A Review of “The Cancer Year”

I first heard of Audrey Assad in 2010 when I received a review copy of her debut CD, “The House You’re Building,” that her publicist sent me pitching an interview. After listening to her insightful lyrics, catchy melodies, and pure voice, I was hooked as a fan. Then I did what all music fans do nowadays: logged in to Twitter and added Audrey to my “Follow” list. Through those updates over the past couple of years, I also came to follow her husband, William Price III, whom she married in February 2011.

Newlyweds, of course, are supposed to live lives of unadulterated joy for their first few years of marriage. But a little something called “cancer” happened on Audrey and William’s road through “unadulterated joy.” William was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma within weeks of their wedding. The doctors assured him this was the best type of cancer to have because it was eminently treatable and curable. It was still cancer though, so he needed chemotherapy which was draining physically, emotionally and financially.

Though William’s treatment is finished and his doctors gave him a clean bill of health, he still has other bills – namely, the medical kind – that need paying. To help offset those payments, he got his talented-musician-wife and her talented-musician-friends to contribute four tracks to a benefit EP called “The Cancer Year” which I received in the mail today.

If you read the banner at the top of this page, you know The Christophers are big on lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness. That’s the approach taken by William, Audrey and the contributors to this album. As William writes on the inside cover:

It might seem silly to mention that my wife is a Cancer, but there is a poetic truth and beauty in it. The Cancer Year is not a year marked by disease; it is a year marked by the unity of Joy and Suffering—not joy and suffering experienced alternately, but together, united. So far, marriage and cancer have served the same purpose, namely, to unite me with Christ on the Cross. The consolation of accompanying Christ in spirit at a place where He was physically alone is so sweet, like nothing I’ve known.

It’s appropriate that Audrey’s track, “Until You Came Along,” is the first song on the CD because it sets a mood, not of sad melancholy like you might expect from a cancer benefit, but rather of the unadulterated newlywed joy I mentioned before. Based on what Audrey has said about herself in both my interview with her and in other places, she’s often drawn to topics like redemptive suffering. The songs opening lines therefore are likely autobiographical: “I’ve never been one to sing like a nightingale. / I’ve always got some blue note to tip my scale / From sweet to sad.” But as the chorus reveals, everything changed when William entered her life: “Until you came along/ I was a half unfinished song…/ I never thought that I could feel this way / Until you came along.”

Not only are the song’s lyrics personal and meaningful, but the melody and instrumentation are perfect. The song sounds like it could have been a track – and I mean this as the highest possible compliment – on the Buffy musical episode soundtrack “Once More with Feeling” which has accompanied me on many car rides. “Until You Came Along” is a feel-good song that will make you appreciate that special someone in your life like Audrey obviously appreciates William.

The second track is Erin Gauvin’s “Burden” which further conveys the album’s theme of walking through troubles with God and loved ones at your side. In this case, the song is being sung to someone whose self-sufficiency and rugged individualism are taken to an extreme, not allowing him to let someone who loves him into his heart. Erin encourages him to open up, singing, “So be a burden on me, / You could put it down, go on, share your misery. / There may be something in ‘we’ / A trace of brightness there that seclusion could not see. / Oh baby, be a burden on me.”

Though I’m reading it as the appeal of a woman to a man she cares about, it could easily be an appeal from Jesus to any of us who think we can get through life and trouble on our own. Jesus invites us to place our burdens on Him because He absorbed them all during the crucifixion – and because He created us to live in community, not isolation. Erin’s song softly appeals to our stubborn, individualistic side with an invitation to try a different way.

Track three is “A Fireman’s Son” by “A Wild Wood” about the struggle between the best and worst inside of us. As the lyrics indicate, our worst character traits often seem insurmountable, as if they’re “written in stone,” while our best traits seem easily washed away as if they’re “written in water.” Yet the song ends on a hopeful note for this “fireman’s son” who embarks on an open road ahead. He’s humble enough to know that the struggles won’t end, but that the choice to change our path is available.

The closing track is Matt Maher’s “Because of You” in which he acknowledges his complete dependence on God, singing, “It’s hard to imagine the sun without the moon, / ‘Cause anything that’s bright in me is only bouncing off of you. / If I shine, it’s because of You. / If I love, it’s because of You. / If I’m strong it’s because of You. / It’s all because of You.” It’s a love song to the Creator that reflects William and Audrey’s attitude after their cancer ordeal. As William recently wrote on his blog:

And this is how Cancer has been good to me: I’ve never been put in a position where an outpouring of support has been my only hope for recovery. I would never wish chemotherapy on my worst enemy, but I would never take that experience back. It was an opportunity to see love from my wife and friends and family that I could never have otherwise seen.

There are only a limited amount of CDs of “The Cancer Year” available, so if it sounds appealing, order one now. It’s only $8.00, and the music is well worth the price.

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