Matt Maher

Essential Records, 2017

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp


Coming off the critical and commercial success of 2015’s Saints And Sinners, Matt Maher had two choices: stake out bold new ground in the notoriously risk-free waters of Christian Contemporary Music or stick to the formula. With Echoes, Maher clearly chose the latter, resulting in an album that lives up to its name – it is a synonymous but diminished version of its forerunner.

Christian radio listeners will have already heard a couple of the tracks, “Your Love Defends Me” and “What a Friend.” Both are bouncy rockers light on theological substance, the kind of pop worship that keeps Christian DJs and guitar-carrying youth ministers afloat. In both songs, Maher dwells on the imminence of Christ, melodically preaching a message that God is for you in a hostile world, an encouraging if shallow word to listeners.

Having addressed God’s imminence, Maher also addresses his eminence with “Holy” and “Awake My Soul (A Thousand Tongues),” two more tunes made to be played in contemporary worship settings. Neither song breaks new ground lyrically or musically, but the hooks are there, and worship leaders have surely added these to their repertoires since the album’s release. “Clean Heart” and the slower “The Cross Forever Speaks” will be equally at home in the sanctuaries of most contemporary churches.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The intended highlight of the album is “Just As I Am,” which updates a beloved 1835 hymn for a modern audience. The trouble with this song is not in its execution – which, to be clear, is excellent – but its lack of originality. When placed side by side with 2015’s “Because He Lives,” arguably Maher’s biggest hit, one cannot help but notice that he has followed exactly the same formula, hoping to strike lightning twice. Updated hymn? Check. Piano as lead instrument? Check. Bridge which quotes the original hymn verbatim? Check. Even the musical structure is virtually identical. On its own, “Just As I Am” is a fine song, but this perhaps-too-cynical reviewer has trouble hearing anything but an echo of a better one.

Instead, my favorite song by a mile is “The Least Of These,” which borrows imagery from Jesus’s words in Matthew 25 to show how on the cross Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of his command to not only love but even become “the least of these.” In a time when intolerance is on the rise, Maher refuses to let Jesus be co-opted: “When love became a refugee / he became my refuge / when love became a prisoner / he set me free…when he stole my heart between two thieves / that’s when love became the least of these.”

An album full of bold, poetic messages like this one might have alienated some of Maher’s radio audience, but it unquestionably would have been more interesting than Echoes. There’s potential here, to be sure, and no bad music. But one can’t help fear that the name of the final track is indicative of Maher’s musical direction: “As Good As It Gets.” If you want to hear some new worship music that’ll fit comfortably in a playlist with Hillsong, PASSION, and the rest, Echoes delivers. But if you’re looking for a bright light of originality in the all-too-vanilla world of CCM, you’re better off digging into Maher’s back catalogue.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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