Music Review: The Far Country

Music

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It’s been nearly a decade since anything has topped out on my list of ‘favorite albums’ that wasn’t whatever the innocence mission had just released. I don’t think I even paused to realize this until Andrew Peterson broke into the winner’s circle a few months ago with his 2005 recording, The Far Country, and spun me around a few times in surprise, righting me laughing for sheer joy.

And I realize that, what with Peterson all set to release his entirely new Counting Stars in another week or two, a review of an album nearly five years old could tend to make me look a little archaic, if not downright lame. I mean, if he’s that good, (and he is) why not send everybody over to the party that’s happening right now and have done with it? If I’m anticipating Counting Stars to burst and glitter like a shower of fireworks in a summer sky (and it will), why insist on a musical version of a backward glance, just now of all times?

Well, I’ll tell you: I just want as many people as possible to have the experience with this album that I did. If you’ve never been introduced to the music of Andrew Peterson, then I can’t imagine a better place to start than this rhapsody of dying well and living with purpose. (If you already know AP, then for pity’s sake, hie thee over and pre-order Counting Stars! But if you don’t, and if you love the music of a poet after God’s own heart, and if you’ll hail with joy lyrics that are interspersed with references to Tolkien and Lewis, then this review is for you.)

The title track opens with its heart on its sleeve: this is no feel-good Christian pep rally but a staring of hard facts in the face. This life is not all there is. This is not our home. We are strangers wending through an often hostile land. There is much that is not as it should be and death is an inescapable reality. And the longing for the joy that awaits is enough to break our hearts. The second track, Lay Me Down, picks up where the first one leaves off with an ebullient ode to a final rest that is so bristling with life it’s hard to keep a grin from spreading over your face as you listen:

You can lay me anywhere
But just remember this
When you lay me down to die
You lay me down to live.

I never knew there could be so much life in an album that seems preoccupied with death. But nearly every line of every song is aglow with it. Teeming with it; beckoning towards an existence anchored in eternal purpose. Celebrating the life that is truly Life. (And I dare you to listen to The Queen of Iowa without weeping. Particularly if you know the story behind it.)

There’s not a half-hearted song on the entire album: from the lay to life’s partings in The Havens Grey; to the joyous All Shall be Well, from which Julian of Norwich’s beloved quote flashes and warms with a merry blaze; to the inverted question of Mystery of Mercy that resonates like the best musical theology of Michael Card: “My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me?

But my favorite track on the entire album is Little Boy Heart Alive. In this rousing ode to joy, Peterson manages to capture the essence of this wild adventure we call the Christian life. He images all the best dreams of childhood as the indicators of what we’ve been called to and made for, with many a gallant hat-tip hat towards Narnia that will make Lewisites stand up and cheer. We catch that old flash in the lion eyes of Aslan, loved since childhood, and we love him all over again for the love of Who he signifies:

Take a ride on the mighty lion
Take a hold of the golden mane
This is the love of Jesus
So good but it is not tame.

This album is a rare gem, lovingly cut, exquisitely set. But don’t just take my word for it. Give it a listen. Open your heart to its irresistible call to a life captivated by Jesus Christ.

And then—and only then—move on to Counting Stars. Because, believe me, it’s going to be good.

(and by the way, I may as well add that the innocence mission released another album this week… ;))

all lyrics copyright 2005, Jakedog Music

10 Comments

  1. Thank you, Lanier, for the recommendations! Do keep the music reviews coming!

  2. LittleLea says:

    Lanier, thank you so much for this review. Andrew’s music was a blessing to me in more than one way these last few days. I had never listened to anything from him before, being the kind of person who sticks with the few favorites (especially Michael Card, in my case) and is suspicious of CCM in general. Maybe there is much I am missing, but anyway… I am so glad and thankful to have discovered Andrew Peterson through YLCF, which I’ve been following for some years now.
    Ligia

  3. Wow, I’ve never heard of Andrew Peterson, but I think he’s going to be a new favorite. Thanks so much for sharing! And as to the death in songs thing, I think that is one of the most profound paradoxes…that living is dying, dying is living…I love it!

  4. Oh I am so excited to see someone posting about this album!! I discovered it a few months back, hidden in some music my fiance’s gave me on my new i-pod. I haven’t stopped listening to this since!!! I have to agree with you, “Little Boy Heart Alive” is my very favorite… it’s just so wildly and innocently joyful. (And of course, my favorite line is the one you quoted. Any reference to Chronicles of Narnia has me hooked!!) I also love the theology of “Mountains On The Ocean Floor”–we never know what is going on in the heart of a man. And I have listened to “For The Love Of God” over and over again. Since I am getting married in just two weeks, it’s especially meaningful to mean, beautifully pointing out the true purpose of marriage:
    “This new command I give you,” He said,
    “Love as I have loved”
    So brother, love her better than yourself
    And give her your heart
    For the love of God
    In the name of Jesus
    The groom who gave his life
    To love his bride

    Thanks so much for sharing your own love of this album!!

    1. That is so awesome, Katie! That you have discovered AP, for one thing, but also how “For the Love of God” is especially meaningful to you right now. I have a friend who’s getting married, and he has as as part of his email signature the line:

      Now love is not a feeling in your chest
      It is bending down to wash another’s feet

      🙂

      I’m not even in a relationship right now, and that song makes me cry at it’s beauty and truth!

      I’ve noticed that, whatever I’m going through, trial or joy, if I listen to AP albums and let them soak in, they always have something to say to my situation that is much more than coincidental. Don’t y’all love it how God uses faithfully creative artists to touch our lives in ways they themselves could never have guessed?

  5. Melea Bulkley says:

    I can’t tell you how THRILLED I am that you’re exposing everyone here at YLCF to Andrew Peterson! I first heard him at an outdoor concert 10 years ago before his first “real” album (Carried Along) came out. Don’t forget his albums “Clear to Venus” and “Love and Thunder” – both so good in their own way! He also made a children’s album with his friend, Randall Goodgame (another fine singer/songwriter), that is really good.

  6. Hurrah! When I saw your face over at the Rabbit Room, I was simply jubilant, Lanier. Ah, your enchanted and honest writing fits perfectly with that crowd! And now this! To find that one of my beloved writers also loves this album, the one which made me first fall in love with AP’s stuff, years ago, driving with my older brother cross the desert plains and open sky of Texas… It’s yet another case of God’s glorious coincidences which make kindred spirits from a world of strangers.

    As Lewis says of such moments, “What? You too?”

    🙂

    I pre-ordered two weeks ago. Thanks for pumping me up even more than I already was! 🙂

    So, have you sampled Andrew Peterson’s fantasy novels (The Wingfeather Saga) yet? I’m fairly sure you’d like them.

    1. No, I haven’t Wingfeather, Rael–not yet. 🙂 Definitely on my list, particularly after he won the Christy!

      And thanks for the kind words. This Kingdom is teeming with kindred spirits, is it not? So lovely to discover one another. A foretaste of heaven, methinks…

      God bless!

  7. I hope you didn’t miss out on Resurrection Letters Vol. II.

    I can never decide if I think that one is my favorite or The Far Country. Both are amazing.

  8. Lanier! Where have you been?! You posted on the Rabbit Room and are just now discovering how fabulous AP is?!

    My AP “conversion” is kind of unusual, as I went from a sincerely staunch doubter to a full-fledged fanatic in the space of … oh, about an hour. He played Behold the Lamb of God at our church years ago, and when I heard of it, I thought, “Singer-songwriter playing the story of Christmas in the form of folk music. No way, no how. It’s going to be some terrifying cross between a hillbilly-fest and Jesus Christ Superstar. Not going.” 6 months later, in the middle of summer, my beloved friend, Shannon, handed me the album with a twinkle in her eye and said, “Just listen to it.”

    I’ve regretted not hearing the “old, old story” for the first time in my own church ever since and have now seen him 4 times (3 BTLOG, 1 on the Resurrection Letters tour.)

    Speaking of Resurrection Letters,, Vol. II, you need to hear that one too. At the concert for the album, AP explained the song “Invisible God”, which is also inspired by the Queen of Iowa (who you’ll be glad to know, at the time of the concert was still reigning from her living room throneroom.) Beautiful stuff.

    He’s the nicest guy; full of passion for God, down to earth, and very funny in a subtle, clever way.

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