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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Run the Earth ... Watch the Sky

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Mar
Run the Earth ... Watch the Sky
Sounds like … contemporary acoustic pop that mixes the introspective folk of David Wilcox and James Taylor with the quirky energy of Steven Curtis Chapman and John MayerAt a Glance … another hit from Chris Rice, who continues to shine as a brilliant lyricist and grow as a pop artist

When Chris Rice released his Smell the Color 9 album back in 2000, he announced he would be focusing more energy on the youth ministry so near and dear to his heart. At the time, it was assumed he would be touring less in support of that album, and it was reacted to as if the acclaimed songwriter was going into early retirement. Instead, in the years since, Chris has been as productive as ever, touring as much as he ever has and releasing two instrumental piano projects in 2001 called The Living Room Sessions — all the while continuing to build relationships as a youth minister. This seemingly boundless energy is reflected in Chris's life motto and title of his fourth pop album, Run the Earth … Watch the Sky. It's a phrase that nicely summarizes the Christian's life on earth — "enjoy life and all it has to offer, but don't get too comfortable here."

Keep the phrase in mind when listening to the new album, which could possibly be Chris's most personal to date by exploring his past, present, and future. The songs are not ordered chronologically, but they date back as far as Chris's adolescence. "Eighth Grade" reflects upon the wonder years of youth, pondering over the comforts of yesterday and the worries of tomorrow — "Why does the past always seem safer / Maybe because at least we knew we made it / And why do we worry about the future / When every day will come just the way the Lord ordained it." The tie between youthful innocence and eternal paradise is explored further in the Shakespearean inspired title "Nonny Nonny," exploring the consistent longing for communion with God throughout life — the child-like song is very similar to "Everybody Free," which Chris penned for Michael W. Smith's This Is Your Time album. Similarly, Chris's tender "Untitled Hymn," which plays like John Ylvisaker's "Borning Cry" or Nichole Nordeman's "I Am," turns our attention to Jesus for all circumstances in all stages of life.

Turning his attention to more present matters, Chris sings of the bond between artist and listener and the way music affects lives with his charming first single, "The Other Side of the Radio." It's a fabulous song, though it pleasantly surprises me that Christian radio has so quickly embraced it, since it has arguably little to do with matters of faith. Those who feel that way should pay close attention to "Me and Becky," which is a clever dig at those who comfortably live only in the Christian subculture, challenging them to get out into the world to enjoy life and impact Christ's kingdom. "My Cathedral" is one of two songs on the album that reveals Chris's deep love for nature, singing "Out here in the stillness / I find my house of worship / With column trees and canopy of stars."

The other is an effective acoustic pop duet with stars entitled "Wonder," in which the majesty of God's creation inspires thoughts of Heaven — "Is it true you sang with the angels when the earth was made? / And now I sing along with your song while The Music plays / And the harmony is building, cause the chorus can't be too far away." Those musings about future life in heaven continue with the longing expressed in "Smile," in which Chris sings "My journey's here, but my heart is There / So I dream and wait, and keep the faith, while You prepare / Our destiny, til You come back for me / Oh, please make it soon!" The album closes with "Circle Up," an artfully handled contemporary campfire-styled worship song that'll have you wanting to instantly sing along and join the chorus. It's but a glimpse of what life together in heaven will be like someday.

Some fans of Chris' work have complained about his increasing departure from the gentle James Taylor and David Wilcox styled folk music of his first couple albums. Such listeners will likely be more disappointed with Run the Earth … Watch the Sky, since few tracks feature Chris on solo acoustic guitar beyond the prayerful "Spare an Angel." Most of the other tracks, like the buoyant "The Other Side of the Radio" and the highly produced acoustic pop of "Wonder," continue the densely layered sounds found on Smell the Color 9. "My Cathedral" and "Nonny Nonny" could have both been traditional guitar driven folk, but they are instead colored with string arrangements. Appropriate to the song's blast from the past subject, "Eighth Grade" features a lot of 1975 pop elements (electric piano, wah-wah guitar, Chicago- styled horns) that make it sound a bit like Hall & Oates. Perhaps the biggest departure for some is "Me and Becky" with its dense mix of programmed percussion, classic keyboard sounds, and electric guitar.

Granted, you'd be hard pressed to call this folk, but it is very skillfully crafted pop, evolving the songwriter into a well-rounded pop artist of the same caliber as Steven Curtis Chapman or Rich Mullins. Chris seems to inspire longtime friend and producer Monroe Jones more than any other artist. While the music is fine, it's Chris's skills as a wordsmith that earns him the highest acclaim. The attraction couldn't be summed up any better than this quote from Chris — "I think the power of music isn't to stand above people and tell them how they're supposed to believe and feel about things. Rather, the power of any kind of communication or teaching is to think along with people where they are and to encourage them in a new direction or nudge them along the path towards finding truth."

As an artist, he's simultaneously relational, clever, comforting, and humorous, all the while challenging listeners to think about what they believe. Run the Earth … Watch the Sky is simply more evidence of why Chris Rice is one of the finest songwriters in Christian music.