Artist: Rick Elias
Specifics: 7 Tracks- Running time: 28:05
Playlist: 1: Do Ya?
3: When it all Came Down
4: A Kind of Brilliance
5: When We Built This House
6: Help Thou My Unbelief
7: jōb, naked
Some of us listen to music for distraction. Some listen to be entertained, or during a workout, or for inspiration before an athletic event. And some of us listen to music in a desperate search to find out if anyone has seen us. We listen to an artist, and once in a while –sometimes only once in a lifetime- we have an epiphany where we understand that we aren't invisible. For just a moment, we realize that this road we travel has been traveled before. Once in a while we find someone who chronicles their journey, and we discover that it was our journey too. I am one of those people.
Music was always a definer for me. My life could easily be deciphered by simply rummaging through my record collection. When I was an angry 19 year-old man, trying to understand adulthood, and missing my friends who’d gone off to college, and grieving, my all-to-brief childhood and teen years, it was Springsteen’s “Darkness” record. When I realized I was a hopeless romantic, it was Southside Johnny. The more I read classic authors and fell more deeply in love with great wordsmiths, it was Forbert, and Hiatt, and Earle.
And when I had grown up, and my faith had taken a beating, and I was trying to remain faithful to Christ, and still be truthful about the hurt and pain the world could viciously inflict...it was Rich Mullins, and Rick Elias.
I discovered Rick Elias quite by accident –although I am sure I would have found him sooner or later- when he opened for a CCM artist who shall remain nameless. (Mainly because he isn’t worth giving space to) Rick was an unannounced addition to the show, and touring to support his second record for Frontline: “Ten Stories.”
He came out in a black leather jacket, powering through about a half dozen songs masterfully on a white Fender Strat. His band was impeccable and his musicianship was superior. But it was the words that grabbed me.
I had been, by that point in life, damaged deeply. I had made mistakes that marked my life, and I had discovered family secrets that scarred me, and I had my heart broken by love, and by the church. Yet I clung to the belief, albeit barely, that Christ was not entirely like His Christians, and as I picked my way through the mess, I found ropes to hang onto. Rick Elias was such a lifeline.
Sitting that night in the Trenton War Memorial, watching this man pouring out passionate, real, honest words in a soft growl that reminded me of my beloved Springsteen in every way, I was transfixed. I had spent 22 years trying to understand why I was so different from the others of like faith. Why my faith wasn’t pretty and my life wasn't either. I wondered why I loved Jesus so deeply, and yet could not...I could not reveal that love in the standard, acceptable ways that others did.
Rick Elias noticed me.
He didn't know it. We’d not met at that point. But when he wrote his stories of pain, and hurt, with harrowing honesty, and the brazen chutzpah it takes to dare ask “Why?”...he’d noticed me. I listened to him tell my story. And I wept because finally someone was telling it, and that meant maybe someone else was asking the same questions.
When Rick’s show ended, I sat there in silence. I could not move for several minutes. when I got my wits about me I ran back to the merch table to buy anything of his I could get my hands on.
In one of those great moments where God grants a prayer before it is even asked...I made a friend. Rick was manning his own table that night, and we talked for about 30 minutes. I missed the opening of the headliner and never noticed. I talked to Rick about songs, and lyrics, and why these things matter. I am sure I gushed a little. It’s funny because 22 years later, Rick Elias and his wife Linda are amongst my dearest friends. The conversations I've had with this wonderful, quirky, gristly, loving, devoted, integritous man have kept me sane in a world, and in a place, where I often don’t fit. I say it freely...I love Rick Elias. He is my brother, and my friend.
I had to give this background in order to be honest about my review of this record. I am a fan and I make no bones about that.
Now, to this record....
It’s been about 12 years since Rick has recorded much of his own stuff. His life has been a roller coaster. The same roller coaster we've all been riding. Somehow, though, when you are an artist, the dips and curves seem exaggerated. People expect your next great record, and they seldom grasp that you have the same obstacles everyone else has in pursuing your living, and making your art. The answer is to either give up or sell out. Rick Elias will never sell out. If I know him at all, he’ll quit writing anything before he’ll produce something formulaic and expected. I love him for that.
Given the current landscape of what is called “Christian Music” I can understand his chagrin. Where does a guy like Elias fit? Who is listening? For my money, the best two songwriters in the genre were Elias and Mullins. We lost Rich 16 years ago, and Rick went silent not long after. He’s been teaching songwriting, and producing here and there, and raising his family, and figuring out the rest of his life.
Pretty much what we've all been doing.
Rick figured that life had granted all the great stories and fodder for “Christian” hits it was going to provide. Who wants to hear about middle aged musicians, and their grown kids, and their grandchildren? How passionate can we write about the aches and pains of being 50ish, or the demands of being a former musician? Who’s story is that?
Turns out...a lot of us.
“jōb” opens with “Do Ya”, a paean for the broken and battered and luckless. When Elias sings “I am for, the mad ones. Laughing wild in the night, while praying for the light, hanging on for dear life” he is speaking for me. He is telling the story of all of us who have reached that point in life that the “mystical they” define as the middle, and who wonder what the heck happened. How did we get here and what happens next?
That he likens the characters in this song to Job himself is no coincidence. In just the slightest artistic twist, he renders jōb’s trials not a specific permissive act of God to prove to Satan that his accusations about godly men were false, but rather an act of betrayal. Not ultimate betrayal –Rick Elias knows his scripture too well for that- but betrayal in the way it feels when we face devastation. Because, who hasn't felt like God has betrayed them when the house begins to crumble? It’s not a matter of whether we feel that, it’s whether we’ll admit to feeling it. That...is really what this record is about.
That is the voice of Rick Elias’ “jōb.”
If I had a complaint, it is merely that “jōb” is too darned short. It’s seven tracks and just under 30 minutes. But that is, in itself, the beauty. When this record concludes, you wish there was more of this wonderful music...because make no mistake, Rick Elias is a masterful musician. You certainly long for more of the sound, but you understand that the story is told. It doesn't take 12 songs to explore truth. Not every time. And especially not when the best songwriter in Christian music is doing the talking.
This record is real. It’s truthful. If your idea of great music about faith is something that makes your eyes glaze over, and your hands raise to the sky, and your body sway like a Dervish, this isn't your album.
It’s for everyone else...
This record is for those who have made mistakes. It’s for those who have been the victim of someone else’s mistakes. It’s for those who have had to say they were sorry. It’s for those who have lived, and laughed, and loved, and hurt, and wounded, and been wounded, and dreamed, and watched those dreams crash, burn and then sink into the sea.
It’s for the ones who have had to figure out what happens next.
We all grow older. We all struggle with demons. We all hurt someone we love and love someone who hurt us. We wake up one day, bruised and battered and aching from slaying so many dragons for so long a time. We wonder if any of this was worth it, and it’s then we realize that merely getting to this point is the real victory. The really wise ones among us realize that when Paul wrote “His grace is sufficient for me...” Paul meant that most times, sufficiency means “barely enough” not effusive overflow. Life is beauty and ruin, intermingled. Grace is the place where we learn to love both.
That’s what this beautiful, emotional, unforgettable record is. It’s Grace. Written in a code that the honest grasp, and set to music that bandaged hearts hear better than those who have been untouched by pain.
“jōb” is like finding a journal at a rest stop, on a trail whose destination I understand but whose terrain I fear, and stumble over. The words inside the weathered book don’t make the journey any less difficult...but they tell me that someone else is up ahead. He’s making his way slowly through the uncharted darkness. And his words serve as breadcrumbs for me to follow.
Until we both make it home.
“jōb” by Rick Elias Release date 11/12/2013 at