Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Broken, Gazing by Jeff Johnson, review by Kirk

Artist: Jeff Johnson (and friends)
Album: Broken, Gazing: Songs and Chants for Pilgrims
Genre:  Sacred,  chamber-coustic, with a Celtic vibe.
Release, August 12, 2014

Quick Spin.   A "worship" album of extraordinary beauty.

Songs and chants for pilgrims composed and performed by vocalist/keyboardist Jeff Johnson with a chamber ensemble featuring Wendy Goodwin (violin), Janet Chvatal (voice), Brian Dunning (flute), Phil Baker (bass), Tim Ellis (guitar), Phil Madeira (accordion & guitar), Trevor Fitzpatrick (cello) and Mike Snyder (percussion). 

I am not sure how long this link will be active, but you can listen to Broken, Gazing here.

I have spent the last three or four decades listening intently to music.  I have sampled virtually every fad, and despite my commitment to a simple way have life (as an idea) have managed to surround myself with no small amount of music.   Should you break down my life you might find I own a tune for every day of my life.  But something is happening.    I find that my ear is filling up, I can hardly hold another song.   Christian radio is largely intolerable -- Mark Heard and Johnny Cash aren't  putting out like they used to,  even a lot of Indi-rock runs  cliché.    So I am tempted to hang up my ear and take a rest.


That is, I find that there are perhaps a dozen or so artists who command my ongoing zeal, and of those, three of four that feed my heart at such a level that I cannot but listen, and listen again.

The Music of Jeff Johnson has become the very bone of my soul.   When I hear much of his music… I don’t think:   Ooohhh this sounds to epic, Celtic and good… I think, this sounds like the music I hear inside myself… Or that I would make if I could.  Ha! Jeff, even sounds like me.  Really    (Which is kind of funny, cause my wife says.. not that guy again.. He sounds so fruity!

Sorry Jeff.  Those are her words.   Apparently we share a singing voice that not everyone appreciates.

And if I am honest, when I listen to some of Jeff’s older works, I can get (in the abstract) where she is coming from.  But I find that as Jeff ages, his voice is taking on a warmth and depth, even beauty… like an aged wine.

At almost sixty something(?) .. Jeff’s voice has fully arrived.
Looking back, Jeff used to alternate between vocal and instrumental works… but in the last decade his instrumental works have out-stripped his vocal-releases at the ratio of four to one… or something like that.  Indeed, this is Jeff’s first solo-vocal release  in about five years.

My  heart was hungry.


What makes this music so instantly fresh has less to do with talent.   When I Listen to Broken, Gazing I am hearing nothing short of a heart in communion with God.

This particular music is all the beauty I associate with liturgical forms, and all the passion-of-being that goes with the small country church.  Jeff shared: 

Broken, Gazing is really a reflection of my experience of leading contemplative worship through the Selah service for many years. It also reflects my great respect and deep love for the Psalms as the prayer book of all believers in Christ.

There is something about this music that just rings true, as the living worship of a soul who is in love with God, even as he uses the most refined of sounds and words to communicate adoration that bridges head and heart.  

Indeed, there are many languages through which a heart might sing to God… In the case of Jeff (and this heart) His is a voice that speaks with an ancient accent.

As for content.  12 songs.  Spare, lush, organic sounds.  Violin by Wendy Goodwin,  Piano and ambience by Jeff,  and that angel of a voice which is Janet Chvatal.
There is quite.  There is confession, there is exaltation.  There are hymns and there are chants.  Some of the writing is detailed.  Some honed.  Like this:

I have fallen, from my mountain, I have hit the earth, broken.
I am gazing, at your glory, I lie on this ground, gazing.

((and this is the gospel))

I dare any saint of God… Listen to this recording and see if a deep completeness, even satisfaction of soul doesn’t descend upon you with those final notes.


I am a champion of the idea the God’s people have a range of musical languages at their disposal.  I am no fan of screamo rock, but would concede – if you are looking for a musical medium which communicates burning anger at injustice… screamo may be your tongue.

And if you want to communicate the spirit of jubilee, the power of joy spilling through your day… go for some upbeat and dance-able Pop…

But I am convinced there is a large part of our life before God that is largely under served by today’s sounds, even the sounds of many churches.

When I listen to Broken and Gazing, A whole host of adjectives come to mind that I rarely associate with the musical language of the day…anywhere.

This music is at once sensitive, delicate, glorious, tranquil, majestic, honoring, and pure…
(Against which there is no law:) 

Simply stated, this is music that stands in vast contradistinction to the sounds of the day.
I listen, and find myself fed at the deepest of levels.

Thank you Jeff for the invitation to join with you in your brokenness, as we gaze into the glorious light of our  Father, through the Son and by the Spirit.

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