Hope Through Our Tears: A Review of Sojourn's "New Again"
Sojourn released their latest studio album earlier this year, titling it New Again. As a continuing effort to draw attention to worthwhile albums and books we think will serve the church, I want to go through a track-by-track review of the album.
First, a quick word about Sojourn, a band/group that flows out of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. I first became familiar with their music about two years ago, but they have been producing and releasing music since 2001. Because of the large group of musicians and singers who contribute, their music is both distinctive and varied. Their latest album, New Again, is perhaps their most congregationally-accessible album to date, but maintains the earthy, Americana roots distinctive to Sojourn.
The album begins with the title track, “New Again”, and for good reason. It’s uptempo feel and singable melody make it an uplifting, congregational song. It’s also extremely timely. Many bloggers and writers (including our own blog) have noted that 2014 was not a particularly uplifting year. The rise of ISIS, racially-charged events in Cleveland, Ferguson and New York, the ubiquity of the Outrage Industry, and other events made the year one that probably will not be remembered fondly. “New Again” acknowledges this reality, but provides the hopeful antidote that only Christ offers. “Shadows surround us/but there’s hope today/When sorrow runs deep/the night is long/May we find peace/In the Savior’s song.” The soaring chorus provides the foundation for believing those words to be true. “He pushed back the darkness/He conquered our sin/Christ will make all things new again.” This song provides the foundation for the rest of the album and its mix of brokenness and hope, suffering and joy, a light is “piercing the night.”
The album then pivots to “All You Saints” and “God Alone.” “All You Saints” is saturated with theology but delivered with a poetry that makes it memorable and works as a call to worship. It creates a sort of juxtaposition between its haunting melody, particularly in the bridge, and words that declare we are “safe within the Firstborn sacrifice.” The creativity of its instrumentality is beautiful, but serves the song rather than overwhelming it. “God Alone” is one of the catchiest and memorable songs on the album, and the interplay between the guitar and piano lead-lines is particularly excellent, serving as a metaphor for the interplay between our weakness and God’s strength. “When our prayers seem faint/Lord, I know you hear/Though I can barely speak/And I beg of you/Please draw me near/For I am much too weak.” Continuing the theme established in the first track, “God Alone” reminds us that in a world where the “waves of life” tower of us and “sorrows drag [us] down” our hope is found in only one place. “Even here I know/Still I can sing/You breathe life where none is found.”
The album then pivots to one of the most stunning worship songs I’ve ever heard and, to me, the highlight of the album. “Let Justice Roll” is a musical mix of 90’s grunge/rock and gospel (hello, organ solo!). I could describe the lyrics, but I wouldn’t do it…justice (thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week). I’ll simply recite verse 2 and part of verse 3 here to give you an idea of the richness, relevance and depth, but suffice it to say, we need more worship songs to be so bold.
“Convict us Lord, we dance and laugh
Ignoring those who weep
Correct us Lord, our golden calf
Has lulled our hearts to sleep
The gap between the rich and poor
Grows ever wider, shore to shore
There’s racial hate, religious war
And wolves among the sheep…
Your image bearers here on earth
Will never know how much they’re worth
Unless we love and help them first
And show the way to You.”
Let justice roll, indeed (Amos 5:24).
After such an emotional and musical high, the album takes an appropriate low-key turn with “Thorns.” The song is beautiful in its own right (“You wore a crown of thorns/that I may wear a crown of life/You lead me home/Help me find my way to You”) and is more appropriate for personal devotions than for corporate worship, unless you happen to be in a church with excellent musicians and singers capable of singing complex melody/harmonies while effortlessly slipping in and out of falsetto. The song builds slowly to an emotional payoff, declaring over and over “Just a few more miles!”
Following that is “Come and See,” which is a highlight of the album, if still not a congregational song. It is chock full of lyrical nuggets, though, and does an effective job describing how what Christ has done for us compels a specific response from those of us who are the recipients of that work. “Come and see/What the Lord has done for us/Oh, proclaim/All you saints/Oh, proclaim all the wonders of his love.” The verses describe some of what the work entailed. “We made idols in hopes that they would save/All our running far away from grace/Then He called us out of darkness/Into His wondrous light…/Though once strangers/Now we are made His own/Founded solely on Christ the cornerstone.”
Continuing the same theme is “Behold the Christ,” a song that sounds like it was written by someone who attended a Keith and Kristin Getty songwriters seminar, but often snuck out to smoke cigarettes at a Damien Jurado show. The song functions as a linear story. Verse 1 focuses on the preeminence of Christ over creation, a la Colossians 1 (“See all creation, pure and bright/…eternal God who made our home/And made a people called his own.”) Verse 2 then focuses on our rebellion against our creator. (“See the darkness enter in/All of creation stained with sin.”) The highlight of the song comes the third verse, focusing on Christ’s merciful response to our rebellion. “Oh see the Son lay down his life/The innocent for those defiled/Forgiveness, we may now receive/Oh sinner, won’t you now believe?” Verse 4 then anticipates the culmination of our joy at Christ’s second coming. (“Oh see Him coming for His bride/Wearing spotless robes of white.”)
Next is “Blessed Are the Poor” and “Only Jesus,” songs that work well together. “Blessed Are the Poor” critiques our idolatrous and consumerist culture, reminding us that “diamonds turn to dust” and “life is more than the things we buy.” Of course, many artists who influenced the album also spoke out against consumerism and greed (Bob Dylan, John Lennon, U2 etc) and this songs displays Sufjan Stevens influences (who, to be clear, seemingly influenced a not-insignificant segment of the album). The beauty of “Blessed Are the Poor” is that it doesn’t attribute virtue merely to anti-consumerism, but provides the proper alternative course. Satisfaction does not await those who seek the things of this world; it awaits those who seek after righteousness. The next song drives this point home: “Let my cry always be/Only Jesus.” Nothing else satisfies; nothing else fulfills. Perhaps one of the best songs on the album musically and melodically, have fun trying to get “Only Jesus” out of your head, especially the melodic roller-coaster at the end of the song.
Next is “Psalm 126,” a Celtic-ish hymn that I’m sure one day I’ll be able to listen to without crying. Again, the overarching theme of the tension of sorrow and joy, darkness and light, and holding onto an unshakeable hope through tears comes through clearly. If you have a family member whom you are praying receives salvation, bring a couple tissues with you when you listen to this song. I can’t say enough about this song, which manages to solicit feelings of nostalgia while looking with clear eyes towards the hope that awaits in the future. (I use the phrase “clear eyes” purposefully; this song belongs on a Friday Night Lights episode.)
The album ends with “Where Your Praise Never Ends.” Both the title and feel of the song faintly harkens to “Where the Streets Have No Name”-era U2. It’s an excellent and appropriate response and ending to the album, given everything that came before it. “I long to be/Where Your praise never ends” and to finally see in full what we now see in part, to see the glorious design behind this beautiful story of tension and resolution, of brokenness and redemption, of trials and victory, of sorrow and, ultimately, of hope.
You can purchase the album here.