Great River Road
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2005 1 Apr
- Great River Road
- Chop Down the Tree
- The King's Way
- The Road to Emmaus
- When You Were a Child
- Trust Once More
- When It Thunders
- Return to Me
- Run Baby Run
- You Are the One
It's been four years since Jason Upton made his national debut on Gotee Records with
For those unfamiliar with him, Upton sounds much like what you'd expect if you crossed Green's piano-based inspirational pop with Dave Matthews' acoustic instrumentation and Rita Springer's improvisational and prophetic worship style. The guy's got serious passion as a worship leader, boldly reaching out to other cultures. That's certainly true of this album, which stems in part from Upton's discovery as an adopted child that he's partly Native American. He also took comfort in learning that his unwed mother-a believer-decided against abortion and insisted her baby be raised in a Christian home.
This is generally a more subdued album than
Yet as good as some of this balladry is, things become too tedious after what amounts to six slow songs in a row. It becomes noticeable beginning with "Trust Once More," leading into the lullaby "When It Thunders" and the candid Psalms-meets-Prodigal Son conversation of "Return to Me." When the upbeat "Run Baby Run" finally turns up, it serves as a pleasant respite.
Also problematic are Upton's tendencies toward progressive excess and charismatic histrionics. In response to news of his newfound heritage, he's incorporated Native American instrumentation into some of his songs with the help of Mohican musician Bill Miller (Tori Amos, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder). Interesting as that is to the overall sound, it's no excuse for letting the Mullins-styled title track run for more than six minutes, or for "Chop Down the Tree" to meander for close to eight minutes. Neither the extended instrumental passages nor the prophetic speaking are compelling enough to justify it. In a recent interview, a prominent worship leader mentioned how we need to minimize lengthy "spirit-led" indulgences because it only frustrates those who aren't sharing the feeling or the experience. These two tracks are perfect examples of overdoing it, especially in the context of a studio album.
On the one hand, Upton delivers passionate and meaningful songwriting in spirit and truth, reminiscent of many of the greatest songwriters in CCM's history. But conversely, too much of the album becomes boring and repetitive despite the interesting themes. I find myself at odds with