Sounds like … earthy Christian pop/rock/country — a combination of Ray Boltz, Eric Clapton, Dan Fogelberg, and Bruce Cockburn. At a Glance … Gary's best-of album is a thorough look at his career (during the '90s at least), while his latest new studio release falls somewhere between the personable roots pop/rock of his older albums and the sentimentality of his recent music.
Gary Chapman is perhaps one of the more overlooked veteran Christian artists in the music industry today. This is the man responsible for such Christian pop standards as "Father's Eyes" and "All I Ever Have to Be." In the '90s, he released the highly acclaimed roots-rock album, The Light Inside. Later he scored a hit single with "A Man After Your Own Heart" by Billy Sprague and Wayne Kirkpatrick, taken from the multi-artist compilation My Utmost for His Highest. Unfortunately, Gary's latest material hasn't been up to par, and his artistic legacy seems to have been forgotten in the past several years.
Reunion Records attempts to remind you of Gary's musical legacy with The Best of Gary Chapman: After God's Own Heart. The compilation features 15 of Gary's most-loved songs, including 6 tracks from The Light Inside (half the album) and 5 tracks from Shelter (nearly half the album). Most of these songs are classics, such as the aforementioned neo-classical ballad "Man After Your Own Heart," the roots rockin' "Sweet Glow of Mercy," the haunting and beautiful "Sweet Jesus," and the big rock sound of "Heal Me." The producers also were good enough to include a less seasonal nod to his Christmas project ("Mary, Did You Know") and Gary's cover of "Elijah" from the Rich Mullins tribute album, Awesome God. It was probably smart to include only two songs from Gary's 1999 album, Outside, but did one of them have to be "Daddy Cut My Hair," a song schmaltzy enough to make both "The Christmas Shoes" and "Butterfly Kisses" seem cold-hearted? The compilation would have been better served to include some Gary's music from the '80s. Many songs on his 1987 Reunion album, Everyday Man, would have complimented the songs from The Light Inside perfectly. Most of what's featured on The Best of Gary Chapman are fine, but it seems as though little thought was put into the album. It seems merely to serve as a bookend to Gary's long residency with Reunion Records.
Which brings us to Gary's latest project, Circles and Seasons, one of the first projects to be released on the new Christian label, Crowne Music Group. One of the factors that hurt Gary's Outside album was that he didn't write much of the music on it, so it didn't sound like his other albums. Not only does Gary handle all the songwriting on Circles and Seasons, but also all of the performing and producing. Following in the footsteps of journeyman artists such as Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood, and Phil Keaggy, Gary plays every note heard on the album thanks to multi-tracking technology. Besides making this a very economical album, this factor allows Gary's guitar skills to really shine on this album, particularly in the fabulous solo on "I Need Jesus" and the dark-toned picking in "Leave What's Left." If only the rest of the instrumentation were as impressive. Gary's simple drum programming, bass playing, and keyboard sounds all are less than spectacular. Though it's certainly not a badly produced album, there are lots of independent projects available that are more impressive than this. What sets this album apart are the impressive guitars and Gary's wonderful vocals, particularly the melodic hook on the chorus of "Walk On."
This album features some of Gary's most personable songwriting in years, not as good as The Light Inside but clearly an improvement from the material found on 1999's Outside. Generally, the songs have an organic inspirational-pop sound, recalling some of the great songwriters from the '70s, such as Dan Fogelberg and Bruce Cockburn. "Nothing to Hide" finds freedom in the grace of God, and "Leave What's Left" reminds us to do what God created us to do and leave the worries to him. Both are similar in theme to Gary's classic, "All I Ever Have to Be," which is given a new, gentle acoustic-pop arrangement for this album. Some of the album's more poignant moments are found in "He Thinks I Hung the Moon," a sweet song about Gary's son and the innocent respect he has for his father, and "Jackson and Jesus," a loving tribute to the life of a teenage family friend who died in a tragic car accident. Circles and Seasons is a fair album and a step in the right direction for Gary Chapman, appealing mostly to his loyal fan-base and listeners looking for earthy inspirational pop.