Prime Cuts: Bows and Arrows, How Could I Ask for More, Bring Balloons
"Bows and Arrows" is a leftfield masterpiece. This album is to Cindy Morgan what "Wrecking Ball" is to Emmylou Harris or what "Van Lear Rose" is to Loretta Lynn. Rich in atmosphere and haunting in its lyrical nuances, to say that this album is enthralling is an understatement. Gone are the synth pop sounds of Morgan's earlier records. Rather, "Bows and Arrows" is sonically a sheer work of art where elements of bluegrass, Americana, old spirituals, country, and folk coalesce together into a deftly crafted tapestry of sound. If comparisons are to be made, "Bows and Arrows" is closer in sound to Morgan's 2006 "Postcards" than 1992 "Real Life." With ballads dominating the bulk of the record, listening to this album is indeed a convalescent affair where our souls are awaken to the healing balm of God's truth as Morgan wrestles with how life's hurts and disappointments ultimately find their rest in Jesus Christ.
Signing her first record deal with Word Records after high school, Morgan gained instant success with a string of best-selling singer-songwriter pop records, with hits such as "Praise the King," "Listen," "I Will Be Free," and others. Ever since 1992, Morgan has garnered twenty-one number one singles, Dove and Grammy nods, and she has had toured alongside some of the biggest names in gospel music. Moreover, Morgan has had also co-written hits for artists as diverse as Amy Grant, Rascal Flatts, Brandon Heath, Sandi Patty, India Arie, and Mandisa. But with "Bows and Arrows," she has dropped her commercial pen. Rather, what we have here are 13 honest diary-like reflections of life, faith, and love done not to impress radio but in the worship of our living God.
"Breaking Hearts" begins the proceedings on a jaunty note. A song that would make Americana legends such as Rodney Crowell or Steve Earle proud, this is a rootsy piece that flourishes with a warm and rustic sound. With the help of Sierra Hull & Gabe Dixon, Morgan takes on a bluegrassy excursion with "Can't Help Yourself." Lean in its execution with some delightful banjos leading the way, "Can't Help Yourself" is exquisite for those who prefer their music earthy and organic. The album's hinge piece is the title track "Bows and Arrows." Morgan avoids the pitfall of many CCM songwriters by eschewing the trite and cliché. Rather, situating one's spiritual quest within the framework of a realistic and down to earth narrative, you can't help but draw into every word of this story song as if it were our very own life itself.
Even the titles of the songs here are intriguing. Case in point being "Bring Balloons." The song deals with the question of mortality where it begs us to contemplate if we see death as a celebration of meeting Jesus or as an inevitable doom. Continuing in the same lyricaly traectory is the pleonastic "Do You Know Jesus?," the song minces not a syllable in questioning our status before the Lord. "Wandering Child," an old school-sounding spiritual, brings us back to the "O Brother Where Art Thou" days. Morgan then reprises her big hit and the title of her latest book "How Could I Ask for More?" While the original was only backed by a piano, this time around, Morgan has donned the same song with a gorgeous string section, doboro, mandolin, and Andrew Peterson's moving tenor.
Just as each and every of Morgan's albums has had its own distinctive sound and personality, "Bows and Arrows" is no exception. This time round, Morgan has eradicated the polished and the pristine. Rather, what we have is an earthy, rugged, and at times tattered sound. Nevertheless, this album is real, honest, and Morgan's best.