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Between the Dreaming and the Coming True

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Dec
Between the Dreaming and the Coming True
Sounds like … a pop album reminiscent of Aaron Shust, Downhere, or Michael W. Smith that still remains grounded in the earthiness of Marc Cohn, Caedmon's Call, and Steven Curtis ChapmanAt a glance … Bebo Norman says he's found a new level of artistic confidence with Between, and it definitely shows through the album's beautifully written and performed pop songs about darkness and lightTrack Listing Into the Day Be My Covering Time Takes Its Toll on Us I Know Now I Will Lift My Eyes The Way We Mend To Find My Way to You Bring Me To Life My Eyes Have Seen Holy Sunday Now That You're Gone

I'm trying to decide if I now understand Bebo Norman better or if he better understands himself—probably a little of both. After his 1999 debut, many tried to peg him as a deeply introspective and intellectual folk songwriter with the potential of becoming the next Rich Mullins or Michael Card. That instead turned out to be Andrew Peterson, while Norman has since gravitated toward more lightweight acoustic pop. Each has yielded some terrific songs, but nothing on the order of "The Hammer Holds."

Along comes his fifth, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, which takes its intriguing title from the Robert Benson book of the same name. From my point of view, I almost prefer to call it How I've Finally Learned to Admire Bebo Norman for What He Is—turns out he's a pop artist at heart who happens to have a soft spot for folk. We saw hints of this on 2002's catchy Myself When I Am Real, which offered simple, personalized expressions of faith and worship set to soaring melodies, such as "Great Light of the World" and "Our Mystery." He fully commits to the same qualities here, teaming up with worship artist Jason Ingram—a surprisingly good match—for songwriting and production.

The album is primarily inspired by themes of dark vs. light and fear vs. hope, the point being that we experience both in life because they're linked. Norman expresses this through a series of prayers and journal entries, offering the hope of a new day ("Into the Day"), giving a petition for peace ("Be My Covering"), finding beauty amid pain ("Time Takes Its Toll On Us"), reconciling God's silence through his sovereignty ("I Know Now"), and seemingly drawing from Psalm 121 for assurance ("I Will Lift My Eyes"). Along the way, he also includes a few songs about love and marriage ("The Way We Mend," "To Find My Way toYou," "Sunday"), and interestingly finishes Between with one about heartbreak ("Now That You're Gone"), apparently to inspire listeners to go back and start the album's journey of hope again.

These aren't new themes, nor are the songs written with particularly great depth. But they do come from the heart with enough honesty and personality to distinguish Norman's songs, rather than rely too much on clichés and platitudes. Marriage has forced him to explore a new angle of hope, and since Norman knows a thing or two about loneliness from past albums, he's able to use both here and capture a broader range of emotion.

It might also be a matter of matching the right words with the right music—that intangible quality that characterizes great pop songwriting. We've all heard songs of restoration like Norman's "Bring Me to Life" before, but he brings an irresistible drive and energy to it in the combo of words and music. "The Way We Mend" is similarly stirring in the way its gorgeous melody carries lyrics about keeping humility in marriage—it's a good original love song, and the sort you would expect to be used in a pivotal scene of a movie. Indeed, Between seems like it has an ample supply of strong, potential radio singles. You also have to appreciate the freshness with which Norman approaches a song like "Into the Day" by using an almost freeform rhythm in the melody to joyously hurry it along even before the drums kick in.

Which brings up Norman's reinvented sound, which has never been more upbeat than in some of these tracks. Though still rooted by acoustic guitar, the songs are complimented with more prominent piano, keyboard pads, and bigger drums. The arrangements have more intriguing texture, like the static brass arrangement in "I Know Now" that's used almost like a steel guitar. "My Eyes Have Seen Holy" is particularly powerful, a stunner of a ballad that allows its sweeping melody to wash over through the orchestration, strengthening a dramatic lyric like "Mercy, weep over me/Let your tears wash me clean/Majesty, be merciful with me/For my eyes have seen Holy." Norman has traded in his folksiness for shimmering pop that almost seems Brit-influenced ("Now That You're Gone" especially), making occasional throwbacks to twangy pop like "Sunday" and "To Find My Way to You" all the more enjoyable with their contrasting character.

I can't help but wonder if some fans might not be disappointed that Norman has downplayed his rootsy side in favor of this bigger pop sound, though the album still remains in step with his body of work. After 2004's slightly disappointing Try, Norman rebounds impressively here, saying that he's discovered newfound artistic confidence as an artist. It clearly shows—I admire this new Bebo Norman enough to call Between his best.

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