Release Date: September 8th 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- I Will Rise Again / Thieves in the Temple
- City of Stars
- Believer / Hurt
- Thank You For Everything
‘…If you’re in the middle of the chapter and you talk about it, you don’t realize it, but you’re asking your audience for something. You’re either asking them for sympathy or support, or to be on your side or something like that. If you wait until the chapter is closed, then when you talk about it, you actually have something to give. My authenticity and my honesty, I reserve most of that for my friends, my family, my mentor and the people who speak into my life, and then I bring as much of that as is helpful to my audience. Telling the truth is very valuable to me, and I try to do it in a way that is loving for my audience. I believe my main job is to love my audience, and so in all that I share, I try to do it in a way that is loving. I don’t want to bleed on people… One of the things I value most in people is curiosity, and I feel grateful that I have a curious mind. I’m curious enough that I’m interested in seeing a common truth in an uncommon way, with just that slight change in perspective that gives more understanding than I had before. I like to write songs that accomplish that in people’s hearts. I think the deepest truth is essentially paradoxical: it’s through our weakness that His strength is perfected, it’s our failure that puts us most in touch with grace, it’s destruction that brings about renewal. It’s these opposites. I think Jesus’ teaching almost always defied expectations. You couldn’t predict what He was going to say. I’m always looking for a way to have those moments in my own songs…’ Jason Gray is by far one of the most honest, hopeful, unique, powerful, heartfelt, and relevant artists of today. Period. In either Christian or mainstream music. Jason has had a powerful story that he has shared with fans and critics alike as he has opened up about events that has led him to where he is today, and now he is releasing his new EP titled The Acoustic Sessions this September 2017. But let us all backtrack a little bit, for those who don’t know Jason or his music.
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. The Acoustic Sessions EP features two songs from his 2016 album Where the Light Gets In (Thank You For Everything, I Will Rise Again) while the other two (City of Stars, Believer) are some of today’s most popular songs that Jason decided to cover in an acoustic manner- the former a song that found fame through La La Land, while the latter is the latest single from pop-EDM group Imagine Dragons. Jason Gray’s most meaningful songs from Where the Light Gets In, by far, are ‘I Will Rise Again’ and ‘Thank You For Everything’. Upon reflection, it was, and still is, these two songs that have impacted me the most out of every other track on his 2016 album. And it is also these two songs that are given the acoustic treatment on this EP. With both songs featuring a unique instrument in the hammered dulcimer, it is the weaving together of this captivating and magnificent instrument into the acoustic rendition (and quite possibly one of the most underrated music instruments of all time) that make these two songs in fact much more captivating and emotive than their original counterparts.
‘I Will Rise Again’ features a tag at the beginning of the late great Prince’s ‘Thieves in the Temple’, and reminds us all, of 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. ‘Thank You For Everything’ takes things a little further, literally thanking the Lord for everything in this life, even the good and bad. While we know that God never causes bad things to happen, that often it is just because of the sin in this world that things just happen, rather, He always uses what happens in our lives, be it the bad, to shape and mould us to become much more resilient than before, to be more reliant on the Lord in every aspect of our lives. This is a song to be sung not lightly, but boldly before the Lord, declaring that everything in our lives us an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and Himself in the process.
‘City of Stars’ and ‘Believer’ are the remaining two acoustic renditions on The Acoustic Sessions and while I myself didn’t have the pleasure of hearing the original tracks prior to Jason’s re-imaginings (aside from hearing ‘City of Stars’ in the actual La La Land movie), both these songs are made for Jason, as we are met with honesty and raw emotion as he presents two songs that have been impacting listeners around the world of late. ‘City of Stars’ presents a theme of being in wonder and awe of life, all the while asking the questions of whether it is fate that decides our future or whether it be what we decide that carves out what is ultimately for us in the end, while ‘Believer’ from Imagine Dragons is much more raw and hard-hitting as Jason presents a song that shows us a theme and message, that pain and the worst things about us and our circumstances shape us and impact us more than we care to admit or even know or understand. And while yes, pain does make us into a believer, a believer that life doesn’t go the way we plan it, the song nevertheless presents a morbid way to look at life. Still, Jason Gray covered it, and that’s what he felt at that moment about life and pain and everything else. We can’t judge or seem to understand why Jason covered such a song like ‘Believer’ with all its emotion and heavy raw moments of impact tagged onto it, but still, Jason deserves to be commended for taking a leap and delivering a song that reflects his heart at that moment, rather than singing a song about us all being fine, when in reality, we’re feeling anything but!
The Acoustic Sessions, in all its heartfelt moments of clarity, direction, emotion and comfort, becomes an EP of 4 tracks, two originals and two covers, that embody themes life, hope, vigour and power as Jason brings to us musical arrangements 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 songs like ‘Thank You For Everything’ and ‘I Will Rise Again’, songs that show us 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 currently (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 Grayson Reed, to name a few; Jason continues to anchor the roster, in both a songwriting and lyrical perspective, and his EP is a testament to this. The Acoustic Sessions is a gem of an EP 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 EP, one to tie us over between Where the Light Gets In, and the next album, whenever that may be!
2 songs to listen to: Thank You For Everything, I Will Rise Again
RIYL: Nichole Nordeman, Josh Wilson, Steven Curtis Chapman, Brooke Fraser, Andrew Peterson