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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Love & Thunder

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Feb
Love & Thunder
Sounds like … soft folk-pop that ranks among the crafted songwriting of Fernando Ortega, Rich Mullins, and Caedmon's CallAt a Glance … Love & Thunder will try your patience if you passively expect a pop hook to grab your attention, but Andrew Peterson's superb lyricism makes for an extremely rewarding experience if you give it a proper listen

As with most of us, many things have changed in the life of Andrew Peterson since the September 11, 2001 release of his brilliant album, Clear to Venus. For starters, Andrew's wife Jamie has retired her position as backing vocalist, trading in the rigors of the touring schedule for life as a stay-at-home mom (the Peterson's have three young children to look after). Longtime friend and multi-instrumentalist Gabe Scott, who has long served as the lead guitarist for the Andrew Peterson trio, has also moved on to other endeavors, most notably serving as the musical director for Bebo Norman's 2002-03 tour.

We now find Andrew Peterson surrounded with all new musicians on his third release, Love & Thunder, though Jamie and Gabe do make brief guest spots on the album. Glenn Rosenstein, who produced Andrew's first two projects, is out; Steve Hindalong and Derri Daughtery of The Choir, who also produced the City on a Hill albums, are in. Replacing Gabe is another longtime friend of Andrew's, Ben Shive, who is himself an accomplished songwriter and keyboardist, co-writing a number of the tracks with Andrew. Perhaps most impressive of all is the virtual who's who of Christian folk artists featured on Love & Thunder: Alison Krauss and Ron Block of Union Station, Cliff Young of Caedmon's Call, Andy Osenga of The Normals, Jill Phillips, Phil Madeira, Randall Goodgame, and Matthew Perryman Jones.

Love & Thunder, then, is drenched in authentic folk pop that is more acoustic, intimate, and mellow than either of Andrew's previous major releases. Bebo Norman, whose career developed concurrently with Andrew's, has successfully gravitated his folk sound to pop sensibilities. Andrew, in contrast, is increasingly leaning towards a more subtle folk adult contemporary sound that lies somewhere between Fernando Ortega, Chris Rice, and Rich Mullins. Which brings up an inescapable point for me when talking about Andrew's songwriting: his lyrical insight truly does echo that of the late great Rich Mullins. With a penchant for simply stated examples and illustrations to express profound ideas, the folksy songwriting on Love & Thunder reflects astonishing beauty and vulnerability not heard often enough in Christian music.

It's not that Andrew's writing is too intellectual or theologically deep, but it is truly poetic and thought provoking. A pastor's kid himself, the ten songs here resonate like ten sermon illustrations. Especially brilliant are the last two tracks on Love & Thunder. "The Silence of God" reminds us that empathy and compassion are sometimes needed more than theology when reaching out to the lost. Many Christians tend to ignore the worries and pain of everyday life, pretending that everything is sunny and alright — although even Jesus received no answer and became scared in the garden. This is appropriately followed by the thoughtful "After the Last Tear Falls," which recognizes the trials and tribulations of this world, and the underlying love of God that is seen from the complete picture — "After the last plan fails, after the last siren wails / After the last young husband sails off to join the war / After the last 'this marriage is over' / After the last young girl's innocence is stolen / After the last years of silence that won't let a heart open / There is love."

As for the similarities to Rich Mullins, check out "Pillar of Fire," which uses the image from Exodus to remind us that the perils of the journey only make the end that much sweeter — "Pillar of Fire, you blazed that trail / You've been there every step along that road / From a barn in Bethlehem to Hell and back again / You blazed the trail that leads me home." There's a similar Rich Mullins meets Caedmon's Call feel to the album's first single, "Just As I Am," which like Romans 5:8, reminds us that God loves us while we're still sinful. Personally, I love Andrew's illustration from the press kit concerning this song, that God is less like a traffic cop out to fine us, and more like a driving instructor intent on helping us along the way. Yet another Rich Mullins comparison could be made to the energetic and joyful folk sound of "High Noon," a metaphor for Christ's resurrection — Andrew closes the song with the lyric "it is finished," an especially nice touch that indicates Jesus' true completion of His work.

The sweetly written "Family Man" finds the young songwriter reflecting on the sacrifices he's made out of love for his wife and children, as well as the abundant blessings he's received because of it. With many songs in Christian music dripping with similar sappy sentiments, it's refreshing to hear the same message expressed through the words of a true poet and songwriter. This is also a track that can speak to people outside of the Christian subculture, as well as the even more poignant "Tools," written for Andrew's grandfather the day he died. The title literally and metaphorically refers to the gifts handed down to Andrew — "You sent me to the shed with all the tools / I remember how you said that I could take what I could use / Faith and love and hope are what I carried home / They're rusty, but they work good as new."

There's simply not enough space to delve into all the lyrical details expressed in these ten songs — there's plenty to be found concerning fear, hope, and serving the Lord in the album's remaining tracks. Unfortunately, many will lose patience with Love & Thunder because it is such a subtle and mellow folk album, or perhaps they won't be able to get past Andrew's nasally vocal quality. Look past those things. Andrew's skills as a communicator are what most people will latch onto. It's remarkable that he can be so prolific and insightful with only a year-and-a-half between each album. A true listen is essential to the enjoyment of this album. Give Love & Thunder your undivided attention for a truly rewarding Christian music experience.