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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

I'm Not Leaving

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Oct
I'm Not Leaving
Sounds like … a blend of Southern roots pop/rock and folk, especially similar to the music of Justin McRoberts, but also like Smalltown Poets, Satellite Soul, Big Tent Revival, and Bebo NormanAt a Glance … a promising debut from a talented new artist, punctuated by thoughtful lyrics and a strong folk/roots-rock sound, marred only by a lack of musical variety from track to track.

Meet Derrick Harris, the latest artist signed to Silent Planet Records. Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, Derrick grew up dreaming of becoming a rock star while he played in various bands through high school and college. Upon graduation, he took a job with a bank to make ends meet and began to wonder if his music career ever would work out. However, that downtime proved to be a source of inspiration, eventually shaping the songs on his debut, I'm Not Leaving. After signing with Silent Planet, Derrick was asked to contribute to the Brian Wilson tribute album, Making God Smile. His captivating acoustic-pop rendition of "Don't Worry Baby" is one my favorite tracks of the year.

Derrick's debut offers more of the same acoustic folk and Southern roots pop/rock, and though he's no Brian Wilson, he's certainly a gifted songwriter. The best comparison would be fellow folk songwriter Justin McRobets, with whom Derrick shares a similar powerhouse tenor voice. He also sounds a lot like Michael Johnston of Smalltown Poets, a band that has a similar roots pop/rock sound. Satellite Soul, Big Tent Revival, Bebo Norman … you could probably make a handful of other comparisons since folk and roots rock is so prevalent in Christian music today. To be certain, Derrick's vocal and guitar skills rival most of his contemporaries, but it's his writing talents that truly distinguish him.

One thing you might notice while reading the liner notes or listening to I'm Not Leaving is the unusual titling of the songs. "G.M.O.L." stands for glorious message of love, a simple song of God's love for us that's quite poetic: "So you tell me this infection is real / It's the core of complication and all I feel / Well now we're all justified let's all live / The glorious message of love." In "And Then There Were Three," Derrick tells the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Nebuchadnezzer's perspective, expressing the change of heart he experienced from the miraculous event; it's highlighted with a strong, anthemic melody in the chorus. "AC #2" seems like an odd title for a song about love and commitment, until you realize Derrick's wife's name is Anna Catherine. The gentle folk song "I'm Not Leaving" characterizes the paradox of sharing the Gospel with those we love the most; sometimes we end up alienating our friends or jeopardizing our relationships when we're only trying to show them the ultimate gift of love: "If you had the cure for cancer and nobody cared, how would you respond? / Well I choose to love you anyway / Despite the fact that your house is cold, and so the wind blows." Equally poignant and challenging is "Ignorance," a song about extending grace and mercy to the homeless and poor. The strongly melodic song was inspired by Derrick's lunch breaks at the bank when he would talk with some of the homeless people residing in the park across the street.

Here's a problem with Derrick's songwriting: 80 percent of the album, including the songs I just mentioned, all have a similar mid-tempo roots pop/rock sound. Some of them are more gentle and folksy, while others are more rock ballad in arrangement, yet despite the slight variations in orchestration, the occasionally strong melodies, and the powerhouse lyricism, the tracks still bleed together.I'm Not Leaving desperately needs more variety; only two songs on the album differ from the standard coffeehouse sound. Track 6, "It's Your Move," is the first lively song on the album, favoring a folk-country hoedown reminiscent of Delirious' "Happy Song" or The Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face." It's the album's token "fun song," though I found its simple take on failed romance rather bittersweet. Then there's the upbeat roots rock of "Pigeon Song," a rather brief track similar to Big Tent Revival and Jennifer Knapp that's worth explaining. During his lunch breaks in the park, Derrick would notice the pigeons and how one of them was unable to get to any of the food thrown to them because of a broken leg; the other pigeons would beat him to it. Sometimes Derrick would chase the other birds away to ensure the injured pigeon got food. He uses this image to express the brokenness in all of us, which we need in our lives to fully appreciate God: "You take away my eyes so I can see the beauty of the love you gave to me / The answer to my pain it seems that I cannot find your will / Take me away from here."

It's unfortunate there's not more musical innovation on I'm Not Leaving, because it would have made this one of the year's best folk projects. Every song on the album is worth mentioning because of the lyrical insight, and there are certainly no bad compositions to be found here. Still, I'm Not Leaving is a terrific example of how one can be lyrically creative with familiar Christian subjects, making faith a relevant topic to all people — Derrick has performed these songs live in bars as much as in churches. There's room for artistic improvement, but in some ways Derrick is already at the top of his songwriting class.