Wings to Walk This Road
- reviewed by LaTonya Taylor Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Oct
John Stoddart is one of those artists you may have been listening to for years without knowing it. This Washington, D.C.-based writer/producer/vocalist/keyboardist/arranger/conductor's work transcends several genres and venues. He's played at National Prayer Breakfasts, Grammy Celebrations, Stellar and Trumpet Awards, and written songs performed at the United Nations. Extremely prolific, the long list of artists Stoddard has worked with includes notables as diverse as Sandi Patty (on her Dove-winning album
"Fly Away" is truly unique, with a poetry-slam meets jam-session vibe. It features spoken-word segments from Stoddart accented by smooth bass, sax, trumpet and flugelhorn. And "Everybody Talkin'" has a funky, slightly cynical edge. From a lyrical perspective, it's Stoddard's "the way I see it" equivalent of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On," Stevie Wonder's "Jesus Children of America" or Jon Gibson's "The Narrow Road" in its editorial critique of religion. Saucy brass and organ give it a retro-soul feel as it warns that "Everybody's talkin' 'bout a man they know/but they're livin' any kind of ways/talkin' 'bout religion Jesus loves me so/and it's all right but it's not OK."
Several tracks are from the loving perspective of Jesus to the listener. "Have You Ever Been Lonely?" has a warm, pop-acoustic feel and lyrics emphasizing the High Priest's empathy with the pain of his hurting children. A smooth, romantic R&B song, "Come to Me," is a compelling, emotive invitation to come to Christ. "You Will Never Know" features evocative strings and dreamy, breathy vocals from Stoddard. Pensive keys accent the sense of desperate love Christ has for us-and his desire for a personal relationship with us.
"Make You Believe" has a similar theme, describing God's "everyday miracles" and conveying a gentle frustration at our refusal to see his loving acts: "I gave you a sunrise just to see you smile/did you stop to see it yesterday?/I gave you the faith to walk another mile/you took and walked the other way/every day I try to make it clear to you/can I help you understand … what can I do to make you believe me?" Similarly, "Anytime You Need a Friend" is an easy, upbeat number describing God's promise of friendship.
Other outstanding tracks include a head-bobbable cover of Stan Vincent's "Ooh Child" with a smart, churchy vamp at the end, and a seven-part (all sung by Stoddart), 35-second, a capella arrangement of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" arranged by musical historian/choral conductor Lloyd Mallory, Jr. "Angel" is Stoddart's gentle tribute to his wife, and "You Can Call Me," one of several transitional interludes on the album, has a soulful, foot-stomping sensibility. Kirk Whalum joins Stoddart briefly on "No Greater Love."
Stoddard's classical training and pop influences are evident throughout, and segments of several songs have a sweet, fulsome orchestral feel. Frankly, the music is so enjoyable that this album would have worked well as an instrumental collection-Stoddart's earthy baritone is a welcome bonus. Those elements, combined with the depth and maturity of the lyrics, make this offering from a musically astute "roaring lamb" and "everyday believer" worth a listen … or many listens.