Music Recommendation: Steadfast Live by Sandra McCracken
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I’m not an expert at reviewing music, but I am a musician and pastor. I listened to Steadfast Live (Available August 25th) with an ear for corporate worship, personal devotion, and musical excellence. I’m happy to report that this live album (songs from God’s Highway and Psalms) blended all three of them in beautiful, sacred, and experiential ways. Sandra has succeeded in giving us an album that is prayerful and inspiring, sacred and singable, beautiful and thoughtful.
Sandra is rooted in the worship of the local church, and it shows in this album. “Almighty God” is a call to worship based on the Collect for Purity from the Book of Common Prayer. Its simplicity, both musical and lyrical, are stunning and keep the listener (and singer) focused on the peace and rest of knowing that God sees our hearts, and cleanses them by his Spirit.
“Trinity” almost seems like a Taizé song. This song would be easy for any congregation to sing on Trinity Sunday, or anytime, yet it retains a textured, complex beauty. “Call Him Good” and “Continuously” are based on Psalms, connecting this music with songs sung by God’s people for Millenia.
But even when she turns to more personal expressions, she doesn’t leave behind this God-centeredness or fall into sentamentalism. “Steadfast,”God’s Highway,” and “Sweet Comfort” are expressions of the human cry to God for comfort and protection. Yet, like the Psalms, these songs are rooted in God’s love and his character, not in our emotional state. As important as our experiences of God and the world are, we need an anchor outside of them.McCracken says of this album, “In the last few years, there has been such a stirring and a change in my process as a songwriter. It becomes less about my own feelings and more about experiencing God’s presence, and wanting to make space for other people to experience God’s presence. And so, the songs are coming more like gospel songs these days.”
I find this to be true, even of the most emotive and personal songs on the album.
There is also a social justice aspect to this album. But be not afraid, it isn’t a sloganeering, “message driven” type of modern musical activism. Instead, McCracken allows her Christian compassion to shine through, and invites us to do so as well. “All You Refugees” is a song of welcome, which helps us connect our own status as refugees with all others around us, especially those who are physically fleeing. “Justice Will Roll Down” is a beautiful reminder that God is the one who is in charge of the world, and that he is our light, and with us in our pain.
I also personally enjoyed listening to this album. As it played, I felt a rest and peace. I felt prayerful. Yet it wasn’t a tone of inaction, but of trusting action in the world in and through the peace of Christ. The devotional aspect of Steadfast Live is like a full litany of prayer, praise, and a sending forth to love and serve the Lord.
The musical style (in my non-technical parlance) is Nashville Americana Folk Sacred Gospel. Sandra’s vocals have a raw quality, and the album doesn’t feel over-produced at all. Yet it is mixed well. I felt it was well-balanced and the recording felt “live” without being distracting. Note that this is the extent of my ability (or chutzpah) to review the music part!
Your congregation could sing most of these songs, and most of them would fit well in a liturgical, prayer book service. A few of them would serve as anthems for feast days.
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