Friday, November 18, 2011

re:creation - Steven Curtis Chapman

God again brings good out of tragedy, and listeners glimpse it here.

Artist: Steven Curtis Chapman (
Label:  Sparrow Records/Chordant Music Group
Length: 14 tracks/55:14 minutes

If Beauty Will Rise (2009) was the dark night of the soul, re:creation (2011) is like the dawn that grows brighter till the full light of day. This is the sound of hope rising: the winter is past; the time for the singing of birds has come.

The tragic loss more than three years ago of the Chapman’s adopted daughter, Maria, put me in touch again with Steven Curtis Chapman and his music. After Heaven in the Real World (1994), I drifted away, but the Chapman’s season of grief caught my attention.

What the enemy may have wanted to use for evil purposes, God has used for good as re:creation is a reinvention of Chapman’s music. It has a welcome roots feel, a solid acoustic base with crisp production that enhances sometimes lighter but creative percussion.

This is not to say that Chapman sounds radically different. The changes are incremental, so that he is not departing from the style that makes “Do Everything” his 46th number one single. The cartoonish Official Music Video adds to the quirky vibe, but this is vintage Chapman, whose skill as one of Christian music’s most accomplished writers is plainly evident.

We are tempted to wonder if what we do matters at all. Chapman answers that it all matters, as long as we do everything to God’s glory. It gives us God’s perspective on significance.

“Long Way Home” is the first song Chapman wrote with a ukulele. This instrument, which is becoming more popular, adds to the comfort of the song.

Along with the ukulele, a parade of acoustic sounds, including hammer dulcimer, banjo, harp, piano, cello, strings and vibes, make subtle but delightful appearances. It makes me wish that he would go further along these lines.

Chapman does an excellent job of reimagining eight of his greatest songs in an acoustic vein, but as impressive as they are, the five new songs plus the cover of the hymn “Morning Has Broken” may be the best of all. It is partly because they are new, but also because Chapman sounds even more energized on this fresh material. Some, like the aforementioned “Do Everything,” pack more of a punch, which will appeal more to those who are less inclined toward the acoustic.   

Along these lines is “All That’s Left,” which by virtue of its catchy sound and its affirmation of the preeminence of love, could become another number one song. “Meant to Be” reminds me of God’s sovereignty but also the movie classic It’s a Wonderful Life. What would the world be like if we were not here doing the things that God designed for us to do? God put us here to be a unique expression of Him. We can enrich others through our contribution.

The last two songs, which are joined together, are a fitting conclusion. Chapman and son Caleb sing alternate stanzas of the classic “Morning Has Broken.” It’s a new day in the Chapman household. Their night of weeping is receding; the new morning brings joy. The hymn segues into “Sing Hallelujah,” a short benediction that ends the recording on a note of triumph.

What a privilege to reconnect with an invigorated Chapman. God again brings good out of tragedy, and listeners glimpse it here.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

First Leaf EP - Eden's Bridge

Eden’s Bridge opens the book of nature and draws spiritual parallels.

First Leaf EP
Artist: Eden’s Bridge (
Label: Independent
Length: 5 tracks/30 minutes

Scripture provides the order: first the natural, then the spiritual (1 Cor. 15:46). The apostle Paul makes this point in his discussion of the resurrection of the dead. The natural body, which comes first, is raised a spiritual body.

Similarly, Psalm 19 depicts God’s two books: the book of nature (vv.1-6) and the book of Scripture (vv.7-11). God reveals himself in both, though more specifically in the latter. The psalmist moves from the natural to the spiritual.

On The Winter Sings and First Leaf, Eden’s Bridge looks into the book of nature, focusing on the winter and spring seasons respectively, highlighting spiritual parallels. They provide a welcome sense of discovery as they move from the natural to the spiritual.

Their remarkable insights drawn from God’s two books are expressed in subtle ways both lyrically and musically, putting these releases among the most artistic statements the band has ever made. It builds anticipation for the two forthcoming EPs, covering summer and fall, and a full-length release in 2012.

The music covers a broad spectrum and is often layered, which combined with the thoughtful lyrics provide a depth not as evident on earlier recordings. Don’t expect popular covers or a praise and worship chorus. This is more sophisticated with a variety of sonic and literary textures just waiting to be explored.

Despite the complexity, a song like “Unfreeze” is built around simple chord changes that the band adds and subtracts from, creating ebb and flow. The title track starts with bleak sounds from an electric guitar, which depicts the dying gasps of winter. A magical swirl of sounds then ushers in that first leaf of spring. The music conveys the change from the barrenness of winter to the new life of spring.

These songs contain more contrast than the first EP. “Tipping Point” is built around intricate percussion reminiscent of a time piece. This is broken-up and elongated by sweeping rock riffs that fill the chorus.

There is a buoyancy in the opening “Arise to Life” that sees in spring a metaphor for Christ’s resurrection.

These new releases may not be as accessible for those who like the simplicity of some of the band’s earliest work. Patient listeners, however, may find this more satisfying. These first two EPs hold up well to repeated listens, rewarding on the surface but also containing treasures for those who want something more. It was worth the wait to get the original Eden’s Bridge back, making the best music of their career.

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