Prime Cuts: I Am Held, Hymn of the Holy Spirit, This is the Day
Overall Grade: 3/5
Sometimes less is more. This is the ethos of Pat Barrett's latest live album "Canvas and Clay." Surrounding his solicitous tenor with a minimalistic backing (often of only a piano and some light percussion) Barrett worships with a quiet yet heartfelt disposition. Barrett shows that in order to move hearts, you don't need to fill the stage full of guitars and the latest staccato drum sets. Rather, well-written songs grounded in Holy Writ coupled with a sincere Holy Spirit-soaked delivery can do wonders. "Canvas and Clay" is just that -- 10 contemplative worship songs recorded in an unplugged style in Atlanta at the 1971 Sounds Studio.
With songs like "Good Good Father," Build My Life" and "Yes and Amen," Barrett's songs are slowly becoming staples across churches these days. Signed as a flagship artist on Chris Tomlin's Bowyer & Bow imprint, this is Barrett's third release, following an EP and a studio album released last year. "Canvas and Clay" contains 8 new compositions with live reprisals of two tracks from Barrett's eponymous debut album: "Better" and "Hymn of the Holy Spirit."
This album's lead track is the title cut "Canvas and Clay." Eschewing the common opprobrium that modern worship songs are lyrically trite, "Canvas and Clay" is an application of Isaiah 64:8, where God is likened to a potter. Coming from the pens of Barrett, Ben Smith and boss Chris Tomlin, the title track "Canvas and Clay" is well-written demonstrating a careful meditation of Scripture and its application to our lives. In the same class of excellence is "I Am Held." The powerful refrain of how God never lets us go even in the midst of sufferings is conveyed with so much passion, you can help but be mesmerised in holy awe. The mid-tempo "This is the Day," which opens the set, gives us a break from the album's heavy ballads with some toe-tapping recesses.
Though Barrett is a pensive writer, this doesn't inoculate him from falling into the same trap almost ever singer-songwriter faces -- monotony. Precisely because Barrett has a hand in co-writing all the songs here, the songs tend to be carved out of the same template. With few exceptions, most of the songs start off soft and slow before indulging us into an extended (and overblown) bridge pattern. If this was the imprint of a couple of songs, it would be fine; but to have the same blueprint being repeated across almost all the songs can be a tiresome experience. Songs such as "Praise Upon Praise" and "You're Making Something Beautiful" can really stretch one's tolerance by clocking in at 7:32 and 6:24 minutes respectfully.
However, if you listen to the songs on their individual merits, there are still some gems. Other than the aforementioned tracks, "Hymn of the Holy Spirit" is a stand-out. As the titular suggests, this has a hymn-like structure with more insights packed in its content. Also of note is the James Taylor meets Tim McGraw-esque "Land of the Living." "Canvas and Clay" may not be perfect, it still is a warm, organic and poignant record. And when Barrett sings with just a piano, he is still worshipfully stunning.