Sounds like … the provocative perspectives of Rich Mullins, Derek Webb, and Andrew Peterson with the earthy touches of frequent collaborators Andrew Osenga, Matt Wertz, Randall Goodgame, and Jeremy Casella
At a glance … the famed session player turns in an extraordinary solo debut laden with colorful poetic phrases, clever organic arrangements, and an all around ingenious eclecticism
When Ben Shive first heard a Rich Mullins record as a high school student in the mid-1990s, the early seeds of his Christian music calling were sewn. After dabbling in jazz prior to graduation, he attended Nashville's Belmont University with hopes of networking into full-time session work, starting with fellow Mullins enthusiast Andrew Peterson. What began as a simple string arrangement for Peterson's "Faith to Be Strong" soon morphed into writing string arrangements for the singer/songwriter's Behold the Lamb of God concert, leading to greater prominence throughout Music City.
From then until now, this relative newcomer has been a regular on the road and in the studio as a producer, arranger, keyboard player and co-writer across several Peterson projects, which quickly led to becoming an in demand session player just as he hoped. In fact, those who study album credits closely have probably seen his name on albums by Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Chris Tomlin, not to mention a slew of talented indie acts like Randall Goodgame, Jeremy Casella and Matt Wertz, to name but a few.
Now Shive finally steps out on his own as the latest artist involved in the Square Peg Alliance (a left-of-center Christian artist collective that features many of the aforementioned indie artists, as well as Peterson, Caedmon's Call guitarist Andrew Osenga, and Derek Webb). And while he doesn't specifically tailor his tunes for Christian radio on The Ill-Tempered Klavier, there's nevertheless a sincere spiritual anchoring amidst an earthy and arty mixture of piano-pop, folk, acoustic rock, and the occasional moment of orchestral grandeur.
The organic piano pop of "Out of Tune" is an early example of Shive's all-around excellence, boasting brilliantly crafted metaphors like, "I'm just a jagged set of keys that unlock old memories" while addressing several of life's paradoxes from the perspective of a believer hoping to make sense of life. "Rise Up" again highlights Shive's piano proficiency while striking a timely chord, taking a page out of Webb's social commentary playbook by denouncing divisions between political ideologies in favor of finding comfort in Christ's sovereignty.
Like most Square Peg artists, Shive's songwriting is also deeply personal. The justifiably melancholy "97" laments the loss of childhood innocence, and the gloriously catchy "New Year" makes resolutions to change several different shortcomings—the latter sounds like Alan Parsons Project's classic "Eye in the Sky" reinterpreted through the creative lens of a discreet indie rocker. I could heap plenty more praise on other tracks—the melodic bliss of "Do You Remember?," the quirky pop nugget "Binary Stars" (penned by Peterson), and the classically inspired instrumental—but why settle for reading? The Ill-Tempered Klavier can't be recommended more highly, a rewarding and introspective listen from start to finish.
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