Rick Lee James
wears many hats; He's a worship leader, a singer and songwriter, preacher, author, and host of the Voices In My Head Podcast. This music meastro has worked with the likes of Jason Gray, Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves, Paul Baloche, All Sons and Daughters, and so on. Rick recently released his new album, Thunder
. We connected with Rick, who gave us a rundown of his album, track by track.
1. "Reading: Matthew 21: 12-14"
I wanted liturgy to guide the journey of this album. Liturgy takes us on a journey together as the people of God. The word Liturgy is often translated as "the work of the people." In a worship service, this includes communal prayers, hearing and responding to Scripture, confession, music, participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion, and more. But, liturgy is not confined to our communal worship gatherings. Liturgies are life-giving practices. Liturgies shape our desires and form us into the people that we are called to be.
Liturgies are road maps for our daily journeys with Christ in God's Kingdom on earth as in heaven. Liturgies will take us to the heights of exhilaration, but they will also guide us to places we would not go of our own choosing. By the Holy Spirit, liturgies will lead us to the country of the resurrection. But, the journey will surely take us through the valley of the shadow of death. By starting the liturgy of Thunder
with Matthew 21, I hope to make it clear that we are about to start a joyous but difficult journey.
We will find that as we encounter Jesus on the way, the temples of our hearts may be in need of having the tables overturned. As Jesus draws us near, we may find that there is a good amount of baggage that needs to be driven out. As we see in Matthew 21, the healing begins when the driving out is complete. And so, with the words of Matthew's Gospel, our journey into a thunderous land begins.
"Thunder" is a song that Rich Mullins wrote in the 1970s for his Cincinnati-based band, Zion. For whatever reason, Rich never recorded it himself. After Rich went to be with the Lord, his friends and co-writers Lowell Alexander and Phil Naish rewrote parts of the verses and arranged the song into something new and fresh. It was a fun challenge to work on a Rich Mullins song that had never been covered before. With the imagery in the chorus of Jesus clearing the temple, I knew it would be a great way to set the tone for the rest of the album, since I hope that the songs would break the mold a bit for the contemporary worship music genre.
3. "The Love Of Christ"
"The Love of Christ" is a song inspired by the writings of Brennan Manning, who was a close friend and mentor of Rich Mullins. His message of the unrelenting, ruthless love of God has shaped so much of what I have come to believe about Jesus. This song is a call to come out of the shadows into the open, with all human faults laid bare. It's a call to worship from a place of authenticity. Brennan Manning reminded us in his writings again and again that only broken people can be healed and this song is certainly a call to come and receive healing, in spite of our brokenness. God loves us as we are, not as we should be.
The musical highlight of this song for me was not only getting to play my B-bender Fender Telecaster on a chicken-pickin guitar solo, but musician Jeremy Thompson played an amazing dobro interlude, as well. There are few better at what they do than Jeremy, and it was a joy to swap licks with him.
4. "Whom Have I In Heaven But You (Psalm 73)"
This song originally appeared on my live album, Basement Psalms
, a few years ago. Psalm 73 is a Psalm that I think all of us can relate to. The Psalmist sees wicked people thriving and gaining more power, while he, a righteous man, is being mocked and broken down time and again. At the end of his rope, the Psalmist nearly falls away from following God. But, a trip into the house of the Lord and a fresh revelation of who God is changes everything.
The Psalmist rejoices that the nearness of the Lord is truly his good. What a glorious proclamation of the goodness of God. I wanted to really make this song rock. The musical highlight for me is the Hammond B3 played by Anthony Hoisington and the powerful electric guitar of Jeremy Thompson.
5. "Glory To God The Trinity (Trinity Hymn)"
I have a hard time finding hymns dealing with the theology of the Trinity, so I decided to write one. I don't know why but I've always felt drawn to Celtic music. And, that really comes out in this song. I hope this hymn on the Trinity will find a place among congregations who want to be intentional in their proclamation that the God of the Bible is the God we see revealed in the Holy Trinity.
Too many times I think we have turned Jesus into an idol, because we haven't worshiped him in a Trinitarian context. May God help us as we dive together into this sacred mystery of the faith. A fun musical highlight on this track for me was playing a harmonized acoustic guitar solo in two parts. I would love to re-create it live one day in a worship service with a second guitar soloist. If you play, have fun with this one.
6. "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (Perfect Love)"
This song is part hymnist Charles Wesley and part surf rock. I don't always like it when artists write new choruses to hymns. But, on occasion, I feel like an idea can be expressed that actually helps the understanding of the song. I didn't want to walk away from the original melody of the song. But, I did want to update the music with a more celebratory feel. Charles Wesley often preached outside. This wasn't always by choice, but I believe it was always done joyfully.
In the summertime, one of the most joyful places I can think of on earth is the beach. So, why not have some joyful surfer rock worship music about the perfect love of God? That's what I love about hymns; they are versatile by design. Musician Chris Hoisington has some pretty stellar harmonies on this song and Jeremy Thompson really made the electric guitar parts sing.
7. "Reading: Prayer For Peace"
This prayer comes straight from the Book of Common Prayer (a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion), which I use daily a a a part of my morning prayer ritual. I really wanted this particular prayer to be in the listeners' minds, because when we tackle a tough subject like loving our enemies, it's important that we realize the traditions and teachings of the church are on the side of peace.
8. "Love Our Enemies"
I think the title says it all on this song. It's a bit longer than many songs that we use in the context of worship. But, I think there is a lot that has been left unsaid when addressing the very clear command of Jesus to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. This teaching of Jesus is difficult, but essential to our journey of discipleship. We did our best to make the song, not only theologically sound, but musically interesting so that congregations will be drawn in as they sing. I hope listeners will agree.
9. "Be My All"
My dear friend, Randy Cox, sent me the lyrics to "Be My All" song in an email when my grandmother was dying in the hospital. As my grandmother slowly slipped away, in between being at her bedside, praying with her, and singing songs of the faith together, I would sneak away to the hospital chapel to create a song out of Randy's lyrics. Almost all of the words are his, with only a few exceptions where I changed them to fit the melody. It's one of my favorite collaborations. And, I was privileged to be able to share it at my grandmother's funeral. I truly believe that the Holy Spirit orchestrated the writing of this song at a time when I personally needed it.
One of my favorite things about the studio recording of "Be My All" is the sound of a potter's wheel that became nearly the only percussion recorded. The potter's wheel was my producer's idea to marry the lyric, "You be the potter; I'll be the clay."
10. "The Lord Is Our Shepherd"
This is without a doubt the most difficult song on the album for me. One miscarriage seemed more than our family could bear. After four miscarriages, our hearts have been so wounded that I wonder if they will ever heal. My beautiful wife has endured more emotional pain than anyone ever should. After one of the miscarriages we experienced, when once again our child's heartbeat couldn't be found, I remember just holding my wife in the hospital bed and praying Psalm 23, "The Lord is My Shepherd." We prayed that prayer in spite of how we felt. I still pray it daily in the hope that, at the resurrection, the renewal of all things when Christ returns, that we will someday meet and hold these babies that we lost. Musically, this song is sparse. In the studio, I played the piano and sang the vocals, but mostly I wept.
I have to tell you that Chris Hoisington really became more than a producer for me in these personal moments. He sat with me, cried with me, and prayed with me throughout the process. As believers, we will have grief, we will have hurt, we will have terrible struggles, but in Christ, we also have a Savior who draws near and suffers with us. This song is our very personal story, and I hope it will help others to come out of the shadows and embrace their own pain. Only broken people will ultimately find healing.
11. "Psalm 27:13-14"
I think this one speaks for itself. It's good to remind ourselves of this: "I remain confident of this: "I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."
This is one of my favorite songs on the album too. I wrote it hoping to have a song for the close of a worship service when the emphasis was waiting on the Lord. We are in such a rush in our society, but I don't think true transformation happens without waiting. We need quiet moments; we need time not just to talk to God, but to listen as well. It was a stretch for me, but also a lot of fun, to play jazzy piano riffs with Paul Mitro on drums and Jeremy Thompson on electric guitar. Together, I think we made a decent little trio. What a blessing to make music with brothers who believe the truth being conveyed in these songs. I feel like this one just turned out beautifully.
13. "My Master Was So Very Poor"
This hymn works for a number of occasions in the life of the church. Henry Lee's words cover Advent, Good Friday, Easter, and the Eucharist. The song even deals with caring for the poor. I found the lyrics in an old hymnal at a book sale. I didn't buy the hymnal, so I still don't know the original tune. All I had were his lyrics so I sat at a piano and created music that I thought would fit. It feels right to me as the closing track on the album.
The album starts with thunder and disruption, but it ends on a resettling of the world. Jesus is Lord over all things and all people from the highest to the lowest, from the richest to the most poverty stricken. Jesus hungers with us, and He feeds us. He suffers with us, and He brings us to resurrection. What an honor to sing His praises. The earth is the Lord's and everything in it.