Of all the children of Christian music’s 1990’s commercial breakthrough, Andrew Peterson most faithfully carries on Rich Mullins’ legacy of richly biblical, yet deeply personal songwriting. Ten years ago, he expressed these values in the curiously titled “Resurrection Letters Volume 2” and promised that Volume 1 would soon arrive. How soon? Now. It’s actually broken into two projects: A five song “prologue” Lenten meditation focused on the death of Christ, and a nine song collection about Jesus’ resurrection. Not only do the two complement each other, but the final song on Volume 1 was designed to sonically segue into the first song on Volume 2.
The prologue begins with “Last Words (Tenebrae),” a musical canon with a text drawn from the seven last sayings of Christ on the cross, each with its own melody that layers progressively into a sound collage centered on different degrees of the scale: The root, the fifth, the octave, the second, the third, and so on, uniting into a single chord. “Well Done Good and Faithful” resurrects a beautiful Isaac Watts text contemplating Christ as God’s suffering servant. “The Ninth Hour” follows, an instrumental contemplation on piano and synth strings. “Always Good” considers our need to trust God in the darkness. Prologue closer “God Rested” covers the silent Saturday between Christ’s falling and rising.
As you might expect, Volume 1 is substantially more upbeat than the mournful prologue. “His Heart Beats” rides along on cardiac-sounding floor toms and hammered dulcimer, interpolating the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” “Risen Indeed” recounts Mary’s arrival at the empty tomb, while “I’ve Seen Too Much” recounts Thomas’ experience in 7/4 time. “Remember Me” adopts a chanting vocal style, holding a single note for each measure, changing with the chords, as it concatenates a dozen Bible passages comparing our wayward sinfulness to the thief on the cross, and Christ’s great salvific work on our behalf. (Not sure why this track wasn’t on the prologue, but it’s good regardless.) “Maybe Next Year” echoes the chorus of older song “Pillar of Fire,” accompanying a touching lyric which describes the fascination of a trip to the current city of Jerusalem while longing for the coming of the New city. The Graceland-esque “Remember and Proclaim” will surely find a place in worship services, complementing the Lord’s Supper. Peterson includes a cover of “Rise Up,” a stirring Ben Shive composition last heard on Shive’s 2008 solo outing The Ill-Tempered Klavier, and one of the best songs of the new millennium. If Peterson’s last two albums seemed to be about his personal Dark Night of the Soul, these two projects display the dawn beyond the darkness.