Saturday, November 26, 2011


     Acclaimed singer/songwriter Steve Bell has performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and shares the following thoughts about being classified as a Christian singer/songwriter: "I'm an artist.  I want to be a singer/songwriter.  The fact that my music comes out Christian is simply because that's who I am, not because I've got an agenda for my work.  So my first and primary calling isn't to be a Christian artist, it's to be a good artist, and any good artist is going to be true to who they are."  Bell is greatly concerned with the quality of his work: "Excellence in itself at some level is a truth-teller.  It tells something about the excellence and the goodness of God and His worth striving for."  He once had someone speak these words over him: "When you sing and you play, battles will be fought and won, that you know nothing about."  Steve reflects on his latest album KINDNESS (2011, Signpost Music): "Usually when I do an album I don't have a preconceived idea of the theme.  It usually presents itself afterwards to me.  With this one I was originally going to call this collection of songs CHANGES.  I'm 50, I've got grandkids now.  The music industry's changing, the economy's changing, the culture is changing.  It seemed like an appropriate title.  But when I was collecting the songs one day I was singing them to some friends and this one woman said to me 'Why don't you call it KINDNESS, it seems like the running theme of the songs.'"  Bell quotes Lucie-Christine (1844-1908): "I have sought how I might make God more loved by other souls...and have not found any other or more powerful way than kindness."
     The album begins with 'About Love', a beautiful pop song with these reflective lyrics: "One thing that I've learned in my time/You can't win if you have to draw lines/When it comes to the struggle/To show and to prove love/Oh-it's always been about love."  The title track was written by Brian McLaren and features Alana Levandoski.  It is smooth sounding and urges us to live with purpose: "Christ has no body here but ours/No hands, no feet here on earth but ours/Ours the eyes through which He looks/On this world with kindness."  'Changes' written by Jim Croegaert, utilizes a vocal chorus to good effect, and assures us that all the changes we go through in life lead to something good: "Sometimes we may be lonely/It's a hard job making us holy/But in the long run there will be glory/Glory to rival the sun."  The next two tracks are two of my favourites.  'Good Friend' written by Steve Bell, was "inspired and adapted from the poem 'Mayflies' by Richard Wilbur."  It begins with pretty keys and guitar and has a nice sing-a-long type chorus: "Be but your own good friend/And be good to the other/Chrerish those sisters and brothers/Along the road/And to the earth extend/Every reverence and wonder/Tend to the wounds of your blunders/And honour God who formed our home."  Pierce Pettis wrote 'Absalom, Absalom' featuring Alexa Dirks.  Bells says the song helps us grieve our own sins and their consequences.  The song is about King David grieving his son: "Come and smear me/With the branches from that tree/Hyssop dipped in innocent blood/To make me clean/Let an old man's broken bones/Once more rejoice/Absalom, you were my little boy" and "You were watching/When I took a good man's wife/And gave the order for his murder/Just to cover up my crime/All the vanity, cruel arrogance, and greed/Absalom, you learned it all from me."
     I picture God singing 'These are the Ones' over us.  The song features Jodi King, but I would have liked to see it done as a full on duet, with Bell and her trading off vocals.  Here are some of the lyrics: "These are the work of my hands/These are the shoot I have planted here/For the display of my splendor here/In these beleaguered lands/These are the ones I have loved/These are the ones I have called my own/These are the priests of a sacred home/These are the ones/These are the ones I love."  'In Billy's Wake' was inspired by the article 'The Washing' by Jessie van Eerden in Geez Magazine.  She was doing the laundry one day when she got a call that her cousin Billy had committed suicide.  All she could think to do was to go back to her good work of doing the laundry.  The song has a pleasant, content sound that suits Bell's voice.  It includes these words: "We're not alone/Silently watched by a sliver blue moon/Closed casket wake in a cold living room/There is good work to do...We're not alone/Laundry awash in the mid morning sun/You can see angels dance as they try trousers on/There is good work to do."  'Stubble and Hay' written by Gord Johnson and featuring Alexa Dirks talks of getting older.  Interspersed in it is a poem preached by Gerry Atwell.  The song is creative and memorable: "Forty-nine years/I've walked this life/What do I have to say?/Cast it all down in refiner's fire/Nothing but stubble and hay" and "Forty-nine years I've walked this life/One thing I've got to say/Remember God in the days of your youth/All else is stubble and hay."  Fans of Buddy and Julie Miller will like this song.  Of aging, Bell says: "You start to realize you're heading towards evening and we as Christians trust there's morning after evening...You start to ponder things, you start to be quieter, maybe less confident of the things you knew when you were 30."
     'Birth of a Song' written by Steve Bell, is easy listening and praises the babe Christ: "Author of the mysteries/Ecstasy of blazing suns/And swooning moons and these crooning/Winds and water, earth and fire/Yearning spirit, burning flesh/Consummating desire/Tossing off the soul's attire/Ever I in You and You in me."  'Greatest Gift' is one of the most commercial sounding tracks on the album.  It features country singer Carolyn Dawn Johnson: "No one can say this is not the work/Of the One who looks over us all/And the love that is given/The love we all share/Is the greatest gift of all."  'The Gifting and the Giver' is a well done original song of worship featuring Graham Shaw on harmonica: "I see in rocks, in sands and swell/In highest cliff and lowest crater/In broken shards of pearly shell/Fair fingerprints of the Creator/And I onshore admire this living Scripture/And adore the painter of the picture/I adore the gifting and the Giver/The gifting and the Giver."  A stellar rendition of Jim Croegaert's 'Was it a Morning like This', made famous by Sandi Patty in 1986, closes the album.  It attempts to picture what resurrection morn was like: "Did the grass sing/Did the earth rejoice to feel you again/Over and over like a trumpet underground/Did the earth seem to pound He is risen?/Over and over in a never ending round/He is risen/Alleluia Alleluia/Was it a morning like this/When Peter and John ran from Jerusalem?/And as they raced for the tomb/Beneath their feet was there a tune?"
     Signpost Music's mission statement is: "To encourage Christian faith and thoughtful living through artful word and song."  Steve Bell has done just that on KINDNESS.  I'm recommending this wonderful album to fans of Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, Bruce Cockburn, and James Taylor.  Steve Bell has truly hit his stride with this project.  I'm rating it 87%.  For more info visit or