Josh Garrels' latest album is a 'blessing for the masses'
by Jeff Koch
Posted 4/24/15, 02:55 pm
Singer-songwriter Josh Garrels admitted it took a while for the gospel to “sink in.” Throughout the haze of drugs and partying in his teen years, Garrels felt a calling on his life. “Even when I was on these crazy acid trips I had this weird sense that the Sprit of God was with me,” he told Christianity Today. After his sister came to faith and brought him to church, things came together, and Garrels decided to follow Christ.
It wasn’t the most conventional path to faith nor the most conventional path since. After spending several years preparing for and serving as a pastor, Garrels plunged into a full-time musical endeavor. He quickly earned a diverse audience drawn to his lush conglomeration of folk, hip-hip, and classical music. A quick online search reveals positive reviews from the The Huffington Post and NPR peacefully coexisting with those from InterVarsity and Relevant Magazine.
Garrels continues to gain traction in far-flung quarters with his newest album, Home. The musically erudite will enjoy his breadth of instrumentation—how many folks have heard of the Celeste or the Flugabone?—and the sensitive way Garrels harnesses quirky sounds. Those just looking for a good groove will love his command of contemporary rhythms and folky rootedness that keeps things accessible for the uninitiated. But those searching for a soulful voice may have the most to sing about. Whether quietly crooning like an old folk minstrel or belting it out like a southern rocker, Garrels specializes in nuance and mining hidden gems from the soundscape.
In “Born Again,” Garrels provides a spiritual before and after snapshot. With velvety abstraction reminiscent of Pink Floyd, Garrels recalls the simplicity of selfish calculation before he came to faith: “Had to learn to get what I need / in the dark empty / instincts are guiding me / like a beast to some blood / and I can’t get enough.” Gnawing spiritual emptiness finally reaches a crisis and Garrels leaps nimbly up to a soulful falsetto to declare, “I’m my mother’s child / I’m my father’s son / it took me awhile / but my time has come / to be born again.”
Occasionally Garrels chucks the traditional song format such as in “Leviathan,” a beast as brooding and potent as its title suggests. An angular electric guitar splices through wind chimes to warn of God’s purifying work: “All my love / all I’ve done / falls apart / is undone / Built a tower / you tore it down.” Atop a reggae beat and bass plumbing the depths, Garrels articulates the haunting question every man and woman must answer: “Yahweh gives and takes away / Will you curse or bless the name?”
Garrels demonstrates in “Morning Light” that the Christian’s choice to trust in God isn’t one and done. Even after receiving initial grace to follow Jesus, believers can still be overwhelmed by the sins and wreckage of our past. But even though our lives “may be broken down / all the bridges burned like an old ghost town … this my son can be made new.” Bright acoustic strumming bespeaks the dawn that awaits those who trust in the Lord.
Garrels’ trust in God takes concrete form in his commitment to offer music for free. Home can be purchased anywhere but also downloaded for free at Noisetrade.com.
“I’ve felt strongly that any gift we’re given is meant to be of service—to be a blessing to the masses,” he told The Huffington Post.
Offering a cornucopia of sound, a seminarian’s facility with Scripture and a poet’s ear for language, Home is a blessing indeed.
Jeff is a mortgage lender and graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. He lives with his wife and their eight children in the Chicago area.