Do not be alarmed, gentle reader. You may see that Under Indiana Lights is a “family band” and have your head filled with images of Partridge Family buses and charming but less than professional instrumental performances recorded on a Tascam in what was formerly the sewing room. While I have no doubt that Tom Frye is a devoted family man and loves little more than playing music with his wife and kids onstage during local performances, when it came to recording his songs he hightailed it down to professional studios in Nashville, Tennessee. And who wouldn’t, if they counted among their friends such heavy-hitting Christian musicians as Andrew Peterson, Andy Osenga (formerly of Caedmon’s Call), Jeremy Casella, Matt Pierson and Phil Keaggy? So in this case “family band” means backing vocals. Nothing personal, kids – it even happened to Ringo Starr.In an effort to make his lyrics more personal, Frye spent some time away, reflecting and writing and polishing and writing some more. The effort is evident because these songs shine like stars with broad, open melodies and solid hooks, all solidly based in a pure heartland Americana sound. The opening track, “Consume Me,” is an upbeat invitation to Jesus to take control of his life and use it for His glory, a song which could easily find a home in many churches with its endearing, singable chorus and cheery lyrics. “Where Is God?” asks the age-old question of why evil exists if God is good, although it’s difficult to think of bad things with such sweet background vocal harmonies. “The Greatest Gift” is a perfect glimpse of Christmas morning, capturing the eager excitement of this magical time through the eyes of a child and yet directing the meaning of the season back to The Child for which the holiday is named.
A number of the songs on Under Indiana Lights tell stories. One such gem is “Sarah Danced,” a song inspired by a family Frye met on tour whose daughter, Sarah, suffers from spina bifida and is dependant on her father to carry her around but dreams of the day when she’ll be able to dance with her Heavenly Father. Frye’s gift at unfolding a story will bring a tear of joy to your eye, and if that doesn’t do it there’s plenty of piano, acoustic guitars and real strings to coax the song to life. “Blue Silos” is about Tom’s childhood, staring out across the fields at some neighbors’ blue silos and wondering if life in that household was peaceful and warm instead of the broken, tension-filled home in which he lived. The joyous melody is a suitable companion to the events that happened when, as an adult, Frye visited that family and they welcomed him as one of their own. Songs like these are indicative of the album where his intent was to “reflect the pain of living in a fallen world” but revealing the “joy of recognizing the little glimpses of Heaven foreshadowed in everyday life.”
Under Indiana Lights is an album that should be in the collection of every fan of Andrew Peterson, Caedmon’s Call, Pierce Pettis, and Mark Heard. Frye is as gifted a storyteller as he is a songwriter, wrapping memorable tales and characters around impressive melodies and vocal harmonies. He didn’t need an army of Nashville’s finest to bring these songs to life, but that added extra touch of professionalism makes Under Indiana Lights an album you’ll return to time and again.
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Marcus King Band
July 21 • Sweetwater Performace Pavilion