Various Artists – The Shack: Music From and Inspired By the Original Motion Picture

Atlantic Records

Release Date: February 24th 2017

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

Various Artists- The Shack: Music From and Inspired By the Original Motion Picture (iTunes/Amazon mp3)

Track Listing:

  1. Dan + Shay – When I Pray For You
  2. Tim McGraw & Faith Hill – Keep Your Eyes On Me
  3. Lady Antebellum – Lay Our Flowers Down
  4. Hillsong UNITED – Heaven Knows
  5. Francesca Battistelli – Where Were You
  6. Kelly Clarkson & Aloe Blacc – Love Goes On
  7. Lecrae – River Of Jordan (feat. Breyan Isaac)
  8. NEEDTOBREATHE – HARD LOVE (feat. Lauren Daigle)
  9. Dierks Bentley – Days Of Dark
  10. Brett Eldredge – Phone Call To God
  11. Devin Dawson – Honest To God
  12. Skillet – Stars (The Shack Version)
  13. We Are Messengers – I’ll Think About You
  14. for KING & COUNTRY – Amazing Grace

Soundtracks are a funny thing. They can be either songs that are present in a movie, or songs inspired by the movie’s central theme, or both. In this particular case; we are presented with yet another collection of songs, just in time for, quite possibly the movie that will divide as many as unite Christians, seekers, and just plain non-believers alike, The Shack. Written a while ago by W.M. Paul Young, The Shack ‘…takes us on a father’s uplifting spiritual journey. After suffering a family tragedy, Mack Phillips spirals into a deep depression causing him to question his innermost beliefs. Facing a crisis of faith, he receives a mysterious letter urging him to an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Despite his doubts, Mack journeys to the shack and encounters an enigmatic trio of strangers led by a woman named Papa. Through this meeting, Mack finds important truths that will transform his understanding of his tragedy and change his life forever…’ Regardless of your religious persuasion, this is a movie (or even a book) that is worth your attention, even if it means for a dialogue to take place amongst people of similar or even different beliefs, so that a channel of discussion and appreciation of different views can be encouraged in a healthy forum of listening rather than that of condemnation and criticism. For such a movie like The Shack carries with it a weight like no other. With movies gone before like The Passion of the Christ, Ben Hur, Priceless, God’s Not Dead, October Baby and I’m Not Ashamed providing us with a platform to discuss deep and meaningful issues with our fellow friends and family; The Shack will yet be another opportunity to pursue such discussions, hopefully with results that will lead to much more respect and appreciation of where people lie on the faith spectrum.

And then comes The Shack: Music From and Inspired By the Original Motion Picture. 14 songs from today’s most popular country, CCM and pop artists that all thread through the theme of hope in the face of adversity as each song by artists like UNITED, Kelly Clarkson, Dan + Shay, Tim McGraw, needtobreathe, We Are Messengers and Skillet are presented with such poignancy and hope. While for me personally I may not have been familiar that much within the country and pop music scene prior to listening to this compilation, the songs naturally flow together, and even though I may not listen to that much pop/country even after hearing these songs, what has resulted within these 14 tracks is a message of hope, strength and perseverance, things we all need to uncover and dig deep within ourselves as we face our own difficulties and tragedies, sometimes on a daily basis.

With such a variety of musical genres represented on this album, there is literally something for everyone, whether we enjoy CCM, pop or country. Immediately as I glance through the track list for this compilation, I’m drawn to Skillet’s acoustic version of “Stars”, a chart-topping radio single from their most recent studio album Unleashed. A song that is quite possibly one of the most worshipful the band has ever recorded and sung, “Stars” is a track that places the emphasis and importance not on the stars but on the One who made them. Gone are the synths and the electronic keyboards that were used as a musical backdrop on the album version of the track, and in come more acoustic instruments- strings, acoustic guitars, light percussion, and the same distinct gruff voice of John Cooper, quite possibly one of CCM/rock’s most passionate singers, ever. The message is as poignant and heartfelt as ever, as John declares through the chorus, that ‘…if You can hold the stars in place, You can hold my heart the same, whenever I fall away, whenever I start to break, so here I am, lifting up my heart to the One who holds the stars…’, a moment where we realise the notion of trust, and how placing it in the Father and Maker of Heaven and Earth ought to bring with it a sense of freedom and reassurance of our security and grounding in Christ our Lord!

“When I Think of You” (We are Messengers), “Heaven Knows” (UNITED), “Hard Love (feat. Lauren Daigle)” (needtobreathe), “Amazing Grace” (for KING AND COUNTRY), “Where Were You” (Francesca Battistelli) and “River of Jordan (feat. Breyan Isaac)” (Lecrae) all the representatives on the compilation from the CCM music ‘genre’, as we’re given songs full of encouragement from a Christ-centred perspective, each song reminding us of how central faith ought to be during a time of difficulty and uncertainty. Immediately I am drawn to the duet collaboration between southern rockers needtobreathe and powerhouse worship artist Lauren Daigle, as “Hard Love” becomes one of my favourite duets, ever since “Hand of God” (feat. Matt Hammitt) from Francesca Battistelli a few years ago. A standout on Needtobreathe’s album H A R D L O V E that released in July last year, once again we are met with such a powerful and poignant track here, this time drawing upon the emotion and the powerful vocals of quite possibly one of CCM’s most respected and talented female CCM artists, Lauren Daigle. The song itself is as comforting as it is confronting- declaring from the outset that whatever we do and whatever we accomplish ought not to come easy, that the love we seek is in fact ‘hard’- well worth the effort that we undertake to achieve such tasks and accomplishments. Bear passionately highlights the fact that whenever trouble and adversity arrives, to ‘…hold on tight a little longer, what don’t kill ya, makes ya stronger, get back up, ’cause it’s a hard love…’, to fight the good fight; as you never know when things will be better, or when something good could be happening around the corner. It is the bridge that features more of Lauren’s vocal prowess as both Bear and Lauren engage in a ‘free-worship’ moment of sorts, and bring us all to sing alongside them, believing wholeheartedly that to achieve our goals requires hard work and perseverance.

“Where Were You” from Francesca Battistelli invites us all into a place of not necessarily questioning God, but having a dialogue with Him, as the song quite possibly is sung from the outlook of Mack Phillips the character, and how his whole world was ripped apart from under him and how he himself may have been asking the Lord similar things (yes I know Mack Phillips is only a character, but I’m sure anyone who watched the movie/read the book can relate to Mack in some way). Francesca brings to the fore the message of loneliness and questioning our Lord, through the piano and light percussion, and Francesca’s trademark vocals. It is in these difficult moments that we can often believe that, in some way, God is not with us during our trials, even though He was with us and carrying us all along. Standing at only 3:08, the song is still nevertheless impactful and poignant, and one of my favourites. “Heaven Knows” is a similar song that evokes moments of revelation and realisation and at times, praise and exaltation; as both Joel Houston and Taya Smith sing out and harmonise great together in a song that places to the forefront a message that often, it is only heaven and the Lord above that truly knows what we’re going through, knowing full well that whatever we experience is for His glory and our good. We as listeners are transported to a place of worship- surely, I mean surely, this track from UNITED is a shoe-in on WOW Hits 2018 right?

We are Messengers’ “I’ll Think About You”, and for KING AND COUNTRY’s unique rendition of “Amazing Grace” are both sombre, and while musically these two songs seemingly don’t fit on a track-list of otherwise vibrant melodies full of life and enthusiasm; the songs in and of themselves are contemplative and encouraging, the former being a soulful and contemplative prayer about putting trust in Jesus when there is nothing left to do, while the latter is yet another rendition of “Amazing Grace”, and a song to keep in the catalogue, reminding us that this song indeed is one of the world’s most famous hymns, ever! “River of Jordan” is the lone representation of the rap/hip hop community on the compilation, with singer-songwriter Breyan Isaac teaming up with Christian rap superstar Lecrae to deliver a track full of honesty and encouragement, about losing the religion and finding the relationship in Christ Jesus. As Lecrae reminds us, …[the song] really challenged me in a lot of ways because it made me have to think of my own relationship with my father and some of the unique struggles that I have there. And how self-righteous you can be as a person in general. None of us are perfect and we have to drop this guard of self-righteousness that we all have it together and say, ‘Listen, this is who I am. These are my flaws. This is all that I have going on’. If God can accept me in this kinda state, then people should as well…’

While the songs that have impacted me the most on The Shack: Music From and Inspired By the Original Motion Picture have been the ones sung by artists within the CCM music community, I’m sure many other listeners of the compilation will be inspired and impacted by other artists on the album- namely the pop and country ones. While I may not be that familiar with these artists if not for this compilation, what I have heard from these artists on this compilation is nothing less than poignant and stellar. Pop sensation Kelly Clarkson, American Idol Season 1 winner, teamed up with soul-pop superstar Aloe Blacc (I have previously heard him from his Owl City “Verge” team-up) to create “Love Goes On”, a gospel-esque pop melody about love and how it can heal even the most un-healable wounds. As the chorus lyrics hit the nail on the head in terms of theme and lyrical poignancy, we are reminded that ‘…there ain’t nothing so broken, love can’t heal…nothing’s really gone, we bring the past along and love goes on…’, as Kelly shows us all her soaring vocals and why she, all these years later, is still often considered as one of the most successful artists to use American Idol as a career platform.

Opening number “When I Pray for You” from pop-country duo Dan + Shay, infuse a Finding Favour meets Dave Barnes meets Carrie Underwood atmosphere, delivering a track about unconditional love from the perspective of a loving father to his unborn child, reciting through song of all the things he will promise to undertake throughout the child’s life. Lady Antebellum offers a sombre and soulful melody titled “Lay Our Flowers Down”, and while a song like this- reflective, emotive and poignant, can be an odd choice as track #3 (normally more upbeat songs are towards the beginning and more sombre songs are for the end, in any album); the trio aptly and justifiably deliver a moment of hope in the midst of difficulties, with this 3 minute melody a song we’d normally sing at a funeral. Not necessarily a morbid track, “Lay Our Flowers Down” encourage us to remember that ‘…only love can lift us now…’ in such a difficult moment such as a funeral, or any other chaotic time for that matter.

Dierks Bently, Brett Eldredge and Devin Dawson anchor the middle part of the album as we see a country segment on the compilation, with each artist offering the songs “Days of Dark”, “Phone Call to God” and “Honest to God” respectively. While the latter two are seemingly too radio friendly for their own good, both these songs still nevertheless tug at our heart strings and give us a moment to reflect and ponder. “Phone Call to God” represents an honest melody about what we would say if we did actually have a phone call to God- all the hurts that would come to the surface and all the genuine moments of questioning that we’d consider asking, while “Honest to God” is a 3:14 song about being real and honest, even if it means singing about doubt, disbelief and uncertainty like the song expresses. Yet it is “Days of Dark” that attracts me the most musically out of the three, as Dierks reveals a somewhat quasi-Celtic ‘pub-style’ country track about leaving our worries and troubles behind, claiming what is in front of us and believing wholeheartedly that our days of dark are indeed over.

And then there’s “Keep Your Eyes on Me”, the song that has been used time and time again to promote the movie that has just released to cinemas. It is the song that quite possibly is the most famous out of any song on this compilation, because of the sheer times it has been in trailers and promoted within these last few months. And while I haven’t really heard any material from Tim or Faith’s catalogue before, this duet from married couple and country superstars, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, is as equally powerful as it is needed today. A song that encourages us to keep our eyes focused on our Lord (as the song is sung from God’s perspective), we’re reminded that often on a daily basis, we need to fix our gaze continuously on the Author and Perfector of our faith. Both Faith and Tim have delivered a heartfelt and emotive melody, one that’ll be on my iTunes playlist for months to come. A song to be listened to and loved if you enjoy music, period; kudos to both Tim and Faith for delivering such an impacting song, and certainly one of my favourites from 2017 thus far!

What can I say about The Shack: Music From and Inspired By the Original Motion Picture that I haven’t said already? That this album, by far, is one of my favourite compilation soundtrack albums I’ve heard since God’s Not Dead (The Motion Picture Soundtrack)? However you look at it, this new movie about the New York Times Best Seller ‘The Shack’ is going to create a lot of stir, one way or the other. This music compilation will at least ease the tension that is sure to surround us all at a time like this. This movie and book, regardless of what we think of it, will be used by the Lord to bring people closer to Him. And maybe, just maybe, this music compilation can be used as a tool to start such a conversation, about what we think of the movie and the book, and in turn, what we think about Christianity, Christian doctrine and what we ultimately believe. So, if this music compilation can do that, then I’m all for it. And with a compilation that has artists like Skillet, UNITED, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellum, needtobreathe, Lecrae and We Are Messengers to name a few; this collection of 14 songs has indeed something for everyone, literally. Will I watch the movie after listening to this album? Maybe, maybe not. But the truth of the matter remains- “The Shack” is a life-changer. Here’s hoping God uses it to change lives for the better!

4 songs to listen to: Heaven Knows, Stars, Keep Your Eyes on Me, Hard Love

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Colton Dixon, Daughtry, Switchfoot, Keith Urban, Coldplay, Owl City, Carrie Underwood

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