The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent the day with him. —John 1:35-39 (NIV)
The Christian life is just about that simple. Pull to the side of the road. Turn. Follow him, wherever he leads. Spend a day with him, and the next day, and another, for the rest of your life. See life, live life, at his side.
Which means that the Christian life is just life—raw, joyous, painful, unpredictable—lived out in the footprints of the Son of God. It’s dusty life, hot and sweaty life, life bursting with laughter and love ballads one moment, tears and dirges the next.
Jeff Rohlwing has released his latest CD, an album he calls Turn. Thematically, this new album hinges on what it means to set your face in a new direction and head off on that long walk with Jesus. Musically, Turn is like an intimate journal of the conversations you might have as you take that walk together.
Rescue Me is a love song, or perhaps a prayer, sung by a young couple whose hearts have turned to each other and at the same time to the God who has brought them together, the author of their love.
Sorrow is a quiet and touching ballad about loss, alienation, and the healing power of the Holy Spirit. It was inspired by the wrenching events surrounding Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans. It’s that sort of reality that Jeff’s music understands: Jesus doesn’t lift us out of the world or insulate us from its hardships, but he walks with us through the worst of the flood and the howling wind.
Jeff Rohlwing is a poet-journalist of the experience of faith. His music express joy, puzzlement, heartbreak, worship, and always the hope that arises from faith in the risen Christ.
I’ve been listening to T Bone Burnett’s new album The True False Identity (I’ll be reviewing it here soon), and it occurs to me that Rohlwing and Burnett are cut from the same cloth. Both men are exceptional musicians, both favoring the guitar. Rohlwing also uses the piano generously in this new album, and it’s always rewarding to hear him at the keyboard.
Both men let their music speak for itself. T Bone Burnett often records with all of his musicians gathered around two microphones. It’s a technique that requires a great deal of courage. But it creates a refreshing musical purity that you don’t hear much in today’s world of studio sausage-grinding.
Rohlwing’s music has that same kind of acoustic simplicity, purity and beauty. His craftsmanship has been honed on the road where he performs with just his voice and his acoustic guitar. There’s nothing to hide behind in that kind of performance—but it has made him really good.
His albums are a treat because they give him a chance to show a musical richness that isn’t possible in his solo performances. He is joined in Turn on several pieces by the honey-voiced Kathryn Webster, but otherwise his music is simply his own voice, his own fingers on guitar or keyboard, his own musical arrangements. The result is something like the solitary prayers you might utter on a quiet walk under the midnight sky.
Rohlwing and Burnett also share a love of the old songs. For T Bone, those old songs are usually hillbilly gospel. For Jeff, they’re the old hymns he heard his grandparents sing growing up. Turn was conceived as a showcase for both old music and new, and includes new renditions of four old standards: How Firm a Foundation, Just As I Am, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and the favorite Amazing Grace.
There is much debate in churches today about musical tastes, usually around the extremes of contemporary vs. traditional. The healthy church needs both. New music is a sign of life, like a heartbeat, that shows that the Holy Spirit is still at work in his people. The old music keeps alive the memory of where we have came from, the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. The old music needs to be updated and made fresh for a new audience. Rohlwing is in the company of a number of Christian musicians who are introducing new audiences to some great old hymns.
For Turn, he has also dusted off two wonderful songs from his first CD: Obedience, the title song for that album, and When You Call for Me. Both songs deserve a wider audience.
Obedience is based on a George MacDonald poem reminiscent of Jonah’s argument with God about going to Nineveh. Rohlwing dedicates that song to the men and women of Wycliffe Bible Translators. He got a closer look at their work when he provided music for a Wycliffe conference in 2004; he came away inspired by the people he met and their dedication to taking the Gospel to the remote places of the world.
Turn is Jeff Rohlwing’s best CD to date, and until now I couldn’t imagine him topping Grace to Grace or On This Rock. His guitar work is always beautiful, but here it is drop-dead gorgeous. His voice has never been better and as you listen, the love he has for his music and the Father who inspires him to sing does good things in your heart.
Turn is an album rich in emotion and real-life faith. It’s a pleasure to hear Christian music done so well, so honestly, with so much heart.
Turn will be available sometime after June 16 at Jeff Rohlwing’s website, where you can also find out more about this talented Christian artist.