Style: Textured folk-pop; compare to Josh Garrels, Sarah Groves, Rich Mullins
Top tracks: "Come Back Soon," "You'll Find Your Way," "The Cornerstone"
Andrew Peterson has long had a penchant for epic themes, and that's exactly the territory his ninth studio album inhabits. What's new is the brilliant edge to Light for the Lost Boy, delivered by the singer-songwriter's willingness to grapple with difficult questions and by bigger production and wider instrumentation. It's especially the well-placed, moody growlings of electric guitar that give teeth to Peterson's groanings of Creation. (Former Audio Adrenaline guitarist Tyler Burkum does the electric honors.) Peterson's lyrics walk the tightrope of the human condition, at once feeling the crushing weight of mortality and the fierce hope of eternity. After all, the light of redemption shines brightest when set against the darkness of loss.
"Come Back Soon" raises the album's curtain with "the Tennessee flood / The sound of the scream and the sight of the blood / My son he saw as the animal died." The electric production is warm and visceral a la Bon Iver. Just like humanity, this song—this album—is haunted by death. Yet there's a throbbing hope even in lament: "So we groan in this great darkness / for deliverance." And Peterson proceeds to expertly walk the tightrope of brokenness and repair.
True to form, his storytelling is masterful and personal, both intimate and universal. An accomplished children's writer (the Wingfeather Saga), Peterson weaves smart literary metaphors into this music. "The Ballad of Jody Baxter" builds from the protagonist of the coming-of-age tragedy The Yearling. The literal and figurative launching point for "Day by Day" is the birthplace of Peter Pan. Sometimes Peterson's lost boy is himself, sometimes his own son, sometimes characters of fiction. Innocence is celebrated while acknowledging its looming loss. Triumphs of love require battle scars. Joy can be exultant, but mortality is ever present. Eden is there and gone. "And we just can't get used to being here / Where the ticking clock is loud and clear / Children of eternity / On the run from entropy" ("Day by Day").
Lost Boy places the mantle of Rich Mullins squarely on Peterson's shoulders. Its sonic still lifes and sweeping landscapes, both emotional and natural, capture transcendent freeze-frames between the love of earth and the longing for heaven. And Peterson's family contexts interweave an even richer dimension. "You'll Find Your Way" is a moving letter to a son. "The Voice of Jesus" directs hope to a brokenhearted daughter. And "Carry the Fire" is a weathered pledge to his wife.
Peterson delivers with maturity that mostly avoids the cliché and sentimentality of adult contemporary radio, though "Rest Easy" and "The Voice of Jesus" tilt slightly to that direction. But he mostly avoids the shortcuts of a three-minute pop song. Instead Peterson draws us deeper into the yearning where life and love are savored against their unavoidable losses—and where glowing hope always remains.
Copyright © 2012 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.