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Review – Andrew Peterson – Counting Stars July 29, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Music, Reviews.
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There are currently only three artists on my “Buy Every New CD On Release Day” list. These are the select few who have given me enough confidence that anything they make is worth a listen. I also feel committed to support them, so I buy their CDs even if I’ve already been given a prerelease copy. I meet these new releases with sometimes conflicted ear of a fanboy with the loftiest of expectations.

Andrew Peterson has occupied a slot on that list for a long time, ever since I heard The Chasing Song on the radio, realized it was by the same guy who did that brilliant Grand Canyon song called Nothing to Say, and knew there was something special going on.  And so it was with great joy that I unwrapped Peterson’s latest, “Counting Stars”.

The provocative title and gorgeous art evoke the myriad stars above Abraham’s stars, symbolizing God’s covenant and one of the strong themes of the album: lineage and legacy. I think this might be the sort of album Rich Mullins would have written if he had kids. The Mullins-Peterson comparisons are ubiquitous, but I hear as much if not more influence here from Michael Card. In that light, this first half of the CD is Peterson’s “Poiema”.

The other theme, and what would be Side B in a vinyl world, is hinted at in the quote from J.R.R. Tolkien tucked under the CD. It’s about the glimmer of hope that’s only visible because the surroundings are so dark. Again, Card’s “The Hidden Face of God” is an entire album of lament, and features a cover of Peterson’s The Silence of God.

These two major themes probably deserved an album each, but they’ve both been considered by Peterson in the past, so their comingling is probably not too jarring for longtime fans. Furthermore, I dare not suggest anything that might delay “Resurrection Letters, Volume I”!

“Counting Stars” opens with Many Roads, easily the best concert opener a Christian artist could imagine. The lyrics invite God to speak, explain the vulnerability inherent in the creative process, encourage the audience to participate in the mystery of corporate worship, and even manage to introduce the band.

The next half dozen songs speak of marriage and family and legacy. There are beautifully composed snapshots of real life and appreciations of the eternal impact of raising children. Tucked in the middle is my favorite from this section: The Magic Hour. Describing the view from his house during the soft twilight preferred by photographers, the song will be for the Peterson clan a treasured memorial to this time and place in their lives. Here is Peterson’s gift: he coveys in 12 words what I struggle to relate through 717 words (“Plain is the beauty before us / Could this beauty be for us?”), and he sets it to mandolin and cello and makes me completely feel and understand.

Flipping the figurative record over brings the unsettling contrast of the soul-shaking realization of the beauty that’s right there under one’s own roof (World Traveler) versus a cold numbness before the most majestic mountains (The Last Frontier). The latter is as dark and hopeless as any song I’ve ever heard. Indeed, it shuts out every speck of light so the glimmer of hope becomes visible. Like so many of the Psalms of lament, the beautifully-sung lyric is honest and confessional and sinks us to the bottom of the well before we realize that’s where God needed us to be so we could finally see Him again.

Confession is also evident in what’s probably my favorite song on the album, Fool with a Fancy Guitar. The song clings to the promise of 1 Peter 2 that we sinners can somehow be a chosen people and a royal priesthood in the eyes of God. It’s the mystery of mercy and the miracle of grace in a completely accessible two-and-a-half minute song.

Most of “Counting Stars” is sung gently, and there is not really any musical bombast to speak of until the closer, The Reckoning, sets a thunderstorm to music. (Am I the only one who has thought of U2’s 40 at least once while listening to The Reckoning?) Fortunately, the song includes the required HDHRM, the Hammered Dulcimer in Homage to Rich Mullins. The players are solid throughout, as expected, though there seem to be fewer layers and complexity than on “Resurrection Letters Vol. 2”.  

I have but a few quibbles. In a few instances an “oh” seems to fill in where a lyric might be, and I just can’t understand the timing of the verses in World Traveler. And while it’s a beautiful song, Isle of Skye feels unfinished to me. I guess its subject is too, so maybe that’s fitting.

All told, this is another stunning contribution from Peterson. He’s so far out of the league of most in Christian music that it’s easy to take him for granted. Fortunately, Centricity seems to be doing a good job getting the word out, and the Rabbit Room (see link on the right) will only continue to grow. So, until the reckoning, we can hope for more glimpses of the eternity right in front of us from Mr. Peterson.

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Comments»

1. Dave - July 30, 2010

Great review. If I didn’t already want to listen to this CD your review would make me want to. You should have included the Braveheart comment that you put on RR though, that was priceless.

2. Gwen - July 30, 2010

What are those other two artists you will buy from no matter what? Just wondering!

markgeil - July 30, 2010

Right now the list is AP, U2, and David Crowder Band (at least for their studio releases).


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