My two favorite albums this year so far have both come from solo artists with ties to the Indelible Grace community. Both albums are by excellent (though widely differing) song writers who take their craft seriously. Each of the albums stands or falls as a whole, as they aren’t merely a collection of songs thrown together. Both albums are passionate, well-crafted, excellently performed, and reward careful listening.
Andrew Osenga – Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut. It’s a concept album, and a great one. Osenga even went so far as to construct a spaceship studio in a storage unit, and recorded the entire album while wearing a space suit. But rest assured, there’s nothing gimmicky or fluffy on this album. The album is written from the perspective of a man who leaves earth to get away from a broken marriage, bad relationships, and from himself. The album follows his journey through space and through his inner struggles – starting with him saying “good riddance” to the world then moving into longing, regret, repentance, and wrestling with with his own failures. It closes with his hopeful return to earth as his spacecraft reenters the atmosphere on “Shooting Star.”
The trio of songs “Firstborn Son,” “It was not Good for Man to be Alone,” and “We Never Said Goodbye” form a poignant turning point of the album, and are amazing songs. Other highlights for me include the confessional “Out of Time” and the sweet “Ever and Always.” “Firstborn Son” is my favorite track, though, as it features Osenga’s songwriting at it’s best. Taking the last verse out of the context of the song (and the album) doesn’t do it justice, but it gives a glimpse into Osenga’s strong songwriting:
“I’ve worked a job since I was twelve years old / a student of the middle class of America / pull up your bootstraps, baby, you’re on your own / you are what you have and you don’t have much / the manna rained down from the sky / and I looked for explanation / Moses walked the sea bone dry in my father’s generation / and this firstborn son won’t stop asking why. / God help the man who helps himself! He needs no other devil / Give me courage now to face myself and dance as these walls crumble / torn down by the blood of a firstborn son.”
I’ve said before that listening to Osenga is like listening to a dear, old friend. His voice is strangely familiar, and his lyrics really resonate with the listener. The album was prereleased this spring, and won’t be officially released until this fall. It’s a steal for only $10 at his website. Osenga is also touring this fall, so make sure you support good music by going to see him if he’s in your area!
Matthew Perryman Jones – Land of the Living. You’ve heard me say this before, but Matthew Perryman Jones consistently releases thoughtful, well made albums. His voice is reminiscent of an early Bono (but more mature), and his music of a more intelligent, less formulaic Coldplay. I don’t hesitate to describe his new album as borderline masterpiece. Written after his father’s death, the album moves from darkness to light, despair to hope. A melancholic joy is subtly present throughout. It’s a profound album with excellent songwriting in which Jones’ well-crafted melodies match perfectly with the mood and flow of the words. Jones has a gift for capturing the human condition in the midst of grief while searching for joy.
“O Theo” is the highlight for me, inspired by Van Gogh’s letters to his brother. I view it as the fulcrum on which the album hinges, where the darkness and despair begin to turn to light and hope, even if only dimly. The closing phrase of the song hauntingly echoes Matthew 10:29-30:
“I was caught in the tangles of midnight / long unanswered prayer: ‘Are you there?’ / And the light of morning rose on a field of fallen sparrows / I was longing for a home with nowhere to go.”
Speaking of haunting, the mournful/joyful “The Angels Were Singing” captures the painful tension between hope and grief, before turning to the breaking through of the light on the closing title track: “Thinking of Jesus by Lazarus’ side / a heavenly sadness and shadows of light / His eyes saw the city where all is made right / And I heard that angels were singing that night.”
This is an album that rewards multiple listens, and I highly recommend setting aside 40 minutes to just sit and listen to it. A good interview with Jones on his influences and the album can be found here.
As an aside, if you want to purchase these albums, buy from the artists’ own website, as they see more of the revenue!