Two years ago, Peterson released his best album yet, Counting Stars, a beautiful folk masterpiece about, among other things, the fulfillment of a life lived in the grace of God. He’s been very consistent over the years, releasing 10 or so albums and collections since 1996, and there’s not a bad one in the lot*. His music is easy-going, intelligent, and after God’s heart.
Remarkably, there’s been very little change in Peterson’s sound after 16 years in the business. And there was no need to change it, especially not after the peak that was Counting Stars. He could’ve gone on making the same old thing, and he still would have been one of the best musicians in the business. But this September, Andrew Peterson released an album that wasn’t merely a change in his sound but an enhancement of it. He’s surpassed himself and made one of the best albums of the year.
It’s still folk music, to be sure, and it’s not as if Peterson was ever constrained by his genre. The folk** sound worked for him, and he flourished in it. But Light for a Lost Boy, his newest album, is a work made by a man who has decided to try expressing himself in more ways than just the old ones. You can hear it first on the second song, “The Cornerstone,” more ambient, otherworldly than Peterson’s old songs. He’s altered his voice somehow too, and the song itself is simply bolder in its lyrical declarations about Christ. Peterson’s boldness fits with the harder-hitting electric guitars, as opposed to his usual acoustic strumming.
And there are changes like this all over. The last song, “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone,” is a 10-minute epic, awash in instrumentation. “The Voice of Jesus” is a lullaby upon which a quiet, childish female voice accompanies Peterson in the background. It’s almost like minimalist indie- the xx would be proud.
Now lots of bands change their sound, but Peterson’s changes on Lost Boy carry a lot of meaning. They’re accompanied by a change in themes. Andrew Peterson has always been a champion of the everyman, but he’s generally had a laid back style, almost a certain amount of peace with the things he writes about in his lyrics, a contentment. But Lost Boy sounds more unsettled. Maybe Peterson, who has always been honest and real, has finally found the perfect sound to express the complications that were always inside him. “Carry the Fire,” as inspired as its lyrics are, is besieged by the notion that forces will try to quench the fire. “Day by Day” is a driving, willful acceptance of one’s temporary imperfection in the face of sanctification. Even the lead single, “Rest Easy,” is about trying to calm the unquenchable desire of the flesh to work for one’s salvation.
Peterson has always made me think of James Taylor and Rich Mullins***, and he’s excelled at sounding like them, but this if the first album that he sounds all of his own. The album’s title may hold some keys to the changes we hear on it. Peterson seems to be opening up about his lostness and dealing with it through the notes and word of Lost Boy. In the end, he reminds us (and himself, I suspect) of the hope, the light. I need that reminder. Thankfully, I never cease to be reminded of my hope, because I can’t stop listening to this album.
*Except for Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies, but I’m going out on a limb and saying that was made for people a little younger than me.
**I’m not entirely sure it’s considered folk music, actually. It’s simple and often elegant, but not always acoustic, so…I don’t know.
***Both of which were kings of their genres, so it’s definitely high praise.