I remember the first time I heard John Mark McMillian’s debut indie CD, HOPE ANTHOLOGY vol.1 (you can buy it for a reasonable price HERE). It was later Summer ’02, & I was coming off of a multi-month Wilco-induced musical high brought on by the brilliance of YANKEE FOXTROT HOTEL and John Mark’s artsy indie-folk was just what the doctor ordered. A couple years later I was one of the early-adopters who introduced “How He Loves” as a corporate worship song (thanks in part to the encouragement of Kelanie Gloeckler) years before the “sloppy wet kiss” controversy burned like wildfire through the church, much to my surprise: my only concern was the song’s wordiness, but it moved me to tears every single time I led it – even listened to it – so I didn’t really much concern myself with the debate.
So, to be very honest: I’m a “fan”. I think John Mark has consistently pushed the church in uncomfortable – yet important – new directions, both lyrically (for instance, a whole CD on Resurrection!), and in creative expression. Needless to say, I was both hopeful and skeptical of the new CD. He’s no longer an independent musician – he’s got a label to answer to, and besides: every artist mis-steps at least once in his/her career. Seemed to me, it was about time…
I am happy to say that ECONOMY is everything it should be. As the first CD he’s written/recorded/released signed to worship label, Integrity Music, it’s far more intentionally corporate than anything he’s released to date, yet the production – though more sonically layered and less minimalist – sounds unabashedly independent, much like Daniel Bastha‘s latest. I think it is a huge win that Integrity gave them such a great degree of freedom in this area. When I say that I mean that as an artist who has always been label-wary, this eases my heart: you mean you can get signed, & maintain creative license?!?! HALLELUJAH!!!
ECONOMY begins, wisely, in familiar territory: “Sheet of Night” could fit on either THE MEDICINE or SOUNDS OF BREAKING DOWN. It’s a good, solid JMM rocker. “Seen a Darkness” begins to hint at what’s in store: Coldplay-esque piano hooks doubled by “ooh” vocals create an almost orchestra-like backdrop to an already great song. Then they really caught my attention…
“Our Hearts Bleed” is the beginning of John Mark 2.1 & is one of my two personal favorites here: though it’s undeniably his work, the addition of piano brings a whole new color to the palette. The song has a playful, joyful, country-rock flare, which just puts a smile on my face. It displays a playfulness that I’ve not heard on any of his CDs prior. I like it.
“Love You Swore” is the first clearly corporate song on the CD – simple, singable, universal, memorable, and – wonderfully vertical: “Harbor me in the eyes of the storm – I’m holding on to the love you swore.” If yours is a church that doesn’t mind singing “whoah whoah”, this song is a home-run.
Lyrically “Murdered Son” reminds me of a less brutal version of Joe Day’s “What have we Done“, and continues the CDs corporate streak as a beautiful, vertical alt-country ballad.
The title track is everything I’ve always loved about John Mark on his past CDs: dark, edgy, minor keyed – unique tones – and imagery that makes you think. He proclaims, “I believe You can overcome my economy – You can dig me out of the grave!” What is “my economy” – well, it’s made up of the things I’ve earned, & the wages of sin is death, but in God’s economy that is not the end of the story, is it?!
“Who is This” is a lyrically simple corporate rock song with a lot of space for James Dukes electric guitars to glow, and he makes great use of the whole wide array of effects pedals to make magic. This song perfectly demonstrates the beauty of of ECONOMY: it is simultaneously a vertical worship record, and a bold artistic statement. You don’t come across that often.
“Daylight” is tied with “Our Heart Bleeds” as my favorite. The piano is back, this time with hand-claps, dramatic pauses, huge drums, and a neo-Rolling-Stones-like guitar groove that would revolutionize classic rock radio. A monumental song, and one of John Marks absolute best.
“Sins are Stones“, yet another corporate song – this one reminiscent of the old classic Christmas hymn,”O Come Let Us Adore Him”. The melody is quick to catch, and with lyrics that would’ve been right at home on THE MEDICINE – all about our resurrection from the dead, the song climaxes with a lilting “O my soul praise Him.”
Lastly, is the raw, acoustic number “Chemicals” – and when I say raw, I mean that you can honestly “feel” the room it was recorded in. Though it’s not really a corporate worship song, it’s a refreshing close – down tempo, relaxing, & not too serious. It leaves you wanting to go right back up to track number 1 & start the whole thing over again.
I’ve was sent this CD to review & have been living with it for a few days now, but it just now struck me: there is absolutely nothing that I don’t like here. NOTHING. As great a year as this has been for new music – especially worship music – that’s still just unheard of.
If you are non-committed, casual listener, & just want a taste of what’s here, I’d start with “Our Hearts Bleed” & “Daylight”. Worship pastors who want stretched?: grab “Love You Swore”, “Murdered Son”, “Who is This”, & “Sins are Stones”. But fans of just all around good music? – that’s where this one really shines: here’s your prize for the year. ENJOY.
John Mark & Integrity – thanks for giving us this one. I have a feeling it’s going to be a blessing to me for a long while to come.