MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 10: ANDREW PETERSON

I have been wrestling a little bit over this last week about my choice of artist that I’m going to delve into today. And while I’ve said countless times in blog posts previously that popular need not be the same as influential, nor should it, in this artist’s case, popular is indeed not what this artist is (if you look at popularity in the mainstream pop market). But, having said that, upon listening and thoroughly delving deep into the music and mysteries that this artist speaks of, boy can I say that singer-songwriter and Christian artist Andrew Peterson, is by far one of the most influential artists that has ever graced Christian music in the modern era (2000 and onward). There, I said it. Andrew Peterson, though his name unrecognisable in terms of mainstream music, is indeed known quite well within the confines of CCM and music about the Christian faith. It is in this blog series that I have managed to hopefully give a portrayal of many different styles and musical genres, across various time periods. Influential artists within the Christian music ‘genre’ (if you can call Christian music a genre!) were always going to be present on my influential artists of all-time list; because frankly, I am a Christian and Christian music is and always will be a great form and source of encouragement and inspiration, whether or not the listener is of the faith, or not. And so, upon amassing who I was going to discuss about within my list of 100 names (and ever evolving names, I must add!); it stood to reason that a non-negotiable artist to explore would be Andrew and his music. Since exploring Andrew’s music around 5 years ago, my musical tastes have been stretched, altered, challenged, and even matured because of such delving, and this past week, I’ve come to appreciate a style within the Christian industry that isn’t necessarily discussed or even musically envisaged. Call it being safe, sticking close to radio format songs; whatever the case, an artist like Andrew Peterson and the music style that he incorporates (folk rock, roots rock, country gospel) is rarely promoted even within the Christian industry, because, to put it bluntly, Andrew’s music is different.

Not the radio kind, but rather the reflective and acoustic folk that seems to be on the mellow and contemplative rather than the rousing and declaratory; Andrew Peterson has nevertheless carved out a musical career consisting of 11 full length studio albums, and countless of other chart-topping radio hits. And to be fair, while people won’t know Andrew by name, nor even most of his music, when they read this blog post; Andrew’s music nonetheless strikes a chord with me on a personal level, as I’m sure with many others. For those people who do know Andrew’s music have become enthralled and impacted, at times enchanted and full of wonder. For people have long touted Andrew and his music, as the modern-day versions of the late great Rich Mullins. And so, such a statement like this is bold. And thus, by investigation into Andrew’s music began, and what I’ve found is a man full of hope, one that can place all his own personal experiences and knit it all together with nuances, metaphors and imagery, to create a music language far too rich in lyrical content for such music by an artist like Andrew to just be in the background. Andrew’s music needs to be mulled over and dwelled upon, and so, regardless of what people think, Andrew’s music is influential to me, and maybe, just maybe, others as well!

As I’m writing this blog post, it’s Easter Sunday, and so, what fitting way to honour what I believe is arguably one of the greatest days in human history, than to delve into such an artist whose ‘genre’ if you will encompasses such belief systems that I myself also believe. To put it bluntly, Easter Sunday is such a day that is, I reckon, more important than Good Friday. Because if the resurrection never even happened, if Jesus never rose from the dead, then Christianity has no leg to stand upon- our sins wouldn’t have been forgiven as Jesus proclaims it has because of His sacrifice; and we’d still be eternally damned to hell where we rightfully belong, because of said sin. And so, such a day where we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over sin and death itself, is celebrated in part by myself, through undertaking and listening to Andrew Peterson, and delving into why I reckon is paramount and needed now in society, more than ever. I’ve found Andrew’s music to be soothing and heartfelt, emotive and convicting, even though Andrew’s words and lyrics in general have found themselves to be less ‘turn and burn’ and more spiritual imagery and words and stories about the human condition. Because that to me is what Andrew Peterson is- a storyteller. I’ve researched beforehand; but let me say that being a musician is not Andrew’s only profession- he’s also a best-selling author of children’s books, and even has a best-selling children book series called The Wingfeather Saga consisting of four books, his first published in 2008. And so for a music artist to also have a successful writing career, means only one thing- his lyrics are what listeners come to appreciate throughout his songs, myself included. Because just like every other artist (aside from Michael W. Smith and Switchfoot thus far) prior, I’ve only listened to a few of Andrew’s albums before hearing his entire discography in preparation for this blog post (I’ve only heard Light For the Lost Boy and The Burning Edge of Dawn on a regular basis prior to this!). And that’s ok!

Sometimes there’s a sense of awe and wonder when you’re discovering a music artist for the very first time. You get excited by the emotion that comes with enjoying music from an artist that is every bit emotive, poignant, heartfelt and encouraging and you wonder ‘why am I listening to this artist now when I could’ve done so before?’ That’s how virtually it’s been with the majority of artists I’ve delved into in this blog series, and Andrew and his music is no different. I’ve always known that Andrew himself is a great singer and songwriter, but for me, it’s taken the better half of this last week for me to even appreciate and fully understand how emotive and intricately delicate his songwriting really is. His words and the ability to phrase sentences through song that speak about feelings and emotions that I’m sure everyone has, but too afraid to voice; is nothing short of a gift that God gives. It’s just that He’s given such a gift like that, to Andrew, and not to myself. And therein lies my point- everyone has a gift to bring to the table, and Andrew’s is the ability to tell stories through the avenue of song. Unique and emotive, this Christian singer-songwriter who constantly travels the road of acoustic, folk and country (all with the lens of exploring some of the harder aspects of Christian life), is one such artist that I’m sure will change the global landscape of what it truly means for us to enjoy and call Christian music our favourite ‘genre’ of music. There are artists that pass us by, and there are others where we just have to take notice, in whatever way we may see to happen. Andrew Peterson is one of these artists.

With such profound lyrics in basically every single song he writes, it’s merely impossible to delve deep into a lot of Andrew’s work, purely on the basis that if I undertake such a feat, and use the same model of blogging as I’ve one all 9 weeks prior, I’d probably be here until next week. Quite literally- because there’s so much to say about Andrew and his innate ability to make a song sound so personable and relatable in a world that states that being personal and vulnerable can be seen as a weakness in society. And so what I will say is this- there are some reviews of The Burning Edge of Dawn, Light For the Lost Boy and more recently Resurrection Letters that I undertook over the years, and in these album reviews, I’ve expressed my own deep appreciation and admiration for Andrew and his music. And so I am to encourage you to listen to a song from Andrew at least once, and if listening to poetry put to music isn’t your style, that’s ok. Everyone is impacted by different styles of music in different ways, and for me on a personal level, Andrew Peterson and his music has been quite impacting, possibly one of the recent CCM acts that I’ve connected a lot to, in a long time. Andrew’s an artist on Centricity Music that I’m sure has been shown much admiration and respect, but even on the label after quite some time; the CCM industry as a whole may not highlight an artist’s career for whatever reason. And so coming up to this blog post, I was hesitant, knowing full well that going by mainstream standards, Andrew Peterson on an influential list should not have even been considered in the first place. Yet as I’ve reiterated time and time again; influential music will firmly stand the test of time, even ahead of popular music. Andrew’s music, without hesitation, belongs in the influential category.

Since starting his career in the 1990s, till now; Andrew’s music has been steadily impacting listeners, but not necessarily at a pace that shouts ‘popular’. Because looking at Andrew’s career, and the accolades he received (or even didn’t receive), he wasn’t really much of an artist that garnered lots of hits or even radio play. And maybe, that just means that Andrew himself is hardly concerned with the current trends and more concerned with what is needed to be said, not only to society, but on a personal level to whomever hears it. It was and still is a pity that I didn’t discover Andrew’s work as soon as he started creating music (I only recently gotten into listening to Andrew’s work in the last year or so- I was more of a recent fan starting off with his 2012 album Light for the Lost Boy); but in more recent times, I’ve come to love and appreciate the poetic nature of music, and how Andrew always has a knack of giving us theologically rich songs, so much so we may have to re-listen to the same song numerous times for us to understand and gain the wisdom that is permeating in every minute of the tracks written and recorded by Andrew, one of my favourite songwriters, period. On the same level playing field as other lyrically genius artists like Rich Mullins, Keith Green, Bebo Norman, Jason Gray and the ever reliable and emotive Brooke Fraser and Nichole Nordeman; we are indeed witnessing a level of songwriting that is on the level of theologically rich, but also personal and relatable as we see Andrew take the avenue of delving into personal stories to bring themes and messages across to listeners.

Andrew has always strived to write songs that relate to a vast amount of people that can be possible, regardless of creed, belief, environment and race, and much of his songs reflect this. One of his most popular and well-known songs of his, ‘Dancing in the Minefields’, from his 2010 album Counting Stars is a song about marriage, and how he likens a lifetime of being married to someone as dancing in the minefield- difficult and ugly at times, uncertain and even at times worried that even being married was even the right choice, but nevertheless, a song like ‘Dancing In the Minefields’ doesn’t sugarcoat marriage in the slightest, and we’re encouraged, if we are married, to work on the relationship, a daily conscious effort we have to embark and choose to do so. ‘All Things New’ from Resurrection Letters Vol 2 paints a similar picture and theme to Steven Curtis Chapman’s song of the same name, while ‘Hosea’ gives us vivid imagery of the plight of Hosea in the bible, and how the Lord instructed him to marry and stay married to a promiscuous woman. Hosea and his plight mirrors that of God’s love and devotion to humanity and the church, and how we run after worldly things again and again even though we profess and proclaim our love for Him. ‘The Good Confession’, originally on Resurrection Letters Vol. 2 but also placed on his best-of 2014 collection, reminds me thematically of Rich Mullin’s ‘Creed’- a declaratory song about professing faith in Jesus Christ and can be used by many as a way of expressing outwardly what they inwardly assert to be the truth.

“Don’t You Want to Thank Someone”, the longest song on Light For the Lost Boy, speaks about realising that everything is a gift from God, and acknowledging that ‘…in spite of all that’s wrong here, there’s still so much that goes so right and beauty abounds…’, and is a great standout song throughout Andrew’s career as a whole, while a song like ‘Lay Me Down’ echoes and resembles the theme of laying down- even literally, for another. A song that alludes to the greatest sacrifice of all and how when Christ laid Himself down, we lived, and still do, as a result; Andrew also encourages us in the coming of age “You’ll Find Your Way”, alongside over newer songs like “After All These Years”, bringing to us a theme of how time and the passing of it reminds us all of how some things don’t change and how other things highlight our own need for renewal, reconciliation and redirection; and ‘To All the Poets’, a song where Andrew himself pays homage to writers like himself, who have inspired him along his own journey of writing (for both songs and books). The inspiring words of thanks and how he is grateful to his mentors for ‘…taking their sorrow and using it to light the world so I could know that I’m not alone…’ is enough to continue to explore the crevices of metaphorical gold that is found in just about any Andrew Peterson song you can hear from his career- both now and into the future.

Both The Burning Edge of Dawn and Resurrection Letters Anthology are two of Andrew’s most recent albums, released in 2015 and 2018 respectively, and for me, though I’ll still always hold Light For A Lost Boy dear to my heart, because that’s the first Andrew Peterson album I heard; both his 2015 and 2018 album have been some of the most emotive and poignant songs I’ve heard by Andrew, ever.  “Be Kind to Yourself”, a 2:45 track, is as short as many Andrew Peterson songs are, but the song can be just as poignant, and maybe even more so, than some of his longer songs- the central theme of the track is in fact that- to be kind to yourself and love ourselves as God sees us. Once we are kind to ourselves, and know that we are who we are for a reason, and that our uniqueness ought to be celebrated and honoured; we can be at peace with ourselves, and know and see things from other people’s perspective, that we can truly empathise with others and see things from other people’s point of view. Andrew also touches on relationship songs ‘My One Safe Place’ and ‘We Will Survive’, both of which have radio vibes, while songs like ‘The Sowers Song’ and ‘The Power of a Great Affection’ delve deep into the heart of the Christian walk.

Then you have both Resurrection Letters: Prologue and Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 that both released in 2018, and together with Resurrection Letters Vol 2 that unveiled to us in 2008, form a trilogy of sorts, and was unveiled in November titled The Resurrection Letters: Anthology. You can read the review of the album here and so I won’t bore you with the details, but I do want to highlight a song that I reckon has changed the worship music landscape…forever. ‘Is He Worthy’ released early 2018, as part of Resurrection Letters: Vol. 1, and it is indeed a vertical praise song. Now in all of Andrew’s discography, he’s never done a worship and praise song. According to his own words, ‘…I had never really thought much about congregational songwriting. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I tend to think other people are better at it than me. On this album I was in this situation where I needed to try to do something I had never done before. I have been going to a liturgical style church for about 6 years now, and part of it is that I’m such a word nerd, but I love how rich the language is in these old liturgies that are hundreds of years old. I love that the word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” What that implies is that the liturgical service is not just the congregation sitting back and listening to what the pastor has to say, but that we are all involved, and we are all responding to what we believe is true with a call and response and questions and answers that keep my mind and heart engaged. That caused me to think about writing a congregational song like that…’

And so ‘Is He Worthy?’ was created- the song recorded, even a music video released. For me I fell in love with the song and appreciated that a worship song could even be made by an artist not considered a ‘worship’ artist…but it was in the aftermath of the music video release that I came to really appreciate Andrew and his own humble nature, where in short; people felt like the music video wasn’t a true embodiment and representation of what the song was actually saying. The song was discussing about how every nation and every tribe would bow before Jesus in the end of time, while in the video, there was a predominately white cast. Many people felt that they couldn’t relate to the video because their ethnicity wasn’t appropriately represented. Nevertheless, I’m sure the mishap was unintentional, and while many I’m sure demanded a re-shoot of the video, that didn’t happen, for one reason or another. Instead a response was given by Andrew, and it is in the light of this response that I’ve come to continue to assert Andrew’s importance and influential nature, not only in his music body of work, but in his own character and how he even carried himself in that situation. For me to be humble enough to say that they had it wrong, is very big of someone to undertake. Andrew unveiled such a confession in a blog post over at TheRabbitRoom.com (a website he and a few friends decided to collaborate on together). The apology will be published here on this website in part, on the basis that we can see yet a humble man realising his failings, but also hoping that something good can come out of something unintentionally harming and robbing. Below is an excerpt of the apology:

If I could go back in time I would tell the Andrew of a month ago, “Don’t assume. Make sure that this video is a true reflection of the Kingdom. Make sure it paints a glorious picture of the promise in Revelation that every people, tribe, nation, and tongue will sing (indeed, already sing) of the worthiness of Christ, the Lamb who was slain to free the captives. Think about the subtext, about what this video will say, wordlessly, to your friends of all colors.” I didn’t, and I regret that. Because I believe God works all things for the good of his people, I have to trust that, though I’m small potatoes in the music world, my misstep with this video will lead the church to good conversations, better understanding, humility and love and forgiveness between everyone affected by it. My prayer on the morning the whole thing started was, “Please, Lord, don’t let my mistake detract from the point of the song, which is to give voice to the truth of the Gospel, to invite many into the joy of singing about the beauty of who Jesus is and what he’s done.” But really, that’s merely my intention for the song. God’s intention may be broader and better—his intention may be to use my lack of wisdom and foresight to open the doors for reconciliation, repentance, healing, and mercy. As my friend said on the phone yesterday, “A hundred deaths, a million resurrections.”
So, as a white American singer/songwriter whose only hope is Jesus, I’m asking forgiveness of the friends and listeners to whom this video brought any measure of grief. I’m also asking the good people who have come to my defense to refrain from using social media to do so. Be silent long enough to really listen. And then, if the Spirit leads, engage with love and patience and humility. As I said, the only way to learn something is to screw up. What was only a small voice in my head a few weeks ago will, I assure you, be a loud, clear voice of wisdom in the future. I’m sure I’m going to make a mountain of mistakes in the days to come, but, Lord willing, this won’t be one of them. I’m curious to see where this story goes. In the meantime, I’m still praying that this song and the accompanying video will continue to be an instrument of peace in spite of the broken vessel through whom it came. After all, I’m not worthy of praise or glory. Only Jesus is, and it is to his strong hands that I entrust myself and my faltering work. Do I feel the world is broken? I do. Do I feel the shadows deepen? I do. And I truly believe that all the darkness—even my own—won’t stop the light from getting through. I do.

Andrew Peterson and his music reminds me a lot like Rich Mullins and what he was able to accomplish before a tragic fatal accident that made Rich lose his life back in the 1990s. Nevertheless, we see yet another person in Andrew Peterson take up the mantle that Rich placed down, and continue running with it. For Andrew’s career is one littered with music that should and ought to be heard, if only by those whom I know the Lord wants at a certain moment. For influential artists are influential for many reasons; and can be influential on a grander scale to society, but also influential in the hearts and minds of people who hear the music. For Andrew’s case, it’s more of a personal influential rather than a corporate society influential…and that’s totally fine. For encapsulating everything that I could and can say about Andrew Peterson and his music into a blog post wouldn’t do Andrew or his music justice- it’s too good. One of the most underrated music artists in history since Rich Mullins during the 1990s, Andrew’s unique ability to speak powerful truths and present them in a way that is reflective but hard-hitting is a gift. Andrew’s music has challenged my own perception of what Christian music really is- and that’s a good thing!

Does Andrew Peterson make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than ‘Don’t You Want To Thank Someone’, ‘After All These Years’ and ‘Dancing in the Minefields’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. And so I leave this blog post with words from Andrew himself, encapsulating his own heart about the purpose as to why he writes about Christianity as a topic in his music. For we all know, that if there was no resurrection, if there was no defeat of death, then the basis we have for Christianity is nothing but just a futile set of rules and regulations…it means nothing. And so for us to declare Jesus’s resurrection is a big claim- for if it is false, then we better find another religion to cling to…and quickly; but if it is true, then what a defeat from death it was!  Till next time!

‘…if God gave me any talent as a writer, it was ultimately for the purpose of bringing him glory, of drawing attention to his goodness and his gospel, for the building of his kingdom. That can flesh itself out in many ways, vocationally speaking, but for me it means writing the kind of songs I’ve always written—wannabe mashups of Rich Mullins and James Taylor, with a bit of Paul Simon, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Marc Cohn thrown in. The birth of Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is of utmost importance, and I did my best to write about that with the Behold the Lamb of God album—but it’s only part of the story. The gospel, after all, isn’t just about the birth and death of Jesus—it’s also about his victory over death and his promise to return. For the early Christians, the resurrection was central to the story. And it’s no overstatement that if Jesus didn’t rise from the grave then there would be no Christianity. But again and again the apostles staked their lives on this crazy fact: their friend had been tortured, murdered, and buried, and then one day he showed up again in the flesh, complete with the scars to prove it. How can you explain the birth and propagation of the church apart from this fact? Why would these people have been willing to die unless they had seen, in the flesh, the defeat of death in the resurrection of Jesus? I can think of no other satisfying answer than this: it happened. And if it happened, I must do my best to write about it…’

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