Album Review: Andrew Peterson, “Light for the Lost Boy”

ALBUM TITLE: Light for the Lost Boy
ARTIST: Andrew Peterson
BEST TRACK/S: The Voice of Jesus, Rest Easy, Come Back Soon, Shine Your Light on Me

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to an album that has made me almost literally hold my breath through virtually every song. Contemporary Christian singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson’s new release, Light for the Lost Boy, is the first release that I’ve gone through where every song painted such a breathtaking musical tapestry that I virtually and instinctively held my breath through every song. I didn’t want to miss a word; I couldn’t bring myself to miss a note. Peterson’s songwriting skill, combined with the capable production skill of Ben Shive (Sara Groves, Jeremy Camp) and Cason Cooley (Mat Kearney, Audrey Assad), has resulted in a ten-track release that is easily one of the top five most compelling releases of 2012 to date.

“(Light for the Lost Boy) started out as an album for my children,” Peterson says in this video, “I realized a lot of the songs dealt with childhood and the loss of innocence. But as I was writing, I realized that it’s not just children that need light. We all carry in us this longing for something that was lost.”

Peterson drew inspiration as well from Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s 1938 book, The Yearling. As Peterson writes here, “The young deer (in the novel) is a metaphor for Jody Baxter, and Jody Baxter is a metaphor for the loss of Eden. And Eden? It was a real place, but is now the metaphor for the world that was, and will be, and is no more, the world our own world longs for.” There’s something about the “ache for the lost,” as Peterson puts it, “for the universal longing for the day when God will make things right again.”

This “record for the children,” or the child in all of us who yearns for innocence lost with the passage of time, permeates the entire collection. Two songs in particular, The Ballad of Jody Baxter, which draws inspiration directly from The Yearling, or Day By Day, which cross-references 2 Corinthians 4:16 with another children’s classic, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, are strikingly beautiful. Combined with the thematic overtures of other standout tracks like The Voice of Jesus and Rest Easy, well, Light for the Lost Boy makes for a virtually universal experience.

What makes Light for the Lost Boy work is how well the musical arrangements match Peterson’s artistic vision. Light for the Lost Boy is a stark contrast from the folksy instrumentation of Peterson’s previous release, Counting Stars; he experiments with different instruments and song styles on this record but wisely doesn’t wander too far from his folk-rock roots. Rich, evocative instrumentation permeates the songs, from the rock stylings of album opener Come Back Soon to the gentle mourning of The Ballad of Jody Baxter, drawing a thick delineating line between run-of-the-mill CCM and this thoughtful collection of stories and musings on life and loss.

Peterson sets the tone of the album with Come Back Soon, a song that sings of the yearning for the return of Christ. With the expressive and somewhat unsettling acoustic guitar work, the tinkling piano lines, the odd drum loops that metamorphose into orchestraic brilliance, and Peterson’s expressive falsetto layered in sweet harmonies, Come Back Soon is daring and unique. One particular line – but we cannot read these angel tongues, we cannot stare at the burning sun, and we cannot breathe with these broken lungs, we beg to be born, deliver us – will stay in the listener’s mind for days. The epic album closer, the nine-minute Don’t You Want to Thank Someone, reprises Come Back Soon so beautifully that it can literally stun the listener into silence at first listen.

Virtually every track on this record has something special to offer the listener, granting insight into Peterson’s remarkably astute perception of the human condition. Carry the Fire is encouragement to the world-weary believer; You’ll Find Your Way is the gentle message from a caring father to his son; The Cornerstone is a reminder that Christ ultimately holds everything together. Carrier single Rest Easy is a brilliant encouragement to the struggling believer, with an unbelievably honest video to match.

The best track on Light for the Lost Boy clearly is the written-for-AC-but-not-really ballad The Voice of Jesus. Reminiscent of Chris Rice’s Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus) in its stark, vocal-driven beauty, The Voice of Jesus‘ musical stylings already makes this track special; the piano only highlights the striking lyrics and Peterson’s expressive voice. It’s moving, it’s breathtaking, it’s magical. By the time the breathtaking strings come in, we are all a quivering puddle of self-conscious tears.

Clearly, Peterson’s Light for the Lost Boy is not your average Contemporary Christian pop record. This is not a “for driving” record, nor is it a praise and worship album. There is an intimacy in Light for the Lost Boy that I have yet to hear in any other CCM record I’ve heard to date; it goes beyond folk, goes beyond CCM, goes beyond even Peterson’s own enviable discography. What Andrew has expertly put together is an album about the human condition, about the inevitability of death and the salve of hope, redemption, and salvation, all ultimately found in Christ.

There are singers, and there are storytellers, and Peterson’s latest release in a long and largely under-the-radar career arguably underscores his richly deserved but sorely unacknowledged status as Contemporary Christian music’s most gifted storyteller. For this – and to Centricity Records, who I can personally trust to release music that always challenges the otherwise predictable requirements of Christian AC radio – we the public and the greater Contemporary Christian music industry should be thankful.

Disclosure: A review copy of Light for the Lost Boy was provided for review by Centricity Music. For another perspective, please read JesusFreakHideout‘s magnificent review of Light for the Lost Boy.

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