Audrey Assad gave us an unexpected gift this year, an EP entitled “Eden.” What a year for this artist to paint art with lyrics and notes that encompass what it means to become more of who we were created to be. 10 years ago a young Audrey Assad released her first record The House You’re Building. A couple of years later, she released her second with Sparrow Records. Since then, she has released 3 more records independently with the help of her husband, Michael Porter. As she has grown in influence, Audrey has not hidden from the world who she is. She is one of few female artists to steer her music closer to liturgical and worship music. Pursuing this authentically has taken her on a journey that has shaken her faith in ways she had never expected. Eden brings us closer to God’s heart, a gift produced from a decade of this young artist’s journey.
Shiloh begins with an invitation, a humanizing observation of eyes that, deep down, look “haunted by grey ghosts”. The lyrics enter in to the storyline of a person’s emotional life, reminiscent of an intimate friendship. ‘May your healing / be a clearing in the wood / may you breathe in / deeper than you ever could before.’ Her layered vocal tones combined with the upbeat background, and the addition of pointed yet soft transitions, create a masterpiece like a musical version of a stained-glass window. Although the melody is simple, the music is calming with an intentionality that is deep yet peaceful, as was the Biblical town of Shiloh that provided rest for the Israelites. This song brings to light that we can find peace in our hearts even as we are journeying like God’s people were long ago.
Island opens with upbeat, reverberating chord changes, with modern yet authentic tones. Bright piano notes are complemented by light guitar. The chorus ‘You be home to me / I will be home to you / No one is an island’ is upbeat and pure. Base notes and a more impactful beat transition with the repeated refrain ‘How good it is to be known by you / love is a shelter / We’re better together.’ Although the lyrics are repetitive, they don’t seem so, as they are layered, and each phrase is accentuated differently as they express very different ideas. As John Donne did put it, no man is an island. However, at times it is hard to find peace as we try to be home to one another in our relationships and yet also taste the goodness of being known by one another. This song is a beautifully layered meditation on living in these two realities.
In the middle of the album, The Middle is a pure depiction of Audrey’s unique musical talent and style. Audrey covers Jimmy Eat World’s familiar lyrics in a way that is deeply empowering. As the song begins, the original dramatic guitar strings are replaced with quick “rippling” piano notes. As the song picks up with ‘Hey/ You know we’re all the same / You know you’re doing better on your own,’ and the familiar lyrics continue, the song adds in strings, creating an almost quizzical sad tone approaching the line ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough / for someone else,’ before backing up into the upbeat familiar chorus ‘It just takes some time / little girl you’re in the middle of the ride / everything (everything) with be just fine.’ As the song ends, the instrumental backgrounds fade into the background, in contrast to the original, creating a cohesive quality cover of the edgy original.
Find You opens right away with strong vocals, starting out essentially acapella with some light piano notes, progressing slowly into an instrumental crescendo: ‘beyond ideas / beyond the veil of time / beyond all colors / and bending of the light / beyond all concepts / and movements of the mind / I will find you.’ The song crescendos, adding in a beautiful soft upbeat background, flowing into a solo with electric tones that are accented with high notes and dramatic bass notes. This solo flows into a mysterious, almost stellar-like refrain of the words in Psalm 139:8 ‘If I make my bed below the earth / I will find you.’ These lyrics are parenthesized before and after with the tune of the song. Audrey hums the tune, but layers it with strings and piano. The song ends abruptly and unexpectedly with a dramatic instrumental of the tune of the beginning lyrics. The tones are layered and broad, sounding mysterious and comfortingly, developing so artfully that is sounds like the music is hovering over a large space.
The lyrics in Eden paint a picture of God redeeming our humanity. It includes some of the loudest rhythms of the album, alongside a bright and confident piano. The first verse focuses on human sins, and the second verse draws more on big picture situations. The third is the most beautiful, a lyrical poem of redemption. It ends with the lyrics, ‘Eden’s gates swing open to us now / We’ll turn every weapon to a plow / for every sin a pardon … We’re healing in the garden / Healing in the garden.’ This song encourages us to hold on to hope that God is working in us individually, in society, and in our daily worship.
The album ends with a light, beautiful cover of Coldplay’s 90s classic, Yellow. Originals are not easy to cover well, and Audrey successfully gives us a high quality, soft and fresh version of this authentic love song. By finishing the album the way she began, singing about deep intimacy, Yellow is a familiar cover to help the listener consider what it means to love those close to them.
Through Audrey’s Assad EP Eden we can discover a beautiful rendering of redemption. With layered tones that bring the listener towards broader and deeper ideas, and lyrics that encourage depth in relationship, each song on this EP is necessary in 2020. As one pastor recently reminded me, we are not yet in Eden, but we can consider what it means to get there. No matter how successful we are, the things here on earth cannot compare to what relationship with God will truly look like. 10 years of this artist’s heart went into this EP, and I am not sure she could have done any better. The album is empowering, uplifting, and thought-provoking.