“A poetic resurrection.
A rock & roll infused story of life out of death.
A slice of americana served over a foundation of faithfulness.
A man wrestling with God and the reality we find ourselves in.”
Those are the words that began my review of The Medicine by John Mark McMillan when it was rereleased earlier in the year on the Integrity label. I’ve since had more time to live with the set of songs and whilst in some ways I’ve grown into them, mostly it seems they’ve been growing into me instead. It’s as though the music and lyrics go deep into your heart and wrap themselves around the broken and hurting places, binding up the wounds and strengthening tired bones. There is something in these songs that seems to allow the Holy Spirit to impact me so powerfully and I’m not alone in this experience. But at first it was awkward…
Yes, that’s right, awkward. Because when was the last time you corporately asked God to “peel back our ribs again and stand inside of our chests”, honestly? It just seems too visceral, too tangible, too much like the presence of the Holy One could cost us something. Too much like He is intimate. The words McMillan has penned do not fit with either the contemporary scene, nor the old hymns of previous centuries. Instead they draw from the imagery of the prophets and let’s be fair, the prophets were not received comfortably.
McMillan has clearly stated on his blog that he has a singleminded intention to infuse his music with the best creativity he can and I appreciate that. In his own words, “Folks, it’s time to write dangerous music. It’s time to take risks. It’s time to wear your heart on your sleeve, and sing about the things that actually matter to you. It’s time to bury the shackles of religious expectation and stop trying to put new cloths on the dead.”
Once the initial shock wears off though, these songs resonate deeply with communities of faith, giving expression to things oft left untouched in our gatherings, and all the while the hope of life because Jesus is alive blazes brightly at the center. Poetic and wild as this might come across, this is worship. This is passionate, heartfelt, vulnerable worship and I can’t wait for more churches to embrace these songs, dwell with them as expressions of faith, praise and longing, and ultimately invite more people into the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.
If you are one of those types who cares about musical style, then expect rock n roll americana, with folk tinges, a little blues and a whole heap of beautiful tone. I keep telling everyone how much I love James Duke’s guitar playing. There’s a reason for that, and if you listen to The Medicine you might understand. Production is suitably robust, but not too shiny. This is, after all, a raw album so some of that is retained and it just adds more charm to an already magnificent release.
For those who bought the album in its first release in 2008, the presence of three brand new tracks and a darker, more rocked out recording of How He Loves, offer a compelling reason to buy this the second time around. And then buy it for a friend! This is a serious contender for album of the year.
Standouts: Skeleton Bones, Death in His Grave, Ten Thousand, Carbon Ribs, Dress Us Up
A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.