Life happens; sometimes it goes by easy, like a walk in the park on a glorious afternoon. But other times, life seems to stop in its tracks and make a single step feel like walking waist-deep through tar. Few can attest to life's viscosity like Steven Curtis Chapman and his family, who have lived the last five years in the wake of incomprehensible tragedy. But of course, life goes on--both the good and the bad--and the now-57-time Dove Award winner has picked up the guitar once again, only six months removed from a splendid bluegrass hymns album, to share the celebration of life and The Glorious Unfolding.
The album is an inspirational one at its core, and a deeply personal look into the story of his life and the life of his family. Hope and joy are the pervasive themes of the album, as much as hope and mourning were themes of Beauty Will Rise. There is also a sobering sense of optimism that drips from every word from Chapman's mouth, such as in the opening title track where he sets up the themes with the line "We've got to believe this story is so far from over, so hold on to every promise God has made to us and watch this glorious unfolding." From hearing the topics of inspiration of this record, one would probably seriously wonder how this album could be at all joyful. Most of the songs are inspired by events since youngest daughter Maria Sue's death; "See You In A Little While" is written to Chapman's grandmother who died last October, and the song "Michael and Maria" was written for the memorial service of a family friend's 15-year old son (who died as the result of a skateboarding accident). But the fact remains that Chapman has been turning such depressing topics on their head for 27 years, so I don't find it surprising in the least.
Musically, it is quinissential Chapman, which means two things: one, it is about as good as Contemporary Christian music can get, but two, it also means it is a familiar sound in the realm of Chapman fandom. Indeed, the only real artistic flaw is that, while Chapman has always forgone any sort of formula that has permeated radio speakers over the decades, he also has his own personal formula that he often utilizes. Those who know and love albums like Declaration, This Moment, All About Love, and All Things New will find songs like "SEE You In A Little While," "Something Beautiful," and "A Little More Time To Love" as either musically derivative, or at least partly derivative. And although they have very different sounds, "Only One And Only You" (a song dedicated to his 13-year old daughter Shaoey) will doubtlessly remind listeners of his 1999 song "Fingerprints of God" (dedicated to his then-13-year old daughter Emily) due to their eerily similar themes. But, honestly, no Chapman fan will find offense at any of this, nor should they, since the music is so topnotch compared to most of today's CCM fare.
The highlights on this album are numerous. Chapman once again opens the album with a wonderful song in the title track with its fade-in opening, soft synths, and rousing chorus. "Love Take Me Over," the lead single with its clap-tap beat, the percussion-driven "Take Another Step" with its persistent chorus to match its theme of persistence, the intimate piano ballad "Together" (as much an anthem for couples as "I Will Be Here"), and the closing hymn-like "At The Feet Of Jesus" are the biggest highlights, but there is no weak track anywhere on the album (though the latter half of the album slows down considerably, and could use another upbeat song). In particular, "Together" has deeply personal meaning for the Chapman as a song written for his wife in honor of their ongoing love in the face of Maria's death (since, as Chapman points out elsewhere, 90% of marriages don't survive the loss of a child).
What else can I say worth saying? Steven Curtis Chapman has put out another winner. It's spiritually deep, extremely personal, and musically sublime. Chapman fans will love it, as should any CCM fan. It would be difficult to put it on par with his very best like Speechless, The Great Adventure, or Beauty will Rise, but it will find a good home in many year-end top 10 lists (this reviewer's included).
Five years have passed since the horrifying tragedy that took the life of Steven Curtis Chapman's youngest daughter Maria, and four since the heartbreaking album of songs of hope and mourning Chapman created in the wake of the tragedy. And as time has passed, life has gone on for the Chapman family. And that is where the story of The Glorious Unfolding picks up. The true follow-up to Beauty Will Rise, Chapman writes from the perspective of the passing of time. Thick with nostalgia and remembrance along with eager anticipation of the rest of life's story, The Glorious Unfolding is as full of joy and fun as its musical counterparts This Moment and Declaration, and indeed even surpassing the achievements of both. You'd have to be very hard-pressed to want to pass this one up... --->
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