“I got ashes on my forehead, and I’m trying hard to learn”
Artist: Jonathan Rundman
Label: Salt Lady Records (www.jonathanrundman.com)
Length: 20 tracks/64:09 minutes
Jonathan Rundman does it all on a self-titled compilation. The singer/songwriter plays a variety of instruments but not at the expense of gaining contributions from others. The latter give him more of a band sound.
The styles are amazingly diverse. One moment I hear Tom Petty, the next Relient K, and then a little Dylan. The background vocals on “Librarian” are reminiscent of The Beatles. Rundman, who does most of the vocals, shows a fine attention to detail, which is evident on more than just BGVs.
Simple, uncluttered production makes for a rootsy guitar-driven sound. On the other hand, being lo-fi might lessen the appeal for some, but it complements somewhat of a classic rock sound.
Smart lyrics are subtly informed by the faith of the artist. This is never preachy, and it does not easily fall into the contemporary Christian music category. Many of the songs are reflections on life and relationships without any overtly spiritual content. Songs like “That Man Upstairs” seem metaphorical for a higher reality.
A few songs like, “Carol of the Bells,” (not the Christmas carol) have attitude, as in a punk rock influence. “Ashes” can lay claim to the most rousing, and maybe the best, Ash Wednesday song of all time. No somberness here but humility is not absent, “I got ashes on my forehead, and I’m trying hard to learn/This dust that I have started from is where I shall return/And I will follow out of love for there is nothing I can earn/I got ashes on my forehead, and I’m trying hard to learn.” Propelled by driving guitar, the latter is almost a laugh-out-loud sentiment.
A new and exquisite mix (the original is on Sound Theology) graces “Forgiveness Waltz,” which is stellar, defining forgiveness in sound and sentiment. Led by gentle acoustic guitar and a Wurlitzer, and with every instrument played by Rundman, this is one of several highpoints on this release. “It’s like a dance/It’s like a wheel/Less like math/Less like a deal/More like a heartbreak beginning to heal/We can start over/We know forgiveness” are words that capture the pathos of the subject and communicate peace.
Are you in need of a summer road song? With its driving heartland sound, “581” is the perfect backdrop for a top down or windows open driving experience. This reminds me of John Mellencamp.
“I’ll meet you there at the Narthex.” That last word sent me scrambling to the dictionary. Where else do you find that and “nave” mentioned in the same song? Rundman takes listeners to church, giving a sense of the mystery and majesty of ancient liturgy. It’s decidedly upbeat. Don’t imagine a long line of robed figures with swaying incense. This depicts ordinary people participating in the grandeur of something bigger than themselves.
Once again Rundman defies convention and brings a Christian perspective to the subject of death on the closing “Bright Funeral.” This is not the least bit morbid with a bouncy tune consisting of Wurlitzer and regimented drumming. Those left behind upon his passing are encouraged to celebrate rather than mourn. “Have a bright, bright funeral for me when I die/Not some gloomy dirge parade to tell your goodbye/Have a bright, bright funeral ’cause love don’t stop at death/And the hands of God are reaching out beyond our blood and breath.”
Some tracks are previously unreleased or remixed from their original form, so even if you have one of his prior releases, this is worth having. It’s also a fine introduction for new listeners.