Before 16th September 2011, I had never heard any music by Shaun Groves!
However, I have been a regular reader of his blog for several years.
In the process of releasing his latest album, Shaun had released various pre-mastered, development versions of his song “All is Grace“, none of which I listened to, yet I still bought the album. In fact, I pre-ordered the album and then I bought it on iTunes too.
Before you think I’m completely mad doing this, there are two reasons why I chose to do this.
- I wanted to listen to the album in its entirety without any previous Shaun Groves music experience so I could write as objective a review as possible.
- I bought into the reasons Shaun was writing the music, I resonate completely with the way he lives and the principals he subscribes to and the background to why he wrote the album.
The reason I went “crazy” not only contributing to the ‘Kickstarter’ project to raise money for Shaun to record in the first place and pre-ordering the CD, but also buying the digital version was that I believe in what Shaun was doing / trying to do / is doing.
So Here goes.
Since I bought it, I’ve listened to almost nothing else on my iPod (save for a couple of Mars Hill / Gerard Kelly podcasts). Because the album is that good.
The album as a whole is ‘bite-sized’, it takes just over 37 minutes to listen to which is, I think comparatively short in album terms. That’s no criticism, I like how you can listen to the whole thing fairly quickly and have a really nice overview of the music and lyrics.
The things that most struck me about the album as a whole are the clarity of Shaun’s voice and the excellent instrumental balance throughout. I really love the mandolin and banjo in there and the rhythm section discreetly sets the whole thing off very well.
Somehow, though it’s all new music, new songs, new words, none of which I’d heard before, the album immediately had a familiarity which I can only attribute to the fantastic ability of the profoundly gifted songwriter and musically mature creative spirit that Shaun shows himself to be in this album.
The only drawback for me, which is purely a personal preference is the flute on some of the tracks. Possibly because it seems from the credits that it must have been a synthesized flute not a real one (I might need to be corrected by Shaun on that?) but possibly because I have an incomprehensible, inexplicable dislike of the flute.
Initially I thought that there were too many ‘2 bars intro then add the vocals’ type of tracks, but the more I listen to it, the less that strikes me and I think the balance of differing styles of the songs fit really neatly together.
On to the individual tracks. All lyrics can be found at the Third World Symphony lyrics page.
- All Is Grace
What an opener! (aside of my mild annoyance at the flute bit) Every time I listen to this track, I get shivers down my spine. The clear tone of Shaun’s voice, coupled with the lovely jangle of the mandolin makes a beautiful rolling, building song that naturally climaxes through the choruses and the unresolved ending is so completely fitting. Leaving the end of the song on an unresolved chord immediately gives me images of this ongoing journey, echoing the sentiments of the lyrics that “You have loved us all so We love all”, It’s not a process that is finished, It’s something that continues daily, hourly, remembering the Love God has for us, evoking our response to love others as part of our expression of love for God.
My lovely wife was slightly confused by the breathy way that Shaun sings “All” for “All is grace”, making it sound a bit like “Hall is grace”. For me, I quite like it but then I knew the title and the lyrics and she didn’t when she first heard it.
- Come By Here
Another ripsnorter of a song, it’s catchy it sticks in your head, the words again are delicately sung and right ‘on the button’: a plea for God to bring his Kingdom here on earth sooner, not for selfish reasons or personal gain, but for the good of the world, especially the downtrodden and rejected.
I particularly love the tinglefactor that I get from the combination of the musical pause and Shaun’s impassioned “come and meet us here” at the beginning of the final chorus.
- Kingdom Coming
With similar sentiments to the previous song, I might have put this song much later in the album, maybe even at the end, not just because of that, but also because of the cascading, more fully orchestral-style climax of the song, which lends it to be a bit of a ‘showstopper’ or finale piece. Once again, I like the open, unresolved chord that it ends on, musically creating the expectation, the anticipation and eagerness for God’s Kingdom to come fully as well as the ongoing call for it to come through us in the way we live.
Another solid, catchy melody. I like the song, I don’t have a lot else to say about it!
- Awake My Soul
Shaun has infused this song with ‘essence of good quality indy-brit-pop’ and reminded me of all the bits of Radiohead that I really enjoyed. The feeling of the chord sequences took me back to (weirdly enough) “Karma Police” from “OK Computer” though quite different in content! The other song it brought back to me was “True Love” by “Phil Wickham” which is probably a more flattering comparison.
Similarities to other songs to one side, I love this song, the haunting tune and guitar with plenty of reverb on it give it the feeling of a passionate appeal to the apathetic heart of middle-class, wealthy, comfortable Christianity to really respond to the longing love call of our intimate God.
- I’ve Got You
I think this song is lovely. Shaun wrote a blog post about what inspired him to write that track and reading it, combined with the simple beauty of this song, both musically and lyrically, never ceases to soften my hard, cold, cynical heart.
As soon as I get a link to the original post (because it has disappeared!) I’ll stick it in here, it’s worth reading.
This song is fantastic in every way even though the upbeat, bouncy tune seems to be slightly out of keeping with the subject material in my mind. First time I heard it, it made me think of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” (also a fabulous track).
The theology behind the song is so right and yet so far from the experience of so many western Christians and more to the point non-Christian observers. Which is a shame but also the very reason EVERYBODY needs to listen to this album. Shaun Writes here and here about ‘Enough’ (and in plenty of other places in his blog). Shaun is a man that lives what he believes and it’s a fantastic way to show the Gospel – your life displays the Gospel of Jesus when it looks like good news for other people, not just yourself.
- No Better
This might be my least favourite song on the album, (despite the great mandolin work) though I do still like it. Partly because I’ve never really got into country or bluegrass and partly because I guess it speaks most revealingly to my own vulnerabilities, sins and shortcomings. When a song like this shines it’s spotlight on your life, it gets pretty uncomfortable. For me, it’s a timely reminder not to judge others, because as Shaun says “I’m no better”.
That said, the chorus is pretty catchy and sticks in the head. One other thing… it seems to end a bit abruptly.
- Down Here
Listening to ‘Down Here’ always brings a lump to my throat and I’ve been pretty close to tears a few times. It’ beautiful and compelling, music fits the words like a glove and the symphonic nature of the climactic second chorus is something of a musical masterpiece.
The epilogue section of the song really rounds it off to be filled with truth and hope, the kind of hope that speaks to the heart of all people that ‘death does not have the last word’ because we believe in resurrection and in the words of Rob Bell, “resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world”.
- Just as I am
Shaun added this traditional song at the end of the album for some very good reasons. And I won’t steal his words so you can read them for yourselves here and here.
I really love this version of the song with Shaun’s extra words.
I mentioned my lovely wife earlier, and she’s generally not a massive fan of music that isn’t classical in genre, being a very talented lady with an honours degree in music, but she really liked the album too. A definite sign it’s really, really, really good.
You really should buy this album, from iTunes, or Amazon or Direct.
I Promise, Promise Promise I’m not getting any commission. Shaun doesn’t even know me, but You Have to hear it, buy it, support it. And if you like, Go sponsor a child too, it’s a really good and fun thing to do.
Listen to the album below.
Third World Symphony by shaungroves