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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Carry Away

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Mar
Carry Away
Sounds like … the rhythmic and textured acoustic pop of Caedmon's Call or Dave Matthews.At a Glance … the Shanes' latest is more polished and therefore less edgy than their acclaimed Psalms project, but it's still a wonderfully written and performed collection of worship songs.

To the shock of those familiar with his past work, Shane Barnard actually considers himself "an accidental musician." Granted, the Texan didn't take up acoustic guitar until late high school, when he entered into a closer relationship with the Lord. Equally strange is the fact that he didn't sing in front of a public audience until he participated in a music festival at Texas A&M University. The funny part is that not only has he become one of the most accomplished acoustic guitarists and lead vocalists in all of Christian music, he's also a gifted songwriter, producer, worship leader, percussionist, and hammered dulcimerist — accidental indeed! His artistic partner Shane Everett was already an independent artist when they met, and the two soon formed a fast friendship, developing a ministry that would eventually bring them opportunities to lead worship at Metro Bible study in Houston and the Passion '98 worship conference. Two subsequent independent albums were well enough received among audiences nationwide to earn Shane Barnard and Shane Everett a recording contract with Inpop Records.

While it has only been nine months since the national release of their acclaimed breakthrough Psalms (one of ChristianityToday.com's picks for Best Christian Albums of 2002), it's actually been closer to three years since it's original independent release. Needless to say, longtime fans have been eagerly anticipating a follow-up. The new album, Carry Away, was titled to reflect a desire for intimacy with God — to completely lose one's self and find total contentment and joy with the Lord's presence in our lives. It's an album that features everything that made Psalms great, with a few twists.

For starters, Carry Away is a slight lyrical departure from the strictly scriptural Psalms. Most of Shane Barnard's words still come directly from the Bible — "Beauty For Ashes" and "Sweet Illumination" are both straight out of the Psalms, "Mercy Reigns" comes from Song of Solomon, and a handful of songs were inspired by Philippians. The difference is that Shane B. has grown more poetic with time, weaving together passages from Scripture with his own vivid wording. A fine example of this is the opening cut, "Barren Land," which features Nichole Nordeman on backing vocals: "Barren land can overflow with life and fruit and fields that grow/But barren land with labor and toil … will stay the same/But if for rain to heal, uncontrollably fill the soil of eternity."

Similarly, "Song of Surrender" is a smartly interpreted poetic prayer with the Shanes singing, "There is a wicked man in me/Wanting the wicked man's disease/Fleeting pleasures, but pleasures indeed/Lord, take my envy of these things and the prideful war within." They use the words in Philippians 1 and 3 to turn the words of the Apostle Paul into a worship song in "I Want It All": "Use me, break me, waste me on You, Lord/Ruin me, take me, waste me on You/For to die is to live." Psalms 73 and 139 inspire "Be Near," which extols the goodness of God's presence in all the earth and especially our individual lives.

The more striking difference between Psalms and Carry Away, however, is the polished production. Psalms was just earthy enough and rough around the edges to be appealing. Contrary to reports that the Shanes were rushed through the recording process for Carry Away, the album sounds absolutely pristine. Produced by the Shanes with drummer Joel Cameron, the flawless sound could probably be attributed to the mixing by studio wizard David Thoener (Matchbox Twenty, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi). Don't let the list of credentials fool you, fans — the sound is bigger and cleaner, but it certainly hasn't shifted from acoustic pop to hard rock. However, it has lost some of its rough edge in favor of a stronger pop sound, and a good number of fans may initially react with some disappointment.

That disappointment will likely fade with continued listening, since most of the ingredients that have made the duo's past recordings are still present. "Barren Land" could have been a standard Christian pop ballad, but it's colored with enough nuance to elevate it above standard fare. Similarly, "Mercy Reigns" begins as a routine acoustic pop ballad, but it builds into a thunderous and majestic chorus. A good illustration of the changes to the Shanes' sound is apparent in the album's multi- format first single, "Be Near." The version found within the album is a beautiful adult contemporary ballad, colored by acoustic guitars and strings while taking an interesting rhythmic turn in verse two. It's tailor made for most Christian AC stations. The original plan was to close the album with a second piano-only version, with a softer sound appropriate for the quieter inspirational stations. Only limited circles will hear that rendition now that Carry Away features a third Christian Hit Radio mix by Peter Furler (Newsboys), which has a bolder orchestrated sound, bigger drums, and some electric guitar.

The Shanes are at their best when they're upbeat, and Carry Away features a few such tracks. The title track displays the superb talents of the band with some interesting percussion and B3 organ touches, complemented by Shane B's rhythmic guitar flourishes, Craig Weaver's impressive drumming, and fine bass work by Derrick Horne. Even better is the truly infectious "Song of Surrender," with its wonderfully tight acoustic pop groove. (Note to Inpop, make this one a radio single.) The album loses steam in the third act, which like their album Rocks Won't Cry, closes with a worshipful suite of acoustic ballads, beginning with "Beauty for Ashes," which also features Nichole Nordeman. It's not that the songs are bad, but together they create a bland lull for the album's finale.

Despite the quiet ending and the increased leanings to pop, Carry Away is a strong worship album of dazzling musicianship and powerful vocalists. With the general popularity of Christian adult contemporary, especially bands like Third Day, Caedmon's Call, and Newsong, it's amazing that Shane Barnard and Shane Everett haven't attracted a wider audience yet. That seems certain to change with their latest effort.