Normally, for a blog like this I would concentrate on reviewing albums to help worship leaders and pastors sift through the myriad of worship music that is released each year. However, for this first review I’m going to break the rule that I’ve yet to follow even once. (How’s that for consistency?)
I’m going to start by reviewing the recent best-of release by Andrew Peterson, “After All These Years.” Without exaggeration I can say that Peterson is one of the best songwriters out there today. Not just one of the best Christian songwriters, but one of the best songwriters, period. And on a personal note I can say no musician has had a greater influence on my life and ministry over the past 7 years I’ve been a worship pastor. I’ve been blessed over and over by Peterson’s music, and so has my congregation.
The beautiful thing about this album is that it represents the very best of one of the best musicians of our generation. If you’ve never heard of Andrew Peterson before, this is an excellent place to start getting to know him. So let’s talk about the album.
The first thing to note is that it’s not a normal best-of album with a couple of new songs and a handful of previous hits. First, this record contains 20 tracks (20!!!) with the longest song being close to 8 minutes. In other words this is a ton of music on one CD, which allows it to faithfully represent Peterson’s 18 year long career.
The other interesting aspect of this album is its song selection. It includes 4 brand new songs, 8 songs that were re-recorded specifically for this project, and 8 songs that were requested by fans on Peterson’s Rabbit Room Website. These different elements keeps the album fresh for both long-term fans of his music and new listeners as well.
Of the 4 new songs the title track, “After All These Years,” is by far the most radio-oriented with a light, folk-pop melody and lyrics that set the theme for the rest of the project. “Romans 11 (Doxology)” is a lovely setting of Paul’s words that would be a great piece in any church service. “Everybody’s Got A Song” is a sweet, serene tribute to Nashville and represents Peterson’s roots as a folk songwriter, especially with the lap-steel accompaniment.
However, my favorite of the new offerings on this project is “To All the Poets I Have Known.” With words written by Gloria Gaither, Peterson creates a truly emotional experience in this musical offering. The subtle energy of the percussion drives the song and allows the piano, organ and guitar parts to shine. For those of us who have been influenced by specific writers, musicians and artists (which should be all of us), this song can’t help but call to mind our favorites and bring us to a sense of thanksgiving for the blessings God has given us through the creativity he’s given to others.
The re-recorded songs on this album are somewhat of a mixed bag. None are really bad renditions, but some are far more effective than others. The addition of drums, electric guitar and brass to “After the Last Tear Falls” takes a song of hope and turns it into a song of triumph, making it the best new recording on the album. And the melancholy piano on “Holy is the Lord” perfectly expresses the emotional turmoil of the story of Abraham and Isaac.
Other new arrangements aren’t quite as effective. The slower tempo on “Isn’t It Love” really emphasizes some of the most interesting turns of phrase in Peterson’s catalogue, but the altered melody doesn’t have the same life as the original. Likewise, the simplified arrangement of “Faith to Be Strong” doesn’t improve much on the original. But again, none of the new arrangements is a true miss; rather some hit the mark closer than others, and all of them should lead new listeners to find and experience the beauty of the originals.
Other Best-of Songs
Of the rest of the songs on the album, there is not a bad choice in the bunch. I could write an individual post on every song on this album. However, I do want to highlight two of the songs that have been personally significant to me. The first is “The Good Confession” which is essentially Peterson’s testimony in musical form. I’ve never heard a lyric or melody more truthfully describe the Christian walk than the bridge of this song. The second is “The Silence of God.” Much has been made over the last decade of the need to include lament in our worship. Peterson understands that as clearly as anyone, and “The Silence of God” is perhaps the best modern lament I know of.
The only critique I’d have of the song selection is that some truly excellent songs are missing from this project. Of course I’d most likely be writing the same thing if the album included 30 or even 40 songs; he’s written that much good music.
I can’t say it enough, Andrew Peterson is one of the best songwriters in the U.S. today, and to have 20 of his best offerings in one album is an incredible treasure. Whether you’ve been a fan for the past 18 years or you’ve never heard of him before reading this blog, this is an album every person should listen to at least once, and most of us should own.
Buy the album here: After All These Years