I was privileged to write a biography of Andrew Peterson for the liner notes of his latest, After All These Years, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the album. And if you read my piece in the liners, which admittedly borders on hagiography, you’ll know I’m an unabashed fan. Given all that, I considered not writing a review of the new album, but then realized that my greatest joy as a critic is telling you about music that I really like. So, with all the objectivity I can muster, here goes.
The main two criteria for judging a greatest hits album are clear: song selection and new material. Songs may be culled from chart toppers, fan favorites, or the sometimes-dangerous artist favorites. They’re often accompanied by a few new songs, or updated versions of older material. In the end, the ultimate question is how well the collection represents the artist’s body of work. After All These Years succeeds on all counts. All of the older songs have been updated (often in a lower key), new songs are particularly appropriate, and the choice of songs, which is particularly difficult in this case (more on that later) is excellent, even if he left off my old favorite (which, incidentally, is “Let Me Sing”).
If you’re unfamiliar with Andrew Peterson, you’re allowed a pass – he hasn’t met with overwhelming radio success – but know that you’re missing out. He’s a singer-songwriter in the tradition of Rich Mullins, writing songs of emotional depth, theological insight, and profound story. Speaking of story, he’s also a gifted fiction writer, and if you’re unfamiliar with his Wingfeather saga, you’re also missing out.
The timing is right for a hits collection for Peterson, given that he’s recorded 7ish proper studio albums plus projects like Behold the Lamb of God and Slugs and Bugs and Lullabies. The challenge for such a collection is that Peterson has scores of very passionate fans with their own opinions on which songs should be included. To his credit, he’s crammed in as many musical 1’s and 0’s as you can fit on a CD, with even more included in the download, but some fans will still be disappointed. That’s actually a testament to an artist’s discography when a single collection just can’t please everyone.
The presentation here is not chronological, but it is logical. Particularly appropriate is the pairing of “Nothing to Say”, his breakthrough song about the wonder of God’s creation, and “No More Faith”, which opens with a brilliant self-aware confession: “This is not another song about the mountains, except about how hard they are to move.” These songs, along with five others, are brand new versions. Standouts include “Isn’t it Love” and “After the Last Tear Falls”. The former is the slowed-down version with which only diehard fans are familiar, and it rightly changes the song from a bemused jaunt about a guy who loses his luggage to a somber reflection on the meaning of the cross. The latter was a great song before, but the unexpected sheen given to it in the remake makes it surprisingly perfect for radio. In fact, this is exactly the sort of music Christian radio should embrace.
New songs range from autobiography (the title track) to homage (the brilliant “To All the Poets”) to travelogue (“Everybody’s Got a Song”). The fully realized Doxology from Romans 11 is also here, and is easily the most appropriate Peterson song for corporate worship. It’s not really surprising, given Peterson’s attention to lyrical detail, that these new songs are particularly fitting for a “best of” collection. They’re not just one-offs that never found a place on an album before. Instead, they’re a chance for the artist to look back on a decades-long career and give a gift to self and supporters alike.
After All These Years is the best album of 2014, not just because it collects such extraordinary music, but also because it does that so well. Plus, it has really amazing liner notes. (Just kidding.)