A Career-Defining Album
Posted September 24, 2013
Daughter Maria's death brought changes to Steven Curtis Chapman's music. To follow up This Moment, rather than returning to the studio, he wrote and recorded his own psalms, Beauty Will Rise, while on the road with Michael W. Smith. Later came repackagings and re-recordings, and yet another Christmas record. Seasons of healing were needed before Steven could throw himself into new material again.
This January, if you witnessed the multi-artist event A Night Of Hope And Healing for the people of Newtown, Connecticut, you saw an impassioned Chapman singing his songs with unshakeable faith in the truths they contain. He was bringing hope to hurting people, ministering to and comforting them in ways only he could. He'd been through the fire himself and had come out stronger. Creatively, you sensed big things were on the horizon.
With Deep Roots, a bluegrass album released in March, Chapman showed that he was refocused and reinvigorated. Surely, his next project would not be too long coming. And here it is: The Glorious Unfolding, the first studio project of all new songs from Steven Curtis Chapman in seven years, a tour de force and triumphant return to form!
Reminiscent of the "Prologue" that precedes "The Great Adventure," "Glorious Unfolding" indeed heralds that great things are in store. The grand-scale masterpiece unfolds like a sunrise, starting with a whisper and ending with a bang. The sound flawlessly embodies the central idea that, with our lives, God is telling a planned story broader in scope than we could imagine. And, though it may sometimes feel hopeless, until we can finally see the whole picture, we need to trust God and faithfully watch events unfold.
High-spirited lead single "Love Take Me Over" percolated in Steven's mind for seven years. Filled with rhythm, percussion, and a commanding chorus overflowing with energy, it feels right at home alongside mega-hits like "Dive" and "Live Out Loud."
Son Will's muscular drum work lends strength and momentum to standout "Take Another Step." Here is yet another instance of Chapman doing something he does so well – perfectly marrying the personal to the biblical to create a song that both teaches and encourages: "If there's an ocean in front of you / You know what you've gotta do / Take another step and another step / Maybe He'll turn the water into land / And maybe He'll take your hand and say / ‘Let's take a walk on the waves / will you trust Me either way?'"
Upbeat "Something Beautiful" continues the theme of trusting God's promises. It looks forward, imagining the finished product when God tell us, "I'm gonna turn it into something different / I'm gonna turn it into something good / I'm gonna take all the broken pieces / And make something beautiful like only I could."
Like "Glorious Unfolding," the epic "Finish What He Started" assures that even through the darkness, God is ever-present and active in our lives, and He'll complete His work: "Not a thread will be unwoven / Nothing will be left undone / Every plan and every purpose / that He has will be accomplished / And God will finish what He's begun."
Where "Fingerprints of God" encouraged his then teenage daughter, Emily, on "Only One and Only You" it's daughter Shaoey's turn to hear Dad say, "You're better than a Beethoven symphony / And Mona Lisa wishes she / could be a masterpiece like you / ... / You are the only one and only you."
Optimistic "See You in a Little While" puts life and death in hopeful perspective. Viewed through eternal eyes, our life span is so brief as to make time spent waiting to be reunited with our loved ones seem "only the blink of an eye."
Similarly informed by perspective,"A Little More Time to Love," concludes that "we've got just a little more time to love." So the best, and really, only way to live while we wait for the "day that is coming / when all the last will be first" is "to do justly and love mercy / and show the love we've been shown."
Using his lower register, a trusting Chapman sings to God over a beautifully finger-picked guitar on the moving "The Sound of Your Voice." What begins as thoughtful and introspective breaks out into a joyous, energetic moment where Chapman joins the voices of wife Mary Beth, daughters Emily and Stevey Joy, and daughters-in-law Julia and Jillian to his own background vocals.
Twenty-four years later, gentle orchestral ballad "Together" is the sequel to "I Will Be Here." While the latter became widely adopted as a wedding song, one can imagine this song of time-tested love, commitment, and survival—which credits "God's mercy and His grace" as the sustaining factor—marking milestone anniversaries and being used at vow renewal ceremonies.
The beautifully organic "Michael and Maria," with a touch of bluegrass instrumentation and a pennywhistle, is a poignant missive to lost loved ones. Written with the benefit of the passage of time and God's healing, it is hopeful and trusting rather than hurting: "I know we didn't really lose you / That's just how it looks from here / Right now it seems we'll never understand God's higher ways / But we are trusting Him until the day we do / And He will carry us just like He carries you / And if we believe His promises are true / Michael and Maria I know we'll see you soon."
Chapman brings The Glorious Unfolding to a spine-tingling close with the spectacular "Feet of Jesus." With haunting and ethereal fiddle, guitar, and pennywhistle, the track transports us to the feet of Jesus where we will "lay down [our] struggles / ... lay down [our] shame / All the fear [we] drag around through this life / like a ball and chain /...[we] will sing Hallelujah to the One who sets [us] free."
Thematically, much of The Glorious Unfolding centers on trusting God to complete the work He has started. It employs lessons in perspective that teach us that, thanks to God's mercy and grace, life is both grander than we imagine and much more brief. So while death feels like loss, it's merely a temporary parting compared to the forever that we'll spend together in Heaven. And while God sometimes seems lost in the darkness, He never leaves, and He never stops stitching together the fabric of your life. If you'll just hold His hand and keep believing, one day you'll see a glorious finished product that was never a mystery to Him.
While Steven Curtis Chapman's work is never less than solid, The Glorious Unfolding is nothing short of remarkable. Listeners will benefit from the fruits of Chapman's life and songwriting labors, as these distillations of lessons learned are sure to strengthen and inspire. This is a landmark achievement and a career-defining record, an album for the ages that will take its place beside much acclaimed albums like The Great Adventure, Signs of Life, and Speechless. It's so good that one senses that if Chapman could take one example of his life's work with him to Heaven, The Glorious Unfolding would be it.
Song to Download Now:
"Love Take Me Over"
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