Delighting in surprising turns reminiscent of her friend Rich Mullins.

Carolyn Arends
Label: 2B Records
Length: 12 tracks/51 minutes

There is a lyrical turn on “Let Love Lead You Home” that reminds me of something that Rich Mullins might write. Carolyn Arends and Mullins toured before his passing, and Arends similarity in style is rewarding. This song from Recognition, her latest album, is about a chaplain that sits with the dying.

She listens when there are no words
And helps with the goodbye-ing
And when they ask her how to die
She says she’s never tried it

I appreciate the surprise, honesty and even comedy in that last line.

Humor also serves “Memento Mori” where she has a dream about family and friends reflecting on her passing.

She really tried her best
We guess it was how she was wired
To work so hard and be so tired
Maybe now that she’s expired
She can finally get some rest

The phrase “Memento Mori” puzzled me until I realized that it’s Latin for “Remember that you must die.” If that sounds heavy, know that it’s offset by whimsical lyrics and a perky rhythm. Plus, the male background vocals reiterating in robotic fashion the chorus are an amusing contrast.

I marvel at how Arends handles weighty issues in such an endearing and thoughtful manner. It may be challenging but there is hope.

“God’s Speed” probably resonates more deeply than any other song. It’s a little like hearing Jesus say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 ESV). On the chorus she sings:

No more chasing the wind
Led the Spirit lead
Till we slow down
To God’s speed

Every time I listen I feel a sense of relief. To top it off, it’s done in an R&B style with horns and background vocals by The McCrary Sisters, who truly shine in giving it a gospel influence.

The McCrary Sisters also grace the opening “Becoming Human.” This is an excellent intro: lively with hand-claps and the subversive thought that becoming human is hard, nearly impossible apart from God.

“Without Music” featuring Amy Grant is another outstanding collaboration. Thankfully, this is more duet than just providing harmony and background vocals. It’s a wonderful testament to the necessity and appeal of music, so relevant to our times. Take the last full stanza as an example:

So I guess this is my song for all the ones
Who keep singing as the world comes undone
Like a broken hallelujah, their melodies soar
Till the world’s not quite so broken anymore

The melody has a methodical, thoughtful bent, adding to the poignancy.

Pedal steel adds to the sobriety on “Pool of Tears.” If only we could remember that “Everyone sits by their own pool of tears.” What empathy it might engender, which leads to the surprise turn on the latter part of the chorus:

But when nothing will work
And everything hurts
What if we tried some compassion?

The melody of “Maladjusted” is mesmerizing and lingers, calling to mind Martin Luther King’s haunting message, “there are certain things in our nation and in the world (about) which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted …”. As the song declares, when “what we call normal is a disaster,” the status quo needs to be rejected.

“Gather Me” intimately expresses from a female perspectivewhat the act of holding can do for a woman’s psychological well-being. I have never heard it expressed so eloquently. The male harmony vocal is just right as it is so often on this release.

Arends reminds me of Twila Paris on “To Cry for You,” a ballad grieving the loss of someone close, and “All Flame,” a passionate desire to be one. Given the style and substance of each, it’s not hard to imagine Paris singing these songs. The overall sound is similar enough that it made me think of her.

The opening lines of “After This (Bonus Track)” carry such weight, “We have never in our lifetime/Known a shadow like this one.” Violin, which is prominent, expresses collective grief. I hear lament, but ultimately hope, “’Cause after this, the sun will be shining.”

Longtime collaborators like Spencer Capier and Roy Salmond are here, which is what makes this roots music sound so warm and rich. The latter shares the producer credit with Arends.

Despite Arends becoming a skilled author, speaker and leader, I am glad that she is still enriching listeners through music. I think Mullinsonce reminded people that the Wesley brothers are remembered more for their hymns than their sermons. Cecil Frances Alexander, author of “There Is a Green Hill Far Away,” believed that the faith was best taught through hymns, so she used simple words to express the truths of Scripture. In her own way Arends is following in her footsteps.

Broken hallelujahs soar through these songs. Those who hear and take heed become more whole and the world becomes a better place, not quite as impoverished.

Michael Dalton