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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Awakening

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 May
  • COMMENTS
Awakening
Sounds like … sophisticated pop that brings to mind such artists as David Gray, Cindy Morgan, Charlie Peacock, Dido, and Peter Gabriel.At a Glance … Gersh's solo debut is a rarity in Christian pop — an adult-contemporary project that's beautiful, inspiring, and creative.

Unless you're a longtime fan or a close personal friend, you may not know Mark "Gersh" Gersmehl by his nickname. If his full name still doesn't ring any bells, perhaps the fact that Gersh was one of the founding members of '80s Christian rock band Whiteheart will. Mark co-wrote and sang on several of the band's #1 singles. After a 16-year run with the band (starting in 1982), Gersh and his wife, Brynn, welcomed their first child into the world, and the band finally decided it was time to move on. Now, after four years of family time, the veteran artist is ready to return to making music with his first solo project, Awakening.

Back in the day, Gersh used to tour with the Gaithers as a horn player and keyboardist, and Whiteheart has long had ties to the southern gospel scene. So it makes sense that Gersh would eventually settle on the Gaithers' record label, Spring Hill, to release his debut. I've got to admit I'm thrilled by Spring Hill's recent expansion of their musical boundaries. Forever associated with southern gospel and inspirational pop, they are clearly trying to open their doors to other genres with artists such as Scott Krippayne and Mark Gersmehl. Though Scott Krippayne's music is light enough to appeal to fans of adult contemporary, there's still a pop/rock element to his music that draws natural comparisons to Steven Curtis Chapman. Likewise, Gersh's album is a far cry from his days with Whiteheart, and his songwriting style is considerably lighter on Awakening. Still, it all comes down to the delivery, and this is a finely written album that has more in common with the sophisticated pop of artists such as David Gray, Dido, Charlie Peacock, Cindy Morgan, and Peter Gabriel.

There's something refreshingly honest and straightforward about Gersh's lyrics. The opening song, "Coming Home," is a simple song about worshiping God in all we do. It sounds as though it was inspired by David Gray's single "Please Forgive Me" with its simple piano riff layered over a fast drum loop. "Shoes" is a smartly written metaphor about the need for more action and less words in living the Christian life: "Always saying and hardly ever doing / I may as well be on the moon / I'm long on creeds and short on deeds / I'm a Rand-McNally to a dead-end alley." Similar clever lyrics grace "24 Coins," which refers to the time and talents God gives all of us to use every day to serve him. Perhaps the most startling and beautiful track on the album is the melancholic "Breakdown," written for a friend whose wife divorced him despite his efforts at reconciliation. The song is like a warm shoulder to cry on, reminding us to fall into the loving arms of Jesus for comfort: "I've been watching you, and this is hard to see / Brave, brave player in your tragedy / You think if you're strong enough and tough enough, you'll forget what you've been through / Just last long enough / Well that's not enough to calm the storm in you."

Musically, I'm most impressed by Gersh's ability to sound like Peter Gabriel's brand of progressive pop. The arrangements are certainly not as big and experimental (nor focused on world-music instrumentation), but both artists share a quiet passion in their songwriting (not to mention similar gentle, raspy vocals). "Breakdown," in particular, sounds like Peter Gabriel's classic "Here Comes the Flood." But there's also a progressive vibe in the uptempo prayer of "Raise Me Up" and the album's title track, which is about becoming more aware of God's continual goodness and mercy. The project was impressively crafted by Gersh and co-producer Richie Biggs (Tree63) and was recorded in Richie's home garage studio (hence why Gersh dubbed the small group of players on the album "The 21st Century Garage Band"). Gersh's wife, Brynn, formerly of the Christian rock group Rachel, Rachel, lends her talents as a backing vocalist for much of the album, including a duet on "Only You."

The joy of Awakening comes in the proof that soft Christian pop need not be clichéd or boring. Many of the songs on this album easily could have been transformed into glossy power ballads, featuring all the same production tricks found on countless other recordings. It's not an unusual-sounding project, nor is it innovative in the sense that you've never heard anything like this. Still, it's a very creative and well-made pop album, quite different sounding from most other Christian pop artists today. It makes a huge difference when artists decide not to use the usual suspects for studio musicians and producers, not to mention the edge of having a collection of songs as finely written as these. There are no missteps on Awakening. Gersh's solo debut belongs to a short list of Christian adult-contemporary projects that are beautiful, inspiring, and creative


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