If God were to wear shoes, would he wear Nike or Adidas? If God had a front porch, who would he invite to sip sweet tea with on a hot Saturday evening? If God had an iPhone, whose numbers would be on his contact list? When Gary Chapman wrestles with these queries, it is not a paltry exercise of triviality. Rather, with these 16 new songs Chapman wants us to see that Jesus not as a mere theological construct trapped in the pages of a historical book. Instead, through the telling of every day stories of hope, love and faith, Jesus is not just a venerated figure of the past. Rather, these songs depict a flesh and blood Jesus who still walks amongst us, listens to our ranting, and who still helps those who cry out to him. In short, Chapman's new record "The Truth" is theology dressed in sneakers. Yet, fans who have been waiting for a new Gary Chapman album have been craning their necks for over a decade as Chapman's last record was 2002's "Circles and Seasons."
Gary Chapman is one of few artists who has been able to cross pollinated across genres with fecundity. Way back in 1983 Chapman wrote a song called "Finally" that rose to the pole position of Billboard's country chart with T. G. Sheppard on the microphone. Later, Chapman went on to win the most coveted "Song writer of the Year" at the Dove Awards. Then in 1987 he was one of the first few Contemporary Christian artists to release a country record "Everyday Man" placing two successful singles on Billboard's country charts. Chapman's connection with country music continued in 1996 when he hosted the much televised series "Prime Time Country." A couple of years later, Chapman engineered a collective project "Hymns from the Ryman," an effort that featured songs by his then wife Amy Grant, the late Chet Atkins and Michael W. Smith. "Hymns from the Ryman" went on to receive a "Country Album of the Year" nod at the Dove Awards. Thus, with such a history of involvement in country music, it's no surprise that Chapman returns with the country slanted Christian-themed "The Truth."
In a time when the appellation "Christian" is often used a badge for self-righteousness bigotry, Chapman on "What I Say" unearths the true meaning of what being a Christian is all about: we are simply redeemed sinners saved by God's grace. Country crooner Rebecca Lynn Howard gorgeously adds her mellifluous harmony. While neo-bluegrass song bird Alison Krauss adds her haunting touch to "If God Had a Front Porch." This song is a well-crafted country ballad that speaks of the incarnational nature of Jesus Christ where he does not just sit up in heaven but he still walks with us in our everyday struggles. Country superstar Tanya Tucker who hasn't released any new material in eons is most welcomed when she sings as part of a trio with Chapman and John Rich (of Big and Rich fame) on "Rough Crowd." Though Tucker's voice is much deeper and more haggard, she still has the weather-worn sass that really brings out the song's message that Jesus is not afraid to call incalcitrants like us friends. More middle of the road is the lead single "How Great a God" which finds Chapman in Michael W. Smith's territory with this piano based contemporary pop worship number.
Chapman really nails his colors to the mast with the album's share of story songs. Whether he tells of the single mother raising her own child ("Widow of the South") or his own nostalgic tale of his first date ("Twenty Bucks Away") or the prodigal alcoholic who finds Christ ("I Didn't Find Jesus") or the re-telling of Christ's birth ("All About a Baby"), Chapman tells them with such realism that you can feel the palatable emotions of each of these characters as each of them come alive through the unfolding of these songs. "The Truth" lives up to its title in that these are honest stories of everyday people fleshing out God's promises in ordinary happenstances. And in listening to this record, one can't help but thank God that Jesus does don his brandless sneakers in order to walk beside us.
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