Simple, Honest, and Pure | Posted July 10, 2012 Staff Reviewer
Singer-songwriter Cheri Keaggy, a nominee for GMA New Artist of the Year in 1995, returns with her eigth recording and sixth studio effort, So I Can Tell. Five years have passed since her last record, Because He First Loved Us, and Keaggy has weathered much hardship, most notably the end of her 23-year marriage to high school sweetheart Eddie Keaggy (nephew of Phil Keaggy).
Funded by Kickstarter, Keaggy teamed up with producers Scott Dente and Ken Lewis to make the album. On her Kickstarter page, she states their goal was "to create an honest, stripped down recording that reflects the vulnerability of the songs written after a very difficult season in life." Though exposed and at times painful, the songs on this project are stitched together by threads of faith, hope, and love. Keaggy has come out of the darkness a stronger woman, and through So I Can Tell she's sharing her life experiences and the lessons she's learned."I feel like God has given me some gold," Cheri explains, "and now is the season of pouring out everything He's poured into me."
The first song and title track, "So I Can Tell," is a fitting introduction to the album. It speaks of the ups and downs of life as well as relating nuggets of God-given wisdom and truth culled from experience. In addition, Cheri communicates her resolve to share her life lessons on the steadfastness of God. "I have heard the truth so I can tell," she sings. And she'll use the remainder of the album to do the telling.
"There Will Be One Day," a moving track akin to Bebo Norman's "One Bright Hour," talks about suffering and grief, but is focused hopefully on the time when those things will be washed away. This prayerful song expresses the promised joy of our Heavenly Homecoming. I appreciate the lyrics so much that it's tempting to transcribe them all. Instead, I'll share only the refrain: "There will be one day when there will be no more tears to wipe away / And there will be one day when there will be no more Death to navigate / But until then we are Your children / Your love cannot forsake." Keaggy's message is to hold tight, peaceful relief is coming.
Though Heaven holds promise, life can be difficult. "When You Were Jesus To Me" is a story-driven piano ballad with Keaggy touching on those times the love and support of friends helped her hold on when her own grip was shaky. She compares her friends' actions to Jesus, and relates how their words of advice and comfort were confirmed by God. By song's end, she's singing directly of Jesus' love and sacrifice on the cross.
The personal songs continue with "Starting a New Year Today." Written on the one-year anniversary of her divorce, the track finds a reflective Keaggy reviewing old journal entries: "Here's where I tried a lot / Page 5 I cried a lot / This part I don't understand / Still I see Your good hand / Jesus, You're the man who has stayed with me / Jesus, You're the hand that has steadied me / Jesus, You've been faithful on every page / So I'm starting a new year today." The verses chronicle heartbreak and doubt, as well as prayer and thanksgiving. But the consistent theme throughout is God's faithfulness.
Keaggy's songwriting is remarkable in that its introspective focus never narrows to the point of self-indulgence. Enough open space is provided to allow listeners to inhabit the songs with her. So rather than feeling like flies on the wall eavesdropping on her quiet time with God, we feel that Keaggy, like the Psalmist, has given voice to our own feelings and put them to song. By looking back, she can see healing has taken place, and secure in the belief that God's mercies are new each morning, she looks forward with optimism remarking, "This could be a good year."
The wave of hopefulness becomes a full-blown swell of joy on "Air, Food, and Water." This ebullient number struts, bounces, and dances in praise as it playfully celebrates the sufficiency of God's provision. It's a reminder that we can live an abundantly happy life in God with only the barest of necessities. Musically, with its ukulele and harmonica, this rhythmic little country romp is just plain fun!
The dancing stops as the mood shifts for the soul-baring "Hello, God." More than any other on the record, this song, in its lyrical and vocal honesty, reads like a Psalm. Cheri begins broken and hurting, asking God for help: "Look down here / Won't You send me an angel to guard and to cheer." And later: "Please pass by / Let the hem of Your garment brush by my side." While asking God to take notice of her sorrow and longing, she repeatedly affirms her faith in His perfect omnipotence, limitless reach, and healing power. By the time she reaches the final verse, she says "Hello, God / It's just me / Only now I am lighter / Happy and free."
"Hello, God" masterfully displays how we can come to God broken and burdened and walk away restored and renewed. What a testament to the power of prayer!
Next up is Keaggy's declaration of faith and service, as she, like Apostle Paul, professes "To Live Is Christ."Naturally, the song draws upon Philippians 1:21, "to live is Christ, to die is gain." Lyrically she also pulls from other scripture verses, including Psalm 25:4-5, which she recasts as "Show me / Guide me / Teach me / Try me." The song is breathtaking in its sincerity and simplicity.
The album continues as Jesus calls to us "Come To Me." It's a loving invitation, with a hint of calming lullaby, to peace and fulfillment in Him: "If you've had enough of ‘I'll be happy whens' / And your ‘someday, somehow' always comes tomorrow / If you're waiting at the station for your life to begin / Come to me, come to me, my friend / Come to me, come to me, again."
"Bind Me To You" is a plaintive, trembling plea to Jesus. Keaggy sings, "Bind me to you, my Lord / Seal me against Your heart / This child is trembling here all by herself / Desperately clinging to nobody else." Emotionally gripping and full of vivid imagery, the song presents Jesus as "loving and faithful", a "covenant keeper", "knight in shining armor", and "Prince of Peace." This song is something special – it's her version of the naked fragility found in Rich Mullins' "Hold Me Jesus." (As that's one of my all-time favorite songs, there is no higher praise.)
Just when you think it couldn't get better, Keaggy follows up with the bright "Romans 15:13 (Benediction Song)."The main body of the song is taken almost verbatim from the NIV verse: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him / So that You [may know and] overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." The melody is uplifting, and Keaggy's voice illuminates Scripture to great effect. The result is a song that could serve as a balm for whatever ails our heavy spirits. Having gone through a little soul searching and prayer alongside Keaggy, we come out of the darkness into the shining light of the Son. Pun intended!
The album ends with a meditative touch as Phil Keaggy guests on "Postlude: Invitation To Hope." He plays the melody of "Benediction Song" on a classical guitar, and it feels like a blessing, lending us a perfect opportunity to use the last couple minutes of our listening experience giving thanks to God.
So I Can Tell is a breath of fresh air – simple, honest, and pure. Though born out of a period of darkness for Keaggy, the songs never become despairing. Cheri vocalizes the longings we all have at times while accurately presenting the hope and rest that is found in Christ. Perhaps most importantly, and this is impressive, the words are never trite, so the album's message and emotional impact is never trivialized.
The record reads like chapters of a book meant to be taken together as a whole. There is no filler or weak song, and for this reason I'm reluctant to name highlights or favorites. Keaggy's sentiment that God has given her gold couldn't be more true. This album is a treasure!