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Modern-day psalter

(Robby Klein)


Modern-day psalter

Sandra McCracken’s latest album steadies in turbulent times

“I’m somewhere in between.”

So says the Christian singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken via email from Nashville when asked to situate her lithe, grainy voice along the alto-soprano continuum.

Her latest release, Patient Kingdom, is her 13th studio long player and her second in a row for the contemporary-worship label Integrity Music. It’s also about as single-minded as musical endeavors get.

Produced by Ben Shive (Andrew Peterson, Audrey Assad, JJ Heller) and Tyler Chester (Switchfoot, Tyson Motsenbocker, Sara Bareilles), the album unfolds like a modern-day psalter. Singable folk-pop melodies and openheartedly devotional lyrics resonate all the more in the most tumultuous year of the 21st century so far.

COVID-19 played a role. Shutdowns required McCracken and supporting musicians—Jay Foote (bass, vocals), Anthony LaMarca (drums, guitars, vocals), Shive (keyboards), and Chester (“lots of piano and guitars”)—to record in isolation and exchange parts online.

McCracken credits Chester and Shive for the coherence: “Tyler and Ben are each such stellar musicians and attentive listeners. They drew out the personality of each of the other players and kept the lyric at the center, which is really important to me.”

The pandemic wasn’t on McCracken’s radar when she began work on the album.

“A few years ago, I began gathering songs and ideas to make an album that would push back against anxiety. I’ve thought a lot about the way that music can be a comfort to people in difficult times, and I wanted to be more intentional about that.”

Mission accomplished. Intentionality saturates the album, from the Psalm 89–based McCracken–Leslie Jordan composition “I Will Sing” that opens Patient Kingdom to the hymn “Be Still My Soul” that closes it. (There were, McCracken admits, a few other hymns “in the running”—“Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand” among them. “I hope,” she says, “to release a version of that soon.”)     

Then there’s the title cut, two videos of which—one “lyric” and one unplugged featuring Cindy Morgan and Andrew Greer—are on McCracken’s YouTube channel. Written by McCracken, Gareth Davies-Jones, and Sarah Masen, it’s so worshipfully serene that it seems to float upward of its own accord. “Let my soul rise up to meet You,” goes the refrain, “As the day rises to the sun / Let my soul rise up to meet You / Let that patient kingdom come.” Even when McCracken isn’t paraphrasing, quoting, or simply alluding to Scripture, her lyrics achieve and maintain a distinctly Biblical feel.

“I started reading and absorbing Scripture at a young age,” she says. “My mom nurtured that, for sure. And I’m definitely just as dependent on that connection these days.

“If communion with the Spirit is not at the center, the creative work gets pretty anemic.”