Release Date: June 17th 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- I Will Rise Again
- More Yours
- Death Without a Funeral
- The Wound is Where the Light Gets In
- Where We Go From Here
- Learning to Be Found
- Glow in the Dark
- Thank You For Everything
‘…the subversive irony of the gospel is that if you’ve gone through depression or divorce or loss or failure or a sickness, you are uniquely equipped to be able to bring mercy to other people going through those same things. It removes judgment from your life. It removes self-righteousness or misguided opinions. That’s what Where the Light Gets In is about. Don’t be anxious about the worst thing that happens to you. The message of the resurrection gives hope that even the worst will produce something beautiful in us, and will ultimately help make us who we most want to be…’ Jason Gray, quite possibly one of Christian music’s most honest and heartfelt singer/songwriters, has had quite a journey, personal and musical, to get to the point he is in today. From being a stutterer (and still currently) to changing his last name from ‘Gay’ to ‘Gray’ in order to kick-start his music career; it has been his lyrical poignancy in quite possibly all of his songs to date that makes Jason possess an ability like no other, to write songs that are able to unveil his own vulnerabilities without any attack or stigma, while all the while weaving into the songs a grace that reminds us all that amidst the guilt, shame, pain and hurt, God is still there. Songs like ‘Nothing Is Wasted’, ‘More Like Falling in Love’, ‘I Am New’ and ‘Remind Me Who I Am’ show us the comfort we need, that God redeems us continuously each day from the circumstances and events we are in.
In the same league lyrically and stylistically as other artists like Andrew Peterson, Nichole Nordeman, Bebo Norman, Steven Curtis Chapman and Josh Wilson; his new album Where the Light Gets In digs a little deeper than his 2014 album Love Will Have the Final Word, and becomes an album that by far shows us a more vulnerable Jason, yet a Jason much more sure of his own identity in Christ amidst all the chaos (primarily his marriage breakdown) in his life till this point. The theme of how God can shine His light the brightest in the broken places of our lives; Where the Light Gets In brings together songs that are upbeat, songs that are mellow, others that are radio friendly and others that are sombre, all with the same message- that God still loves us in spite of our wounds, that our meaning still comes from the joy and hope we have in Christ instead of what we may feel on a daily basis.
Since releasing his albums Everything Sad is Coming Untrue in 2009, A Way to See in the Dark in 2011 and Love Will Have the Final Word in 2014; Jason has been one of these artists in the industry respected by critics and fans alike, with his songwriting ability unparalleled, and his songs delving deep into the human condition, and what it means to feel what we feel, yet also love and be loved by a God that uses whatever is in our lives for His glory and our good. It is in the same way that God transforms his stuttering voice into that of an eloquent singer, that I believe his songs impact and influence the many listeners of his music around the world, including myself. Lyrical and musical ingenuity is once again portrayed in Where the Light Gets In, making Jason quite possibly one of the most underrated and impacting songwriters of the 2010s thus far. Produced by a variety of singer-songwriters, from Casey Brown, Colby Wedgeworth, Ben Glover and Justin Ebach, to Jason Ingram, Paul Mabury, Jonathan Smith and Joshua Silverberg; Jason has portrayed some of his strongest songs in his whole career. From his first single “Sparrows” that speaks about how God takes care of us infinitely more than He does the sparrows of the sky, to standout song “Glow in the Dark”, about how we are the light of the world and need to shine where we’re at in the marketplace; Jason’s album makes it well worth the wait (a little over two years). As spoken by Jason himself, ‘…sometimes the worst experiences that you go through may be the things that create the capacity in you to become more like Jesus. How do we learn to be courageous if we aren’t faced with fear? How do we learn about grace until we know how much we need it? How can we ever experience rebirth and resurrection unless we first experience some kind of death?…’ If Love Will Have the Final Word was an album about loss and pain and hurt and sorrow, then this forthcoming album is one full of rebirth, perspective, moving on from difficulties, and embracing the fact that out of brokenness comes ever more a chance for us to readily and freely accept the grace given by Christ.
“Glow in the Dark”, “Learning”, “I Will Rise Again” and “Sparrows” have all been released to the general public prior to the album release, and all these four songs, despite the musical and stylistic differences, all allude to a similar theme- that we are forever and continuously learning in this life in how we walk and walk the line of being a Christian and being a human that is honest and vulnerable in how we express love to our fellow man. “Glow in the Dark”, released initially on his demo B-side/remix album Post Script, has been one of my favourite songs this past year, as we are reminded that we as Christians ought to shine where we are in our lives and amongst the people we are with, as we live like Jesus lived- hopeful, loving, and caring for the people around us. In the sea of people dying for someone or something to tell them they are loved and accepted, Jason encourages us all to be that voice or person willing to be there for people. With hand claps and a happy atmosphere, Jason has created once again an infectious melody fit for radio marketability and personal enjoyableness. As we reflect on the heartfelt lyrics of how ‘…even in the darkest place, His love can make you radiate…’, we are invited the partake in a song that is easily one of the standouts on his June 17th album.
“Learning”, “I Will Rise Again” and “Sparrows” have all surfaced since Jason’s yearlong hit of “Glow in the Dark”, and each of these three continue to carry on from the themes expounded in Jason’s first single. “Sparrows” starts with a light electronic keyboard intro, complete with ‘la la las’ and hand claps as a looping drum percussion undertones quite possibly one of the most hard-hitting lyrics Jason has ever penned in his career. From the first lyric line of how ‘…you can’t add a single day by worrying, worry your life away, don’t worry your life away…’ to the chorus and how ‘…even the sparrow knows He holds tomorrow…’, we have a great understanding of the theme of the song- that we as Christians who know where our faith and trust is in, ought not to worry about our own circumstances, but trust that God has is all working into His bigger plan of perfection. While the song is pure pop in all its goodness (many listeners may long for the days of Jason circa Everything Sad is Coming Untrue), it is the lyrics of not only “Sparrows” but the album as a whole that I’m sure will matter more than the actual music, music that seems to be much more aligned to CCM than albums previously. Still, Jason continues to pour out his heart, and “Sparrows” is still nothing less of that. With rhythmic sounds that surround “Sparrows” echoing that of Indian-sounding music, Jason’s unique ability to bring in listeners of CCM and fans of artistic and lyrically captivating songs, is what makes him one of the Christian music industry’s most underrated artists of this side of the millennia.
Beginning the album is “Learning”, a three minute pop song covered with the sheen of radio marketability, and at face value, one can look at it with the lens of ‘ohh, Jason is selling out because he’s giving us a song that an artist like Chris Tomlin could sing, and sing well’. Yet when we look closely at the track, we get a glimpse into the thought process of Jason, and how yes, this is a song that is suited for radio, but yes, this is also a song full of rich moments of lyrical depth and emotion tagged onto a song littered with hand claps. As Jason says himself, “Learning” is the most-pop song he’s ever created- ‘…my last album was all about grief and so I wanted to make a statement right at the beginning of this record that it’s about hope and that it’s got some fun in it too. So I put Learning at the beginning of the record. I’m usually annoyed by empowerment anthems because I think they can be self-focused and ignore a lot of reality, but in this case I thought, ‘I want to tweak the genre to create an empowerment anthem that’s based, not on my own power, but on a real confidence in the grace of God…’ Will this song be adored or ridiculed? Who knows, what I do know is that “Learning” will encourage and inspire, will comfort and compliment, will confront and even allow someone to change because of the message. And that is reason enough to be track #1 on Where the Light Gets In.
“I Will Rise Again” brings to the fore a theme that hasn’t really been spoken in many songs in quite possibly the history of Christian music- rising after a death like a marriage. In effect, that is exactly what happened to Jason- the death of his marriage, rather than the event of a divorce. “I Will Rise Again” is borne through that, making this song ever so more poignant. The music in effect doesn’t really matter, the endless clichés in this song is overlooked, in favour of the hard hitting lyrics, and what it has probably meant for Jason in his own life, and what it means to the people hearing it. The chorus of how ‘…I will rise again, I believe, I believe that I had to break, so love could make me whole…’ challenges everything that we are to believe of God- can He cause things like a death of a marriage? What I will say is this- God uses things broken for us to draw closer to Him, including a fallen marriage. “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In”, an acoustic 2:50 song featuring Jars of Clay frontman Dan Haseltine, follows on from this theme, and delves deep into the notion of hope, and that hope often screams out the loudest when there is hurt and wounds for it to shine upon. The song is borne out of the grief Jason felt (and I’m sure still feels), yet the song isn’t rooted there. As Jason speaks about the song, ‘…Where the Light Gets In [the song and album] is really about having a more fully realized hope. It’s not a hope based on circumstances or on things going the way you hoped they would, but on a hope that abides, even when the worst happens…’ Kudos to Jason for both “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In” and “I Will Rise Again”, both sombre tracks and both songs that I reckon will speak to listeners the most on Where the Light Gets In.
While there are many songs on the album that are reflective and sombre, that speak about Jason’s predicament, Jason has also included many more songs on the album that have a much more wider reach in thematic material. “Stolen” brings down the pace and sets an acoustic song to the theme of how God steals our hearts and makes us His, especially in the moments where we are at our lowest, that ‘…if my life never would’ve got broken then my hands never would’ve been open, and my heart never would’ve been stolen…’ and makes us think about our own lives where God has come in to shake, invade and turn everything we’ve known upside down; while “Resurrection”, an Easter-themed 2:50 long track full of life and fast pace, brings together hand claps, synths and a heart full of hope together for a song that declares God’s resurrection over every area of our lives. “Death Without a Funeral” is a morbid title, yet a song that describes a moment in our lives, where the end of something like a marriage isn’t necessarily final like a death of a person- there are still memories, heartaches, hopes, dreams, failures and everything else in between that manage to re-surface again over the years…or the song can be read in a way where the dying to ourselves when we come to Christ isn’t necessarily as final as we think it is- that since we are still human, our human tendencies will always come back whether we like them to or not.
“Learning to be Found” is a moment of realisation where all of everything we’ve ever known comes to a head, and what we believe to be us breaking down because of weakness is merely a chance for us to be broken, and to be found and loved unconditionally by our Father, regardless of where we’re at; while songs like “Celebrate” (an upbeat track with vibes of radio single all over it, as Jason relays the theme of celebration it light of Jesus and His gift of salvation) and “Thank You For Everything” (musical undertones of the 80s and 90s bring this song to life, a song of appreciation to our Father for everything He has done in our lives thus far…sort of like a Jason Gray version of Andrew Peterson’s “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone”) end an album full of songs that can be delved into again and again, each time a different and unique meaning to the tracks can be discovered.
Yet it is the songs “More Yours” and “Where We Go From Here” that have hit me the hardest as I’ve listened to this album. While these songs may not necessarily become the singles of the album (I suspect a song like the title track or “I Will Rise Again” will get first dibs before these two), I’ve nevertheless been impacted much by both “More Yours” and “Where We Go From Here”. The former speaks of longing to be more like Christ and to follow Him on a daily basis, yet at times, the persona feels like they are struggling in that surrender. It is the chorus of the song that makes it relatable- ‘…I’m gonna give You my life, my life, as many times as it takes, it takes, and if my heart has to break, to break, then do whatever You need to make, to make me more Yours…’, and makes the song become a prayer we all need to seriously consider praying- are we willing to ask and even allow God to break us for us to come back to Him in a much more real and authentic way than ever before? It is these types of themes in the album, and especially this song; that I reckon will be what contributes to the success of Where the Light Gets In. “Where We Go From Here” features a piano riff and a powerful drum kick, and the theme of the song opens up to the listener, as we hear that of being a comfort to a friend in need being spoken about in this track. A song that teaches us all not to be insensitive, but to be aware of what the other person is thinking and feeling, and to ‘…never say ‘I told you so’ even though you told me so, you just say ‘I’m sorry that it hurts’…’; this is a song about new beginnings, and how even when we believe things to be finished, Christ uses what is broken to mend us beyond our comprehension. Our lives aren’t over just because our circumstances are, and this song is a comfort to know that Jesus declares to us that ‘…it’s not over even when it’s over, even when the curtain falls and all the lights fade to black and I’m afraid it’s finished, [but] You’re just beginning, You say ‘lift your head, I’ll dry your tears, and then I’ll show you where we go from here…’
Where the Light Gets In, in all its heartfelt moments of clarity, direction, emotion and comfort, becomes an album of 13 tracks full of life, hope, vigour and power as Jason brings to us an album that further asserts his presence as an underrated artist in today’s Christian music society. Nevertheless, Jason is perhaps one of the greatest lyricists in modern CCM, showing us 13 songs full of themes and truths about what God’s love looks like when it penetrates a life that is broken. Even though Jason is still not necessarily the most recognised or even the most popular artist within the ranks of CCM at the moment (artists like Chris Tomlin, Natalie Grant, Francesca Battistelli and Matthew West receive much more radio airplay than Jason), Jason nevertheless forges on, as a songwriter whose songs have become the cornerstone of change in many people’s lives around the world, inclusive of mine. On the same roster as artists like Andrew Peterson, Aaron Shust, Lauren Daigle, Unspoken, Carrolton and Jared Anderson; Jason continues to anchor the roster, in both a songwriting and lyrical perspective, and his new album is a testament to this. Where the Light Get’s In is a gem of an album no matter how you look at it, and a must-listen for anyone who appreciates poignant and heartfelt music, regardless of the music genre. Well done Jason Gray for such an inspiring album, and one of my favourite albums of 2016 so far!
3 songs to listen to: I Will Rise Again, Where We Go From Here, More Yours
RIYL: Josh Wilson, Andrew Peterson, Nichole Nordeman, Steven Curtis Chapman