and Out of the Grey: “Voyage”
(This appears to have been released December 2009, but I was only recently made aware of it through Facebook.)
Beautiful balladesque techno-pop (with big-piano and hints of jazz) by one of gospel music’s premier vocalists, anchored in an uncommon source…the poems and prayers of the Puritans. Christine penned these songs while interacting with the book “The Valley of Vision; A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.” Dente’s verse is a blend of adaptation and direct quote.
I’ll develop this theme deeper down, but the source material for this album is what makes it utterly distinctive, truly ear-worthy, and even slightly ironic – in a good way.
Highly recommended. (I have already loaned my disk to coworkers.) Ends too soon.
(Sorry, couldn't find any better existing art.)
In a recent music review I heralded a particular album as “one of the 10 best albums in the history of the world.” Given that I may lose credibility if I speak that way too many times, I will simply say that Voyage is one of the top 10 “pop” albums – given to Puritan themes -- produced in North America in the last hundred years:)
As is, “pop” may be a misnomer. I don’t give much ear to Christian radio these days, but I suspect the greater part of “Voyage” won’t be getting a lot of popular play, be it on religious radio, or otherwise. (Only one or two tracks fit the limited upbeat, high gloss production values of Christian radio). By “pop” I simply mean a sound that isn’t rock, isn’t rap, isn’t folk, -- falls middle to easy on the ear, and comes with production values that include reverb and computers.
Background: Out of the Grey
For the uninitiated, Christine Dente is part of the husband and wife duo, who together with supporting musicians, have recorded at least half a dozen albums as ‘Out of the Grey.” The basic sound is vibrant pop with a techno edge. (I happen to like the very quirky first-album, and the very crunchy-acoustic, more aggressive last-album -- best. All demonstrate a trademark “call” of encouraging followers of Christ in and through adverse circumstances. Christine also collaborated with husband Scott on a leaner, piano-driven “solo” album (I actually listen to this one the most) but all their efforts begin with Christine’s strikingly beautiful -- fragile/feminine/muscled vocals. Think of Karen Carpenter with a modern music edge. (If you are too young to know Karen…someone else will have to supply a modern name.)
The less audible member (vocally), Scott Dente, furnishes, what I suspect, is a vital part of the OotG sound. Background hum, strong Ambient Guitar work, with production and this at once modern, slick and experimental. If by rule, artists produce less than what they conceive inside, I wonder what this guy hears in his head!
This particular offering is presented under the name Christine Dente …with Out of the Grey, which means that it is less loud -- and given to a stronger piano presence – though, by contrast to her initial solo offering, comes with a little more techno twittering.
I won’t say a lot more about the sound (it’s not the meat) except to say that Voyage is absolute sonic treat, filled will all kinds of internal ambience, big bass, instrumental dallies, subterranean textures, cello rifts, and surprising melodic shifts. Individual songs may explode from quietude to full orchestra to techno touch all in a brief space. All in all, it’s not the kind of album that would ever play live (as is)…who hires a horn section to show up for ten seconds only to disappear?
Truth is, two of the songs didn’t really work for me as much on a music level. I am afraid to mention them, as I wouldn’t want in any way to dissuade anyone from purchasing this exceptional release…but one is the opening track (and which is featured as a promo on the album site), the other is (the beefier part) of the one I suspect might get radio play (its all about you). But then, the public and I don’t always agree.
But here’s the rub. This may be the first Dente/Out of the Grey CD that I listen too first and foremost for the content, but which also happens to be one of their finest on a sonic level. Several tunes have cut deep grooves in my soul. So how good is that! Sound/content/Union. And here, I go to theological musings that may lose some of my half-dozen readers.
Some years back H. L Mencken, offered this view of the Puritans, a religious movement that started as an effort to purify the Church of England and later moved with a great presence in early colonial America…
“Puritanism - the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." (H.L. Mencken)
Ask the public at large, and the puritans, if they are known at all, are often associated with sexual prudery, sensory deprivation, hard work, and harsh, hypocritical judgments –i.e.. Think of the community of “A” painters, found in Nathaniel Hawthorn’s the Scarlet Letter. And while the Puritans certainly held a number of convictions that rage against modern American culture, even churchy culture, many historians both secular and religious, find that the Puritans have been painted in a false light. For a little different take on the Puritans see
I have yet to read the particular book from which Christine draws the inspiration for these songs, but the book “The Valley of Vision; A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions” is something of a small classic among Christians of Reformed conviction.
(Reformed theology is a label for a large and very active school of Christian thought - which bloomed during the Reformation and in later efforts to "purify" the Church -- (the Church of England in particular.) While I do not think many folks claim to be"Puritan" today, many Christians chart a heritage through the preaching and practice of the Puritans.)
As is, these songs are not about Puritans, or even theology (directly), What they are, are songs that reflect certain themes in keeping with the Puritan conviction that God is active in our world, working out his will, in and through our lives – in both the mundane and the terrible.
Puritans (or the Reformed) are often noted for their strident theology... but this album pulls source from the devotional life of the same. And what we find, are songs that flow from a lover’s heart… make that the heart of the beloved, to her lover -- The lover of her soul. Any Christian who knows himself or herself to be Christ’s bride will find encouragement in these prayers, anchored in a recognition that Christ woos…prepares, and works with great tenderness and force in the life of his betrothed to bring her to her place of completion. Indeed, that place where the means of grace are no longer needed.
I will leave it up the listener to carve up the songs for their particular doctrinal or spiritual insights, but this lyric and song meant a lot to me on a personal level.
God all sufficient…
If I venture forth alone
I stumble and I fall
But on the beloved’s arms
I’m a tree standing tall
God all sufficient…
If left to the treachery of my heart
I would shame thy name
But if upheld by thy Spirit
I’ll bring glory to the same
Be thou my strength to stand
Be my light to see, my feet to run,
My sword to fight, my shield protecting me
To enrich me will not diminish thee
All thy love is in thy Son,
I claim his name, his blood covers my shame…
In the beginning I noted a certain irony in the larger concept of this album.
But first a bunny trail. We need a new word. A word that conveys the idea of sensual (full of that which is sensory), but devoid of the sexually indulgent part of that word. Christ’s family is to enjoy all God’s good gifts with great liberty, but we are also warned not to be sensually minded.
So what’s the irony?
Here is an album, built around the poems and prayers of a people that modern culture sees as rejecting a life of pleasure. Again, that is a false view, but we know what is suggested by the term “Puritanical.” And now, ironically, we find an album built around puritan themes, drenched in full orbed sensory sound and voice. Ironic too…Here is a very modern woman singing with thee’s and thou’s. Not wrong, just funny. And endearing.
(Even so, I suspect that there will be those in the “Reformed” community, who might read the source poems, but who would find the music a little too sensory.)
Beyond that, there is a certain irony in the packaging. Christine is by all counts a lovely woman. (Think of Gwyeneth Paltrow with a straighter nose;) But there isn’t even a hint of her appearance in the packaging. I guess it goes with Puritan humility.
The greatest irony however, (for some) is the great freedom, rest and even delight found in these songs. Puritans… people of radiant joy… You bettcha.
The heaven I desired
I am going where the means of grace shall cease
Where I need no more to fast or pray or seek
I am going where no grief or fears can live
No more tears or sorrow, no more shame or sin
I am going where I'll see the perfect sight
Find the sweetest food to fill my appetite
Where the music plays the finest melody
For the soul that finds its happiness in thee
I am going where I'll finally draw close
With my body and my soul
To the One I've longed to know
It's a big idea...That which gives the greatest satisfaction, to both sense and soul, appetite and dream is to be found in the arms of the eternal groom.
Final final note:
Ps. If you would like to read my own interaction with a particular early American Puritan poet, you can read a poem in which I correspond with poet Anne Bradstreet.