Music Review: Thunder by Rick Lee James

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Updated May 02, 2019
Rick Lee James - Whom Have I In Heaven But You  (Psalm 73) -  Lyric Video
Rick Lee James - Thunder - Rich Mullins (From Rick Lee James Album - 'Thunder') Official Video

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Thunder, the highly anticipated eighth recording by acclaimed singer/songwriter and author Rick Lee James, will be available beginning February 8.

Produced by Chris Hoisington of Brothers McClurg at Old Bear Studio in Buffalo, New York, Thunder features 10 songs, including the title cut co-written by the late Rich Mullins along with renowned songsmiths Lowell Alexander and Phil Naish.

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Thunder by Rick Lee James
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Rick Lee James is a one-man worship guide with a pastoral heart and both of those elements come together in this latest recording "Thunder". This album was produced at Old Bear Studios by Chris Hoisington, just an aside, some great worship has come out of this studio in the last few years so keep your ears open for their releases! Rick doesn't just sing, he also has interesting and exciting discussions on his podcast called "Voices In My Head".

The album opens, perhaps a little surprisingly, with a reading from Matthew 21:12-14 which is the section where Jesus overturns the tables in the temple, this leads straight into the title track "Thunder". This track was written by one of the highly respected Christian music pioneers from the '80s and '90s, Rich Mullins. Sadly, Rich was in a car accident in 1997 and was killed, but he left a legacy of his recorded music and also other music that he never recorded. So "Thunder" has been recorded by Rick and it fits really well with his style and it spells out something of the power that Jesus had both in His life and through his death and resurrection.

"The Love Of Christ" is a call to worship, inspired by writer Brennan Manning and reminds us that we come to Jesus as we are. Not in perfection but with all muck that so easily sticks to our lives when we don't have God, and even when we do. Our Spirit man may be reborn as a new creation, but our flesh still gets bound by sin, and we need to bring all of this to Him in worship and lay it bare in the light. The end of the first verse tells us to come as we are, but leave behind our mask.

Much of this album has a fresh acoustic country feel which adds to the idea of coming to God as you are. The music is stripped back mainly to the acoustic guitar and the vocal, in the same way, we need to come simply and humbly before God. Having said that "Whom Have I In Heaven But You (Psalm 73)" which is one of Rick's older tracks revitalised. Based on the Psalm of the same number it has more of an electric feel and features more in the way of percussion, there is Hammond organ added in here from Anthony Hoisington too! There is also more of a choral kind of backing at parts of the track which also adds a different dimension to this track and a sense of depth behind the music. This is worship that is written to be sung, whether it is alone listening to the album or transferred to a larger congregational setting. This is true of many of the tracks, especially for "Glory To God The Trinity (Trinity Hymn)" which seeks to place the Trinity in a bit more context than we sometimes see. Often we worship Jesus out front with God doing something in the background and the Holy Spirit being some supernatural inspiration. This solidifies a bit of teaching in the words with a verse devoted to each member of the trinity reminding us of their Biblical roles in our lives. Hymns have been used for teaching Biblical truths in ways that we can grasp for many years, so it is good to see Rick bring this teaching home in this song.

"Love Divine All Loves Excelling (Perfect Love)" is a recording of a popular old hymn (and Rick does like his hymns!) but there are new choruses that have been added to bring this a bit more up to date. After this we take a break for another bit of liturgy which is a "Prayer For Peace" before dropping into "Love Your Enemies" which takes us back to the stripped back style with mainly acoustic and vocal. This means we can concentrate on the lyrics of this song which runs to 6 verses! The length is not a problem as it is well written and makes good points about how we can actually love our enemies practically. "Be My All" is a plea to God to be with us and for us when we are going through struggles. This time Rick chooses the piano to accompany him rather than the acoustic guitar, but this track spoke to me deeply and became my prayer in the midst of a recent situation. It's not just about God stepping in to help us, it's also about our submission in those moments to whatever God is doing in our lives.

The next track is a difficult one for me having experienced this effect both myself and one that I love dearly. Based on Psalm 23 and life experience "The Lord Is My Shepherd" is a different take on the familiar. The main poignant part of it is the loss of a child as miscarriage, birth, still-born or shortly after birth, this track offers hope and peace for those walking this dark and sometimes lonely path where it feels like the valley of the shadow of death. Rick has just released this as a video and if you do nothing else then check it out on YouTube. This is a gentle ballad where Rick relates some of his own experience along with the comfort drawn from the familiar passage of Scripture. This is followed by the encouraging Psalm 27:13-14 which speaks about seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Waiting on God isn't something, in my experience, that often happens in church services. Often on a Sunday the worship ends and before you know it everyone is off and chatting with everyone else with barely an acknowledgement of the word shared or that God might want to speak to them individually after the message and the music stops (or even while it continues). We jump from the presence of God to the fellowship of God's people and forget to listen to the God whom we are all there to worship and celebrate! So "Stay" is a reminder that it is OK to sit and wait on God until we have a sense of peace, or a word, or whatever God has for us, we don't have to jump up and discuss the latest news straight away! Anyone who follows the Facebook page will see that this is something God has been speaking to me in life, not just in church. Our lives are so busy we don't hear God in the still small voice and when we have the opportunity to sit in His presence we often opt for the TV or playing on our phones instead and checking what everyone else is up to on Facebook, Instagram or every other thing.

The last track is "My Master Was So Very Poor" which is an old hymn that Rick found, but not knowing the tune he decided to write a new one! This track works for many times through the Christian Church calendar, Christmas, Easter and more. Rick explains his reasons for including this track "It feels right to me as the closing track on the album. The album starts with Thunder and disruption, but it ends on a resettling of the world. Jesus is Lord over all things and all people from the highest to the lowest, from the richest to the most poverty stricken. Jesus hungers with us, and He feeds us. He suffers with us, and He brings us to resurrection. What an honor to sing His praises. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it."

This really is a great worship experience if you want to use it in one go, but alternatively, there are many pieces that you can pull out and use as you need to. Despite the louder sound at the beginning of the album in "Thunder", most of the tracks have a gentler nature and swap between ballads, hymns and a bit of country style worship. I really enjoyed this and there were some tracks that moved me due to situations and circumstances, but I left the album with hope and confidence that if I allow Him to shape me then I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

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