Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category
I have praised the work of singer-songwriter Eric Peters in this space before, and Eric happens to be coming into the home stretch of a Kickstarter campaign for his current project, Far Side of the Sea. You can find out more about the project here:
I’m particularly excited about Eric’s concept for this latest project: lending his voice to the overlooked and abandoned things of the world. It’s ambitious to take on such a task on an album-length scale, but Eric has done this before in individual songs, and those songs demonstrate that his mind and talents are perfectly suited to the task he’s set himself with Far Side of the Sea. If a man resolves to sing the songs of overlooked, abandoned things, it is well that his voice should resonate with the clarity and faithfulness of the heavens, while touching the things of earth with a reviving tenderness.
Only a few days remain to back this project. Don’t miss the chance. The return will make you proud.
Something old, something new . . .
California Chrome’s run at the Triple Crown made me think to dust off Eric Peters’s Chrome (2009) this week. (By an extraordinary coincidence Chrome‘s title track is sung from the POV of my old Schwinn, which I abandoned at a D.C. metro station many years ago.) I’m glad I did; Chrome is such a tender masterpiece about pain and hope. If you’re not familiar with it, you should be.
In a similar gritty-hope vein is Melanie Penn’s Hope Tonight, just released this week. On account of the excellence of Melanie’s 2010 debut Wake Up Love, and the advance release of Hope Tonight‘s opening song “Turnaround,” I had high expectations for Hope Tonight — which the album has blown away. Of particular note is its ninth song: “Shadow of Doubt” is the kind of marvel you might give half your iTunes library to have.
Yip Harburg once said that “words make you think a thought; music makes you feel a feeling; a song makes you feel a thought.” But it takes a good song to make one feel a thought. And by that measure, the songs of Chrome and Hope Tonight are very good songs indeed.
 Just kidding.
Yesterday Andrew Peterson officially released his latest album, Light for the Lost Boy. Having now lived with Lost Boy for a whole day, I heartily commend it to you. (It’s available for download/order here.)
If you want to hear more, two reviews in particular have helped me more fully appreciate the depth and excellence of Andrew’s most recent work: Jonathan Rogers’s release review, and S. D. Smith’s The Weight of Our Story (part of Andrew Peterson appreciation week at the excellent site Story Warren).
Don’t hold your breath . . .
We’ve all heard that phrase many times. And we all know what it means: it’s a cynical retort to someone who thinks that something is going to happen.
But what if the words “don’t hold your life” followed? That’d put “don’t hold your breath” in an entirely different setting. “Don’t hold your breath” would then evoke thoughts of life, in its very essence: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Those two lines – “Don’t hold your breath/Don’t hold your life” – are Eric Peters’s Birds of Relocation in miniature, the whole of the work wrought small and swift that we might more readily take it in. For life is the great theme of Birds of Relocation, soup to nuts. All over this magnificent work we see Eric snatching dead things from Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones and, with given breath, breathing new life into them.
The chief means through which Eric does this are his careful wordsmithing and his glorious voice. In his excellent play-by-play review of Birds, S. D. Smith calls Eric a “songbird” – and ne’er a more spot-on word was spoken. Often with singer-songwriters, the deal is that we live with the singing for the sake of the songwriting. Not so with Eric. His voice – he’s a tenor with a nice falsetto, blessed with a good range and a pleasing timbre throughout – is cultivated, in the best sense. That is, you can tell Eric works on his voice, but in no sense is it manufactured; it has neither the pretentiousness of some operatic tenors nor the affectations of many pop singers. And his voice recorded is more than a pleasing palette of sounds. From its clarity and presence, I’d guess (I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting him) that Eric’s voice is simply the man himself, exhaling – and transfigured in the exhaling. It’s a broad-ranged instrument that captures wonderfully the nuances of image and mood in his lyrics – pensive, mournful, resolute, and exultant.
And speaking of those lyrics, Birds of Relocation is a box of gems. Here is a small sampling:
We’re selves of our former shadows.
Children hide themselves behind their hands, and peek through to be found once again.
We’re a couple of codependents, like the span over Pontchartrain.
Like a Caesar in Rome, sacked and alone, all dressed to the nines atop a plastic throne.
Live your life just like a purloined letter.
We’re a thousand-piece puzzle scattered into the wind.
But the measure of Eric’s lyric writing cannot fully be taken by noting his ability to utter pithy and evocative lines. He’s also really good at taking songs in unexpected directions, changing their courses on a dime – as we saw in the first two lines of “Don’t Hold Your Breath.” That skill appears again later in the same song, by the way he finishes a line that begins with the words “it’s been a long time . . .” Those words are generally the intellectual property of the wistful, who finish the thought with things like “since I drank champagne,” or “since I smelled honeysuckle blossoms,” or whatever. Eric’s finish, though, is quite different, and results in a line as startling as it is convicting:
It’s been a long time since I kept my word.
The best example, though, of Eric’s ability to take lyrical concepts in unexpected directions is the song “Voices.” That song is well-placed in the middle of Birds of Relocation, since, in my view, it is the hinge on which Birds turns. Birds begins with a declaration about a hard year past: “Ha ha! to the old year” – and ends with an utterly realistic, utterly exultant resolve to enjoy the skies, while looking for a sign of life on a flooded earth. But “Voices” is the hard working out of the “Ha ha! to the old year,” the Lenten training ground through which Eric arrives at the settled resolve of “Fighting for Life.” It’s about silencing the voices that accuse us, that destroy us with accusations of worthlessness. But in Eric’s lyric, this isn’t accomplished by mere silencing. It’s accomplished by a gently powerful double entendre on the song’s title:
Hear, o hear, the saints’ and angels’ voices.
By song’s end, it’s clear that although it started on voices of accusation, “Voices” is actually about the voices of the saints and angels. It’s a song of triumph, a man’s gritty answer to St Paul’s question, “it is God who justifies; who is to condemn?”
Having said this much about Birds of Relocation, I’ve still barely scratched the surface of all that could be said about it. Maybe the best thing that I could say, though, is that I’m already better man for having listened to it for the past few weeks, and for taking the time to meditate on its treasures in this review. And I don’t think it’s close to finished doing its good work on me – every time I turn it on I notice something new, which calls forth more life in me. So, since yesterday was the official CD release day for Birds of Relocation (though it has been available in electronic format via The Rabbit Room for much longer), I heartily commend this to you as a good occasion to purchase it.
I bring this little review to an end with a postscript about the song with which Eric ends Birds of Relocation, “Fighting for Life.” As I said before, this is a song of utterly realistic and utterly exultant resolve. Its realism is evident in the quiet, thoughtful beginning, and the acknowledgment that “in a little while, the ghosts return to noise.” In short, Eric is realistic enough to know that life under the sun does not afford us a place where we can put troubles so far behind us that they can’t reappear in our rearview mirrors. But Eric’s duly noting that is simply a deep breath – the intake of air before he unleashes, with that glorious voice, a rousing final trumpet blast:
I go into the darkness carrying a light,
I’ll have no fear because I’m not alone:
I got angels’ voices and friends who love me for who I am;
So when the waters come
I fly above this flooded earth, looking for a sign of life,
And I relocate on boughs of hope,
Like a living soul, remembering
That in a little while, in a little while,
The ghosts return to noise.
Ooh, but not right now, not right now,
The sky must be enjoyed.
 Genesis 2:7 (AV).
 Paraphrasing George MacDonald’s description of Christ’s miracles.
 Romans 8:33-34.