Title: “Grace Has Come”
Musical Group: Sovereign Grace Music
Media Type: Audio CD
Release Date: August 2013
Rating: 5/5 (highly recommended)
Purchase: CD (13 tracks) from Sovereign Grace Store, MP3 download from Bandcamp (regular 13 tracks, special edition 16 tracks)
I’ll admit: I wasn’t initially thrilled with this album. I was hoping it would be a worship album, much like “The Gathering” was, giving us songs to sing in corporate worship with the trademark rich lyrics that Sovereign Grace Music is well known for. I mean, who wouldn’t love worship songs with lyrics pulled from the book of Romans? From the get-go, I could tell that this wasn’t going to be the case. The lyrics were wordy, even by SGM standards, and there aren’t many music teams on Earth that can mimic the interlude in even the first song (“The Gospel Was Promised”). By the time we got to the fifth song (“Our Only Hope Is You”), I was fully aware that this album wasn’t going to be in the same vein as “The Gathering.” The production style of the fifth track makes it clear that this album is primarily intended for the believer to listen first, and sing second.
But in a desire to be a fair reviewer, I gave “Grace Has Come” a second listen-through. I did it because when I listened to “The Gathering” a second time, and fell in love with that one even more. I figured that something similar might happen with this album. It did. In fact, in a grand display of irony, the very reasons for which I wasn’t initially enamored with this album became the reasons I love it so much. As I mentioned, I don’t think “Grace Has Come” is first and foremost a worship album. (By which I mean “corporate worship album,” since all Christian albums can be private worship albums.) I don’t think it’s best suited for gatherings of believers to sing together. It can be done, and after my second and third–and currently fourth–listen-through, I look forward to singing some of these songs at my church and in my college fellowship group! But it’s lyrically complex and the melodies are more intricate than might be ideal for a corporate worship setting.
Yet this is precisely where “Grace Has Come” shines. To me, this album stands in a long, rich tradition of Sovereign Grace Music albums that were produced as a way for believers to listen to theologically profound truths. It follows in the legacy of such albums as “Valley of Vision,” “Psalms,” and “Come Weary Saints.” My mistake was in comparing this album to “The Gathering,” which I think has a different scope of purpose. (I could be wrong, and I welcome SGM input as to whether or not this album and that one were made with the same specific goal in mind!) Instead, this album should be compared to SGM’s studio albums, with their more complex lyrics, their musical diversity inside each album, their unusual melodies, and their studio production. In this context, “Grace Has Come” shines, and I love it.
The lyrics, as always, are theologically rich. As I mentioned, this is Sovereign Grace Music’s strongest point. This is their second album, after “Psalms,” to feature lyrics inspired by/lifted from specific and self-contained passages of Scripture. As the subtitle states, these are “songs from the book of Romans.” In “A God Who Saves,” the pre-chorus states, “At the right time / You died for the ungodly / At the right time / You showed Your love for us,” in a clear reference to Romans 5. The song “Nothing in All the Earth” asks the question, “What shall separate us from Your love?” and answers with, “Nothing in all the earth / Not any height above / Could ever tear us from Your everlasting love” (Romans 8). There were times that I wished that some songs had closer word-for-word adaptations from Scripture, as I felt “Psalms” was particularly proficient at. This feeling was made stronger by the fact that, unlike “Psalms,” the chord sheets and lead sheets don’t have the Scripture references at the top of the page. They are, however, available in the CD booklet (available here) and on the individual song information at SGM and Bandcamp. At any rate, those feelings have subsided, as I am very content with how Scripture has been carefully and musically handled.
ADDENDUM 8/20: Bob Kauflin’s comment below and an email from Brittany Kauflin tell me that they will be adding the Scripture references to all their downloadable guitar charts and lead sheets, available at the “Grace Has Come” album page. Thanks, guys! Words do not describe adequately my appreciation for your willingness to serve the body at large, both through music and little things like these.
This much you could have guessed based on the reputation of Sovereign Grace Music. New SGM album? Rich lyrics. That’s a safe enough assumption, based on their devotion to the Word. But what I am perhaps most excited to talk about is the musicality and production level of this album. One quibble I’ve heard from friends about SGM albums is how flat they can sound. (I suspect it has something to do with recording the instruments in a small studio room, and via direct input whenever possible.) Though I don’t find it bothersome, I do agree. I sometimes joke that the sound of “Psalms” is so flat, it’s almost 2-D. (I love the album, but it’s true!) But fear not! This album represents the pinnacle of Sovereign Grace Music’s studio production. They have begun to skillfully and tastefully use effects such as delays and added reverberation to create some depth in the sound. The music no longer seems as if it came straight from the mixer. My congratulation and thanks to the SGM sound engineers for innovating on this album. The layering and other effects give it a unique, modern, and evolved sound that I’m thankful for.
That is what is most exciting to me about this album. SGM isn’t simply producing more of the same–which would have been acceptable and excellent. They are innovating and creating songs that are modern, yet tasteful and still theologically rich. They are tastefully experimenting with the sounds they can make. They are bringing in new minds, like Matt Papa, and Neil and Kate DeGraide, to bring fresh ideas and melodies and lyrical structures to their music. The result is an album that’s almost hipster in style–they have a glockenspiel, a background choir, layered voices so the same singer can sing melody and harmony, and lots of meshy, ambient sound–but modern and musically expressive. (Want to check it out the new style? “Nothing in All the Earth” is currently a free download from SGM!) I love listening to it. I’m glad I gave it a second listen-through, because the third and fourth after that were easy and delightful. There are few other albums on the market where a believer can listen to such deep truths set to such good music. I wholly recommend you buy this album! If you’d like to wait until SGM’s annual February sale, good luck waiting. The premium you’ll pay to have this album now is well worth it.
A couple of concluding remarks. First is that there are currently two versions of this album: a “regular” 13-track edition, which I’m reviewing here, and a “special” 16-track edition where “[a]ll the proceeds from the last three songs on this special edition album will be used to fund a Worship Conference in the Philippines led by Bob Kauflin in October 2013.” If you can spare three dollars, go for the special edition. The second thing is that I have two requests. Could SGM put the Scripture references at the top of the chord sheets and lead sheets? Those are what I use the most and I’d love to have the references up top for easy access. And also–as much as I love this album, I’d really love to see another corporate worship album from SGM. Any chance we could see one of those in the pipeline for the future?
That’s it! This review has gotten quite lengthy as it is. Bottom line: Don’t come to this album expecting “The Gathering.” “Grace Has Come” is the latest and musically best in a long line of Sovereign Grace Music albums designed first to sing truth to the listener, second to be sung by a congregation. Get a copy, support SGM, and have some fantastic songs stuck in your head! (My favorites? First tier: “Judge of the Secrets” for quiet worship, “We Praise Your Righteousness” for the rhythm and and Matt Papa’s singing passion, and “Glory Awaits” for its groove. Second tier: “The Gospel Was Promised” for its simple but profound chorus, “A God Who Saves” for its melody and vocals, “Nothing in All the Earth” for its jubilant treatment of Romans 8, and “All Glory Be Forever” for its melody. Seriously, guys, the music is really good.)
(This CD was provided free for review by Sovereign Grace Music, but the opinions contained herein are solely my own. Much thanks to SGM for their generosity in allowing me to review for them!)