The built-in advantage — and disadvantage — much Christian-based music has is a commitment to clear communication: You know pretty much up front that the lyrics and vocals are going to be showcased, rendering the accompanying music secondary by nature. While pointing out such a thing might reek of oversimplification (or worse, stereotyping), the fact remains that the music supports the message. Impossible as it is to evaluate Songs of a Wilderness Traveler from a purely musical standpoint, it’s nevertheless important to point out how important the arrangements and playing are to Tom Frye’s effectiveness at conveying said message. From the gleaming acoustic strums that underpin the album, to the clean drive imparted by the tight rhythm section and the subtle yet evocative violin accents (and backing vocals provided by Laura Fennig), the instrumentation is never less than inspiring, a fitting companion to Frye’s always uplifting lyrics.
Songs of a Wilderness Traveler opens with the bright, driving “Rain Down.” Amidst a tasteful yet passionately played combo of bass, drums, guitar and violin, Frye imbues lines such as “I could never earn the grace that you have shown / Though I’m unworthy, still you call me your own” with humility and sincerity. Expressing faith and communicating your message without sounding overbearing can be a bit of a tightrope to walk, but Frye does an excellent job of combining clarity, energy and restraint here. “You Are I Am” blends the passion and drive of a U2-style chiming guitar (courtesy Andy Osenga of Caedmon’s Call) and a steady rock beat with country elements, over which Fry sings, “You are a never-ending peace ... an evermore sustainer.” Frye also gets an assist from this tune’s co-writer and co-vocalist, Mitch McVicker.
Other highlights include the stately “Lord of Peace,” which showcases Fennig’s violin lines; “There is Jesus,” an understated and hushed duet between Frye and Fennig; and, in somewhat of a contrast, the soaring, harmony-laden “Let There Be Praise.” Recorded locally at the Sound Shed in Bluffton as well as in Kansas and Tennessee studios, Songs of a Wilderness Traveler sounds clear and cohesive. A great deal of expertise and care obviously went into this album’s production. (D.M. Jones)
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