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Back Home
Artist: Caedmon's Call
Label: Essential
Length: 13 Tracks (50 minutes 13 seconds)

Days after the release of Caedmon's Call's latest album Back Home hard core fans (including myself) were hit hard by the news that founding member Derek Webb would be leaving the band to pursue a solo career.  Although the news came as a shock, the warning signs are all over the newest offering. On the new album we find Derek taking a step back, on vocals, but more prominently in songwriting. While the album was also a forewarning of this impending disappointment, it is also the assurance that Caedmon's Call is as strong as they have ever been, even with one of its most influential and amazing members gone.  There are a new set of leaders that Caedmon's Call has found to lead them into their next season. These new musical leaders come from within the band and from the family of artists, The 40 Acres Crowd that the band has helped discover. The three individuals, who carry Back Home on their well, backs, are keyboard player Josh Moore, and independent artists Randall Goodgame and Sandra McCracken.  Of course the album has also much to thank from Cliff's passionate voice, some of Danielle's best vocal deliveries, unique and delightful percussion, among others, but this album would not be what it is without these three artists. 

First, keyboard player Josh Moore has in my opinion become the single most important member of the band.  A little background, Josh went to the same Church as Cliff Young, started playing with the band at the age of 15, and is a musical prodigy.  His contributions on this album are very significant in that he plays a dozen instruments for the album, but more prominent is his production on the album.  Josh Moore has been growing in not only his songwriting, but has been pursuing a side career in production and his maturity shows up amazingly on the album.  Along with three prominent individuals, there are definitely three prominent moments on the album which are perhaps three of the best songs Caedmon's Call has ever put out. The first of these is the Josh Moore written The Kingdom . This track is amazing in the fact that it' s so different from what I would have expected from Caedmon's Call. It is a musical and lyrical journey to the mid-east, which tells an ambiguous story of a kingdom's rise and fall, but the rescue of angels to take the character away to God's eternal kingdom. The percussion and instrumentation sound at moments like the Beatle's "Within You Without You," with the addition of the Josh Moore trademark of beautiful strings from the Nashville String Machine .  Strings can be either a great or terrible thing in an album, and Josh Moore chooses great places to put them.  Another of Josh's songs is the pseudo-praise song "You Created" which sounds like what In the Company of Angels (Caedmon's Call 2001) tried to sound like, but didn't quite reach. Once again, great strings. Amongst other places on the album, there is notable production of "Thousand Miles" and "Never Gonna Let Go," which takes songs which could have been mediocre, but end up shining.  

The second notable contributor to Back Home is Derek Webb's wife, independent singer-songwriter, Sandra McCracken.  Hopefully this album can give Sandra the exposure she deserves as one of the best female singer-songwriters in America today.  The second moment on the album which stands out is the song "The High Countries."  This song written by Sandra McCracken contains perhaps Danielle's best vocal performance ever, and production from Josh Moore which harkens impressively to Daniel Lanois on Emmylou Harris _Wrecking Ball_ album.  This song is based upon the C.S. Lewis story The Great Divorce, and talks about how our souls are so opposed to the properties of grace. The song makes a perfect companion to the book if you have read it or have any knowledge of it, but stands quite fine on its own as well.  The song does contain one of the moments where Derek Webb's eerily beautiful background vocal is essential.  The entire song contains amazing lyrics but most notable is the line: "And the weight of glory, if you held it in your hand, it would pass right through you, so now's your chance. Would you fall to pieces, would you fall to pieces, would you fall to pieces, in the high countries?" 

The chorus here is enough to bring me to tears and could be argued as Caedmon's Call's best song ever.  All of Sandra's songs on this album are also amazing. The Psalm 23 based "Walk With Me," is a refreshing song about walking and the fellowship of loved ones.  "Awake My Soul" is a pseudo-hymn, and is performed by Derek Webb, and serves as a sort of farewell track for him.  "Manner and Means" sounds closest to any other of Sandra's to her amazing sophomore album _Gypsy Flat Road_, and sounds like it could have been a direct outtake of that album.  It is a song about desire and the hope to have a heart that is aflame. The song closes with the line: "the heart is the dream, and the kiss, that there could be more than this, to keep it burning." 

The third amazing presence on the album is the independent singer-songwriter Randall Goodgame.  Randall's song "Only Hope" is the opening track for the album.  It comes across at first as just a poppy radio song to write off, but after listening to it a few times, it earns a sort of character in being a sort of hippy pop catchy tune.  It's a great way to kick off the album.  Another song from Randall is the amazing "Hands of the Potter."  This track is a percussive led song of hope and submission to God's grace.  It seems to serve a sort of theme for the album in containing the album title in the line:  "Lord if I'm the clay then let your living water flow, soften up my edges Lord so everyone will know, that I'm on my way back home, yes I'm on my way back home." 

The production here is superb in not only a great performance from the dual drum/percussion talent of Todd Bragg and Garett Buell, but in other creative instrumentation, background vocals, and my personal favorite: a great mandolin riff poking its head up every once in a while. The third prominent moment on the album is my new favorite song on the album.  Randall combines forces with the greatest songwriter in America today Andrew Peterson for the album closing "Mystery of Mercy."  The work here from Andrew Peterson is very prominent, and is just as fine as the songs from one of the greatest albums ever made Carried Along.  The song from Randall and Andrew is impressive also in that it really sounds like their songwriting, but fits perfectly in the voice of Cliff, instead of their own.  The strings return for this final track and these paired with a great piano performance go together with Cliff screaming hopeful and passionate lyrics which strike down to the core.  I would love to post the entire song's lyrics, but here is just a verse and the chorus:

I am the woman at the well, I am the harlot. 
I am the scattered seed that fell along the path. 
I am the son that ran away, 
And I am the bitter son that stayed.

My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me? 
When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King. 
My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me? 
It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song I sing. 

If this is what Andrew Peterson is writing like at the moment, I will be much anticipating the work from him coming up later this month. Caedmon's Call's Back Home is definitely a new chapter for the veteran folk-rock band, and they are making a difficult transition spectacularly. 

Matt Kilgore 2/17/03



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