A Fragile Stone
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Mar
Over the course of his twenty-two years as a recording artist, the songwriting of Michael Card has become synonymous with Bible study. Few have so consistently used the album medium to expound upon scripture and truth. He explored the book of Hebrews with 2000's
A Fragile Stone continues the tradition by exploring the character of the apostle Simon Peter, whom Jesus christened "rock." It is Michael's thesis that Christ did not rename Simon because of his strength of character; he failed Jesus a number of times in the Gospels. Instead, it simply established him as the foundation of the new church that Christ would build upon. This much is spelled out in the short title track that opens the album, which goes on to explore Peter's faith and failings in the other nine songs.
Though Michael has a gift for writing beautiful melodies, he also has a tendency toward writing predictable and simplistic folk pop songs that sound the same on a base level, reminiscent of 70s artists like James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg. There's nothing wrong with the compositions in themselves, but Michael's consistent writing style could allow him to easily swap melodies and lyrics within his repertoire – his texts about Revelation, for example, could easily be set to his melodies for Proverbs. The trick that characterizes Michael's songs is in the pairing of his lyricism with an appropriate arrangement.
Consequently, some of the tracks on
Still, other tracks on the album take on a bluesy folk pop sound that somehow feels appropriate to the blue-collar character of Simon Peter. Michael resurrects his old 1982 narrative "Stranger on the Shore" to reenact Jesus' last exchange with Peter, when He confirmed the disciple's fundamental importance to the establishment of the Church. This version is more acoustic than the original, accompanied only by guitar, cello, and tabla percussion. The gently percussive "I Am Not Supposed to Be Here" bases its message on Peter's calling to reach out to the Gentiles with the gospel message (recorded in Acts 10) to remind us that Jesus challenges us to be a rule breaker like He was. "Living Stones" looks to the book of 1 Peter, in which the apostle invites us to build Christ's holy house with him – the track features Michael trading vocals with two gospel singers, accompanied only by his piano playing.
On recent albums, Michael has been inspired to stretch musically, displaying a newfound love of gospel music and a desire to draw upon the community of artists, similar to the reasoning behind Rich Mullins's Ragamuffin Band. These elements are what made
Most impressive of all are the pair of tracks that feature banjo master Béla Fleck. The musicianship is an absolute treat on "Sea of Souls," a sea shanty styled folk song about Peter's calling to be a "fisher of men." It unfolds into an eight-minute bluesy folk jam comprised of fiddle, hammer dulcimer, pennywhistle, Hurdy Gurdy, Béla's stunning banjo work, and the equally impressive piano solos of Vance Taylor. Clearly Michael recognizes this as the disc's highlight, adding a three-and-a-half minute stripped down version of the jam at the album's end. Equally fun is "Walking on the Water," a rousing bluegrass romp that injects the album with energy.
When all is said and done,