Style: Organic covers of hits, plus new songs; compare to Matthew West, MercyMe
Top tracks: "Long Way Home," "All That's Left," "Morning Has Broken"
It's been three years since the tragic accident that killed Steven Curtis Chapman's daughter, Maria, and his last album, Beauty Will Rise, was an achingly beautiful catharsis. Re:creation is also a very personal reemergence, moving beyond the valley of the shadow of death and bringing a bounce back to Chapman's step. He's not whitewashing his pain, but there's a dawning joy flowing through his 17th studio album, which includes new, more organic recordings of eight of his greatest hits plus six new songs.
Call "Long Way Home" the lynchpin of the collection. There's a weighted authenticity when Chapman sings, "I had no way of knowing just how hard this journey could be / 'Cause the valleys are deeper and the mountains are steeper than I ever would've dreamed / But I know we're gonna make it." It's fitting that the tune is carried by a ukulele, the instrument that Chapman says restored fun to music.
That song begins, "I set out on a great adventure" and continues, "So I'll keep on singing and believing what all of my songs say." Those words set up the eight remakes of past Chapman hits. Fortunately they're less rehash and more, well, re-creations. There's new depth and credibility in the fact that everything Chapman has sung about for almost 25 years has been tested, and he's finding it still to ring true.
Stylistically, think of that half of this album as Greatest Hits Unplugged. The absence of shiny, happy, radio-pop production improves several of these hits, including "Dive (Deeper)" and "More to This Life." The restraint strips away original excesses to turn "For the Sake of the Call" and "Magnificent Obsession" into prayerful, renewed confessions of faith no matter what may—or has—come. But references to Regis Philbin and his "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" TV show leave "Live Out Loud" feeling somewhat dated.
The fleeting appearances of banjo and hammer dulcimer—along with the more prominent uke—are highlights that reference Chapman's Kentucky roots. "I wanted to put banjo on a bunch of [songs], but I realized maybe I ought to break people in gently," he jokes. Unfortunately, it represents a missed opportunity for the most awarded Christian artist in history to push Christian radio toward stronger Americana influences.
Overall re:creation is at its most powerful in its most personal new material. Those are the most poignant and inspirational, and he blends them well with an organic version of his signature upbeat style. It's also encouraging to hear Chapman having fun again while welcoming listeners into renewed hope. Re:creation recognizes there are more tears to come, but also shows that Chapman is able to laugh again.
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