songs, which cover the life of Christ from beginning to end. For those who appreciate nativity songs, there are three that cover: the Magnificant (“What Sort of Song?”), Christ’s birth (“A King in a Cattle Trough”), and His dedication in the temple (“Simeon’s Song”). Jeff Taylor’s gentle accordion beautifully ties all three together.

Acoustic guitar and piano predominate making this a mellower, more folk-oriented offering than some earlier releases that had more pop and rock influences. It’s relaxed, mature and inspiring.

He employs banjo and uilleann pipes on an instrumental (“A Little Boy Lost”) and on the last song (“Seven Endless Miles”). His banjo playing is not fast, but steady and strong, and the interplay with the pipes is a delight. It gives these songs a Celtic feel.

“The Pain and Persistence of Doubt,” set between the crucifixion and the resurrection, is just piano and strings at their most mournful. It captures a mood of melancholy, since Christ’s followers were not expecting him to rise. The somber tone has a beauty of its own.

Community is important to Michael Card. He sees the creative muse springing from collaboration rather than solitude. Three of his four children contribute, along with Matthew Ward (2nd Chapter of Acts), Kirk Whalum, Scott Roley and others. Matthew Ward and Kirk Whalum (saxophone) are featured on the opening standout track (“A World Turned Upside Down”), and Ward also sings on “A Breath of a Prayer,” which is a combination of the Jesus Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew Ward’s contribution drew me to this release, and though he and Card have been singing for many years, their voices remain strong.

On “Freedom,” Card starts off singing, “I am lost and I am bound / And I am captive to the shame that keeps holding me down.” With just piano, strings and vocals he succeeds in capturing the heart’s cry to be free from the burden of sin. I also appreciate that he continually points to Christ as the answer. He is our freedom. He is the bread and wine. Card doesn’t get any better than this for me. Each of his recordings has a gem like this that resonates deeply.

Ironically, this is the only song that is not directly tied to a passage in Luke. Perhaps it says something about the challenge of adapting scripture to song, which can make it sound wooden. More likely, “Freedom” is a favorite because the lyrics are personal and vulnerable, making them highly relatable to all of us who feel the burden of being human in a broken world.

I welcome scripture songs like the ones found here for the truth and life they contain. It’s not hard to appreciate how artful Michael Card is with these texts. Best of all, he fashions them in such a way that they point to Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life.
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