"My heart is stirred by a noble theme" is my best one-shot phrase to describe the experience of hearing (and hearing again) Indelible Grace's latest offering to the Church, Joy Beyond the Sorrow: Indelible Grace VI. The impressive production choices and continued growth of the artists in the IG coalition alongside unapologetically gospel-drenched hymn lyrics make this album a feast for the ears, mind, heart, and soul. As a worship leader in a local context, I can say that, per capita, I imagine more songs on this album being sung by my congregation than any of the previous albums. In other words, I find more songs on this record transferrable to my local context, and I can't wait for us to sing these new, old songs.
Musically, the album is filled with singable melodies, enclosed in an artistic, elegant, country-folk-tinged rock sound. The production is top notch--it's a beautiful album to hear with a nice set of headphones. It shimmers with professionalism but doesn't sound plastic. In other words, it is a human album, and the molecular base of its polish is an organic, not synthetic, compound.
Theologically, it hits the nail on the head. It emphasizes what the Bible does--salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone--and it beats that drum continually, fourteen songs strong.
The songs I would most likely employ in my context are:
- From Depths of Woe (Psalm 130)
- Hail to the Lord's Anointed
- Upon a Life I Did Not Live
- Did Christ Over Sinners Weep
This album is not over-arranged. It is not dense and multi-layered. You won't find a forty-track "wall of sound" anywhere. The album breathes with a lot of restful "white space," exemplified in songs like "Thy Will Be Done" and "For the Bread Which You Have Broken." It feels more mainstream, straight-up rock than their previous, more overtly folk-Americana records--straight beats, acoustic downstrums, epic, bluesy electric solos, plenty of B3 and other tasteful keyboards. Here and there are touches of strings and country styles and instrumentation (e.g. pedal steel, banjo).
There are no real driving, up-tempo numbers, but there are a few mid-tempo anthems, like "Pensive, Doubting, Fearful Heart," with its paced bluegrass backbeat, "Until the Daybreak," with its hammered Celtic-style turnarounds, and "Hail to the Lord's Anointed," with its four-on-the-floor feel. There are some very exciting, soulful, bluesy electric guitar solos with great tone and musical fingering. I'm thinking, in particular, about the epic moment a little over two minutes into "Did Christ Over Sinners Weep" and the tucked wah-solo about four minutes into "Until the Daybreak." The album's goal was obviously not to break new ground, musically, but the styles they worked in provide some very fresh, creative touches, like the left-and-right-panned, nearly contrapuntal banjo lines that bookend "From the Depths of Woe."
One note about "From the Depths of Woe." This song has been around a long time in producer Kevin Twit's Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) circles, and it has made its rounds in many (mainly Presbyterian) churches. I've always struggled with the song musically, because its syncopation and chord choices made Psalm 130's confessional lamentation feel too unfittingly happy for me. This album goes to show that tasteful re-arranging and gentle massaging of tempo, singing style, and chord structure can make all the difference. The slower tempo softens its melody's syncopated punchiness, and the opening two verses which ride around the relative minor of the key (as opposed to the tonic chord) "fix" the song for me. And then, when in the third verse, the beat comes up and major chord hits, it explodes in glory, perfectly complementing the text for me. Bravo, Kevin and the gang, for reminding me what good arranging does to tastefully frame a given text. This is my favorite song on the album.
Seriously, how can you go wrong when your song-texts draw from the wells of Psalm-versification and dead English Calvinist pastors? :) As with every other Indelible Grace record, there is a fidelity to the Gospel here, in every second of every track. Many moments draw me to tears, such as "Upon a Life I Did Not Live":
Upon a life I have not lived
Upon a death I did not die
Another's life, another's death
I stake my whole eternity
Not on the tears which I have shed
Not on the sorrows I have known
Another's tears, another's griefs
On these I rest, on these alone
How can one improve on the direct, simple truth here? If the Holy Spirit resides within you, how can you not be moved by the "same old story" of Jesus Christ, for us? Thank you, Horatius Bonar. One of my favorite texts on the album is "Did Christ Over Sinners Weep," which functions as a "preach the gospel to yourself" kind of song:
Did Christ over sinners weep, and shall our cheeks be dry?
Let floods of penitential grief burst forth from every eye.
Behold the Son of God in tears the angels wondering see!
Hast thou no wonder, O my soul? He shed those tears for thee!
He wept that we might weep, might weep for sin and shame;
He wept to show His love for us and bid us love the same.
Then tender be our hearts, our eyes in sorrow dim;
Till every tear from every eye be wiped away by Him.
People who accuse traditional hymnody of being cold, stoic, and emotionless haven't really experienced the best of the hymn tradition. This song is doused in the fullness of human emotion. It exposes that the best meeting place of head and heart is where the Gospel's "high theology" strangles your heart in a death-grip (well, actually, a "life-grip.").
I could go on and on, but the reality is that if you get this album, you're in for more than a treat. You're bound to be encouraged for a long time with its life-giving texts, artfully framed by fitting, beautiful music. Go get it.