A few months ago, I got a call from him telling me that he wanted to send his new record over for me to listen through and share with him my thoughts. This is my open take on A Way To See In The Dark
as I experienced that morning and as I continue to experience, which I invite you to be a part of, instead of another “you should buy this album”
From the very first downbeat of the kick drum and handclaps, to the triumphant choir singing in unison at the close of the record, “thank you, thank you, Jesus,” I am overwhelmed by how dynamic and rich this album is. It's full of fertile lyrics that stretch your heart and urge you to challenge the way you see and experience spiritual principles, which have been talked about, since the beginning of your walk with Christ.
The themes that run through this record tackle and respond to simple, yet very difficult ideas.
Jason starts the record off by calling us back to remember our true identity as children of God who are easily distracted by fear, doubt and our own selfishness. “Remind Me Who I Am” opens up and sets the pace for the album reminding us that we are all the “prodigal son”--running away from truth, peace and safety as we search for our own satisfactions. “When I lose my way, and I forget my name, remind me of who I am.”
Jason next song takes us to the ground floor spiritually when he sings the song “The End of Me,” “Cause everything here had to fall apart, but in the ruins of a broken heart I found peace like a river to attend my soul. Hope like running over when I let go. I found joy that was hidden for all these years, and love overflowing to wash over everything. Here at the end of me”.
These songs, I believe, sets the stage for many harder spiritual topics that Jason will be exploring over the next 12 songs. Jason is urging us to reset our spiritual compasses, and get our eyes back on Christ as we take our first steps of this journey together.
One of the biggest topics that Jason discusses on this album is fear. Fear is one of the hardest things that most people deal with on a daily basis. In a time where seemingly everything around us causes worry, doubt and fear, the topic is timely. In the song “No Thief Like Fear” the music starts with a heavy melody in the verses swelling and crashing back and forth almost hinting it’s anxious theme. Then comes the bridge, and the tension is musically released when he sings, ”I am free, I am free. Oh my God has set me free. From these chains I am released. For you my God have set me free.” The song is almost a prayer for relief from the burden of fear and worry.
Fear is also addressed with the song “Fear Is Easy, Love Is Hard.” From 24-hour news agencies, health scares, global disasters, losing a job, or worrying about the bills stacking up on the kitchen table, fear is often engrained into our everyday lives at every turn. In the song, Jason calls the listener to take the path that is difficult-trusting in God and having faith in his provision, protection, and wisdom over blindly giving in to our anxieties and difficulties.
There is also a song on this album that could very well be one of the best radio choruses Jason has ever recorded. “Good To Be Alive” is not only the song that will make you want to roll down your car windows and sing at the top of your lungs, but also one of the brightest moments on this record. “I want to live like there’s no tomorrow. Love like I’m on borrowed time. It’s good to be alive.” The song has a hook like the best written Switchfoot song, and the bridge is probably the coolest musical moment on the entire project. This is the song that you will find yourself playing on your road trips across the country with your closest friends.
In songs like “A Way To See In The Dark” and “The Sound Of Our Breathing,” you can sing along with the chorus after the first listen, and later will find yourself thinking about the lyrics like, “And I'll reach for Your hand in the night when the shadows swallow the light. Cause I’m giving up, giving in, once again childlike faith is my only way to see in the dark..
But A Way To See In The Dark also has the old school Jason Gray songs on this record. The songs that seem to appear blur a line between Bob Dylan and the best Sara Groves album tracks. The songs that appear not as a shot as the next radio “hit” by commercial standards, but the melodies and words that showcase Jason for who he is...a man born from the prairies of Southern Minnesota. A part of the country where open fields, and harsh winters produce a rugged individualism for those who farm and work it’s land.
“The Other Side,” “I Will Find A Way” and “Without Running Away” feature this side of Jason. The “Jason Gray” that you may have heard on previous albums, which focus more on deep soul searching and soft acoustic guitar licks. These are the songs that withstand the latest radio hit, and are remembered in music libraries generations later.
In the song “Without Running Away,” Jason gets as dangerously close to letting the listener into real life moments as I have ever heard from him. It’s a song that deals with the darkest parts of life, when all seems unfixable and hope is hard to maintain. He writes for those who feel like giving up. Like life isn’t worth living anymore and it's easier to give up. “It’s not I’m trying to be optimistic. If the truth be told I’d rather dismiss it and be free of the burden of the living that hoping requires. To bring my heart to every day, and run the risk of fearlessly loving without running away.” This is a song that urges the listener that no matter how dark life can get sometimes, that hope is always around the corner. It reminds us that Christ is our hope when everything is falling apart around us. It begs the listener to fight when the fight has gotten out of hand.
There is no better example of Jason’s musical and lyrical progression on this album then on the song “I Will Find A Way.” He called me up one day when sharing thoughts about this album, and described it as “I believe it’s the best song I have ever written.”
For my money, I think there is another song that could contend in the “best J-Gray song” category. It’s the song on the album for me, the song that has been played on repeat more than any other on the album...”Nothing Is Wasted.” It is probably the best melody he has ever written, with a lyric as simple but meaningfully refreshing as any CCM album released in the last 5 years has brought us. It is easy to forget that there is nothing more valuable to our Creator than his children. Whether our biggest failures, actions that can make us seemingly unlovable, or our most prideful accomplishments, God continues to mold us and use us for His glory and purposes. “What if every tear you cry will seed the ground where joy will grow? Nothing is wasted. Nothing is wasted. In the hands of our redeemer nothing is wasted.”
A Way To See In The Dark is appropriately closed with an almost hymn like song called “Jesus We Are Grateful.” This song could have easily fit on the City On A Hill collection that was released a few years ago. The lyrics are surprisingly simple yet powerful, kneeling in front of Jesus in order to show gratitude and proclaim His goodness.
This is not only one of the finest albums of 2011, but also one of the most complete albums, song for song, that I have heard from a Christian artist since Andrew Peterson’s Love and Thunder.
I LOVE this album, and can not get it out of my car stereo and iPod as I still frequently travel across the country. I not only highly recommend this album to my friends and family, but it’s the first time my mother has ever asked for one of my “artist friends” email so she could write him a letter because she liked the CD so much.
Jason Gray is not only one of best up and coming Christian artists of the last few years, but is finding his swing even more with each new song, and each new record.