04 September 2010

Weekend Extra #1: Music Review

by Frank Turk

One of the massive advantages of being a blogger on a widely-read blog like this is the free stuff one can get if one is even remotely conscious, but the down-side of that is also living up to the expectation that you will actually review and promote for of that stuff. That's a pretty massive down-side, btw, because it's easy to get way behind in reviewing -- an really to find that the last batch of stuff you got is full of titles you're probably going to pan or find unfortunate.

So on this long weekend in the US, I'm going to start with a project that I was much encouraged by so I can build up a head of steam and get the pile of obligations off my night stand. Note to Publishers and Artists: I really am pleased to be able to do this, I just find myself pinched for time. I don't blog for a living but I blog for fun, and this is fun when I'm not swamped.

So about three years ago, when I was deceived into believing that I had time for a weekly podcast, I began to hard slog to find some appropriate intro and outro theme, and I stumbled on a song called "My Lord, I did not choose you" by a young fellow named Matthew Smith. It earned itself a permanent place on my iPod in spite of the still-birth of my podcasting career because of the minimalist beauty of the production. Matthew's voice is not operatic, and it's not jazzy, and it's not "authentic" like Bob Dylan or Van Morrsion; his arrangement of that song is not thrilling or even very innovative. But after downloading it the first time -- and I paid for that one on iTunes, and I advise you to do the same -- it was haunting. It was a great contemporary reworking of a hymn from the 19th century without sounding hokey or fake.

Back in May I think I got an e-mail from Challies canvassing fellow bloggers to download and then review the newest album by Matthew Smith, and Tim (for a moment forgetting he is an internet android with no emotions) almost actually raved about the release.

Now, you can imagine my quandary -- you've been there. Your friend who is a nerd comes to you raving about this new album, and you want to be polite because he's your friend, but you know he can't really tell the difference between King Crimson and King's X and B. B. King. But I knew Matthew Smith from my own iPod, and was grateful to get the free download for review.

Listen: we all love Sovereign Grace Music and Third Day and old Caemon's Call, but we should live a little -- otherwise we're going to wind up just like the last generation of conservative Christians who are still going to Gospel Camp revivals and can't figure out why they can't get anyone under the age of 60 to come and join them.

What's great about this album is summed up in where it fails: Matthew remixed one song on the CD (You are the Light), and he ruined it with overproduction. In trying to make his music into something it is not -- and I would argue making himself into something he does not want to be, whether he knows it or not -- Matthew Smith reveals the real spiritual depth in his natural method and approach. He's not a genre innovator. He's not looking to make songs that you want to dance to in spite of the lyrics. He's in the hard work of writing songs in a contemporary idiom which are also keeping a faithful eye on timeless truth and the beautiful message of the good news of Jesus Christ.

This may sound like I'm trying to be ambiguous about these songs, but I'm not -- the problems with most contemporary worship songs is that they work hard to be in the company of secular taste and forgets that it ought to be worried that secular tastes are both fleeting and, at their root, sinful. Matthew Smith instead works hard to speak to a contemporary audience with a minimalistic approach to the music and a maximal approach to the words he is singing/preaching. His voice is the voice of anyone who wants to praise a God who has done everything for him -- and in this approach, he has written and arranged songs that everyone can actually sing.

I have been edified by all the tracks in this release, but my favorites are the original mix of "You are the Light", the light, alt-folk ballad "I Have Seen the Lord", and the prayer-ballad "Greater than our Hearts" -- but if you pick differently, I'll total agree with you.

<a href="http://matthewsmith.bandcamp.com/track/greater-than-our-hearts">Greater Than Our Hearts by Matthew Smith</a>

So here are my recommendations for you:

1. Go ahead to Matthew's web site here and preview the album.
2. Agree with me, and then buy the tunes -- but here's the deal: because Matthew is a great guy, you can use this discount code to get a discount on your purchase:

evangel (25% off the Deluxe Edition CD + Download)
evangelvinyl (10% off the Limited Edition Vinyl + Download)

[Yea, yea, I know -- I was supposed to do this review over at Evangel, but I up and left them, so I'm doing it here. This is better for Matthew anyway as we get more readers.]

3. Tell your fiends about the new Album you just got for next to nothing.
4. get edified.

More later this weekend. My conscience feels better already.


OAG said...

I'll be honest... I just wanted to be the first person to make a comment on this blog. It showed up in my Google Reader as I was reading another Team Pyro blog, and I figured now was the time to be first.

I guess that means I'll be the last to comment on it in heaven.

Halcyon said...

Money quote:

"We all love Sovereign Grace Music and Third Day and old Caemon's Call, but we should live a little -- otherwise we're going to wind up just like the last generation of conservative Christians who are still going to Gospel Camp revivals and can't figure out why they can't get anyone under the age of 60 to come and join them."

Amen, and again I say, Amen.

Matthew Smith said...

Thanks for the review! For anyone wondering, the album is called Watch The Rising Day. And you can blame/credit that remix to Derek Webb. :)

Anonymous said...

You're right Frank, great music; it has substance like you say!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Matthew! You're a talented guy, thank you for using your gifts to magnify Jesus (in that sense you are inspired by the Holy Spirit Jn 14--16)!!

Brad Williams said...

I will send an email to all my fiends post haste.

Boaly said...

Very, very good album.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reviewing! It's beautiful and will make an excellent addition to my commuting rotation.

Just ordered a copy!

Rachael Starke said...

"The problem with most contemporary worship songs is that they work hard to be in the company of secular taste, and forget that they ought to be worried that secular tastes are both fleeting, and, at their root, sinful."

Oo. That hurts.

(Edited to remove the grammatical specks in the original, just to be a blessing.)

Kyle said...

Yea... that remix is nasty, I reburned the CD without it, lol.

FX Turk said...

Matthew --

Thanks for reading; hope the review gets people to your site and your music.

Robert said...

Went and listened and now put all his music on my rhapsody account. Plan to buy the MP3's one by one. This really is great music with great lyrics. Not overdone at all.

Mark said...

Glad to see Matthew getting props on Team Pyro. I've been enjoying Matthew Smith's music for a long time, as prior to his creating his own albums he contributed, and still is contributing, to the Indelible Grace albums (which I also commend, igracemusic.com).

I have introduced Matthew's and IG's music to various church's and often use them in my church's service. They even created their own hymnbook, which is a great resource for music leaders.

One of my favorites of Matthew's is "Come Ye Sinners", which is the 1st track on the 1st IG album and he's supported on guitar by Matt Odmark of Jars of Clay.

His music has been a great blessing. Get some.

Anonymous said...

One of the best concerts I've ever been to was Matthew Smith's, in Houston last year. And this because it wasn't even a "concert" as much as a worship night...complete with overhead powerpoint for us to sing along. One of the best times of worship I've ever had!! I was exceedingly blessed by him that night and got really excited to see this review!

Gabby said...

Wow - I love this guy! Shopping itunes now...

Stuart Brogden said...

My adult son is part of a band that plays music similar to this. I sent him to this link and he shared it with his peeps and we are both buying the album.

Thanks for posting and may the Lord bless Matthew Smith.