Songs of Biblical Proportions Found in "The Message: Psalms"
- Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Phillip LaRue felt a bit sheepish as he dialed the toll-free customer service phone number for NavPress Publishing back in January 2004.
It was an understandable sensation. He wasn’t checking on an order or filing a complaint. The young singer/songwriter was looking to speak to someone in charge about an idea that he felt God put on his heart – a musical project to accompany the Psalms as penned in "The Message," Eugene Peterson’s popular paraphrase of the Bible.
Not your everyday customer-service query. But with no high-powered agent moving heaven and earth to arrange a meeting with the high-powered Bible publisher – and no experience launching such a venture with cool savvy – LaRue took, umm, a grassroots approach.
“My wife and I had just moved to Florida, and we didn’t have Internet access,” LaRue explains. “So I was at my in-laws and used their computer to send NavPress an e-mail in the morning. But all I could find on their Web site was the 800 customer-service number, so I called it that afternoon. I felt kind of foolish. The operator answered, and I said my name’s Phillip LaRue, and I have an idea and I’m not sure who to talk to. I was feeling pretty stupid when she put me on hold.”
Turns out LaRue had little to worry about. The next voice was music to his ears – folks at NavPress loved his idea.
“The next day [NavPress marketing director] Mike Kennedy and I were dreaming and envisioning the concept,” LaRue recalls, a palpable sense of wonder still evident in his voice. “They loved that the idea came out of my heart — a natural place — as opposed to it coming from a record label.” And the fact that NavPress was looking to relaunch "The Message" with a new verse-numbering system didn’t hurt, either.
Fast-forward almost two years later to the birth of "The Message: Psalms" (eb+flo Records) – a 16-track collection of organic triumphs and laments from an unimaginably eclectic mix of artists, including indie stalwarts Over the Rhine, pop queen Rachael Lampa, electronica/dance trio Venus Hum, singers/songwriters Chris Rice, Ginny Owens and Kendall Payne, rockers Building 429, and LaRue’s sister Natalie (with whom he formed the pop duo aptly named LaRue when they were teenagers).
“A strange brew,” LaRue concludes.
For LaRue – who co-produced the collection with friend, mentor and acclaimed producer Monroe Jones – "The Message: Psalms" tackles what he sees as lacking in Christian music of late.
“It comes from the depth of what it means to be a Christian,” LaRue notes. “In the Psalms are all the highs and lows. In Christian music we sing and write about a lot of the highs – the mountaintop experiences – but not about the desert seasons as much. Yes, there’s joy, but there are also times when we’re just holding on, when we cry out to God. We hear a lot about God being right there, but not as much David’s cry of ‘Don’t remove your Spirit from me!’”
To capture those emotions, LaRue and Jones made sure the artists stuck as much as possible to verbatim treatments of Eugene Peterson’s translation for the lyrics. The moody, acoustic-based, often contemplative music fell together into more of an organic, seamless whole than anyone was hoping for – but that was ultimately the secondary concern to those behind the studio glass.
“I wanted the music to stay vulnerable,” LaRue explains. “If the sound got too big, we’d lose the content of the lyrics. If anything was going to stand out on this album, it was going to be the lyrics. We wanted to lift up "The Message" for what it is.”
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