She's not singing in her leopard skin jacket for the kids anymore. Amy Grant gets reflective on 'Mercy'......
How Mercy Looks From Here
Sparrow Records www.myspace.com/expressimage Capitol CGM Label Group
11 tracks / 42:16
It's almost impossible, if you've watched the evolution of Amy Grant's career from the beginning, to approach her music without a cascading flood of impressions and memories. Amy was one of the first 'pop princesses' to exit the ghetto of Contemporary Christian Music to enter into the wider world of 'secular' entertainment - with a healthy dose of criticism from her home-base following her every step of the way. Mainstream morning news shows, The View, late-night shows, prime-time specials, various entertainment news segments, and countless magazines (from Rolling Stone to People) all seemed to acknowledge Grant's Christian world-view while the 'how many Jesus-mentions per-minute' bean counters from the CCM front seemed to look at the singer with a kind of skeptical Christian tunnel-vision. Meanwhile, Amy Grant went from being a Christian Pop Propagandist to making strides as a serious musical artist. Even the born-again hipsters, who would have only carried Baby Baby covered in a plain brown wrapper, had to admit that Lead Me On was an entirely respectable serious piece of pop music.
So where are we now with Amy Grant? Amy is on a creative plateau with How Mercy Looks From Here, her first studio album of new material in a decade. The one-time pop ingenue has matured into an experienced singer/songwriter who's seen enough of the ups and downs of this life to be in a good place to create reflective, wise pop/folk/country songs. 2010's Somewhere Down the Road was a musical scrap-book, with Grant touching on a variety of styles and subjects. How Mercy Looks from Here is a statement of life right now, with observations about life, faith, death, and contentment. The result is a generally more even-toned album of music for grown-ups. The leopard-skin jacket has been put away in storage...
It's really only in looking back over the years that you can write a song like "Better Not to Know," with world-wise lyrics like, "...nothing ventured, nothing gained / The risk of living is the pain / And what will be will be, anyway..." or to be resigned to the fact that we see through a glass, darkly, and that's all we get: "if I could know what the angels know / that death's goodbye is Love's hello / And spirits come and spirits go / I feel them but they never show. If I could know..." from "If I Could See."
Despite the serious nature of the lyrics, Grant's vocals, though more seasoned, often have a hint of that voice from her early work – on "Golden" she offers some surprisingly high and airy back-up singing that sounds almost like a childrens' choir.
Guest artists include James Taylor, Carole King, Sheryl Crow, Eric Paslay, Vince Gill and Will Hoge – none of whom upstage Grant.
There are no stand-out instrumental moments on the album – no soaring solos or thunderous drums, although Amy has worked with some of Nashville's finest through the years. I would like to have heard some more identifiable voices in the instruments, but there really wasn't a 'band' sound on the album. Still, all of the tracks are well crafted and solidly produced by Marshall Altman, who also co-wrote on several of the songs.
One song that's credited only to Grant is one of the strongest on the album – the insightful, "Shovel in Hand," a coming-of-age story inspired by the funeral of a friend of one of her sons. The lyrics are haunting and full of truth: "I watched my son, shovel in hand / go from bullet-proof boy to a full-grown man / The cool dark dirt on the casket lands/ nineteen years old and he's burying a friend / Oh, goodbye two boys, hello one man." Heavy-duty stuff!
At a stage in her career where she could, if she wanted to, just hang out on this musical plateau thumbing her nose at those who've required a more 'christian' posture from her, Amy Grant gives us one of the most truly spiritual albums she's ever produced, without pressure, or trying to appease – as she sings on "Don't Try So Hard" (along with James Taylor), "God gives you grace – you can't earn it / Stop thinking you're not worth it – because you are / He gave His love and He's not leaving / Gave you His Son so you'd believe it / you're lovely even with your scars..."
The bottom line on this album is that life is a mixed bag. We don't really know what's coming and we're no-doubt better off for that. Summing up on the last track, a positive note – really a prayer: on "Greet the Day," Grant sings, "Lead me to the ones I need and the one who's needing me / And everything that gets me through – Gladly, I receive from You." There's one thing you can know – Amy Grant isn't wearing her leopard skin jacket anymore, singing for the youth group. She's grown up.
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