Prime Cuts: Handed Down, Walking Her Home, Time Goes So Fast
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
Mark Schultz is to contemporary Christian music (CCM) what Elton John and Billy Joel are to pop music. Schultz has an effortless way of incorporating the piano into his pop-centric songs that the piano becomes a dueting "voice." As a result, you can always count on Schultz's brilliant arpeggios to bring out emotions and nuances often not communicated by the human voice. Over time, Schultz's songs have enjoyed an added layer of emotional richness not often present among his peers. In this regard, Schultz's music is indispensable within CCM.
After a 6-year hiatus, Schultz has finally released his new album "Follow." To use the adjective "new" can be a bit of a misnomer. This is because not all the songs here are new. Only 5 out of these 15 songs have never been released. The rest of them are the Schultz's better known songs gathered from his back catalog. However, this is far from being a "greatest hits" compilation. Rather, they are all re-recorded in a live setting.
Unlike many live recordings where there's not much difference between a live album and its studio counterpart, save for the audience's clapping, the live element here is priceless. In between songs, Schultz actually gives us illuminating insights over the song's genesis or the song's context. Few for instance know that Schultz once rode his bike to raise funds for widows and orphans which has also led to the creation of his instrumental album. Such a context gives us a renewed appreciation of Schultz's instrumental "Highlands," which is included here.
We also get a delightful anecdote about Schultz's foray into country music. Touted as Schultz's first country song, "Handed Down" -- a narrative song that speaks of being beneficiaries of a Godly legacy -- is actually superb. The title track and lead single "Follow" is more typical of Schultz's big ballads where he starts off slow before opening all cylinders on the mighty sounding chorus. Also quite predictable is "Psalm 91." Much better is the nostalgic "Time Goes So Fast;" the song excels in Schultz's attention paid to details. Here he recounts all those precious moments he has had spent as a father watching his children grow up.
Then there are the better known songs from his back catalog. Some of his signature ballads, such as "Walking Her Home," "I Am" and "No Place Love Won't Go," are so vividly pictorial that they are more like films rolled up in songs. Add to that is Schultz's emotive and heartfelt vocals, you can almost imagine yourself in his movie-songs as he draws you into the emotions of each of his characters. With such a creative artistry backed by his lovely piano sounds, this album is more than just for the ears.