Capitol CMG/Sparrow Records
Release Date: July 28th 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Every Mile Mattered
- You’re Here
- Dear Me
- No Longer
- Hush, Hush
- Listen To Your Life
- Beautiful Day
- Sound of Surviving
- Anywhere We Are
- Slow Down (feat. Pepper Ingram)
Nichole Nordeman made a comeback of sorts in 2015 with her new EP The Unmaking after essentially a 10 year hiatus from music, in favour of motherhood. With her last official album, prior to The Unmaking being 2005’s Brave (between 2005 and 2015, there were single releases from time to time, from “Sunrise”, “Finally Free” and “Turn Your Eyes”, to “Real” and “Beautiful For Me”), it was a welcomed surprise to see Nichole recording and making music again. The Unmaking was actually borne out of a season of doubt and wrestling, after the public knowledge of her split with her husband of 10 years. Nichole started to wrestle, and what resulted were 6 songs full of poignancy, heartfelt moments of grace, hope and encouragement, and songs of honesty and lament, as The Unmaking became my favourite EP of that very year. 2 years or so on, we see Nichole imparting to us another project, this time her first new full-length album in 12 years, Every Mile Mattered. Her first single, and title track, dropped to iTunes in late June, as well as her new singles ‘The Sound of Surviving’, ‘Dear Me’ and ‘You’re Here’ in the weeks afterward up until her album release date of July 28th. And hearing these four songs alone makes me quietly hopeful, that Nichole Nordeman is back and not going anywhere. Mind you, she hadn’t really left the music industry, but rather, life happened for her, and she had to refocus and realign a little. And so what was borne out of this realignment is Every Mile Mattered, another 5/5 album review (alongside Matthew West’s All In), and one of my favourite albums of 2017, but also one of my favourites from Nichole ever!
“Every Mile Mattered” is quite possibly one of the most surprising releases of the year, not because it was good, or bad or anything else by any means. Normally when something is surprising, it’s usually intended in a negative way. Yet when Nichole released her first single from her upcoming album, I didn’t know what to expect from her song…and that was actually a good thing. Usually when I hear songs, there’s usually a snippet on iTunes beforehand, or the artist has been giving us teasers on social media beforehand, yet with this song from Nichole, I had no idea how the song would go- and that is a good thing. Upon hearing ‘Every Mile Mattered’, I was pleased to see how lyrically rich the song was, and how an artist with such a long history like Nichole has been able to stay musically current yet equally timeless in reference to the theme and message- she is in fact in a class of her own both musically, vocally and lyrically. Well, not on her own, I reckon with artists like Sara Groves, Andrew Peterson, Josh Wilson, Bebo Norman etc…but that’s beside the point.
The song itself conveys the poignant truth, that every moment in our lives, be it good or bad, happy or sad, hurtful or healing, matters in our lives, shaping us to the people we are today, but also mattering to the Lord and how He uses everything we experience to His glory and our good, even if He didn’t cause such circumstances and painful memories to occur. Nichole is as passionate as ever in this song, and therefore, a must-listen if you enjoy anything from Nichole in her past, or if you just want to listen to some heartfelt and compelling music, that isn’t the same musically as anything you’d hear on Air1 or K-Love currently. The song is encouraging on two fronts. To the Christian who steadies the course, we hear the message that everything that has been occurring in our lives matters not only in terms of where we end up, but matters to God in how He uses whatever happens to show us more about Himself and ourselves in the process…but it is also encouraging to the seeker, the searcher, the person who may not really believe at that moment. Our lives matter, that what we do and what we say, and what we have to offer, no matter how insignificant we may feel it is, matters to someone out there- that we have the power with our stories, no matter how gritty, raw, real and honest they are, to change the world, encouraging at least one other person through how we live!
And then there’s ‘The Sound of Surviving’, a song that also took me surprise as well, to the point where I can declare that this song is perhaps one of my favourite songs of Nichole, ever! And so, what is this song about? What makes ‘The Sound of Surviving’ one of the most impactful songs from Nichole, ever? Let me just say this- “The Sound of Surviving”, though it is as mainstream as they come (never once does Nichole utter ‘Jesus’ or say anything about the cross or forgiveness or the resurrection), is as impactful as many other worship songs that have released over the years. The essence of the song in a nutshell is this- ‘The Sound of Surviving’ speaks of just that- surviving. Because sometimes in life, that is all we can do. I know we all have been called by the Lord to thrive and not survive, that if we are in Christ, we are called to accomplish greater things than even Jesus; but sometimes during the mundane and monotonous, we realise that all we are just doing is surviving. ‘The Sound of Surviving’ is just for situations like this- for people who are just surviving, and winning at that. People who are hanging on by a thread, who are struggling to keep it together 100% of the time (that’s like, all of us!). The song is an anthem, and while it doesn’t mention Jesus, I am fully convinced that it is the Lord that gives us the strength and courage to keep going, and keep surviving.
As Nichole wrote in a blog about the song and what it means to her, ‘…it’s easy to talk about something hard that’s far behind us. The struggle, (that one, waaay back there), once paralyzing, but now safely in the blurry distance. So we say blurry, distant things about it. We exhale gratitude and relief for whatever it is we walked through. Climbed over. Defeated. We love and lean in for stories with redemptive endings. That was then, we say to each other, with fresh eyes toward the future. Those words come easily. But it’s harder for our hearts to find words when we are in the very center of the fight. The right now of a crisis. It’s hard for our soul to find a song that sings clear and strong from a place of fear and trembling…What does the sound of surviving really sound like? In real life? It is not the roar of warrior on a mountain top. It is not some chest thumping holler or victory lap. It is decidedly not a string of feel good phrases or clichéd comfort. It is, so often, a small and lonely whisper into the darkness. I’m still here. It is the tiniest shimmer of belief that even in the valley of the shadow of death, you are not walking, or falling, or crawling alone…’ What a comfort to know that even in the valley of death’s shadow, we are not alone, even if we feel like we are. The song is a reality check, that sometimes life is hard, and that surviving is a struggle. And that at times, we have to convince ourselves daily (or even as the Lord to encourage us) that we are still here for a reason that the Lord knows about, even if we don’t fully know ourselves. We have to remember that the fear that we’re feeling that we’re not good enough to show our talents and our stories to the world ought to be a fuel for us to prove the doubters wrong- and often these doubters are ourselves, the people around us, even our closest friends and family. Whatever the case, surviving this life isn’t as easy as we once thought it was. Hopefully this is a song that encourages us all to sing this anthem with heart and hope, knowing that the Lord is with us every step of the way!
‘You’re Here’ and ‘Dear Me’ are the two remaining songs that released prior to Nichole’s release date of July 28th for Every Mile Mattered, and while both these songs are not as musically unique or even as catchy as the title track and ‘Sound of Surviving’ (‘Dear Me’ is a piano ballad, while ‘You’re Here’ is radio friendly as you can get), both these songs nevertheless impact and impart to us themes of hope and encouragement, the same as any Nichole Nordeman song would do. ‘You’re Here’ is a proclamation and declaration, that God is with us in the moments where we cannot see Him, that even though He is indeed present within the four walls of a church building on a Sunday morning, He is also very much present and involved outside the physical church building as well, with people who don’t necessarily believe that they have a place inside such a building that we Christians gather to every Sunday morning. God is a God of loving people, and He will always use us in whatever way to bring people closer to Himself, even if it means for us to venture outside of our comfort zones, outside of the church, for us to do our ministry for Him. For out in the real world can be gritty and difficult, raw and in your face, yet this song is a comfort, that God is present, and that as we are still alive, He will impress upon our hearts things that are desirable to Him and what He wants for us to accomplish, and we will undertake them, not because of duty, but rather for our love of the Father. ‘Dear Me’ on the other hand is one of the most personal songs Nichole has written, ever. It is a letter of sorts, with no verses and no choruses. You may have to listen to the track a few times to understand it but in essence, it’s this- it is a letter Nichole wrote for her younger self, sort of like another version of ‘Dear Younger Me’…but deeper than that. As Nichole writes in her blog about the song, and what she longs to tell her younger self, ‘…I wish she could see how big and beautiful God’s table is. I wish she knew then, that nobody gets to make the guest list, because it’s not our table. And that everyone, without exception, has a seat, or none of us do. I wish she understood that the American dream and all it’s trappings, will be just that…a dream. That Jesus is dreaming different dreams for her, and is uninterested in keeping track or keeping score or keeping up with anyone or anything else…I’d like to set her eyes outside the city gates, where vulnerable and broken and hungry people are desperate to experience a Love they keep hearing rumors about, but can’t seem to confirm. I’d point her to the margins. I’d tell her to abandon the idea that choosing Jesus will never be safe and comfortable and to be wary of people holding containers that claim to contain all the answers…’ While the song didn’t really resonate that much to me as I think it could’ve (maybe because I was listening to the track for review purposes, maybe in time when I hear the song again it will become more poignant and impacting), ‘Dear Me’ nevertheless is a song to hear if ever there is a song to hear on Every Mile Mattered.
Nichole also imparts to us familiarity in a cover of U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’ (a song that isn’t as rousing as the original or even Sanctus Real’s cover, but more of a subdued track that never really gets off the ground, sadly), as well as album closer ‘Slow Down’, a re-recording of her famous song that was included on WOW Hits 2017. A song that is a love song to Nichole’s children, we are presented with a timely reminder, that all of us need to slow down and to be still, to not lose the minutes and precious time we have with our family before it is too late. If ever there was to be a re-recording from The Unmaking to be on Every Mile Mattered, it was ‘Slow Down’. ‘No Longer’ is a track that stands out for all the right reasons, as Nichole invites us to partake in a mainstream-esque song (with no mention of Jesus whatsoever) that challenges us to travel down a road that isn’t like anything we’ve done before. To swim against the tide, to stand when everyone is sitting, to walk one way when others are walking another. To move from the safe, secure and comfortable into situations that stretch us in ways unimaginable, that’ll give us growth and hope, insight and understanding to both us and others around us. To lay down what we think is the perfect life for us a travel from the middle ground of indifference into what we believe has been set for us to accomplish according to what we are talented at. And for us to take away a message like this from ‘No Longer’, then Nichole ought to be commended for such a song as this!
‘Lean’ tackles the ever avoided and not often talked enough issue of performance and the doing-more-trying harder notion compared to just coming as we are and letting God’s love shower us over. Performance has always been an issue for us in such a results driven society, so ‘Lean’ overshadows that and states that God is not interested in medals, podiums, stages, what we do, but rather, we are just required to lean, as we are, toward Him, knowing that our baggage we carry, though messy and filthy for us, can be used by Him to shape us into the godly men and women we’re destined to become; while ‘Hush, Hush’ tells us from the Lord’s point of view, for us to hush and be quiet, to understand that it is in our stillness that we can often see the bigger picture the Lord has planned for us from the start. And while the musicality of the verses are great, the chorus seems to be a bit of a downer, musically that is. ‘Hush, Hush’ is great lyrically, maybe even one of the most lyrically challenging songs on the album. But coupled with its different tempos and fast-and-slow differences when comparing the verses and the chorus, the song sadly doesn’t live up to the expectations surrounding the track when enveloped between ‘Lean’ and the CCM radio friendly ‘Listen to Your Life’, a track that encourages us to listen to that still small voice inside, and remind ourselves that everything we experience, even the mundane, is sacred, and that nothing is wasted when we look at our lives in hindsight. Maybe a radio single after ‘You’re Here’ in the future? Or on WOW Hits 2019? ‘Anywhere We Are’ is the remaining song on the album, and is a 5-and-a-half-minute ballad that speaks of how with love for another, we can be anywhere in the world but still at home. In the song Nichole is expressing her love for Christ and how anywhere He wants, for her to go, she will out of love and affection for her Father, but the song can also be extended to love between family, friends or even between spouses.
Nichole is a lyrical genius, and it is a great to hear what she has to offer this year. Without fail, this new album is a masterpiece. Period. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to embrace the reality that every circumstance, and I really mean ‘every’, will be used by the Lord, because honestly, when we’re in the thick of it, we can get bogged down and sometimes not believe this truth- we may not see that God can use whatever mess we’re in and turn it around for His glory. But He can. And He does. And He will. Nichole shows us not only in this song but throughout the whole album in general, that everything we experience is shaped by God. Everything. And that and that alone ought to encourage us to appreciate whatever experience we have. With around a 10 year wait for a new full length album from Nichole (The Unmaking was an EP), this is certainly and definitely worth the wait, from an artist that’s certain to leave a wonderful and much-respected mark on not only the CCM industry but on the music industry as a whole whenever she does move onto another area if God calls her to do so. The Unmaking is a journey of the soul from start to finish, and songs like the title track, ‘The Sound of Surviving’, ‘Dear Me’ and the radio single ‘You’re Here’ anchor the album musically and thematically. Even including a subdued cover of U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’ and adding in her daughter on a re-worked version of ‘Slow Down’ are welcomed additions on an already poignant and encouraging album. Well done Nichole for this musical offering, here’s hoping that more lives are impacted for the better from this album and its songs!
3 songs to listen to: Every Mile Mattered, Sound of Surviving, Dear Me
RIYL: Josh Wilson, Natalie Grant, Sara Groves, Andrew Peterson