10 November 2012

Album Review: Matthew Clark's "Bright Came the Word From His Mouth"

I love epics. Not much makes me happier than trekking with Frodo through Mordor toward Mount Doom or sailing over the bright whaleroad to Heorot with Beowulf. Something about these broad, sweeping stories engages me and pulls me in deeper than other tales can.

So I was thrilled at the chance to hear an advance review copy of Matthew Clark's upcoming project, Bright Came the Word From His Mouth.

This album is a thoughtful, melodious journey from one end of time to the other. It deals with the most significant facets of human existence. In the bard's rhythms and rhymes, we hear echoes of eternity. An epic, if ever I've heard one.

Appropriately enough, "Bright Came the Word" is inspired by Sandra Richter's book, The Epic of Eden. Clark wrote the album as a soundtrack for the book's companion DVD. Richter's purpose for writing the book was to put the Old Testament in a usable order so readers could gain a better understanding of God's redemptive plan.

Clark's album dovetails nicely with that mission. The very first song, "Overture," engages listeners with themes that continue as unbroken threads until the end: sin, sacrifice, redemption, and reconciliation. It foreshadows an album that is remarkably unified, both musically and lyrically.

"Overture" is also a great introduction to Clark's musical style. He creates delicate, carefully measured melodies, consistently backed by his skillful folk guitar as well as understated vocal and instrumental harmonies. His sound, reminiscent of Matthew Perryman Jones or David Crowder, is sincere, honest and dynamic.

Clark's lyrics are no less skillful than his music. They are dense with vivid metaphors and insightful readings of scripture. These lines from "Overture" tell volumes about Abram, his faith, and how he foreshadowed the redemption that would come in the person of Christ:
Abram held the promise close, Raised the blade above his head 
 A son will surely give his life, Know the promise breaks the knife
These lyrics exemplify Clark's commitment to depth and truth without preachiness. It is often difficult to communicate sound doctrine in an imaginative way, but Clark maintains an unfailing balance between orthodoxy and creativity.

It's hard to pick a single high point of this album. From the wistful longing of "Oh Eden!" to the driving rhythm of "Let Go the Floodgates" to the melancholy, expectant strains of "Where I Am You May Also Be," Clark communicates a variety of emotions and allows his music to illustrate the depth and richness of the gospel story.

In many ways, though, "Redemption Song" stands out as the cornerstone of Bright Came the Word From His Mouth. Its chronological scope is very broad, and it shows the continuity of God's plan in an especially eloquent and imaginative way. It weaves the stories of Lot, Ruth, and Hosea together as examples of humanity's desperate need for a savior. The final verse encapsulates the album's entire message in a single brief burst of lyrical beauty:
So the Father sends his only son, to ransom all the lost
From enemies too strong for them, from the poverty of loss
In the squalor of the pit, where the willing faithless sit
To the depths the love of God has sent his Word, redemption
I suppose a reviewer is more or less obligated to find something nasty to say about what he is reviewing. At any rate, that is the idea I get from most of the reviews I read. Well, I have bad news: I don't have anything nasty to say about this album. However, I suppose I can invent something sort of unfavorable to say about one of the tracks, since you insist.

"Let Go the Floodgates" sticks out just a little bit. Its bluesy, rhythmic music is markedly different from most of the other songs on the album, and the narrative voice of its lyrics is also pretty unique. It's certainly no monstrosity, and its sound is positively addictive. Nonetheless, if you held a gun to my head and demanded that I remove or alter a song on this album, I would say, "Seriously? I really don't want to." And you would say, "I'll use this! Don't think I won't! You're on thin ice, scumbag!" And then I suppose I would say this one. Not because it's bad, but because it seems like the album would still hold together OK without it.

Well, that was adequately painful, I think. Let's get back to gushing for a little while longer. 

"Reprise" is a perfect way to end the story. In it, Clark closes out his epic journey by returning to its beginning. Creation, once corrupted by sin and death, has been restored by Christ's redemptive work. Eden, once lost, has been regained:
Rest your sword by your side, fling the gates wide, at ease you cherubim
Dance you City of God, trees clap your hands, God and man home again
It is a marvelous, triumphant finish to a consistently excellent album. If you don't feel like getting up and dancing during "Reprise," then you are probably way too uptight and should loosen up, man. Seriously.

From beginning to end, this is a noteworthy album, full of truth, light, life, and hope. It is an epic, but more importantly, it is a clear, beautiful, and powerful account of a loving God who gave His all to bring His wandering children home.

Bright Came the Word From His Mouth is slated for release in January 2013. You can learn more about Matthew's music at his Web site. If you want to help him recoup some of the cost of recording the album, take a look at his indiegogo fundraising site.

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