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  What You Don't Know
Artist: Don Chaffer
Label: Grassroots
Length: 16 tracks /65.42

Don Chaffer is the frontman of the much loved American band Waterdeep. Having seen the band dropped by Squint in 2002, Don has returned to what he has always done, making music of distinction, suffused with plenty of vibe and overflowing with honest lyrics that always touch at the heart of things.

This is the second of two albums released this year and contains songs written over the last four years. There's a certain melancholy to the proceedings which is explained by the fact that Chaffer's mother died of leukemia in July 2001 and shortly afterwards his father was diagnosed with oral cancer. In a world that is embarrassed by tragedy, Chaffer confronted his own sorrow rather than run away into distractions and says "The grieved heart needs room to breathe, reel and fall before rising again."

I guess you could say that 'What You Don't Know' is the sound of Don Chaffer reeling, falling and rising again. Somehow he's managed to create something that never runs from the issue but is somehow filled with optimism and hope in the midst of pain and grief. No mean feat! But then Chaffer's writing has always had that intriguing fusion of beauty and pain mixed in equal measure. Thematically there is something of the endurance of the human spirit that bleeds through these songs as he tells stories of others who have faced life-threatening circumstances and triumphed in spirit. 

Don plays most of the instruments on the album and is helped out by Waterdeep's drummer Brandon Graves. There are three instrumental tracks and on two he hits a groove and stays there blending different guitar sounds and solos together! The final instrumental "Farewell," is a rather poignant piece of improvised multi-tracked Chaffer cellos in tribute to his mother who loved Don to play cello.

Elsewhere, there is a pile of standout songs! "The Luckiest Man On the Face of the World" is a phrase used by retiring baseball player Lou Gehrig whose career was cut short by a muscle wasting disease and uttered these words to describe himself at a benefit game in his honor. "Bring the Sadness Back In" looks at the way in which humanity masks its own aches by distractions and sin and you can feel Don longing for others to walk into the honesty that he himself inhabits. Part of that theme is continued on the excellent groove of "Man, I'm Gonna Sing" where Don lists all the things he is going to give away in order to live in the real. There's a sense of unburdening, of stripping away and approaching Jesus as a child, free from distractions.

As always it is Don's lyrical honesty that is striking and for fans of Waterdeep, there is plenty that is familiar here. I like the way the album moves from rockier material through to a slow descent into reflective acoustic songs. These are built around Don's guitar with a touch of cello here and there and the harmonies of his wife Lori adding a fragile delicacy to songs like "The Quiet Wonder" and "Up Before the Sun".

What You Don't Know features Don Chaffer's grieving heart creating room to remember, reflect and ultimately create music that breathes. In the midst of sorrow, there is comfort and if you have the vision to see it, there is a glint of hope that glistens in the darkness. If only there was more music made by Christians that was this vulnerable.

Mike Rimmer 10/14/2003


 

   
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