Monday, April 7, 2008

Empty & Beautiful Part 2: a few thoughts (really)

Because New Music Tuesday is only an hour away I found new music reviews from Christianity Today on my google reader and when I saw Matt Maher I clicked on the headline so fast I frightened even myself.

I think Russ Breimeier's years of experience with music make him a pretty accurate ear, he was especially spot on in pointing out that "Empty & Beautiful" plays it a little too safe and doesn't adequately showcase what Matt Maher is really capable of.


As I was flying from Charlotte back to Denver today I embarked upon one of my favorite traveling past-times: listening to an artist's complete discography chronologically. As I watched stars come out, lightning exploding under the clouds beneath us, and more clouds stretch on and on I was really struck by how different Matt's earlier songs are from this album I hope to be in my car's CD player within the next 24 hours. That train of thought went as far as me seriously considering how I could get my hands on unreleased songs Matt has written!

My point is that along the way there has been a shift (perhaps totally natural) away from writing more first-person, searching, vulnerability-tinged songs and towards more congregation and CCM friendly pop praise. I have to admit that I am as psyched to sing "Look Like A Fool" and "Great Things" as anyone (and probably moreso, despite the unlikelihood of that actually happening) but I also miss the wandering songs filled with lovely concrete images and narrative like "Wonderful to Me," "Jesus, My Everything," and "Lead Me Home."

I don't know what to attribute this shift to: settling more into the role of "worship leader" as opposed to songwriter, interest in hows and whys of Christian songwriting, a desire to be more accessible?

Back to the album at hand: I am excited for the mail later today. When I first saw the album's track list I was slightly annoyed that four of the songs are already released (albeit some have been made over). I mean, c'mon, that' s a quarter of the record! As soon as I heard "I Rejoice" I was unabashedly won over again. It's so intense! This is what I miss in some of the other songs, though. "Lay It Down" is a song whose lyrics unfold in my prayer every time I approach the tabernacle to pray and yet this recording of a song Matt has sung live for years doesn't really build with the kind of strength I would like to see until the very end. That aside, I'm ecstatic it found its way onto an album. I can't wait for the ripples of this song to crest in many many people genuinely finding in it a vehicle to surrender. That's the power of music and the Holy Spirit.

I also have to highlight that I really love the title track. This song is just interesting. The lyrics are personal in the way I mentioned above, I love it when Matt sings with his head voice (see "By the Rivers of Babylon," the final stroke on Matt's last release and one of the gems of that album), there are VIOLINS, it's piano driven, and best of all it feels TRUE.

I really said this was just going to be a few thoughts. The more I listen to this album, though, the more Matt's music converts me all over again, in every sense.

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