Music Review: How Mercy Looks From Here

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A lot of life happens within 10 years for everyone, including Amy Grant, who is happy to serve up her first new album of all-new music in a decade with her much-anticipated release of How Mercy Looks From Here. It’s always been a bit difficult to compare a new project of hers with anything prior, because her signature trademark is that each new album is so different from previous ones. This six-time Grammy Award winner and recipient of 26 Dove Awards — Christian music’s equivalent to the Grammy — has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, and she thrust Christian music onto the map and into the spotlight like no one else.

Grant’s 1982 album, Age to Age, was the first Christian album in history to go platinum (more than 1 million in sales), 1985’s unguarded album was even more monumental with multi-platinum sales followed by an 18-month-long tour that that changed a segment of the music world forever. She bridged the gap between gospel and pop. Her follow up to unguarded in 1988 was Lead Me On, which to this day is still considered the number one all-time Christian music record of all time. Then spring of 1991 came about and pop music stations all over the country and across the globe celebrated “Baby, Baby” with heavy airplay that took the song about her 6-week-old baby girl, Millie, all the way to number one on the pop charts. And several more songs from that record enjoyed major commercial mainstream success.

Grant has recorded several albums since then, but this new one, How Mercy Looks From Here, catapults her into an entire new arena as a singer-songwriter and showcases her immense talent to put a pen to paper and capture a reflective thought, a moment in time, something that’s real that listeners can embrace. It’s the best album she’s ever created, and that doesn’t discredit anything she’s done in the past whatsoever. This new release is a wonderfully beautiful album, and the 10 years was worth the wait.

How Mercy Looks From Here is a start-to-finish true album experience, which is rare to encounter these days. Every song on this album is heart and soul music, and Grant hits a home run in her quest to “sing something that matters.”

In fact, seconds into my interview with her, she jumped out of her chair in front of me, hugging me, saying, “That’s exactly the experience I wanted to create!” when I told her the day I received the advance copy and popped it into my car stereo on my way home from work I couldn’t stop driving when I was near my house and drove way past my home in order to finish listening to it.

To date, this is Grant’s greatest masterpiece. It’s music that matters, she sings about real life, and every song is rife with messages about the glories and mysteries of faith, mercy, grace, life lessons for young and old, and a reminder that you are loved.

“Some songs on this album came about through some really gut-wrenching times during the past 10 years,” Grant says. Among them, dealing with aging parents both suffering from dementia, the ultimate death of her lovely mother, Gloria Napier Grant, in April 2011, the suicide of her dear friend and former band mate, Will Owsley, and having to witness her son at 19 bury his friend — the inspiration for the most heart-tugging tune on this album, “Shovel in Hand.”

Grant’s gift as a communicator through song has always been the fact that she is able to keep it real. That is evident on this album like nothing she’s done before.

“I love songwriting now more than I ever have!” she says. “Writing a song, well, you have a chance to tell a story.”

Grant continues to describe how much she enjoyed working with producer, Marshall Altman. “I loved working with Marshall. When we started, he just said, ‘I’m going to push you on everything. I’m going to push you with ideas that are probably absurd to you. I’m going to see how long it takes you to call my hand on it!'” Grant says it was one of her favorite “dropping all defenses” creative outlets ever.

Grant penned 10 of the 11 cuts on this new project. The one she doesn’t have writing credit on comes courtesy of up-and-coming artist Eric Paslay, with a cut on this record called, “Deep as it is Wide.” It’s an amazing song about the grand love existing in the afterlife. Paslay wrote this breathtaking song years ago, according to Grant.

“My brother-in-law, Dan, manages Eric, and he wrote this song six years ago. I heard it for the first time three-and-a-half years ago, and it was my soundtrack during the last two months of my mother’s life,” Grant says. “Everybody wanted that song. Little Big Town wanted to record it. Lady Antebellum wanted to record it,” Grant adds. “I asked Eric if he would let me record it. He never said, ‘Yes,’ but he never said, ‘No.'”

The final week of Grant’s recording in the studio on a deadline, she called Paslay to ask again. “He said, ‘This song is bigger than any ONE artist.’ So I said let’s get several of us singing on it!” Several became three: Grant, Paslay and Sheryl Crow. That’s all who was needed. The end result is the absolute BEST vocal collaboration in the history of music.

Creative inspiration comes from all aspects of life, and Grant has found inspiration in all of them, no doubt. How has being a mom influenced her songwriting craft? “Gosh, Chad, you know, parenthood in general takes every moms’ personal wants and needs and shoves them to the back burner. My kids are the most important, absolute loves of my life. I’ve learned through a couple of decades of parenting, you see life differently with fresh eyes when you have children, and so, yes, my children have influenced me as a songwriter and they’ve made me look at life in a way I couldn’t have otherwise.”

Listening to Grant’s self-penned tunes like “If I Could See What the Angels See,” “Our Time is Now,” “Golden,” “Don’t Try So Hard,” “Better Not to Know” and all of the rest, listeners are sure to appreciate the reality of how hope and faith spring eternal throughout all life situations, good and bad.

Grant ends this album experience having put her daily philosophy to music with “Greet the Day.”

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
A word of kindness, I believe
Is heard throughout eternity

That sentiment perfectly captures the one thing Grant says she hopes listeners will take away from this album: “That you’re not alone, and you are loved.”

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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