Release Date: July 1st 2014
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
- Road To Girona
- Snow In Paris
- Off The Map
- Leaving Florence
- Coming Home
Renowned for his hit songs such as “He’s My Son”, “Walking Her Home”, “I Have Been There”, “Letters From War”, “I Am”, “Broken And Beautiful”, “Back In His Arms Again” and “All Things Possible”, Mark Schultz, with more than a decade of recording honest and poignant stories and songs, on Word Records and Fair Trade Services; has now ventured into his first instrumental album. No stranger to pushing musical boundaries, and stepping off into something different yet completely still like his trademark and signature sound; Mark is a veteran in recording piano pop and ballads, as he has sung quite a lot of ‘story songs’ over his 14 year career. He has a knack for making the most honest, emotional and contemplative songs from the most simple of instruments or lyrics. So it probably wouldn’t shock you at all to hear that Renaissance isn’t any different in atmosphere to Mark’s previous albums. Though sounding a lot like the instrumental albums that Michael W. Smith presented to us in Freedom and Glory; Mark’s work ethic is as honest as ever, and even without words, this 10 track courageous and daring album, mostly recorded in Florence, Italy, is a thought provoking vehicle where Mark can lead listeners into God’s presence, into communion with Him, as we are drawn to the plans God has for us!
Musically, the entire album is filled with piano, strings, woodwind instruments, with each track drawing the listener in with the uniqueness of the instruments. With each instrument all working together, and not overpowering each other, we are shown some special gems, and each track, though wordless, each have their own special reasons why I find them enjoyable! “Highlands” is predominately driven by the flute (in the ‘verses’) and strings, probably the violin (in the ‘chorus’), with Mark also giving us a ‘bridge’ with just soft and captivating piano. As an opener, it is powerful and transfixing, and a great way to start the album off. “Autumn”, presumably composed in the fall, or inspired by the season, is a piano only track, that is beautiful in its delivery, and brings me into God’s presence from the first flawless note. The electric guitar, surprisingly, makes a welcome appearance on “Normandy”, before the piano takes the reins and the forefront, and is one of my highlights of the album, as the piano slowly but surely swells to an epic crescendo, brimming with orchestral instruments, and is something that I envision to be in a movie soundtrack (at least when I close my eyes!). “Snow In Paris”, maybe because of the piano being the centrepiece, or the title of the track, or the tempo, has a Christmas-y feel about it, and as the strings enter, I am swept away to another place entirely- the Holy Spirit’s imprint is definitely on this track. As this majestic anthem progress, I feel as if I am watching an Oscar worthy movie play out; that’s how talented Mark is at composing and playing. And the piano pop like “Off The Map”, with keys, stirring and haunting violin and drums, sounds like something Skillet would play at a concert, and this expansion of style makes me like Mark Shultz all the more for stepping out in recording a song not in his genre and instead outside of his comfort zone.
The moving and inspiring “Cathedrals” is very regal, structured, and one of the most mellow songs on the album, and like its namesake, gives the listener the feeling of sitting through a church service in the olden days, which is not a bad thing at all, just different. As Mark tries to show us though music how the early church could have been like, for me he has succeeded, bringing me on a journey through time, and also preserving the integrity of the track too, as this song isn’t that overproduced. “Leaving Florence”, another soft piano track, possibly the only downside to the album, marks probably one of the last tracks Mark recorded for the album, while the stirring “Letters” has musical elements reminiscent of a potential instrumental version of Mark’s hit “Letters from War”, and could be served as a companion piece as well. It is recorded beautifully and highlights Mark’s superb piano playing skills quite well. While “Road To Girona”, a piano piece that describes Mark’s drive or train ride or plane trip to Girona in Spain (which is a picturesque place according to images on google), makes me want to visit places like these in Europe someday; it is the last song “Coming Home”, more in tune with Mark’s style of pop and CCM, that captures my attention. It is a great finisher, as it gives us something of a piano solo to a jazz 50’s and 60’s tune. A fun way to end a selection of songs that show us a side of Mark that we haven’t heard before, Renaissance is a joy to listen to.
Though I loved Michael W Smith’s pair of instrumental albums better, Mark Schultz’s effort has made me open my eyes a bit more, to instrumental music, and reaffirms my belief that songs do not need words to glorify Jesus. In fact, some of the most honest and God-breathed songs do not have words, and it is a testament to the anointing placed upon the composers and musicians, even if some of them may not be Christians. As for Renaissance, Mark’s prowess as a writer and a multifaceted composer is fully on display here, and this album is a fine way to step into the realms of independent albums. No longer on a label, Mark’s first original album after parting with Fair Trade Services is something to savour. A highlight of 2014, and definitely my favourite instrumental album since Smitty’s Glory; I encourage you all to take a spin on this album sure to be timeless- and an album that will make us yearn to be an avid traveller of Europe and the surrounding areas!
3 songs to listen to: Highlands, Snow In Paris, Coming Home
RIYL: Michael W. Smith, movie soundtracks, orchestral music, plays and theatres