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June 2001 Pick of the Month

Chasing the Horizon
Artist: Mitch McVicker
Label:  Independent
Length:  12 songs/49:03 minutes

Within the first seconds of Mitch's McVicker's sophomore release, Chasing the Horizon, it becomes obvious that this project contains a message McVicker feels many people need to hear. The first track, entitled "Emanuel," sets the theme of the record by stating:

    You are right here with us, 
    I guess that's why You're called Emanuel.
    You are right here with us, 
    When I look around, I can tell. 
    When I look around I can tell that
    You're Emanuel.

Throughout the project, McVicker skillfully allows the listener to capture glimpses of his own spiritual journey. In doing so, the audience finds threads of their own spiritual expedition and is compelled to listen and gather morsels of hope for their lives. 

In the song, "Upside Down," McVicker's weathered, Tom Petty-ish, warm vocals combined with softly played instruments, provide the perfect backdrop for a prayer. His true heart is revealed as McVicker quietly contemplates how his views and beliefs seem to be completely opposite that of the world's. He discusses how "inside out and upside down" things seem while quoting a portion of the beatitudes and realizing that the path he has chosen is better for him.

The first single release from the project, "When You Love" is McVicker's version of the Rich Mullins' song "When You Love" that he recorded on his second album. McVicker and Mullins had talked about rewriting and reworking the song. Approximately six months after the tragic wreck, McVicker went ahead and did it. A chorus and a bridge have been added, yet it continues to say that when we love, as God has taught us, miracles happen.

Jordan Richter does an interesting job of engineering and mixing the project and helping McVicker's talents stretch beyond what we expect. Perhaps this is most obvious in the song, "It Won't Take Long," when an old-sounding record is used in the background along with a whispering voice and several interesting instruments. Together, the sounds produce something very different for McVicker. 

"Rich's Song" is the song that draws the most emotion from the listener, especially if they were fans of Rich Mullins. This song was one of healing for McVicker after the accident that took Mullins' life and almost cost McVicker his life. Knowing that causes the song to start listeners in tears. But, the track goes so much past that. It's a song of rejoicing for someone in Heaven. The gentle, non-bluegrass sounding, dulcimer playing in the background provides a flowing transition into a frame of mind for those who have gone on to Heaven before us. 

Several songs on this project get help from artist such as: Dennis Holt, Phil Madiera, Mark Robertson, Rick Elias, and Brad Layher. It is well laid out, and put together. If you like the sounds of Rich Mullins, Tom Petty, The wallflowers, or Andrew Peterson, Chasing the Horizon is a must have.

Cathy Courtwright 2/14/20001

Mitch McVicker gets by with a little help from his friends on his sophomore release, Chasing the Horizon. The former traveling companion to Rich Mullins and A Ragamuffin Band enjoys the presence of Mark Robertson as producer and on bass, along with guitar work by Rick Elias and contributions on various instruments by the ubiquitous Phil Madeira. Fellow Kid Brother of St. Frank Michael Aukofer co-writes one song, and Brad Layher sings and plays on the entire album.

That said, this project is not a Ragamuffin redux. McVicker's songwriting continues to mature with each new effort. This album seems a little more serious in tone than his eponymous debut.

While listening to CDs, I tend to look for three things: lyrical quality, musicianship, and what the songs trigger in my own mind. The opening track "Emmanuel" serves to remind us that God is here, there, and everywhere if we remember to look for Him. "Upside Down" shows us how to be content in all circumstances, and directs us to make God our first priority:

          I'm living in a world that's upside down,
           And blessed are the poor in spirit
           I'm living in a world that's inside out,
           Blessed are the pure in heart
           Inside out and upside down
           But I just might see God.

"Suits of Skin" is reminiscent of Romans 7, where Paul describes his struggle between the nature of God and his own, sinful nature:

          He stands and knocks
           On the door to our heart
           But will we let Him in?

And later in the same song:

          Well, I won't believe amymore
           That what you see is what you get
           We push our spirits down
           Let our flesh come out on top
           But He is still around.

"Watch Over Me" speaks of our struggle to see God in our lives at all times and how we strive to fill the emptiness when we don't feel His presence.

Rich Mullins' presence is in this project as well. "When You Love" is a new arrangement of the Mullins song, something that was discussed before his death.  There's also a selection entitled "Rich's Song," a remembrance that will make those who knew Rich both laugh and cry. It serves as a comfort for anyone who has been impacted by Mullins' life and music:

           If you chase the horizon long enough,
           You just might lose the dark
           You found the light
           Or maybe it found you
           And I'm sorry you had to part
           Until I think about where you are.

Brad Layher's hammered dulcimer on this track also gently reminds of Rich, who featured the instrument on many of his songs.

Other highlights on this release include "Burning the Fields," which may have the catchiest chorus Mitch has ever written, and the final track, "Kingdom of the Heart."

In all, Mitch McVicker has earned a place in Christian indie culture, worthy to be spoken of in the same vein as Bebo Norman, Andrew Peterson, Caedmon's Call, and Ryan Long. I can only pray that the independent status of this release does not prevent it from being heard, as it is far superior to the standard fare on most CCM-oriented stations.

Mitch stated that he chose from over 50 songs he had written before choosing the 12 recorded here. I look forward to hearing the others in the near future.

Brian A. Smith 5/20/2001

Mitch McVicker, the hard-working singer/songwriter with the folksy, Midwest acoustic sound, releases Chasing the Horizon, a collection of songs born of life experiences. Teaming with talented musicians such as Phil Madeira on keys, Rick Elias on guitars, and Steve Hindalong on percussion, producer and bassist Mark Robertson helps McVicker craft a project tailored to fans of light, guitar-based country-flavored tunes focused on heartfelt lyrics. 

McVicker makes a tribute to the late Rich Mullins on "Rich’s Song"  complete with dulcimer licks. The whole album has a Mullins feel that will make the listener miss ol’ Rich all over again. Other highlights on the CD are "Suits of Skin" and "Anything," a rolling tune that will make you feel like you’re driving through the plains of America’s heartland. The a pithy lyric on "America" says: 

 I’ll take the scraps that fall to the floor 
 ‘Cause all the meals I fix for myself 
 Leave me wanting more 
The remaining songs are equally meaty. Stellar musicians offer solid performances, yet most of the songs don’t have the "killer hook" that would otherwise make this a stellar project. No one can replace Rich Mullins, but Mitch McVicker continues the legacy of songwriting craftmanship Mullins left behind. Although it won’t set the world on fire, Chasing the Horizon will satisfy fans who enjoy McVicker’s laid back style and thoughtful lyrics. 

Zik Jackson 5/21/2001
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