What do Keith Urban, the Alan Parsons Project (APP) and the Book of James have in common? The surprising answer to this unlikely question is that all three arguably had some influence on Brandon Heath's latest release, Blue Mountain.
Like the APP, whose name during the '70s and '80s was veritably synonymous with what has now become known as the concept album, Blue Mountain is built around the central themes of living and dying. The insistent cadence of "In The Dust" ("We seek shelter in each other/ When these rocks begin to slide/ We can't run from what is coming/ Down the mountainside") mirrors the relentless, and all too swift, passage of time. The even more stark "Dyin' Day" ("Would you stay with me/ Be my last guest for dinner"), which recounts a conversation with a condemned man just before his last meal, is punctuated by a heartbeat-like rhythm which, appropriately enough, stops abruptly at the track's conclusion. And "He Paid It All" relates the story of perhaps the most well-known, and meaningful, death narrative of all time - that of Christ's crucifixion.
Musically, the record finds the Nashville native forgoing his now-familiar pop structures for a decidedly more countrified approach. Inspired by childhood trips to his grandparents' house in Knoxville, Tennessee, Heath's new effort is replete with the contemporary country- and bluegrass-influenced sounds popularized by Urban and his forebears. The opening strains of the magnificent album starter, "The Harvester," accentuates Heath's characteristic beat-box textures with incisive dobro accents. The loping mid-tempo "Love Will Be Enough For Us" may well leave more than a few listeners wondering if it wasn't originally a lost Rascal Flatts tune. And the stirring title song is steeped in the lazy rhythms and weeping steel guitar that have been part and parcel of the Country and Western genre since before most folks can remember.
Like the words of James' beloved epistle, Heath's lyrics are filled with poignant word pictures and nature-based metaphors which help make his points both colorfully and clearly. The inspired title cut ("Floatin' out from the highway/ Singing come on up my way/ Through the tall grass in the valley/ Where the earth and heaven meet") paints a dramatic and inviting picture of its subject matter. "Diamond" likens the light of God inside the believer's heart to a precious gemstone housed deep within an underground mine. And the literate, yet down-to-earth, lyrics of "The Harvester" skillfully echo the Biblical metaphor which compares the reaping of crops to the bringing of lost souls to salvation.
Some members of Heath's existing fan base may be put off by Blue Mountain's less purely pop-friendly textures. And those who listen exclusively to the Top 40 might be disappointed when they find that it's anything but a collection of three-and-a-half-minute, radio-ready singles. Listeners willing to spin the disc with open minds and ears, on the other hand, will find the album a gripping, thought-provoking, and, at times, near-poetic summary of the human condition that becomes all the more engaging with each successive listen.
- Review: 9/29/12, PReview date: 9/4/12, written by Bert Gangl of Jesusfreakhideout.com