|A Beautiful Dual Focus | Posted September 13, 2011
Self-defined “musical missionary” Matt Maher believes in using his gifts as a musician and singer/songwriter to encourage the Church, while reaching those still outside of it. This is a tough assignment, but Maher’s attempts seem to be working. His latest album, The Love In Between, continues this desire to see the Church be more intentional in worship, while relating to those still searching for God. Making this combination work in one album is a hard thing to do, but Maher pulls it off beautifully.
The opening track, “Rise Up,” introduces the new sound of Maher’s music with a Southern guitar feel, drums, and edgy, soulful vocals. He sings, “When you see the road ahead that you’ve been down before, when you’re halfway to nowhere and you can’t pay the toll … you’ve got to rise up, rise up.” Maher reminds us that God is always the answer. He shouldn’t be the last thing we go to after nothing else has worked, as is often the case. Lyrics such as, “when you don’t know how to surrender cuz your whole life’s been a fight,” speak to so many people and their situations. This kind of simple, impactful songwriting is what gives Maher the ability to reach a variety of listeners with one song.
“Turn Around” is the first single off this album to hit radio and it’s clear why. With a folk-Americana sound that differs from Maher’s past radio singles, “Turn Around” offers listeners encouragement and at the same time, a subtle rebuke to “turn around,” if heading in the wrong direction. Maher sings, “If you’re scared that you don’t matter, if you’re lost and need to be found, if you’re looking for a savior, all you gotta do is turn around.” By reminding us that no matter how far gone we may think we are, “you don’t need to move, love has come to you.” Maher makes Jesus’ love a reality for the broken.
The song has a slight Southern/country-inspired sound, except at the bridge, where orchestral strings add a totally different ingredient to the mix. Maher sings out, “you don’t have to take the broken road, you can turn around and come back home,” challenging us to not let pride get in the way of allowing God’s mercy and grace to redeem us and bring us to repentance. That is the only way we can truly “turn around,” and have the life God wants for us.
Maher’s heart for God and His will shines through in “Heaven Help Me.” Lyrics like, “I don’t wanna sing your praises just to hear them on the radio,” and “I lift You up and I lay me down,” come from a heart committed to serving God and His people, unselfishly. Like “Heaven Help Me”, “Every Little Prison (Deliver Me),” has a similar message. Maher asks God to deliver him from himself – his worries, his fears, his selfishness, asking God to “show me what it looks like scribbled on the pages of human life.” These personal requests and admittances to humanity are what make Maher’s songs genuine and relatable. We all struggle to truly live our lives for God and not ourselves.
"Woke Up in America" is a grateful patriotic song that, while acknowledging our country's scars and flaws, expresses thankfulness for a country that allowed Maher to find faith in Jesus. Maher does a truly poetic job describing the United States' many features, and summates his observations by calling his nation "so beautiful."
Title track of the album, “Heaven and Earth,” is introduced by what sounds like a beating heart. As the music slowly comes in, Maher sings, “close my eyes, let the static go away,” creating an attitude of peaceful reflection. As the song continues on, the music does build, but the focus remains the same. The chorus repeats, “between heaven and earth, You’re all I need, between heaven and earth, You’re the love in between,” continuing to draw our attention and focus back to God and what He’s done for us. At the bridge, Maher reminds us, “there’s only one way between heaven and earth.”
“On My Way” brings back the bluesy, soulful sound Maher calls “blue collar gospel.” With harmonica, guitars, keys, and various elements of percussion, it sounds like Maher and his bandmates are just jammin’ together on a front porch somewhere. Maher sings, “I’m on my way, I can’t get there on my own, at heaven’s gate, no one’s getting through alone.” This song definitely has some soul and is probably one of my favorites on the album.
Both “New State Of Mind” and “My Only Love” are obviously written to Maher’s new wife and portray a more personal side that he hasn’t revealed in past albums. Singing, “she’s a lot like grace, I can’t live without her and when I’m with her, the world, it looks like a better place,” Maher reveals how both the spiritual and emotional collide when God provides a small glimpse of His love for us in someone else. “I’m walking around in a new state of mind,” sings Maher and it’s obvious his new life as a husband and father have made an incredible impact on him and greatly influenced his songwriting.
Matt Maher has a way of taking some of the most challenging topics in Christianity and simplifying them into personal, yet lyrically poignant songs. At the same time, he can reach a congregation and someone with no religious affiliation with the same song and still be equally impactful. The Love In Between is unique in its folk-Americana sound and in its ability to reach anyone with ears to listen. This album was designed to “take church from within the four walls to the handshake between two people,” and I believe it does just that.
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