You’ve got to hand it to Andrew Peterson: The man isn’t afraid to take a risk.
I first saw Peterson perform at Wheaton College’s Edman Chapel, a venue we fondly termed The Big Blue Cave. Few musicians seemed to be able to handle its cavernous acoustics, but I remember how Peterson filled the venue with warm, harmonious, pop-folk arrangements. It’s a signature sound I’d personally track from his freshman album Carried Away all the way to 2012’s Light for the Lost Boy.
And it’s a sound that has almost disappeared from his most recent effort, The Burning Edge of Dawn.
Okay, okay, maybe saying “disappeared” is a bit hyperbolic. I mean, you can pick out fingerstyle guitar work and the occasional fiddle flourish. But The Burning Edge of Dawn seems to be Peterson’s experimental album, at least instrumentally. Chiming harpsichord. Dreamy synth. Drum work that either rowdily ramps up à la Mumford & Sons or staggers into syncopation. Haunting background vocals that seem stolen from chilly Britpop. A moodily monotone bridge studded with apocalyptic imagery. I’ve listened through the album several times and can’t decide if my reaction should be one of awed appreciation or pleasant confusion.
But one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s Peterson prowess for literately addressing topics that matter most to families.
Do you remember what it’s like to be 15-years-old, all elbows and knees, covered with bright acne and filled to the brim with self-loathing? I sure do, and Peterson seems to recall it as well. “Be Kind to Yourself,” an ode to surviving adolescent angst, insightfully notes, “How does it end when the war that you’re in / Is just you against you against you? / Gotta learn to love, learn to love, / Learn to love your enemies, too.” While our current culture seems completely confused about what marriage means, Peterson grounds the union of man and woman in something more than passing cultural fads (“I am my beloved’s. / My beloved is mine. / And the banner that hovers over us / Is older than time”). But all isn’t sweetness and light at The Burning Edge of Dawn. “The Rain Keeps Falling,” an achingly honest examination of spiritual depression, shows a father dealing with the devastation of knowing his family sees his failings. Peterson’s voice rises and falls in mournful cadence as he sings, “There’s a woman at home, and she’s praying for light. / My children are there, and they love me in spite / Of the shadow I know that they see in my eyes. / And the rain keeps falling.” Yet even here the hope of the resurrection remains:
My daughter put the seeds in the dirt,
And every day now we’ve been watching the earth
For a sign that this death will give way to a birth.
And the rain keeps falling.
Down on the soil where the sorrow is laid,
And the secret of life is igniting the grave,
And I’m dying to live, but I’m learning to wait,
And the rain is falling.
But all of this begs a question: Why are you reading about the album instead of listening to it? Get thee to your retailer of choice (or to The Rabbit Room’s store where you can pick up a copy that includes Peterson’s commentary on each track). This Dawn is positively brilliant.
(Picture: Copyright 2015 by Andrew Peterson; used under Fair Use)