Amy Grant is a legend. It feels like I’ve been listening to her my whole life. In the early 80s, I drove with friends from Montreal to Toronto to hear her in concert. In those days, one could hang around after the concert and get an autograph. When I handed Amy my paper to sign, she asked my name. After I told her; “Emmanuel”, she said, “Do I spell it like I sing it?” Corny, yes, but I’ll never forget that. Her music has always had an impact on me. 2003 was her last studio album, “Simple Things”, which I appreciate to this day.
I was thrilled to receive in the mail, “How Mercy Looks From Here,” her long awaited album of all new material, for me, the wait is definitely worth it.
Inspired by her mother, who died in April of 2011, Amy recounts a visit to her ailing mother on the way to a concert. With her failing memory, Amy’s mom could not even remember her daughter’s profession. When she was reminded that Grant was a singer, her mother thoughtfully counseled her, “When you get on the stage, sing something that matters.” Songs that matter is what this album is about.
“If I Could See (What Angels See)” is an energetic pop tune driven by Grant’s desire to be wise in her life’s choices. Amy’s husband Vince Gill joins her on “Better Not To Know”, a medium tempo ballad declaring the simple faith we all need, set to a real-life story, that sometimes it is better to let the future surprise us rather than anticipate it.
On the first single “Don’t Try So Hard,” Grant is joined by the incomparable James Taylor. The tender song reminds us that we don’t have to try so hard to please God in life. The poignant message behind this song of “God gives you grace and you can’t earn it, don’t think that you’re not worth it, because you are. He gave you His love and He’s not leaving, gave you His only Son so you’d believe it, you’re lovely even with your scars, don’t try so hard”. This, to me, says it all. The simple words weaved into an effortless melody give voice to a profound truth.
The title track, “How Mercy Looks Like From Here,” is a narrative of her mother suffering through the toils of aging and sickness, Grant admits her helplessness if it weren’t for God’s grace when she croons: “I would have given up if it weren’t your voice.”
The tune that touched me the most is Eric Paslay’s ballad “Deep as It is Wide,” an attempt to express the unfathomable love of God. Paslay and Sheryl Crowe join Grant on vocals. The poignant text is carried by powerful three-part harmonies that crescendo to heaven with a lush orchestration and choir. Once all has peaked at the musical climax, the listener is left with some of the most intimate, perfectly executed unisons ever heard.
The musical introduction to “Shovel in the Hand” belies its message. I wasn’t prepared for what Grant would convey. Amy sings about her son’s friend who died on Mother’s Day weekend from a car accident. This tender ballad chronicles the emotion of the boy’s mother. You can feel the globs of tears falling down as Grant sings: “forever young is a big fat lie…” The mirror to that lyric is, “19 years old and he’s burying a friend, goodbye two boys, hello one man.” Pain has never been so sublimely expressed.
While the album is mostly slow and ruminative, the tempo does pick up a tad with Grant and Carole King’s “Our Time is Now.” “Seize the moment” is a song comparable to Grant’s earlier hit “Takes a Little Time” and the Irish sounding album closer “Greet the Day” brims with optimism. Though it may sound a little trite, the lyrics are a call to all of us to live differently: “Lead me to the ones I need, and to the one who’s needing me. I won’t assume the worst is true, and do the best that I can do.” I’m going to adopt this mantra for my daily prayer.
I had been waiting a long time for a new Amy Grant album. These eleven tunes are lovingly crafted wisdom tales narrated by a woman who sings songs that truly matter.