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Empty & Beautiful

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Apr
Empty & Beautiful
Sounds like … the worship-fueled pop/rock of Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Tommy Walker, and to some extent, Casting CrownsAt a glance … Empty & Beautiful is a good national debut, offering both songs of worship and songs to inspire worship, though it all sounds a little too safe and familiar compared to Matt Maher's more distinctive and eclectic previous effortsTrack Listing Your Grace Is Enough Look Like a Fool As It Is in Heaven I Rejoice Great Things Leave a Light On Empty & Beautiful For Your Glory Shine Like the Son Unwavering Lay It Down Maranatha

Thanks to the enormous popularity of Chris Tomlin and his hit album Arriving, the talented worship artists whose songs he has covered have now released their own high-profile projects. Late in 2007, Jon Abel released Back to You, featuring "Awesome Is the Lord Most High." Earlier in 2008, Laura Story offered Great God Who Saves, including the hit single "Indescribable." And now comes Matt Maher, whose "Your Grace Is Enough" is featured on his national debut Empty & Beautiful.

Maher comes from an eclectic background that includes studies in jazz piano, aspirations for film scoring, and collaborating with the late great Rich Mullins before taking a position as a worship leader for St. Timothy Catholic Community in Mesa, Arizona (a far cry from his younger days in Newfoundland, Canada). And after a string of eclectic independent releases, including 2003's Welcome to Life and 2006's Overflow, it's high time this gifted and thoughtful artist gains greater exposure.

Too bad that eclecticism is generally missing here. Though Maher again collaborates with longtime producer Jeff Thomas (Point of Grace), the album resides in the same safe, radio-friendly worship style that has served Tomlin and Casting Crowns well in recent years. That's certainly not a bad thing—the album is generally on par with Tomlin's work. But the familiar approach too often hamstrings Maher's creative range, preventing him from standing on his own merits.

And there are certainly merits between the congregational-friendly worship anthems and more introspective songs meant to inspire worship. Both "Lay It Down" and the Lord's Prayer derived "As It Is in Heaven" would be welcome additions to the average church repertoire. Meanwhile, the beautifully orchestrated title track explores the paradox of a life poured out yet filled with Christ, and "Leave a Light On" thoughtfully expresses the desire to keep faith's flame burning until Christ's return. Then in "Great Things," Maher draws a neat parallel between Mary's Magnificat and Paul's foundational theology, and "Look Like a Fool" challenges us to serve others in spite of the perceived absurdity of the Christian life

Based on the melodies, chord progressions, textures, embellishments, and lyricism demonstrated throughout Empty & Beautiful, it's clear that Matt Maher has a better grasp of musical creativity than most. But with future releases, he will need to step out from Chris Tomlin's shadow, unafraid to tap his full potential for artistry as applied to worship.

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