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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Share the Well

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Oct
Share the Well
Sounds like … Caedmon's familiar folk pop/rock style, fused with world music instrumentation from India, Ecuador, and Brazil in a way that resembles Paul Simon's Graceland and the multi-cultural sounds of Peter Gabriel. At a glance … with a strong missions-focused message, Share the Well effectively blends styles with intelligence and heart to generate one of the band's best albums. Track ListingIntroShare the WellThere's Only One (Holy One)Jenny FarzaMother IndiaInternational Love SongAll I Need (I Did Not Catch Her Name)Los Hermanos count offVolcanolandThe RosesMirzapur GroupBombay RainThe Innocent's CornerSaralaPunjabi Group with Dr. Joseph D'SouzaWings of the MorningDalit Hymn

In their 12-year history as a band, Caedmon's Call has been a strong supporter of international ministries like Compassion International and India's Peace Gospel Ministries. And, like many artists, they've taken some foreign missions trips. But few have incorporated their passion for world missions into an album as Caedmon's has on the self-produced Share the Well.

The band packed up their recording gear and traveled to Brazil, Ecuador, and most notably India, where they joined the Dalit Freedom Network in ministering to the oppressed bottom-rung caste of North Indian society. India's Dalits, who outnumber the total U.S. population, aren't even permitted to drink from wells until an upper-caste person draws water for them. There's naturally a spiritual metaphor to be gleaned from this stark image, inspiring the album's title. Is it any wonder that the band members consider this their most important album?

The resulting songs are a natural hybrid of the band's familiar folk pop/rock with the sounds and styles of the countries they visited; some of the musicians the band met are in fact touring with Caedmon's in the U.S. this fall. One of the best examples of this hybrid is found on the first single, "There's Only One (Holy One)." It's good-but-typical folk pop, reminiscent of "Before There Was Time" or "Coming Home," until the Brazilian drum team kicks in partway through. In a word, wow. This is a rhythmic blast with a great melody, strong vocals by lead singer Cliff Young, and effective words of faith inspired by Psalm 23.

Comparisons to Paul Simon's acclaimed Africa-meets-West classic Graceland are unavoidable but deserved. "Volcanoland" in particular seems to have a similar joyful buoyancy and rhythm, painting a picture of life in Ecuador. "Bombay Rain" also strongly resembles Simon's work, offering an upbeat sound despite its sobering look at Third World poverty and oppression. The title track mixes Indian percussion with a catchy melody and a vocal hook based on a Dalit freedom song—it's intended as a compliment when I say that it sounds like something off an animated Disney film soundtrack.

Though colored heavily with an array of ethnic instrumentation, the songs are thoroughly Western pop at the core. In the inspired "Wings of the Morning," there's an interesting interplay between minor-sounding traditional Indian Bhangra music and the major Western pop style, effectively contrasting doubt and hope. "International Love Song" is sparsely instrumented with just acoustic guitars and Indian tablas, demonstrating how the varying cultures are not that different in the relentless pursuit of love and peace. The closing "Dalit Hymn" is like an Indian folk protest song, boldly pleading for the Prime Minister to free the untouchables and expose the caste system as a lie that flies in the face of God's Word.

Share the Well really is the musical equivalent of looking through a friend's photo album from a recent missions trip. "The Roses" uses an Ecuadorian family to contrast two different cultures and to look at life's true blessings. "Sarala" tells of an American Dalit girl visiting her homeland for the first time. "All I Need (I Did Not Catch Her Name)" is written about a loving Ecuadorian mother thankful for God despite her poverty. Keyboardist Josh Moore even uses the band's stopover in London to write the deeply poetic "Innocent's Corner," using imagery from a visit to Westminster Abbey as a launching point for the gospel.

The band's last effort, 2003's Back Home, felt a little scattershot and transitional because it used a broad range of indie songwriters to cover the departure of lead singer Derek Webb. Now the band sounds unified again, narrowing down to three primary writers: Moore, longtime collaborator Randall Goodgame, and new guitarist/vocalist Andrew Osenga (The Normals), who now comfortably fits in with this album. Osenga's "Mother India" is a definite highlight, a powerful and chilling ballad that seems to combine the best of Caedmon's with The Normals.

The album's only shortcoming is the handful of incidental tracks interspersed between songs—recorded snippets of musicians and people encountered from the trip. They add to the atmosphere, but they don't add substance and ultimately end up distracting more than enhancing. It would have helped if the context of these interludes were made clearer with more poignant emotional resonance or even humor. Still, this is one of the best from Caedmon's Call and 2004 overall—an intelligent, heartfelt, musically diverse, and eye-opening album unique to the band's sound and experiences, challenging Christians to become active in the world around them.