Poetry in Song 101: "Burn Away"

Poetry in Song 101: "Burn Away" July 8, 2011

If you hang around here, you’ll occasionally see me grouse about the loss of poetic ear in songwriting. I can get kind of cranky on this particular topic. Well, with this series, I’ll showcase some contemporary songs that are particularly well-crafted from a poetic standpoint. They won’t necessarily be southern gospel songs, just songs that are poetically good.

I’ll start with a song I encountered just yesterday: “Burn Away.” The artist is Bill Cantos, one of the most underrated and gifted musicians out there. He’s a versatile talent, having done extensive work in both Christian and secular music (he’s an accomplished pop/jazz artist). He’s written, arranged and played keys for many names I’m sure most of you would recognize if I started to list them. In the realm of Christian music, Bill has worked with artists like the Imperials, Andrae Crouch, and the Haven of Rest Quartet (with whom he toured and sang through the 90s and 2000s).
Although he writes great pop music (I double dog dare you to listen to “Cool Drink of Water” and not be hooked—a more sublimely perfect summer song, there is not), he’s definitely at his best when writing songs about his faith. This particular song is off an above-par worship album he did with his wife, Maria Falcone (who is herself a highly regarded musician with a dizzying resume) called Embrace the Cross. Bill sings, Maria plays, and I believe they wrote the songs together. The first verse of this song does contain some “fudging” with the rhymes, but the rest of the lyrics are remarkably consistent and show very good poetic imagination.  I’ve never encountered an abccbab pattern in a contemporary song before that I can remember. And of course, it doesn’t hurt anything that the music is gorgeous too. Lyrics:
Burn away my sin, I’m pleading
Fill me with a brand new fire
In this human frame I’m flailing,
Seized with fear and bent on fainting
Lift me from the mire
Flood my body, blood and breathing
You are my desire
Burn away my foolish striving,
Thirsting after mounds of sand
In this desert plain I’ve wandered
While my days and years were squandered
Take me from this land
I want more than just surviving
Vict’ry is at hand
Oh burn, burn away the sin that hinders me
Come melt me down and wash me clean
So I will know that I have seen
The fullness of you
Burn away my pride, Lord Jesus
Rain your glory on my soul
Come unearth your Spirit’s treasure,
Grace and peace beyond all measure
I will yield control
Let me live a life that pleases
Please, come make me whole
[gigya src=”http://grooveshark.com/songWidget.swf” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” width=”250″ height=”40″ flashvars=”hostname=cowbell.grooveshark.com&songIDs=26154908&style=metal&p=0″ allowScriptAccess=”always” wmode=”window” /></object>] By the way, is it just me, or does Bill’s voice bear an eerie resemblance to Christian singer Scott Krippayne? Not that I’m complaining—always liked Scott’s voice.

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  • Gaithermusicaddict

    Oh what a lyric! What a song! I just read the words and they got to me. Great poetic songwriting is a skill that requires vivid imagination. Great piece!

  • Glad someone appreciated it! I will probably be featuring other songs like this that aren’t well-known. You could say they’re like little forgotten gems waiting to be picked up and polished off.

  • Gaithermusicaddict

    Yea! Continue with this. I’ll be watchin’ out for ’em gems.

  • I really miss TS Elliott..not a great gospel song writer but a great song writer none the less. I dont think Manilow would have made it without Elliott’s words.
    Somewhere out there, theres an upcoming SGM version of TS and Manilow.

  • Uh, are you thinking of the poet T. S. Eliot? He wasn’t a songwriter that I’m aware of. Is there a different T. S. I don’t know about?