A top-notch compilation of the beloved singer/songwriter’s inspiring body of work.
Label: Centricity (20 tracks)
As those most familiar with his back catalog will tell you, the relative merit of any collection of music with Andrew Peterson's name attached to it lies almost exclusively with the particular set of songs chosen to inhabit said collection and not with the quality of the individual songs, themselves. Indeed, while more than one of his peers can claim, like Peterson, to have placed their fair share of singles in the Christian pop Top 10, netted the occasional Dove Award nomination or even written an award-winning book, only a very small handful of those same performers can say that they've been named as heir apparent to Rich Mullins or, even more impressively, invited by Mullins' closest friends to record a never-before-heard Mullins composition that was found among a stash of the late singer's demo tapes ("May Picked the Roses," which appeared on Peterson's Clear to Venus album in 2001).
While die-hard devotees will find themselves bantering over what was left off of the collection, it's nearly impossible to fault the material that did make the final edit. Among the eight cuts present in their original versions on the 18-track physical release is the well-known "Dancing in the Minefields," which finds the ever-candid Peterson laying out a warts-and-all summary of the challenges of married life against his now-familiar folky, easy-going acoustic backdrop. The strikingly yearning "The Reckoning" is just as spectacular: a number that you can whistle while you drive and still be deeply changed by the time you reach your destination. "Don't You Want to Thank Someone" (I used to be a little boy/As golden as a sunrise/ Breaking over Illinois/When the corn was tall) features some of Peterson's most vivid and poignant imagery. And "Lay Me Down" (I suppose you could lay me down to die in Illinois/ In between the maple trees I climbed on as a boy) is that rarest of birds; a song that is simultaneously simple and profound – a sort of Automatic for the People for the members of the Millennial Generation.
Lest it be merely a compendium of material that existing fans already have, the Years anthology includes eight rerecorded cuts from Peterson's past efforts. In some cases, as with "The Silence of God," "Holy is the Lord," and his much-loved inaugural single, "Nothing to Say," the newly-minted renditions hew fairly closely to the original versions. On the other side of the fence, however, Peterson reworks his now-familiar songs into something altogether new and different. "After the Last Tear Falls" is given a more pop-oriented feel and fleshed-out instrumental backing that renders it more powerful without disturbing its inherently reflective character. "Faith to be Strong" and "Isn't It Love," go the reverse route, trading the more full-up radio-friendly approach of the originals for slower, stripped-back – and ultimately more meditative – renditions.
The true pearls, though, for those most familiar with Peterson's work are the rare and previously unrecorded entries on the compilation. "Romans 11 (Doxology)," which appeared in demo form on 2006's Appendix A odds and ends collection, is spiffed up and released here in all of its full-on folk/pop/orchestral glory. "After All These Years" is a letter-perfect juxtaposition of shimmering guitar work and lilting pop melody with Peterson's characteristic vulnerability and longing (I thought that all my struggles/ Would be victories by now/ But I confess that the mess is there), the sum of which renders the winning piece all the more transcendent. And the beautiful closing track, "To All the Poets" (You lovely poets I have known/ You walking wounded of my life/ Who bled compassion in the heat of strife/ Who stood between my heart and Satan's knife/ With just the armor of a song), could well work as Peterson's mission statement: an unwavering belief in the power of the written word – whether it be spoken, read or sung.
In fairness, the momentum flags ever so slightly toward the very end of the album. That said, at a more than generous 18 cuts, most listeners, if they even notice at all, will consider any such shortcoming a mere nit in the grander scheme. Likewise, those who go the digital-only route will get two bonus cuts – a live version of "High Noon" and the all-new ode to Nashville, "Everybody's Got a Song" – tossed in for good measure. Current fans will no doubt be enticed by the rerecorded and never-released material, but, in truth, it is those who have yet to investigate Peterson's work who stand to be the greatest beneficiaries of his latest project. Indeed, in a market where much of what is now, by default, labeled as Christian pop sounds very much the same, both musically and lyrically, Peterson stands out like a sore thumb – in the best, and most refreshing sense of the phrase. There aren't many artists these days who can inspire you to tap your feet and ponder the universe at the same time. Peterson happens to be one of those artists. And thank heaven for that.
– Bert Gangl, The Phantom Tollbooth (12-19-2014)