Album Review: Audrey Assad, “The House You’re Building”

Released in 2010, Audrey Assad’s The House You’re Building (Sparrow Records) has finally found its way to Philippine shores via House of Praise, which is fantastic because this Dove Award-nominated debut was worth the wait. Assad’s critically acclaimed first release – one of the ten Best Christian Albums of 2010, according to Amazon, and SoundScan’s best-selling new Christian release of 2010 – was produced by Marshall Altman, who has worked with artists like Natasha Bedingfield, Brooke Fraser, and Christian artist Bethany Dillon. Altman’s sensibilities to the nuances of Assad’s beautiful crystal voice have resulted in an album that is one of the highlights of Christian music for 2010.

Assad says in this Christian Today interview that The House You’re Building is about faith. “It’s about the cross and fear and pain,” she elaborates, “and how God is carrying me even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.” That is apparent in her poetically written lyrics, and anyone who is able to relate to Assad’s faith journey will be able to relate. “That’s what my journey will probably always be,” she says, “the first reason I write songs is to preach to myself.”

Listeners will note that The House You’re Building is built, so to speak, on Assad’s unique vocals, sensitive songwriting, and piano-based melodies. The album opens with carrier single For Love of You. While certainly radio-friendly with its jangly guitars, two-voice harmonies, and decidedly faithful lyrics – the highlight verse goes I gave You brokenness, You gave me innocence, and now this road leads to gloryFor Love of You isn’t nearly the best track on The House You’re Building.

For Love of You by Audrey Assad

The breezy title track follows For Love of You, and is one of the highlights. Its Wurlitzer-esque keyboards, gentle guitars, and precise drum work make for a deliciously relaxed song that is pleasant and lovely. Assad’s songwriting strength shines brightly in The House You’re Building. Note to wit:

Yeah these are old shoes that I’ve been walking in
I’m wearing weary like it’s a second skin
I’ve been looking for a place to lay my head
All this time like a vagabond
A homeless stranger
I’ve been wandering
All my life you’ve been calling me
To a home you know I’ve been needing

I’m a broken stone
So lay me in the house you’re building

Breaking Through follows that. I am loving the verse lyrics:

I am a blind man trying to find the way
A deaf man with my ear to the ground
Just listening for what You say

I’ve got no voice to sing the songs
Written by the prophets on the subway walls
The kingdom is a golden table and we are beggars all

Assad’s musical poetry is evocative without being unreachable. Coupled with producer Allman’s proclivities towards harmonies and spotlighting her clear voice, Breaking Through is gorgeous. She doesn’t have to show off what she is capable of vocally, but given the airiness of her standard range, the power she musters towards the bridge of Breaking Through is welcome and unexpected.

The radio-friendliness of Everything is Yours is also apparent: the “oh-oh-oh-oh” singalong hook is arguably one of the highlights of the album, but I’m also thrilled by the piano work on the track. Whatever brilliant piano work on Everything is Yours, however, takes a backseat to Restless, which it unfortunately precedes.

Restless by Audrey Assad

In my opinion, Restless is one of the most beautiful worship ballads ever written. Taking inspiration and lyrics from devotionals written by Saint Augustine, Assad paints a beautiful, evocative picture of what it means to have tasted of the experience of God and be without Him, packaged in an absolutely breathtaking song. Crystalline piano lines, spine-tingling harmonies, and a bridge that swells to a crescendo declaring her trust and faith, Restless may be the finest piano-driven worship ballad most people will have never heard.

Coming from Restless, it would be difficult to recover – I feel that Restless would have been a great album closer, but actual album closer Show Me is actually most welcome and appropriate – but Ought to Be does just fine. The acoustic toe-tapper is light and airy, which is great, because anyone coming from Restless, after releasing a long drawn-out sigh, will appreciate the gentle ‘welcome-back-to-earth’ that Ought to Be provides.

Ought to Be by Audrey Assad

Known offers another clear opportunity for Assad to showcase her songwriting skill. The chorus goes:

Savior, You have known me as I am
Healer, You have known me as I was
As I will be in the morning, in the evening
You have known me, yeah, You know me

The percussive work on Come Clean and Run Forward are both attractive, as is the piano work. But by this time, though, most listeners will find themselves yearning for sweet release, and that’s where Show Me comes into full power. When Assad sings, “Bind up these broken bones, mercy bend and breathe me back to life, but not before You show me how to die,” you believe her totally and completely. The faith walk is complete; it is death to self that encapsulates the Christian conundrum, the irony that we have life when we die, that Christ may live in us.

Altogether, The House You’re Building is a powerful collection from one of Contemporary Christian music’s most promising artists.

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