Release Date: September 29th 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Echoes One [Deluxe Edition]
- Clean Heart
- What a Friend
- Your Love Defends Me
- Just as I Am
- Awake My Soul (A Thousand Tongues)
- Faithfulness (feat. Steffany Gretzinger)
- Echoes Two [Deluxe Edition]
- Picket Sign [Deluxe Edition]
- Won’t Let Me Down [Deluxe Edition]
- The Least of These
- The Cross Forever Speaks
- Into Your Hands
- As Good as It Gets
- Your Love Defends Me (Solo Piano Version) [Deluxe Edition]
Canada. Not the U.S. But Canada. Oh how we love Canada. With music artists borne out of this splendid country, from Amanda Cook, Jon Bauer, Manafest, Tim Neufeld, The City Harmonic and Hawk Nelson, to newworldson, Thousand Foot Krutch, Love & the Outcome, Starfield and Downhere; we have been blessed over the years to be given the gift of these musicians from across the border. Now we hear another popular singer/songwriter/worship leader who has become one of the most emotive, humble, heartfelt and encouraging deliverers of music and song- Matt Maher. A committed Catholic within the CCM industry, Matt has shown us time and time again his song-writing prowess with hits from across the years of his music ministry, with songs like “Your Grace is Enough”, “All the People Say Amen”, “Lord I Need You”, “Turn Around”, “Rise Up”, “Christ is Risen” and “Hold Us Together” being some of his most loved songs throughout the years. Matt’s honest approach to worship music is what makes him quite possibly one of the most underrated worship artists this turn of the millennia. And now he is at it again, with Echoes, an album that released in September 2017, being the follow-up to the successful March 2015 album Saints and Sinners, an album that gave birth to the singles ‘Deliverer’, ‘Abide With Me’, and ‘Because He Lives’. And as the album is shown to us to be, much of Echoes is a collection of songs and prayers, of declarations and powerful moments of soliloquy and contemplation, as we realise and grapple with the complex word which is ‘suffering’.
Much of the album was recorded, when Matt’s very own father passed away, thereby the album taking on an entirely different meaning than ever before. As said by himself so cleverly in a press release, ‘…Worship music paints with broad strokes for large groups of people, that stem from intimate stories and experiences; the challenge, as a creator, is to somehow let the former come out of the latter…Jesus chose to respond to death by embracing it. By embracing it, He destroyed it. This record became, for me, my response to sin and suffering. I had to formulate my own echo. I had to decide if I was going to echo the message of the cross back to the world, or my own narrow view of suffering…’ Echoes is very much a therapy record for Matt, as much of his songs on the album features moments where all we can do is just try to rest amidst the chaos, to ask the question ‘why’ from the Lord and just wait in the mess…and to somehow be ok with it, as long as it takes.
Matt uses the concept of being an echo of God’s love in light of what has been done for us as a basis for the album as a whole, and as Matt invites us to understand, ‘…I believe the people who should be most mindful and most thoughtful about what they say and how they respond are Christians. That is the main message of this album – asking the question, ‘How do we echo our faith? …[for] There’s a duality in the two dimensions of the cross: that of God reaching down to humanity in the vertical, and God reconciling us with each other in the horizontal. Most people tend to fall into different camps, focusing on either the vertical or the horizontal, but not both…’ For we as Christians ought to hopefully encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as ourselves, to partake in both the horizontal and vertical aspects of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, and Echoes is just the start as we are met with what I hope could be a catalyst in ourselves echoing Christ to the world around us, everywhere and everyone we meet!
Originally recorded by Hannah Kerr on her 2016 album Overflow, ‘Your Love Defends Me’ is a song that I initially predicted way back last year, that Matt would record a version of the song, and release it as his brand new single…and I was right. “Your Love Defends Me” evokes a theme of God standing by us and fighting for us, often at times when we can’t fight ourselves, as we are reminded that our war today is not against flesh and blood but rather against principalities and evil forces and schemes of the devil. As Matt declares himself about what is the heart behind the song, ‘…this song comes out of Psalm 91, and the idea of God being not a refuge, but our only refuge. I think we can all relate to moments in our lives where who we were (or who we’ll become) comes crashing to the forefront of who we are, and all of a sudden there’s this fight happening inside for who gets control – the past or the future or the present moment now. When you combine that with a social media context that is always recording and documenting everything, it lives on in perpetuity either as an accusation or as a testimony. [So] to put it simply: Evil is in the business of accusation, but God is in the business of raising up testimony – of who he is and what he’s done. This song talks about how God is a defender. How the love of God is not just a defense, but it’s really the only defense we have that can stand against the inconsistency of ourselves. God is your defense, and what he says about you is what matters. That’s what stays…’ And with that, there’s nothing much more I can say about this song than to re-iterate what Matt has voiced in this above quote- that the song reminds us all that God’s love defends us even in the moments where we don’t even believe it, or can’t see it, or want to believe it but can’t because of the lies gripping us from every angle… Matt’s new song is a heartfelt one- we can never get enough of a reminder that God defends us, not just shown in this song but in songs gone past. A song that’ll hopefully encourage us in the upcoming days and weeks ahead, this is a must-listen track to declare when we’re feeling like we’re pressed down from all angles.
Aside from ‘Your Love Defends Me’, much of the album is either gospel-music influenced or hymn influenced, and that is ok. It certainly isn’t what you would find on K-Love or Air1, and maybe, just maybe, it is what the world needs right now, something unique and refreshing compared to what we’ve been hearing for years upon years. Take ‘Clean Heart’ for example. Track #2, we are met with a 3 minute (literally) song full of beautiful anthemic moments and a strong drum beats, even Matt delivering layered vocals to create a sense of a collective of voices on the track (when in reality, I think it’s all just him). The song itself is as poignant and refreshing- Matt encourages us to have a clean heart, in a world of trouble and difficulty. The statement of the chorus that Matt declares ‘…give me a clean heart…’ is as simple as it is profound. We know we are washed by the Lord when He died and rose again- so giving us a clean heart ought not to matter much right? It is when we declare something as simple as this aforementioned lyric that we give permission for the Lord to do whatever He wishes for our hearts to become clean. And we don’t know what that’ll look like. Often it may take Him turning our lives upside down for us to realise that He is all we need. It may take pain, hurt, even happiness and joy for us to realise that God’s ways are far beyond ours. And thus this song is very bit needed as it is welcomed as the first ‘official’ track off Echoes (‘Echoes I’, ‘Echoes II’, ‘Picket Sign’ and ‘Won’t Let Me Down’ are the tracks that are on the deluxe edition of the album instead of the standard). Well done Matt for such a humble approach for us surrendering to Him, maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a radio edit of the song and it’ll hit the airwaves soon…but then again, there’s other radio friendly songs on the album (In Your Hands, Just As I Am, What a Friend, Awake My Soul), so maybe, ‘Clean Heart’ has a while to go before we hear it on K-Love in the future.
It is no stranger to us all that Matt loves his hymns, the songs of yesteryear that have much relevance now as it did back when they were written. And thus, we see a flurry of songs that have incorporated hymn or hymn stanzas into the song in one form or another. ‘What a Friend’ is a twist on the ever-loved hymn ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’, full of joyous hand claps and a moment where we realise that Matt has delivered a party-song, full of exuberance and passion, and a rousing track worthy of been on the airwaves…soon. ‘Just as I Am’ is a song that has taken its inspiration from the hymn of the same name, and…that’s where the resemblance ends. Matt has written an original track titled ‘Just As I Am’, and is a modern hymn for the new generation, with the same passion and themes that were discussed in the hymn written long ago. Yes, I’m sure that many who hear this song expecting to hear Matt cover the hymn may be disappointed, but if Matt writing this song can encourage people to become more engaged with the worship music of today, that what can be written now can have the same power and influence as many timeless hymns, I’m all for it. Matt also provides a stirring piano prominent hymn-like rendition of ‘Awake My Soul (A Thousand Tongues)’, originally on Laura Story’s March 2017 album Open Hands (though I preferred Laura’s version better, which was a more radio-friendly arrangement, I thoroughly enjoyed Matt’s version too- more of a reflective piano melody), while ‘Holy’ is a song Matt co-wrote with Chris Tomlin, Hank Bentley, Jason Ingram and Mike Donehey, and a song that sounds like it could be a rousing anthem fit for encouraging people at Passion 2018 next year, especially with a simple chorus lyric that states that God is ‘…holy, You are holy, there is none beside thee…’
‘Faithfulness’ wasn’t originally recorded by Matt Maher at all, it was first publicised on Iron Bell Music’s first album that debuted in May 2017, and here on Matt’s version, we hear the beautiful vocals and harmonies of Steffany Gretzinger of Bethel Music, with the song starting off slow before beginning to deliver an anthem certain to become a staple amongst churches around the world on Sunday mornings in the upcoming months ahead. With a song declaring and stating God’s faithfulness in whatever circumstance, this is a song fit for corporate worship, with the repetition of the chorus acting like an asset in the song, as often we in corporate worship need to be reminded of the fact of God’s faithfulness, thus the technique of repetition in such a song like this! ‘Picket Sign’ is a bold song to write in today’s political climate, yet when Jesus was around, He stirred the pot and questioned the status quo…which is why I reckon ‘Picket Sign’ is as much needed in society than we ourselves even think. With words like ‘protest’, ‘stand’, ‘march’, ‘walk’ and ‘justice’ all throughout the song, we are met with the track that will divide as Matt reminds us all that just as we all stand and lift up picket signs for a cause we believe in, so did Jesus figuratively when He died for our sins, and we must all remember the gravity of such a situation as this.
The remaining 5 songs, when heard as a collective whole of 16 tracks from start to finish, can seem like they mesh in together, which can be a little bit of a drawback. ‘Won’t Let Me Down’, ‘Least of These’, ‘The Cross Forever Speaks’, ‘Into Your Hands’ and ‘As Good as it Gets’ all seem to blend together, which is actually more of a bad thing than a good. Maybe it’s because of the fact that the majority of these songs were written with Jason Ingram, CCM’s go-to songwriter. Maybe it’s the fact that all these 5 tracks are radio friendly and could find varying degrees of success on radio. Whatever the case, listening to them all together isn’t really a good thing to do. But…when you listen to these songs on their own, take the time to let the lyrics sink in, when we hear the biblical truths spoken through these songs into our hearts, these tracks can easily be some of the most emotive and hard-hitting ‘worship’ songs I’ve heard this year, period. Funny how when you hear songs together, you don’t get the same impact as when you hear them one at a time. Nevertheless, Matt has left his most poignant set of songs to last.
Co-written with Jason Ingram and Bryan Fowler, we are met with vulnerability from the get go of ‘Won’t Let Me Down’, and hear Matt’s heartfelt plea from the first verse, asking the question- ‘…standing in ruins, covered in ashes, why God, oh why do we suffer in life? …’, and then answering his own question in the chorus when he states that God’s love won’t let us down, that He will always give us a way out, especially in the moments when we can’t see it. ‘The Least of These’ takes on the personal route, as Matt evokes an imagery of God stepping down and becoming the least of these for us, mere lowly sinners. Co-written with singer-songwriter John Tibbs, ‘The Least of These’ is good with just the piano, as the words are highlighted and are much more impactful in that musical light, as Matt’s passion and urgency in his voice are highlighted all the more in such a vulnerable music moment like this.
‘The Cross Forever Speaks’ sees Matt co-write with One Sonic Society in perhaps one of the most emotive God-moments on this album. It is a when we realise that there is nothing that can be done to us that won’t stop the worship and praise given to the Lord, whether it be by us or by the rocks that will cry out if we don’t, we are reminded through just one line in the chorus, that ‘…you may silence me, but the cross forever speaks…’ It isn’t our duty to lead people to Christ, it is what we do and say, our actions and how we live our lives, that will be an example of God living through us. We may be silenced for whatever reason, but that ought not to stop the kingdom of God going forth and permeating the hearts of people around the world. What a powerful notion that it isn’t up to us for God’s love to be seen in people, that God Himself inspires such change! The album then ends with ‘Into Your Hands’, a modern take on ‘I Surrender All’ and challenges us to surrender our open hands to the Lord and allow Him free rein upon what He wants to change in us and through us; along with ‘As Good As It Gets’, a song penned with CCM songstress Francesca Battistelli and driven with the acoustic guitar, how God is present in our struggles, and where we are right now is enough for God to evoke a change inside us and those around us. As Matt states himself, ‘…the phrase ‘as good as it gets’ can sometimes swing negative, but in this sense, it’s a picture of enough. God’s grace is enough…’
Releasing on the same day as Matt Redman’s latest studio worship album Glory Song, Matt Maher’s latest musical offering is sure to attract listeners of his music as well as fans of other similar contemporary/worship artists like Chris Tomlin, Audrey Assad and Kristian Stanfill. While listeners could potentially be hesitant in listening to his music because of his Catholic faith background, Matt continues to bridge the gap between Protestants and Catholics (alongside Audrey Assad) to always provide us heartfelt songs that can be sung by both these diverse denominations alike. Matt’s heart for the presence of God is very much evident throughout Echoes and in particular, ‘Your Love Defends Me’. The album as a whole is one that has made be become excited for Matt’s music, and has inspired me to listen to an album that I myself have overlooked these last few years- yes, you are right, I didn’t really listen to Saints and Sinners as much as I could’ve or even should’ve, yet hearing Echoes and the life, encouragement and enthusiastic motivation flowing through it, has given me the courage to take the plunge and to listen to what I reckon was one of the most underrated albums of 2015. Echoes is a solid worship album all round, and really shouldn’t be missed if you love great modern worship alongside a similar musical vein to artists from Passion, Kari Jobe and Audrey Assad. Well done Matt for such a poetic, engaging and compelling collection of songs, and one of my personal standouts in within these last few months.
5 songs to listen to: Your Love Defends Me, The Cross Forever Speaks, Just As I Am, What a Friend, Holy
RIYL: Matthew West, Jeremy Camp, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Crowder, Tenth Avenue North