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Michael Gungor delivers his most artistically diverse album to date. Beautiful Things was self-produced and expands the horizons of Gungor's version of modern worship. All songs were written or co-written by Michael. The album features a guest appearance by Israel Houghton. This is alternative worship at its best.
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Beautiful Things begins with the amazing "Dry Bones," a song that starts off softly with just an acoustic guitar and a piano, but eventually explodes into a frenzy of electric guitars and soaring vocals crying out to Jesus for restoration ("Jesus, you're the one who saves us/ constantly creates us into something new/ Jesus, surely you will find us/ surely our Messiah will make all things new.") It's a powerful and memorable opener, and Gungor's desperate cries are quickly answered in the title track that follows. "Beautiful Things" is a worshipful song that, instead of crying out for Jesus to bring life, acknowledges that He does indeed, "Make beautiful things out of the dust." It's a soft and worshipful track that is easily an album highlight if not the best track on the album, as it reflects on the creative and restoring power of God. These first two tracks set the tone for the album lyrically by setting the focus on God making things new, and they powerfully introduce what is already shaping up to be a phenomenal album.
Gungor shifts to hope for God's future restoration in "Brighter Day," the album's biggest rocker, while also acknowledging the present working of God's kingdom in our hearts ("Let it come/ love is here and love is coming/ heaven is breaking open." The rocking guitars and powerful vocals carry this song through as one of the most fun songs on the album. "Heaven" follows and, though it is short on lyrics, acknowledges, "Heaven is comin' down to the world." It's an all-out gospel-style track highlighted by guest vocals (and, I assume, songwriting) by Israel Houghton. It's an outrageously catchy and fun song, though it is probably among my least favorites on the album as it feels a little out of place and, as I already mentioned, is short on lyrical content.
As "Heaven" winds down, the album shifts gears with the quiet and beautiful "You Have Me." The lead is given to a finger picking banjo part, and although it is practically the only instrument used for most of the song, it is a perfect fit to the soft vocals and worshipful lyrics, which recall how God has sought after the singer, and reveal the appropriate response to the saving power of God ("You have me/ You have my heart completely.") "Cannot Keep You" comes next with another soft and worshipful tune, this time giving more emphasis to the piano and acoustic guitar. This time the focus is on the way we tend to try and keep God contained in virtually anything and make these things idols ("We cannot keep you in a church/ we cannot keep you in a Bible/ or it's just another idol to box you in... we've worshiped all our idols/ we want all that to end"), but the chorus reminds us that there is none like the Lord with the wonderful lyrics, "Who is like the Lord?/ the Maker of the heavens/ who dwells with the poor/ He lifts them from the ashes/ and seats them among princes/ who is like the Lord?" Though it took longer to grow on me than some of the other tracks on the album, I have to say "Cannot Keep You" is among Gungor's best recordings to date.
A delightful toy piano then leads into "The Earth Is Yours," which is another instant highlight. It is a simple but beautiful worship song that poetically describes creation giving glory to the Creator and singing, "Holy, holy Lord/ the earth is Yours," with a quiet but absolutely wonderful sound. Even after so many fantastic songs, "The Earth Is Yours" sounds excellent and fresh... but half of the album is still left. "Call Me Out" follows with a delightfully unique sound driven by drums, piano, and the banjo again, and later the song moves into a chorus full of pounding electric guitars, making a surprisingly diverse and irresistibly catchy array of sound and another fantastic track.
A softer tone is hit again as the album starts to wind down, but the quality doesn't let up much, if at all. "Please Be My Strength" isn't the most interesting song musically, but some skillful acoustic guitar work carries the lyrics that embody a state of knowing that you can't do anything on your own, and you need to rely on God's strength. "Higher" might be the mellowest song on the entire record, but it's also one of the most worshipful as Gungor sings, "Your name is sweeter than the rain/ that falls upon the face of dry and weary lands... Your name be praised/ and be lifted higher." The sincere desire for God to be glorified is what makes "Higher" special. Next, "Late Have I Loved You" seems to wonder why anyone would ever do anything with God but run to Him. It is another quiet and touching song to add to the list.
The quiet nature of the previous three songs then gives way to the joyfully upbeat "People Of God," which simply calls out, "People of God, rise up/ rise up and shine God's love/ we are the light of the world," and reminds us, "if we don't have love, we're left with nothing." The nine-minute "We Will Run" closes off the album beautifully by reminding the listener to run to God to seek out the restoration that so many of the preceding songs sang about ("We will run to You/ turning from our sin we return to You/ Father, heal Your world, make all things new." Lisa Gungor's voice finally shares the lead with Michael's in this beautiful closer, and about halfway through the track's running time, a peaceful piano-led instrumental section brings the phenomenal record to a close, giving the listener a few minutes to reflect on the amazing music and lyrics they heard in the album's running time of nearly an hour.
I think it would be very difficult to dislike Gungor's masterpiece Beautiful Things. Musically it's about as fun, beautiful, and diverse as it can be with the band still feeling right at home on every song, and the lyrics are nicely worded and constantly focused on the Lord. Even after a few months of owning it, I'm still excited about how fantastic it is. I have no higher recommendation in the entire music industry when it comes to an album that's so musically creative and lyrically rock solid. Gungor has achieved true excellence with this record, and it would be a shame for anyone to miss it.
NOT your average worship CD: It is in fact much better than my poor attempt at alliteration in the title. It's "weird" only in the pleasant sense of being a little quirky and out of the ordinary, which is what makes it "wonderful" to me. This is not like any other worship album I've heard. It's a unique, beautiful, and refreshing departure from the cookie cutter sound of most modern worship music. The diverse compositions feature instruments ranging from a glockenspiel to horns, strings, banjos, a melodica, and a toy piano (no joke...and it sounds good).
NOT your average band: As exceptional as the music is the band's social conscience. Although their concern for social justice may not be immediately evident in their lyrics, the members of the band actively care for the poor and homeless in the city of Denver where they live. They're also planning a trip to Africa later this year with the Mocha Club, an organization devoted to bringing clean water, education, orphan care, improved health care, and more to the people of Africa.
Compassion for the needy, coupled with unconventional, well-written music combine to form the kind of band I'm happy to recommend.
I was doubtful it could live up to the hype, because when I asked what was so unique and different about this band, they all couldn't explain yet encouraged me to see it in concert and listen to it.
After listening to it a few times, I'm hooked. My friends were right: This is a truly special album! I think I love each and every song for a different reason. Some seem playful, others just fun. All are a delight to the senses. My only regret is ordering it online because the music is so good I sometimes miss focusing on the lyrics, and the lyrics themselves are equally as moving and meaningful as the creativity in the music itself.
Gungor: Please come do a concert in California!
Just amazingly stunning, richly crafted music. I'm not one that listens to "worship music" all the time but I love this, and surprisingly, it draws me into worship, wonder and awe every time I listen.
What strikes me most about "Beautiful Things" is the group's ability to create of mosaic of musical flavors yet retain a very powerful message that tugs on the heart and mind. This is NOT your typical CCM/pop fluff. Gungor requires you to face the full gospel: not just that God loves you, but that love is unconditional, unchanging, never based on you, and finally requires action and heart change. It's clear that the goal of this album is not just to make you feel good, but to make you feel different.
There's not a bad track on this album, seriously. There is one track, "People of God", that sounds like it was placed there to get some radio play-- it's totally different than the rest of the album, but still good. Worship leaders, check out the last track-- "We Will Run"-- wonderful song for a time of intimate worship/communion.
Dry Bones - This is a candidate for my song of the year in this genre; something I usually proscribe to music a bit rockier and upbeat. It starts with an almost Latin/Japanese sounding stringed instrument that brings you right into the essence of the song: our soul cries out for Christ. Our bones are dry without His grace and mercy. Wow! Does this song ring home and have meaning for me.
Beautiful Things - "All is Pain", that's how this song begins. Not very promising or hopeful. But the song is in fact full of promise. God makes beautiful things out of the dust. Dust! We were created from dust - not usually considered very beautiful. But God transforms us into something beautiful. That's the essence of this song.
This album will fill you with hope and light. I highly recommend it. But don't just listen to it in the background. Really listen to the words. This is an album you'll want to dedicate time and focus on, and then discuss with someone.