Prime Cuts: "Don't Try So Hard," "Shovel in the Hand," "If I Could See (What Angels See)"
Amy Grant is like the writer of Ecclesiastes. Though God may not be mentioned in every page of this Biblical book, His punctilious presence looms like a lingering shadow over every discourse, idea and event. Grant may not mention God in every song here on her latest album "How Mercy Looks From Here," but every song exudes with wisdom of a lifetime shared by a deeply Godly woman. This record is a thoroughly contemplative, earthy, spiritual and personal by this multiple Grammy Award winner. Dealing with hefty issues such as aging, death, tragic life detours, fruitlessness, eternal life and life's meaning, Grant doesn't come across with fire and brimstone. Rather, in her warm never-hurried seasoned alto she gently nudges and shrugs urging us to the things that truly matter.
Ever since her teenage years, Grant has already been a tour-de-force in music, be it contemporary Christian or its secular counterpart. Scoring her first number 1 "Father's Eyes" when she was merely only 19 years-old, Grant continued to littered the Christian chart with hits such as "El Shaddai," 'Angels," "Stay for Awhile" and "Lead Me On." After which, she had magnanimous success on the secular charts with "Baby Baby," "Every Heartbeat" and "Lucky One." 2003 saw her final studio album of all new material "Simple Things" before this new disc. This is not to say that Grant has not been active in the last decade-she has had released a collection of hymns, a couple of greatest hits, a live album, a Mother's Day ep and a semi-new record "Somewhere Down the Road." Therefore, "How Mercy Looks Like" is Grant's long awaited return of an album of all new material and the wait is definitely worth it.
Inspired by her mother who died in April of 2011, Grant recalls a time when she visited her ailing mother on the way to a concert. With her failing memory, Grant's mom could not even remember her daughter's profession. When she was reminded that Grant was a singer, her mother profoundly advised," When you get on the stage, sing something that matters." Songs that matter is what this album is about --- "If I Could See (What Angels See)" is a slice of soft pedalling 70s John Denver-ish pop with Grant's desire to be wise in her life's choices. Lead single "Don't Try So Hard" is one of the most explicit Christian songs here where Grant reminds us that we don't have to try so hard to please God in life. Rather, we are called to rest in the grace of God. Such an exuberant Gospel centered message with the soft piano tinkles is only let down by James Taylor's barely audible backings. With a talent like Taylor, one would expect more of a spotlight on the Sweet Carolina singer. Continuing on in similar trajectory is the title cut "How Mercy Looks Like From Here." Pitched in a narrative context of her mother suffering through the toils of aging and sickness, Grant admits her helplessness if it weren't for God's grace when she croons: "I would have given up if it weren't your voice."
More real life experiences are set to songs with "Shovel in the Hand." Singing about her son's friend who died on Mother's Day weekend from a car accident, this tender ballad chronicles the emotion of the boy's mother. You can feel the globs of tears falling down as Grant sings: "forever young is a big fat lie...." Pain has never been so sublimely expressed. More optimistic is the flowing ballad "Here" that waxes with poetic beauty God's presence: "I am here in the light and the thunder late at night." God's love again gets the attention with upcoming country music artist's Eric Parsley's co-write ballad "Deep as It is Wide." Parsley and Sheryl Crowe even join Grant on vocals. While "Better Not to Know" has a philosophical bent that advocates the view that sometimes it is better to let the future surprise us rather than prodding for it. Listening to hubby Vince Gill's backing vocals is just a pure delight.
While the album is mostly slow and ruminative, the tempo does pick up a tad with Grant's and Carole King's "Our Time is Now." With clipped drums and a tamed carnival ambience, "Our Time is Now" is a seize the moment song calling to mind Grant's earlier hit "Takes a Little Time." While the Irish sounding album closer "Greet the Day" brims with Godly positivism. Every Amy Grant album is an event worth celebrating. And this album is of no exception - these eleven cuts are carefully crafted wisdom tales of faith, life, loss and love told by a woman who sings about songs that truly matter.