Andrew Peterson – Light for the Lost Boy – Centricity Music – Releases 8/28/12

 

The tired grown-up, a little bit lost in life and maybe a little bit afraid, looks upon a carefree child and longs to go back to that uncorrupted innocence. But is that really a good idea? Innocence cannot know redemption, and we are made to go forward, not back. It is at this paradox that the multi-talented Andrew Peterson offers his seventh studio album.

 

“Light for the Lost Boy” is Peterson’s finest work. Lyrical gems are expected from this gifted writer, and they are here in abundance. Production has been expanded, and the resulting musical surprises are refreshing. And the remarkably consistent theme is poignant for every sometimes-weary grown-up: the longing for eternity and the glimpses of it in the temporal that bring light to our daily existence. These songs address this human condition spot on, resonating and sympathizing and encouraging. Peterson casts this concept in a strong visual image: “There’s something so beautiful about seeing the little boy inside your grandfather. It’s like, just for a second, he’s old and young at the same time, which I suspect is something like what heaven will be.”

 

From the opener, Come Back Soon, it is apparent that things sound a little different this time around. Ben Shive’s imaginative production has been augmented by Cason Cooley (Mat Kearney, Audrey Assad). The result is really wonderful, from guitar distortion to cleverly doubled vocals to a rarely used falsetto. There is always the potential for singer/songwriters to make sleepy albums, but “Light for the Lost Boy” will keep you on your toes, with plenty of changes in tempo and instrumentation amidst the familiar acoustic guitar and the welcome hammered dulcimer cameo, requisite homage to Rich Mullins.

 

There is a very deliberate sequence of tracks on the album. Come Back Soon sets the undercurrent of tension: “We wake in the night of the womb of the world / We beat our fists on the door.” Eight songs in the middle explore the mystery of understanding Jesus from our limited perspective, the mingled tears and hope of a parent watching his children grow up, and the refreshing comfort of knowing that the God who is love will take care of us, even on this side of Heaven. The closing song, Don’t You Want to Thank Someone, is a brilliant solution to the Lost Boy’s plight, drawn from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. As we long for the fullness of God’s coming Kingdom, we should notice the even here, even now, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” The song is a 10-minute musical juggernaut, with a glorious string arrangement from Shive and ethereal background vocals from Jill Phillips singing, at the very end, the title of the opening: “Come back soon.”

 

Personal songwriters like Peterson tread a precipice of explanation in their storytelling. With too much backstory songs become plodding and have less relevance to individual listeners. With too little, we’re left wondering what inspired a certain verse instead of being inspired by it ourselves. When we listen to Billy Joel’s Piano Man, we feel like we know Paul and Davey based on a single couplet each. Enough backstory, but not too much. On “Light for the Lost Boy”, Peterson teeters on the edge of the backstory cliff. Shine Your Light on Me tells three stories, and while knowing the background helps, the song stands alone without context, but just barely. The Ballad of Jody Baxter means little if one has not read Rawlings’ “The Yearling” (but it certainly will inspire you to read the novel!). It is on The Voice of Jesus, a song written for Peterson’s daughter, that he gets the balance exactly right. The little girl in the song is fearful and confused and excited about something, all at the same time, and the song is made better by not telling the listener exactly what’s going on in her head. When we hear the father’s gentle, comforting words, and when Skye Peterson herself sings one of the sweetest background vocals I’ve ever heard, we don’t need to know all the details to be touched by the emotion.

 

“Light for the Lost Boy” will command your full attention. It’s the best album of the year so far, and listeners will turn to it again and again when they feel like they’re stumbling a bit in this present darkness. It stays away from simple, sappy platitudes; instead, it says to us, “I know. I’ve been there. One day it will all be bright and good, but for now, you’re not alone, and there is light.”