Prime Cuts: Abide with Me, Glory Bound, Because He Lives (Amen)
Our appreciation of Matt Maher's latest album "Saints and Sinners" heightens when we understand the embodied nuances of the project's title. Like the unfolding of the proverbial onion, one layer of the album's title refers to the songs' theme of sinners struggling with our foibles in our life-long process of sanctification. Here you will hear songs about our daily strives situated in the dust and dirt of our everyday bouts and how they come to a crossroads with the life-transforming grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, another layer of meaning of the album's title reveals Maher's process in crafting this project. Finding his muse in the writings of "saints and sinners" of the church's history, such as Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, the words of many of these songs were inspired by the prayers, devotions and homilies of such saints and sinners. As a result, there is a treasury of wisdom is embedded in the album's lyrics giving us a thesaurus of Godly vocabulary.
While the lion's share of Contemporary Christian Music artists find their heritages in the Protestant Church, Maher is one of the few to come out of the Roman Catholic camp. Signed to Essential Records in 2007, Maher released his first big-label album (and his fourth album overall) "Empty and Beautiful" on April 8, 2008. In late 2009, Maher toured with Michael W. Smith, Meredith Andrews and Phil Stacey on the "New Hallelujah Tour." To date, Maher is known for worship songs such as "Lord, I Need You," "Hold Us Together," "Alive," "Your Grace is Enough" and his recent top 10 entry from this new release "Because He Lives (Amen)." Saints and Sinners" find Maher working with producer Paul Moak (Third Day, Mat Kearney) as well as co-writing with notable scribes such as Thad Cockrell (Leagues), Jon Foreman (Switchfoot), Bo and Bear Rinehart (NEEDTOBREATHE), and Jason Ingram.
With crunchy sounding guitars, the pop-driving Steven Curtis Chapman-esque "A Future Not My Own" was inspired by martyr Oscar Romero. A much needed reminder that we should not be investing our entirety on the here and now; such message of self-deny is rare today yet it's so Christ-like. Taking a minimalist approach with just his voice at the start of the song, "Everything is Grace" interweaves words of St. Therese of Lisieux into this freshly crafted ballad creating an artistic work of grace tinted with a sepia tone of historical wisdom. Calling to mind Maher's huge hit "Lord I Need You," "Because He Lives (Amen)" is built upon the musical skeleton of Bill Gaither's "Because He Lives." Considering the church's incessant lacuna for fresh expressions of Christ's resurrection, "Because He Lives (Amen)" is a great resource for the church.
A few songs stretches the sonic boundaries. "Firelight," a song inspired by Mother Theresa's words to be lights in the darkness, has an almost bluegrassy Americana feel. While interspersed with speeches from Martin Luther King, "Sons and Daughters" is a Gospel-tinged brassy call to action to take our faith into the streets in loving those who are racially different than us. Most autobiographical is "Rest." Based on Psalm 23 and featuring the voices of the Vespers, "Rest" was written in a time when Maher's grandmother's health was failing. "Glory Bound" with its infectious rock n' roll charge calls to mind Vertical Church's "Bound for Glory," while "Abide with Me" is a piano ballad that has all the qualities of a modern hymn.
When it comes to Matt Maher, you can always count on two things: here is a literate poet who is well-versed in history, theology and Scripture. Thus, no Maher song can ever be faulted on its lyrical triteness. On the other hand, Maher also has a way of taking some of the most learned truths and making them sing and sting to the average person on the street.
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