Music Monday – Shane and Shane’s Psalms, Vol 2.

Every now and then, a particular band or album comes into your life and changes everything.  That’s happened to me a few times.  Most recently, it is because of the band Shane and Shane.  To be fair, however, you have to know HOW they came into my life to understand WHY my life was changed.  You see, Shane and Shane is (hands down) the favorite band of the love of my earthly life; my sweet and special wife Jennifer.  I still have vivid memories of the time we were dating and hearing the album Pages playing in her car as we’d drive somewhere.  She knew every single word and I loved to hear her sing it.  Before I knew it, I was not only madly in love with her, but a huge Shane and Shane fan.

Even without my romantic affections, I still think Shane and Shane make incredibly beautiful music.  They are, in my estimation, what a Christian band should strive to be.  Yes, they’re blessed with tremendous talent and creativity; but unlike so many of the talented in the Christian Music Industry that have gone before them, they don’t waste that talent and creativity making vapid and lazy music or music designed to attract an audience and nothing more.  No, when you hear Shane and Shane you hear artistic masterpieces.  You hear artists who have turned their talents over to their God and are willing to be used by Him for His purposes.  You hear two men who give it all they have and leave few details unattended.

Psalms2Shane Barnard and Shane Everett have been around a long time.  Releasing their first album in 2002 (Psalms vol 1), they’ve put their work ethic through its paces releasing eleven albums in thirteen years, touring often in the early days, and making multiple guest appearances with other artists.  While such a pace is not particularly remarkable for professional musicians, what is indeed remarkable is the quality of work they’ve managed to produce while keeping to such a hectic schedule.  They are walking proof that talent makes a huge difference.

Psalms Vol 2 is their 13th album, and their second on the Psalms.  For my money their best albums are Worship Initiative Vol 2  and the aforementioned Pages (for the aforementioned reasons).  But, I have to be honest, Psalms Vol 2 is certainly making a strong case to become my new favorite.  Released on Wellhouse records, it reached 179 on the Billboard top 200 in 2015; number 9 on the Billboard Christian chart.  It is a crying shame it didn’t chart higher.  Understated, as is their tradition, it’s hard to find much from them about the album from interviews or blogs.  That is also a shame. If anybody should be speaking to the Christian Music Industry it’s these guys.

Track 1 – Psalm 46 (Lord of Hosts)

The song has a discernible structure and distinction between verse and chorus.  They use the verse well to build into the chorus, which is magnificent.  You learn from the onset that they aren’t writing an album to put the Psalms to music, but rather writing songs particularly inspired by the Psalms.  Lyrically, it comes off almost like you’re reading their devotional notes as they study the Psalm; like they’re summing up the truths they’ve learned.  The song repeats itself a fair amount, particularly the chorus, but they have excellent skills in using their instrumentation to build levels of depth which they add and subtract.  Part of that instrumentation is their characteristic harmonies which come through well on this track.  This is not ABC rock, there’s a defined beginning, middle, and ending to the song feeling as if you’ve just heard a movement of a symphony.  This first track is gangbusters.

Track 2 – Psalm 45 (Fairest of All)

Right away, this song sounds drastically different than the first tune.  That song was a battle cry, this one a ballad.  One thing that’s immediately apparent: the chorus drives you to sing along and is the undisputed centerpiece of the music.  The slide guitar they use from time to time makes its appearance on this track.  Quiet, contemplative, reserved, this is the perfect track for devotions or private worship.  Shane and Shane isn’t afraid of repetition in lyrics, but they make absolutely sure to make each repetition purposeful and different for all the rest.  Their singing is mostly with words and not with filler sounds like ooos and ahhhs, although a little of that sneaks in here in some admittedly appropriate places.  Two songs in and they’ve focused entirely on God and His greatness.  This album is WORSHIP.  And it is good worship at that.

Track 3 – Psalm 34 (Taste and See)

This song will quickly get stuck in your head.  The chorus is an invitation to magnify and exalt the name of the Lord.  That’s great.  But this isn’t a great song.  The key of the verse after the chorus is entirely too high, and they could stand to settle down and enunciate their words a bit.  The song is blues-piano driven, except for the coda which is mostly drums and vocals.  It’s also a bit too long.  I think the song is fine -they can’t all be masterpieces- but not exactly a resume builder for the duo.

Track 4 – Psalm 51 (Wisdom in the Secret Heart)

I was wondering how they’d handle what is one of the most famous, and mournful, Psalms in the entire book.  To my surprise they attacked it with an uptempo straightforward tune matched with lyrics that certainly do the Psalm justice, but focus more on the iniquity of man instead of the repentance David was groping to find when he wrote the Psalm.  The chorus of “Create in me a clean heart, oh God.  Renew a right spirit in me, oh God.  Cast me not away from your presence, take not your Holy Spirit, restore in me the joy of your salvation, and teach me…. wisdom in the secret heart” is, cleverly, a chorus you could sing about ANY sin and EVERY situation.  Which, I suppose, is David’s point.  It’s demonstrates the depth of thought Shane and Shane have put into the lyrics.  I love that.  I noticed a pattern in this song:  the verses tells the truth of depravity, the chorus gives the right response to depravity, and the bridge illustrates the promised restoration of God.  My wife tells me they’re quoting a previous song of theirs when they write in the bridge “The Lord is gracious and, slow to anger, rich in love He is, good to us!”.  Give them all of the points for creatively teaching theological truths through music.  Love this song.

Track 5 – Psalm 139 (Far Too Wonderful)

Their musical depth shines here.  They have so many instruments working together and yet, independently, each is playing a distinct part.  Talent like that doesn’t grow on trees, folks.  Showing their propensity to vary their sound on each track, they get to the chorus quickly here; which becomes the focal point of the song.  The verses, both in music and lyrics, serve to support the chorus.  And the chorus is magnificent.  “Oh I can’t run, I can’t hide
Even darkness is a light
From the lowest place to the highest praise You are worthy
Amazing love how can it be
Far too wonderful for me
There’s only one thing left to say You are worthy, oh!” to which the bridge answers “You formed me in my mothers womb You know my frame, my flesh, and bone Oh, how wonderfully made!! Oh I can’t describe it’s way too hard You see me through and through and call me loved! What a wonderful grace, oh!”  I wanted to listen to it again as soon as it was over.  It’s one of those songs that you know you’ll come back to the rest of your life.

Track 6 – Psalm 98 (Sing Unto the Lord)

Maybe it’s the song it is forced to follow, but I’m not so into this track.  They seem to be trying to connect Jesus to the Old Testament (which is great), but they’re doing it in the context of singing unto the Lord.  I’m all for singing unto the Lord, but the connection seems a bit strained to me.  Musically, it’s standard Shane and Shane fair, which is above average compared to the rest of Christian Music, but nothing spectacular.  Can’t hit home runs every time, I guess.  The call and answer between the two of them on the bridge was certainly unique and caught my ear.  I don’t hate the song, but I don’t really like it either.  Every album has to have a song or two like this, and this is it for them.

Track 7 – Psalm 91 (On Eagle’s Wings)

They slow it down here, covering a rather popular (and mediocre) hymn.  My wife loves their rendition here, and I have to agree that it’s well done.  I don’t like the hymn much, but I don’t think it’s heretical.  For what it is -a cover- they do fine.  Certainly the music is beautiful, and they don’t over complicate it.

Track 8 – Psalm 63 (Better than Life)

artist-shane-and-shaneBack to quiet and simple, they drive the song with acoustic guitar, never letting it get too far away from a guitar tune.  One effect this has is to allow you to focus on the lyrics, and they’re simple, direct, and excellent.  The chorus:  “Because Your love is better than life is I will praise You as long as I’m alive and in the face of precious Jesus, O my soul will be satisfied”  Satisfaction in Jesus is a theme I wish more songwriters would embrace.  They do so well here.  To use a musician term, this song is “tight” meaning it fits together well and flows throughout.  If I had a criticism, it would be that it goes on a little long with a lot of lyrical nonsense and measures of drums/guitar at the end.  But, it’s not awful and certainly doesn’t ruin the song.  Good tune.

Track 9 – Psalm 16 (Fullness of Joy)

They back off the music so much here that it’s ALMOST a capella.  Using drums well to build toward the chorus, they demonstrate an uncanny ability to build tension and excitement throughout a song without going over the top.  This isn’t always accomplished by adding more, often (as is the case here) they do it by doing less.  The bridge is a great example, with big loud climactic builds throughout these EXCELLENT lyrics:  “My heart is glad and my soul rejoice my flesh it dwells secure because You put on flesh lived a blameless life my curse on the cross You bore then You ripped the doors off the City of Death and the chains fell to the floor Now the serpent’s crushed It has been finished and You reign forever more”  But then, they pull the rug out from under you and go back that almost a capella feel: “You are my portion my cup and you make my lot secure the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places a beautiful inheritance”.  The result is an emotional high with the build, and a subtle realization of the results of Christ victory when the rug is pulled.  If every artist thought about how to blend their music with lyrics this way, we’d have better music.  Experts may disagree, but I think their harmonies come through best on this song and highlight what they can pull off with singing.

Track 10 – Take Over

Not real sure what this song is doing on an album about the Psalms , but here it is.  It’s almost like they wanted to write their own Psalm.  I think it would have been better to release this on another album, but what do I know?  That aside, this song is simple… two Christians pouring their heart and soul out through music.  Some love songs are just songs, and then sometimes you hear a love song and just KNOW the songwriter is head over heels for the girl.  Some worship tunes are just something to play in church, and then some you just KNOW the writer is enthralled with Jesus; like he has found his highest calling exalting Christ.  This song belongs in that latter category.  They love Jesus, the seek after Jesus and that comes through clearly in hearing this song.  I’d quote lyrics, but I want to quote the entire thing.  During the bridge, pay attention to what they’re doing on guitar.  Finding the right pace, tone, and sound when finger picking is sometimes difficult with a song like this.  The piano was also nice.  They completely nailed this song.  One of their 10 best all time.

Track 11 – Psalm 27 (One Thing)

I can’t really say much about this song except that I kinda got the feeling it keeps going round and round.  First they sing this part, then that part, now the other part, oh back to that part, do this part again… It’s not bad, but it sort of left the song feeling like it had more to do and more ground to cover.  I like them better when they progress through a song a build up to something.  That said, it’s well done musically.  They’re skilled musicians, that’s for sure.  The lyrics are certainly above average.  It’s not the best song on the album, but it’ll do.

Track 12 – Psalm 23 (Surely Goodness, Surely Mercy)

Kudos to the band for tackling a Psalm almost everyone knows.  They quote the Psalm more directly here than any other song.  I wonder if that’s because they know everyone knows it.  I think one thing is clear, they wanted people to get the thrust of each Psalm… to feel them… to know them beyond just quoting them.  This one, despite the more direct correlation to the Psalm, is no different.  What I think is a Cello (which, for all I know might have been there all along) makes its way to the mix of this song giving it a nifty effect.  There’s a certain quiet resolve to the way they sing this song. I can’t put my finger on it other than to say it’s direct, to the point, and contains 0% fluff.  They give it to us straight.  Great song.  Great way to end the album.

The Verdict

Shane and Shane gives me hope that worship music isn’t completely dead.  In an era where innovation has taken over and being liked by the audience is more important than actually worshiping God, Shane and Shane puts the focus right where it should be:  the Lord our God.  They are two of the most talented songwriters and musicians in all of music today, and their self-evident work ethic finds its way into almost every aspect of their music.  This album is an unquestionable work of art.  This album is God honoring and bathed in Scripture.  It is an absolute masterpiece.  Dear Lord, thank you for Shane and Shane.  Amen.



5 out of 5 Stars

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