“In my years as a recording artist I have had the pleasure of working with many, many wonderful people. There are few, however, that can match the incredible heart for ministry and the great talent of Sarah Macintosh.” – Michael W. Smith
You would be forgiven for making an assumption at this point. The fact is, most people would already have some sort of preconceived notion about who Sarah Macintosh is based on the above quote, a quote that is true but that says not a word about what the music that has sprung forth from Sarah Macintosh sounds like. But Michael W. Smith knows a good thing when he hears it. Which is why, once upon a time, he asked Sarah to join his band for a tour. (Again, entirely true, but not indicative of what her music sounds like…)
So what does she sound like? Is it anything like the pillar of the CCM community quoted above? (No.) Is it anything like the previous work she did with her groundbreaking former group, Chasing Furies? (Closer, but not really.)
It sounds more like a drop of color in a glass of water. No, really. Think about it: Pop music, as a form, is a glass of water. There are conventions that we’re all used to, certain attributes that the vessel must adhere to for us to accept it. It must contain the attributes that make it a glass of water. And the cultural landscape is littered with glasses of water left of shelves, on counters, in our cars and offices. They are enjoyed for a bit, maybe even savored. At times, they might even save us. But at the end of the day, it’s just another glass of water that is enjoyed until it isn’t, and then forgotten about.
But then someone comes along and drops a bit of color in a fresh glass. The vessel is still the same, but the contents are forever altered. It only takes one little drop – the color falls into the water and
blooms into unexpected and beautiful shapes, expanding outwards while evolving and dancing within its container. Its dance is joyous and wonderful and breathtaking, and before you know it, you’re looking at a glass of water that still has all the same attributes that the rest of the glasses of water have – save for one: That brilliant shock of color, setting it apart.
From the first moments of Sarah’s new album Current, you know that you are hearing something that stands apart. Yes, her music nestles in comfortably within our acceptable parameters of pop music. The vessel is correct. But the contents are of a completely different color. From the opening track you are listening to that drop of color make its way into every space within the glass. The bouncy and unexpected harp that opens the album’s title track gives way to strings, a chorus of drums, and a huge melody – a sonic palette that should sound familiar to anyone who has spent time listening to the Nashville indie-act Paper Route, co-producer JT Daley’s other day job.
It doesn’t stop with the banging opening number, though. The entire album is punctuated by chamber-pop elements and instrumentation. The standard sounds you would expect in a pop song clash with small and intimate details, giving the sonic landscape a sense of familiarity but with a lushness and texture that rings new to the ears of those of us who are so accustomed to the conventional output of the record labels these days. And while these elements draw you in, it’s the voice that keeps you listening. Sarah’s voice is wonderful, true, but it’s her turn of melody, of taking that one thing you rely on as a listener, and flipping it on its head before righting it again (before you’ve even realized it!) that makes listening to Current such a breathtaking and engrossing experience. Her mixture of musical phrase and words that come not from her head, but from her heart are what make you realize that you are not engrossed in a pop album – you are engrossed in one person’s honest-to-God work of art.
There are other points that could be highlighted to draw you in. The trailblazers of the music world that she has worked with over the
years (her aforementioned collaboration with one Michael W. Smith, her aforementioned band, worship juggernauts like Matt Redman, David Crowder and Tim Hughes to name a few), and the fact that for the past year she and her family have given up the comforts of their own home in Southern California in order to redefine what it means to be a touring musician and speaker. (For instance, The Macintoshes place themselves in one city for a month or two at a time, staying with friends and family members, and make small, short journeys that allow them the time to invest with the local churches where they are playing, share meals with the pastors and congregants, and get to know them as people versus concert-goers. It’s a novel way of combining the nomadic lifestyle and the putting-roots-down-in-a- community lifestyle and something that goes completely against the grain in the world of musicians on the road. Then again, Sarah seems to make a point to not do things in the normally expected way…)
These are all valid points to make. They show you, dear reader, that Sarah Macintosh is good, and safe, and that she has a heart that overflows for a new and different looking style of ministry. She is a woman not making worship music, but music that is worshipful, that is indicative of a worshipful life.
All of this is true.
But what makes her remarkable is that all of this feeds into her art, to that glass of water that was clear and unremarkable before you really looked at it. Because once you see past the vessel that you think you are used to, you see a shock of red, or blue, or green where there used to be nothing at all.
So what does Sarah Macintosh sound like? Perhaps another quote would sum it up perfectly:
“Sarah’s voice lures you into thinking bits of heaven might be here already.” – David Crowder
The vessel may be the same, but the contents will never look, or sound the same again.