Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Audrey Assad: Fortunate Fall

Artist:  Audrey Assad
Album: Fortunate Fall ( August 2013)
Genre:  Piano driven ballads given to direct and intimate worship of the Living God.

This quality image was "borrowed" from the Internet.  I do not know whom to credit.  If you object to my use of it here, please let me know and I will remove it, or credit - pronto.

Quick Spin:  Fortunate Fall features a collection of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs by Singer/songwriter/pianist – and now producer – Audrey Assad, as she empties her heart in fully satisfying acoustic-colored worship of a plaintive hue.   She invites us to drink at the well.  I left fully satisfied. 

*****   I can't really type a half star, but I don't need to.  This gets the full 5.  

I am Just a few listens in, but Fortunate Fall is headed to Desert Island status, that is… one of the dozen or so albums I would take with me to restart civilization.

My wife and I sometimes have this discussion about the feminine ideal in terms of physical appearance or dress.   I try not to say too much about physical appearance (because I don’t want to get busted) but then I offer my thoughts on dress.

Women, I say – are served best by a modest, figure flattering dress…  

In short, I like the look of something we call “Peace-Corp Chick” (sounds like Sheek).   Such a woman should have flowing hair…kind of wavy.  Maybe red.   Or perhaps she has straight black hair or an Afro.  And if she has grey, she lets the grey remain.   The looks is simple.    Linen tweed blouse-soft pastel, peasant skirt with earth tones, perhaps a muted floral design.  And sandals.   Beyond that, she rides an old school bike with a bell and woven basket, with tulips  flowing over the edge and a book by Dostoyevsky.   As for lipstick… ever so faint.  If she wears any kind of stuff about her eyes, we sense the glow but must not know it.   And of course.  Nice teeth.   You know.  Simple.  Elegant. Earthy.

Then my wife proceeds to tell me just how unnatural… and how very expensive that look is.   “It takes a great deal of money to look like your "little hippy-librarian.”

Example two.   My wife and I watch figure skating.  The couple glides resting in each other arms.  The whole thing looks so smooth and  effortless…

All of that is to say… the new album by Audrey Assad… sounds at once spare, elegant, and effortless.

Then I listen again, and find out just how much mind-bending thought, work, and talent is behind the illusion of simplicity... and the very real beauty of this album.

They say you cannot judge a book by it cover, but I disagree – For me, the cover of a book is always part of the larger book experience.   In that same sense, just savoring the packaging of “Fortunate Fall” is part of my larger listening experience. The front cover of the CD appears to hold a stylized photo illustration comprised of broken flower parts and petals.  There is river of petals, shaped like bird. And you must open the CD art before you ever see Audrey’s face.  Then the photography, of the recording session itself:   Classy black and whites that have a retro feel.   Everything here breaths quality.

As for Audrey’s voice; It is lovely --  Deeply feminine.   (I hear touches of Sarah McLaachlan or Sara Groves.  Suffice it to say, Audrey can sing really big,  but here gives deference to her quite voice.…. And singing with herself in exquisite harmony.   
From what I understand, Audrey herself produced this album.  I don’t know much about the process, but the pictures show a studio replete with piano, chimes, an organ, and various stringed instruments.   And while the production is certainly deeper than mere parlor music, there is a real sense that this is living, breathing music.    I am relishing the restraint.    That, and the slightly minor chord cast.   Listen for cello, bells, wind, and the beating heart.

This is my second Audrey album.  It appears that I missed a most worthy studio release in-between this and her first full-length studio release - This House You are Building. (And from what I read, I now need to find and purchase Heart.)  As is, I wrote a review of  This House -- and gave it a quality review, but also wished that she might have toned to down some of the glossier production elements.  I don’t know if Audrey’s ear has aged, but I want to publicly thank her for paying so much attention to my thoughts, and making this album just for me:)   and Now, here I am.  Fully satisfied.   No unwanted gloss.  No ready made hits for the frothy often waste-land of Christian radio.   I love, love, love the production through out, but am most surprised by the volley of sounds in “Oh Happy Fault.”   Oh, and the beautifully orchestrated song  “Spirit of the Living God.”   My soul just turned to butter.

Odd note:  Many of these songs have a sense of space.  I mean physical space. Not the 80s sense of singing in a can, but I really do get the sense of being in a room, with depth, dust and light.  A few even open into a cathedral.


I have this theory that art is often best served by what is left out.  When it comes to song craft,  Audrey knows when to leave behind.  The songs are honed.  We hear echos of the  Psalms, Augustine, and perhaps even elements of catholic liturgy (some of which may escape me.)  But mostly, we are invited to listen to melodic prayer.  These songs are first and foremost offered to God, and we are invited to join her in the room.

Finally,  It is not often that the mere title of a work sells the package… but there are some very big thoughts behind the album title (and song)  “Fortunate Fall.”  

Which of us -- upon seeing the first-couple crack the skin of the forbidden fruit would then celebrate the Fall of the human race?   But as says Augustine (whom she quotes) :

"For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist."

or , as sings Audrey:

Oh happy fault, oh Happy fault
that gained for us so great a Redeemer, 
Fortunate fall, fortunate fall
that gained for us so great a Redeemer.

On a personal level, I have puzzled much over this.   Would it be better to live in a world never damaged by sin, disease and pain (and likewise never know the depths of our depravity) or..Is it better to know in ourselves the sickness of the Fall, and then experience healing love of our rescuing and redeeming Savior?   I claim the latter, though sometimes the pain is such it is hard to imagine God even making possible such choice.

But now… I am much ahead of myself. Fortunate Fall is in not a heavy-headed big-think album. I think the theme Fortunate Fall, is more of a setting. Because God is who he is, He is able to see through this current confusion to the end of the day.   He is good to us, despite our double-hearts. He is most worthy of our adoration.   Finally, God has given to some of his children, fingers, vocal cords and the inner sense to create things of great beauty.

I thank Audrey for providing a vehicle that let us join her in the shadow of the throne.

Ps.  Not sure how much longer it will be up, but you can download two of Audrey's songs from Noisetrade/ tip or free.  (One found on the album, the other a "collector's item"  -- one of my favorite hymns. 

song to the Living God.   (image by Kirk Jordan)


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