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reviewed by Russ BreimeierCopyright Christianity Today International
Sounds like … a representation of the acoustic pop band's best, ranging from folk and country to worship and rock with both live and studio tracksAt a glance … Chronicles is a good overview of Caedmon's Call's first decade, offering new (though not necessarily better) rarities to fans with notable omissionsTrack ListingAll My LifeThankful (extended studio version)Lead of Love (live)There You GoThis World (live)Table for Two40 Acres (live)I Will Sing/Hope to Carry On (live)Only HopeHands of the Potter (radio mix)Piece of GlassBus DriverBefore There Was Time (live)Who You AreFaith My Eyes (live)Shifting SandA New Day
For 12 years, Caedmon's Call has been making some of Christian music's most heart-stirring and thought-provoking acoustic pop/rock. This year marks the 10th anniversary of their first independent album, My Calm // Your Storm. With seven studio projects, four fan club collections of rarities, an EP, and a string of radio hits, a career retrospective like Chronicles seems especially appropriate.
Contrary to the opinions of many critics, not all best-of albums are created equal, as they sometimes fail to adequately summarize an artist's career or offer much incentive to those who already have the albums. The limited edition Chronicles is one of the more interesting collections around, offering goodies not available anywhere else. The album's bookends feature two brand-new tracks, strong and likeable enough to be potential Christian radio hits, but not so much an evolution of Caedmon's sound as a continuation of their increasingly AC-friendly, acoustic pop mold. "All My Life" is good, though a tad reminiscent of past hits like "Only Hope" and "Who You Are." A hope-filled "A New Day" is better, but likewise seems cut from the same cloth as "Before There Was Time" and "Lead of Love."
Chronicles also offers some alternate takes of favorites, but it's debatable whether or not they're worthwhile to fans. The extended version of "Thankful," for example, is nothing special—it's identical to the original except for an extra chorus before the a cappella breakdown. Better is the radio remix of "Hands of the Potter," which tones down the original's unique metallic percussion in favor of toms and timbales. It sounds more like the band's other hits as a result, but loses some of its distinctiveness—sort of like stripping "Thankful" of its signature trashcan percussion. The best is a new recording of "Bus Driver," which ex-member Derek Webb returned to contribute. It's a classic that fans seem to either love or hate, but this joyous country folk jam sounds different yet still the same while benefiting from a more buoyant production.
Your enjoyment of Chronicles will largely depend on whether you prefer live or studio tracks from this band. One third of the album offers concert renditions of songs recorded during their most recent tour (featuring Andrew Osenga of The Normals in place of Webb). For whatever reason, fan favorite "This World" tends to work better live, and here it's beautifully colored with Osenga's mandolin work in addition to the acoustic guitar and percussion. In contrast, the vocal harmonies in the terrific worship song "Before There Was Time" sounds surprisingly weak compared to the original. The new live recording of Rich Mullins's "I Will Sing/Hope to Carry On" fares worse, lacking the energetic harmonies and rhythmic drive that made the band's first hit so strong. Much better is an older recording of "Lead of Love" with Webb that almost sounds like a studio cut. Webb also delivers a stirring solo acoustic performance of "Faith My Eyes," a brilliant song about God's blessings and the pursuit of his will.
For the most part, Chronicles gathers the best of Caedmon's Call onto one disc, though it's an uneven representation. I consider 2000's Long Line of Leavers their best work, so it's disappointing that "Piece of Glass" is the only track from that album. What about their hit "The Only One," or for that matter "We Delight" and "Coming Home" from other albums? Meanwhile, those who prefer 40 Acres will be happy that 6 of that album's 11 songs are featured here, including "There You Go," "Table for Two," "Shifting Sand," and its title track.
It all leaves some mixed emotions concerning Chronicles, a well intentioned but flawed hits collection. While the album does serve as a general overview of the band's work, new listeners are probably just as well off trying consistently strong albums like Caedmon's Call or 40 Acres as an introduction. Longtime fans will undoubtedly appreciate the band's efforts to offer them different material than the previously recorded tracks, but different doesn't always translate to best, and many will question whether this hodgepodge of rarities is a worthwhile addition to the other albums—in some ways it is, and in some ways it isn't. Chronicles is excellent for its musical quality and originality, but it feels more like one of the fan club's Guild Collection albums instead of the landmark retrospective it ought to be.