Release Date: February 19th 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Starting Again
- I See God in You
- I’ll Be Your Friend (feat. Garrett Miller)
- The Spirit of the Lord
- Turn it Around (New Song)
- California Waves (feat. Morgann McClanahan)
- Right Now (feat. Jaye Thomas)
- What I Am
- I Believe
- The World is Turning
- There is Grace (Acoustic)
- Want to Know You
‘…here it is…the best of me. This album contains the top songs from the 6 albums I’ve made these past 10 years since I moved to Nashville in 2005. I chose the songs that I’ve gotten the most response from as I’ve played them any and EVERY where- from homeless shelters, rehab centres, and prisons to clubs, coffee shops, house shows, theatres and churches. My songs are the way I’ve been able to express the thoughts, questions and feelings that every human faces, particularly as a believer. My prayer is always that since they come straight from my heart and my walk through this life, they will touch your heart and speak to you on your journey through this life. It’s my honour to serve you- listener…’ One of the most underrated female Christian artists is practically all of recent CCM history, indie artist Lara Landon continues to bring us wonderful music and heartfelt moments of reflection and comfort as she released her best-of noisetrade collection earlier on during the year. While she is still practically unknown within the CCM circle, even after a few albums, and a whole lot more publicity, Lara continues to wow us with songwriting skills I haven’t seen since artists like Josh Wilson and Andrew Peterson.
While this album is only available on noisetrade, this best-of 14 track project ought to tie us over until when Lara releases her new album, whenever it may be. Lara’s music, with much piano and her soulful vocals being at the forefront in primarily all of the tracks, continues to be a central highlight in this collection, and is a reminder that you don’t necessarily have to be signed to a major label to produce high quality, emotive and beautiful music. While I myself have only listened to There is Grace fully, this collection makes me want to re-visit some of Lara’s tracks of the past ASAP, and hopefully encourage other listeners as well, as this underrated artist hopefully is given the recognition that is deserved in the upcoming weeks and months ahead!
With a musical leaning towards artists like Sara Groves, The City Harmonic or Audrey Assad, Lara’s body of work thus far is much to be marvelled over. Her three albums to date have been nothing less than extraordinary, and therefore, this 14 song collection seems to gloss over a career that needs to be sat down and mulled over with. Picking the best of these songs are always a difficult ask, which is why these 14 songs should only be the starting point for anyone wanting to delve into Lara and her music. In fact, dare I say that a best-of project, for any artist, should have at least 30 tracks if the artist has been in the business for at least 10 years (which Lara has been)? 14 tracks seems, and is, too short to capture a career as diverse as Lara’s. Nevertheless, here we are, with 14 tracks that have been hand-picked by Lara over the course of the years, songs that fans of her music have responded to the most, either through reviews on the songs, or at concerts.
With 6 out of the 14 tracks being from Lara’s latest 2014 album There is Grace (and thereby 6 out of the 11 tracks originally on There is Grace landing on this 2016 compilation), Lara’s decision in focusing more on her recent materials shows us the strength and maturity of her latest offering, and the response of listeners towards her most recent work. One of my favourite Lara Landon songs ever, “There is Grace” enters into this compilation as an acoustic work, rather than the original recording. While I may have placed on the original version instead of this stripped down acoustically driven melody, maybe what Lara felt is that this version is one that has impacted listeners more, drawing out more of the lyrics as we hear her voice in a more vulnerable way. Nevertheless, Lara aims to bring us a song with the concept of grace, and remind us that God’s grace is sufficient and enough to cover everything we have done, as well as covering the sins of every soul on the planet (past, present and future). It is a great reminder- that grace is indeed simple, Jesus’s death and resurrection was enough for us to come into His everlasting kingdom. The light acoustics and piano underpin the heartfelt chorus, where Lara encourages in the words of how ‘…there is nothing I can do to make You love me more, nothing I can do to make You love me less…’, a great moment where we realise that “There is Grace” is perhaps one of the most vulnerable tracks sung by Lara ever since “I See God in You” (also on this compilation as well).
The other 5 tracks being represented by There is Grace is just as poignant as the first. “Right Now”, a duet with worship leader Jaye Thomas, brings a moment of surrender and reverence as the piano led melody reminds us all that ‘…right now, I feel Your love surround me, right now, You wrap Your arms around me…’, with hopefully us as listeners feeling comfort that God surrounds us in the very moment we’re in, rather than what we may believe in that moment- that God is only present in the times when it is rosy. “Want to Know You”, dedicated to Lara’s father after his unexpected passing in 2014, is a comfort to many who may have endured losses, as we understand the urgency that is needed by us in relation to our relationships here on Earth; while “The World is Turning”, again highlighting the piano, is a classic reminder for us to sieze the moment on a daily basis- sort of like a carpe diem song, because in the end, ‘…the world is turning, don’t miss it cause you’re standing still…don’t miss it cause you’re afraid to feel…’ Millions of times we’re afraid to act and retreat to inaction because of worry about outcomes, yet this song throws caution to the wind, as we’re encouraged to take risks while we’re still here on the earth.
“California Waves” and “I’ll Be Your Friend”, duets with Morgann McClanahan and Garrett Miller respectively, round out the representatives from Lara’s latest on The Best of Me, each of these songs playing a role of encouragement in the lives of listeners I’m sure. “California Waves”, though it is odd for a song about summer, surfing, the West Coast of America and having fun being placed in an album full of faith themes, Lara does remind us of our need to take things slow and not to stress out (complete with beach sounds, seagull noises, and a ukulele); while the more seriously recorded “I’ll Be Your Friend” is sung from God’s point of view, that once we feel how much God loves us, we can respond out of that and believe with our hearts that ‘…I’ll be your friend, closer than a brother…’ Well done Lara for deciding on these six songs, songs which have been standouts on There is Grace, and songs I reckon will also be standouts on this compilation as well!
With the remaining 8 tracks being chosen from 2 albums (as well as 2 bonus newly recorded songs as well), you can see why I reckon it’s hard when you only have 14 tracks and you want to have a snapshot of your whole career. Nevertheless, representatives from both Beloved and Overcome are present, and provide to us melodies that introduce us to an artist I reckon is as underrated as they come. In fact, “I See God in You”, a melody originally recorded in 2009 on the Love/Majestic EP and re-recorded for Lara’s second full-length project Overcome, is a song that is one of my favourites, not only of Lara’s but one of my favourite songs of both 2012 and 2009. With electric guitars and percussion that makes the instrumentals sound like a Middle Eastern track (well, Lara’s parents’ heritage are Sicilian and Arabic, so I guess that comes out in the music), the theme of seeing God in someone else is something we all long to be the case, that whenever we see someone, we see not the person and all their inadequacies, but rather, we ask God to show us what He wants us to see in that person- that in how the other person acts and reacts, we can hopefully see God in them. That’s want we as Christians want to be to others, and hopefully, what we want to see in others who are thereby changed by the power of Christ’s love. Kudos to Lara for delivering this track with such fervent urgency and poignancy, as we reflect on what I reckon is arguably one of the most underrated CCM tracks in the last 5 years.
The remainder of the album, consisting of songs from Overcome, Beloved and new tracks altogether, deliver to us a conglomerate of tracks that transcend years where we see the transition of Lara from a newbie artist to a seasoned veteran, her song-writing maturing as the years go by. “The Spirit of the Lord”, last track on Overcome, is a scripture-in-song melody recounting the days of the prophets and how they stood and declared the prediction of Christ’s first coming; while songs like “Closer” and “Beloved” underpin how far Lara has come in her journey as a singer/songwriter, both reminding us in themes of us drawing closer to God (“Closer”) and us knowing full well how loved and accepted we are in the sight of our Father and friend (“Beloved”). “I Believe” has a piano introduction that presents music a la 1990s/early 2000s as Lara channels her inner Rebecca St. James pre-2003 as “I Believe” harkens back to the early millennia as the theme of the song is a reminder to stand firm in our belief that Christ is with us, even if we may not feel it emotionally.
“Starting Again” expresses the longing for us to start again in situations, even though we know there are no do-overs, and that the only thing we can do is to look forward knowing full well Christ has our life in His hands; while “Turn it Around” and “What I Am” are the new songs on this 14 track compilation- expect these songs to be on Lara’s new album sometime later on, possibly this year or the next. “Turn It Around”, originating from a demo a few years back, speaks of how God can turn ever situation around for His glory and our good, while “What I Am”, an acoustically pop song that is one of the most upbeat songs Lara has done to date; speaks of our identity, and to challenge every crisis we have and present to us that ‘…I am what I am, and I am alive in the dark, a diamond in the rough…and no one can tell me I’m not, the love has been bought, a child of the great I AM…’
While I may have expected songs like “The River”, “Leah”, “Defenceless” and “Home” on this compilation, these 14 songs nevertheless deliver what they are expected to- a set of tracks introducing us to an artist that should be more well-known than she is currently. Lara’s songwriting skill and vocals are top notch, and this compilation, if it only does one thing, it’ll encourage us to branch out of our CCM mould and venture into the unknown when it comes to indie music. As Lara said herself, ‘…I’ve learned over the past few years that my job, and success to me, is connecting people with God and connecting God with people—whether that be through hands-on service, or a simple melody that I’m playing on the piano. I’m a connector, and if I’m doing my part correctly, I will disappear and leave people face-to-face with their own heart and the heart of God…’ And that is exactly what has occurred on The Best of Me, Lara has faded into the background and these songs full of life and rich moments of tranquillity have come to the fore. Songs like “I See God in You”, “There is Grace” and “Beloved” that encourage our walk with Christ. Kudos to the writing and music style of Lara. Looking forward to the new album whenever it arises!
4 songs to listen to: There is Grace, I See God in You, Right Now, Beloved
RIYL: Sara Groves, Andrew Peterson, Josh Wilson, Nichole Nordeman, Rebecca St. James