Steven Curtis Chapman was born in Paducah, Kentucky on November 21, 1962. His debut album was 1987’s FIRST HAND. Over the next several years he became known for such songs as: ‘His Strength is Perfect’, ‘I Will Be Here’, ‘For the Sake of the Call’, and ‘The Great Adventure’. In 1996 he released SIGNS OF LIFE (Sparrow). The album was produced by Brown Bannister and Steven, and was executive produced by Peter York and Dan Raines. It won the Dove Award for ‘Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year’. In the liner notes, Steven writes: “To the Lord of this dance called life, thank You for giving the music for the dance and bringing purpose to every step. May this recording bring honor and glory to the God by whom and for whom it was ultimately created”.
Steven co-wrote the first song ‘Lord of the Dance’ with Scotty Smith. It is a rootsy pop song featuring Stuart Duncan on the fiddle. It makes it clear it is God who gives meaning to our lives: “I am the heart, He is the heartbeat/I am the eyes, He is the sight/And I see clearly, I am just a body, He is the life/I move my feet, I go through the motions/But He gives purpose to chance/I am the dancer/He is the Lord of the dance”. ‘Children of the Burning Heart’ finds Steven playing slide acoustic guitar among other things. This one encourages us to be fully alive spiritually: “So let us throw back our heads and run with the passion/Through the fields of forgiveness and grace/We carry the eternal flame/With an undying hope and a blazing conviction/Of a truth that will never fade/We are glowing in the dark/Children of the burning heart”.
The title track, ‘Signs of Life’, is one of nine songs Steven wrote alone. Steven plays an electric guitar solo on this adult pop song. Here are some of the words: “These are the signs, these are the signs of life/The love that proves there is a living faith inside/These are the signs, these are the signs of life/The compassion and concern that’s gonna make this world keep turning/These are the signs of life/A love that’s flowing from the heart/Where the grace of God has left its mark”. ‘The Walk’ is a marvelous rootsy song of reflection on which Steven plays the mandolin: “There’s a man I know/He said He’d come to show us the way/He died on a cross and He rose from the grave/And proved He was more than talk/He taught us the walk.../Am I doing the walk?”
The next song, ‘Let Us Pray’, won a Dove Award for ‘Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year’. It’s a song of encouragement: “Let us pray, let us pray, everywhere in every way/Every moment of the day, it is the right time/For the Father above, He is listening with love/And He wants to answer us, so let us pray”. ‘Free’ is an adult contemporary song that makes use of The Nashville String Machine and runs over six minutes long. Of it, Steven writes: “This song was inspired by the lives of free men and women I’ve encountered behind prison bars in my work with Prison Fellowship”.
Leland Sklar plays bass on ‘Only Natural’. These opening words remind me of Paul’s writings: “Mirror, mirror on the wall/Who’s the biggest fool of all?/You don’t have to answer me/Cause when I look at you I see/A prisoner set free from his chains/Acting like he’s still a slave/To the prison he’s been set free from/You may say it’s only natural for me to act this way/Well, I know, it’s only natural/But I have not been made only natural, only natural/I’ve got the Spirit of the living God alive in me/Giving me power so I don’t have to be/Only natural, only natural”. ‘Rubber Meets the Road’ is a great rock track, inspiring Christians to stop being spectators: “I’ve got a Bible on the table/I’ve got five more on my shelf/I’ve got a head half full of knowledge far from what I’d call a wealth/But I know what I do know, better yet I know who knows me/And He’s given us directions and he’s throwing us the keys/Sayin’ ‘Fire up your engines, come on let’s go/This is where the rubber meets the road/It’s time to put in motion everything you know/This is where the rubber meets the road’”.
‘Celebrate You’ is an easy listening love song: “So, tell me what you think, and tell me what you feel/I want to hear the thunder I’m so quick to steal/Listen to the dreams you’re dreaming and celebrate you/Let me show you what a treasure you are/A priceless gift from heaven to this thankful heart/I want to take this lifetime to celebrate you/I want to celebrate you”. Shane Keister plays piano on the beautiful ‘What I Would Say’, a song directed to Steven’s grandfather: “I’d love to tell you how the lovely girl you married/She’s been my hero and a treasure to us all/I know you’d be proud of the way your name’s been carried/These are things I would love to tell you if I could/And I would say I wish I could have known you”.
Good friend Geoff Moore co-wrote the pop song ‘Land of Opportunity’. I love these lyrics: “This is a world full of options/It’s like a never ending buffet line/While all that I’m really needing/Is living water and the bread of life.../Seek ye first the kingdom of God (2X)”. James Isaac Elliot co-wrote the closing ballad ‘Hold On To Jesus’. It’s about spiritual commitment: “The doubts and questions are rising with the tide/So I’m clinging to the one sure thing I know/I will hold on to the hand of my Savior/And I will hold on with all of my might/I will hold loosely to things that are fleeting/And hold on to Jesus/I will hold on to Jesus for life”.
SIGNS OF LIFE runs a generous 56 minutes and 34 seconds. Pop music is the main course genre wise, with doses of roots, adult contemporary, easy listening and rock music mixed in. God is portrayed as the giver of physical and spiritual life and the One who gives our lives meaning. Several of the songs encourage us to live vibrant, faithful Christian lives. There are also a couple of touching songs dealing with human relationships. One is addressed to Steven’s wife Mary Beth, and the other to a grandfather Steven never knew. This album shows great maturity that comes from life’s experiences and it is performed with excellence! I’m rating SIGNS OF LIFE 99%. For more info visit: www.stevencurtischapman.com.