Album review: “Jonathan Rundman” RetrospectivePosted: May 18, 2012
Just last week, Sparks and Ashes featured musician Jonathan Rundman in the “Sparking Creativity” interview series (you can read his fantastic responses here).
Today, good friend and music aficionado Anthony Ashley reviews Rundman’s recently released 20 song retrospective album.
Whether it be semi-obscure Christian holidays, the human condition, death or theology, Jonathan Rundman’s songs deal with big ideas that matter. Rundman has just released a self-titled, twenty-track, retrospective album drawing from four of his albums released over the last decade and including new works and remixes.
The first song that really stood out to this writer is called Librarian. Being an incorrigible librophile, the song quickly found it’s way into my heart. In this librarian’s autobiography Rundman sings,
“I bring order out of chaos I shine light into the dark
because power comes from knowledge just like fire from a spark
Like Gutenberg and Luther with press and pen in hand
I take the message to the masses in a form they understand”
It’s at this point in the album I realize, this guy is smart and actually has something to say.
In Ashes, Rundman sings a mellow country duo about the best, least-celebrated, Christian holiday–Ash Wednesday. Again, Rundman wins with me on a personal note since Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite holidays. In Ashes, Rundman establishes what will become a theme of his music–a humble embracing of humanity’s brokenness, an honest ownership of the responsibility for that brokenness, and ultimately, a strong vision of the redemption available to us in Jesus Christ.
It would be hard to produce a twenty-track album without at least a few love songs and Rundman has them. Even Rundman’s love songs have intellectual and spiritual substance. Surgical Precision is a Springsteen-esque, coming-of-age, rock song about a boy learning the ways of romance, abandoning childish expectations, and finally recognizing real love.
The most interesting song on the album to me is Second Language. As shocking as it may be to you, O, reader, your expert reviewer doesn’t really know what the song is about. I’ve listened to it several times and I’m still not sure what the “second language” reference means. Second Language is the song that sticks in my head though and is, musically, one of the strongest songs on the album. If you have any ideas as to the song’s interpretation please enlighten us in the comments.
The best lyrics award goes to Forgiveness Waltz. In Forgiveness Waltz Rundman does his listeners an enormous favor by inviting us into the most freeing and refreshing of Christian disciplines and by helping us understand a concept that is mostly misunderstood–all in 3/4 time. The chorus to Forgiveness goes like this,
“It’s like a dance, it’s like a wheel;
less like math, less like a deal;
more like a heartbreak learning to heal
we can start over, we know forgiveness”
With Dialysis Carpool Rundman puts a redemptive spin on the phrase, “Misery loves company.” The song is pretty appropriately titled–it’s about people carpooling on their way to dialysis. But what it’s really about is embracing one’s brokenness and finding redemption in being honest about that brokenness with other, equally broken people who are going along for the ride. My guess is that Rundman is using Dialysis Carpool as a metaphor for church but maybe he just has bad kidneys. He’s an interesting person who chants “Dialysis Carpool!” over and over in the same way you’d imagine a kid saying “Disneyland!”
There is much more good stuff on Rundman’s album. A fingerstyle acoustic, instrumental piece based off a Finnish hymn in Kuortane, a humble song that accomplishes the ambitious task of identifying humanity’s problem and prescribing it’s solutions in The Serious Kind, and much more.
Jonathan Rundman’s self-titled collection of songs ends with Bright Funeral in which he describes his final wishes and his hopes that those who attend his funeral find much more reason to rejoice than to mourn at his passing. He tells us that “love don’t stop at death and the hands of God are reaching out beyond our blood and breath.” The time for Rundman’s epitaph may be a long way off but in Bright Funeral it sounds like he is ready to meet his maker now.
Jonathan Rundman writes songs that engage your mind and have a sense of humor. Using country, rockabilly, blues, honky-tonk, americana, or pop as vehicles Rundman writes about the unusually expansive topography his mind travels–all while maintaining a voice that is uniquely his own. He manages the delicate art of teaching deep theology with songs while avoiding a preachy tone. Pick up this new twenty-song retrospectiveat www.jonathanrundman.com/. After that, go explore his huge discography. And, enjoy.