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Sounds like … grassroots folk pop similar to Dan Fogelberg or Phil Keaggy's more acoustic releases. Also reminiscent of Andrew Peterson and Bebo NormanAt a Glance … Wes King's superb guitar work and predictable but heartfelt songwriting have been sorely missed since his last project four years ago, but it's the thematic element that makes his new album shine.
It's been a long four years since we've last heard from vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Wes King. After departing Sparrow Records, Wes focused his attention on spending time with his wife, Fran, and their twin sons, Harrison and Mitch. That's not to say Wes had abandoned music as a career; in fact, Wes has been spending most of his time as a studio session musician and writing songs at home, including co-writing "This Is Your Time" with Michael W. Smith. Finally, Wes was approached by the people at Word Records to sign with their newly created Word Artisan label, which was specially created with Phil Keaggy in mind to be a label that grants artistic flexibility to its roster of legendary artists. Wes is the second artist to be added to the label, and it's a perfect match for his desire to work from home and to cut down on touring.
Which brings us to What Matters Most, Wes' fifth original solo album. Listening to the new album forced me to go back and revisit his past works to see how it compares. It's interesting that at times Wes' songs are Christian pop at its most predictable, yet he's just as often one of the most thoughtful and creative songwriters around. His 1993 album The Robewas a smartly crafted pop record, but I think he showed the most promise on the 1997 project, A Room Full of Stories. His songwriting seems better suited for stripped-down, acoustic roots-pop/rock rather than glossy pop productions. Continuing where his last album left off, What Matters Most is Wes' most organic and earthy-sounding album yet. He self-produced half the album, employing the talents of Ed Cash (Bebo Norman, Caedmon's Call) for the other half. Featured musicians include multi-instrumental Ed Cash, Caedmon's Call's acclaimed percussionist Garret Buell, and even Michael W. Smith on piano on the title cut. But make no mistake, the most standout musicianship on What Matters Most comes from Wes and his superb guitar skills. As proficient on the instrument as ever, Wes rivals Phil Keaggy at times.
What sold me most on What Matters Most, however, is the lyrical content … specifically the thematic concept behind the album. Promise Keeper proponents take note, this is essentially Life's Little Instruction Bookset to music. The idea behind these songs was for Wes to impart proverbial wisdom to his two boys, father to sons. He reminds them they need to remain brave and strong for the sake of their faith ("What Matters Most") and their family ("Staring Down the Dog"). Similarly, he explains the importance of a relationship with God ("There Is a God") and the joys of a blooming marital relationship over the years ("Slow Miracles"), as well as the importance of a church community on those relationships ("This Is the Church") and the commitment to keep family ties strong ("Connie Come to Georgia"). Wes also expresses his continual love for his children ("Walk With You"), the amazement at how quickly time flies as we grow older ("In a Moment"), and the reminder that we should always take time to enjoy the simple pleasures God provides ("Spin You Around"). Perhaps the most poignant and poetic track on the album, "Excavate" finds Wes hoping he'll be remembered someday as a devoted father, husband, and humble servant of the Lord.
Individually, none of these songs are particularly original in concept, but together they weave a beautiful and heartfelt tapestry for all family members to hear. As said earlier, the musicianship is excellent, but it should be noted this is a fairly mellow and low-key album, along the lines of Bebo Norman's Ten Thousand Days, Sara Groves' Conversations, or the music of Dan Fogelberg. I think it would have helped to vary the sound a bit more, to find some common ground between the folk sound of this album and the roots pop/rock of A Room Full of Stories. What Matters Mostis still a success for Wes King. Though it's not an album that will make waves, it will surely capture the hearts of many with its clear and simple Christian sentiments.