Singer-songwriter Audrey Assad’s first indie album, “Fortunate Fall,” releases on Tuesday August 13, and as one of the project’s many Kickstarter backers, I received an early download last week. Though the lyrics include Audrey’s usual theological depth, the album differs somewhat from her past work in that the songs are specifically designed for church purposes: Mass, praise and worship, Eucharistic adoration, liturgy of the hours, and personal devotion.
As I was listening to the album in preparation for an upcoming interview with Audrey, I realized that one of the greatest strengths of her music – and “Fortunate Fall” in particular – is that her voice conveys an undercurrent of vulnerability. She sounds like someone whose faith is her foundation, yet who still undergoes the same spiritual struggles we all go through sometimes.
For instance, there’s the track “Lead Me On,” a musical interpretation of the 23rd Psalm (“The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”), which she wrote with Matt Maher. As a lector in church, I’ve always understood that psalm and tried to deliver it with a feeling of comfort and strength. Yet Audrey’s interpretation made me rethink that approach as too one-dimensional.
She starts the song singing softly and meekly, almost like she’s trying to convince herself that God is by her side. As the song progresses, her vocals gain in confidence and the accompanying music builds to a fuller sound as well. It’s like listening to the gradual process of God’s grace affecting and assuring a human soul. And this approach in the performance makes perfect sense. After all, why would a person walking through the valley of the shadow of death not feel at least a little trepidation when doing so? We’re human, and our faith needs bolstering in dark times.
Audrey’s performance presents this truth not with a shallow confidence, like she’s got her spiritual act sooooo together that she’s above any real fear; instead, the song grows out of the perspective, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s an original track on the album called “Help My Unbelief,” which includes the lyrics, “Strange and sweet collision of justice and mercy / Your burden is light and Your yoke is easy / I know, I know, and I believe that You are Lord / I know, I know, and I believe that You are Lord / Help my unbelief.”
There you have the repetition of “I know, I know, and I believe” representing the tension between knowing something in your head versus fully accepting it in your heart and soul. We still need grace to help us fully believe, and Audrey sounds like a fellow striver on that journey.
The only way to achieve that state of grace, however, is through surrender, which is another theme that Audrey addresses in numerous tracks like “Humble,” “You Speak,” and “I Shall Not Want.” The first verse of that last song goes, “From the love of my own comfort / From the fear of having nothing / From a life of worldly passions / Deliver me O God.” The chorus says, “And I shall not want, I shall not want / When I taste Your goodness I shall not want.”
Control freaks that most of us are, getting to the point of that type of surrender is never easy and sometimes painful. But Audrey’s soothing and meditative delivery makes you believe it’s worth the effort and will ultimately lead to joy – the joy that she sings about in “Good to Me.” Sample lyrics: “I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise / And I steady my heart on the ground of your goodness / When I’m bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name / And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy / Because You are good to me, good to me.”
God has been good to Audrey Assad in that He instilled her with a talent and passion for creating works of goodness, truth and beauty that will benefit the Church. Audrey is repaying that gift by sharing her heart, soul, wisdom, faith and struggles with the public on this album. So be sure to pick up “Fortunate Fall.” You’ll be a fortunate listener if you do.
(And subscribe to this blog or keep checking back to make sure you don’t miss my upcoming interview with Audrey Assad.)